Edward Lorenz, mathematician and meteorologist, passed away last week at the age of 90. He was widely known for his groundbreaking work Deterministic Nonperiodic Flow, which crafted a framework for explaining why weather patterns behave in ways that cannot be described by classical dynamics and cannot be predicted more than a few days in advance. He developed the idea of the Lorenz Attractor, a functional explanation for the potentially profound effect of small initial actions. This became famously referred to as The Butterfly Effect.
The phrase refers to the idea that a butterfly‘s wings might create tiny changes in the atmosphere that ultimately cause a tornado to appear (or prevent a tornado from appearing). The flapping wing represents a small change in the initial condition of the system, which causes a chain of events leading to large-scale phenomena. Had the butterfly not flapped its wings, the trajectory of the system might have been vastly different. (Wikipedia)
From a GeekDad point of interest, yes- Lorenz’s work was the basis for Jeff Goldblum’s chaos-theorist character in the Jurassic Park movies. But let’s not hold him at fault for that. His work influenced science fiction in a profound way, and gave us all a new way of looking at the amazing complexity of the world around us.
Image from the American Institute of Physics.