Friday, April 18, 2008

Edward Lorenz

THE father of chaos theory has died at his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts, aged 90.Edward Norton Lorenz was born on May 23 1917 at West Hartford, Connecticut, and from his earliest years was devoted to science. "As a boy I was always interested in doing things with numbers and was also fascinated by changes in the weather," he later wrote.He went to Dartmouth College, from which he graduated in Mathematics in 1938, before taking a postgraduate degree from Harvard in 1940. During the Second World War, Lorenz worked as a weather forecaster in the US Army Air Corps and, after the cessation of hostilities, took up graduate studies in Meteorology; he earned master's and doctoral degrees in the subject from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1943 and 1948.He joined the staff of the department in 1948 and became an assistant professor in 1955. He was promoted to professor in 1962 and served as head of the department from 1977 to 1981.He became emeritus professoin 1987 .Edward Lorenz came up with the concept that small effects lead to big changesthe "butterfly effect".He explained how a butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil changes the moving atmosphere in ways that could later trigger tornadoes in Texas. His discovery brought about "one of the most dramatic changes in mankind's view of nature since Sir Isaac Newton", said the committee that awarded Dr Lorenz the 1991 Kyoto Prize for basic sciences.Dr Lorenz, a meteorologist, came up with his chaos theory when he noticed the vastly different answers triggered by less than 0.0001 per cent error from a computer. That error and observation led to his seminal butterfly effect paper in 1972.An exceptionally fit man, who enjoyed cross-country skiing, hiking in the Appalachians and was hillwalking until a week before his death, Lorenz was a kind and unassuming figure. He was always interested in other interpretations of his theories and enjoyed meeting academic colleagues.As a boy I was always interested in doing things with numbers, and was also fascinated by changes in the weather," Lorenz wrote in an autobiography.Meteorologists today base their forecasts on his techniques. Lorenz's 1967 book "The Nature and Theory of the General Circulation of the Atmosphere" is considered a classic textbook in meteorology.The concept of small changes turning into big effects also influenced many basic sciences

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