By A'ndrea Elyse Messer
With the realization that seemingly simple systems may be unexpectedly complex mathematically, Edward Norton Lorenz, professor emeritus, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, fundamentally changed the way scientists look at the world.
Dr. Lorenz's work in deterministic chaos not only altered meteorology, but also such fields as biology and fluid mechanics. "Ed showed that an infinitesimal change can have large consequences," John A. Dutton, dean of the college of Earth and Mineral Sciences and professor of meteorology, said.
Dr. Lorenz's 1963 paper, "Deterministic Nonperiodic Flow," in the Journal of Atmospheric Sciences, marked the beginning of the new field of chaos theory and application, 12 years before other scientists -- biologists, physicists, chemists, geologists and physicians -- took up the challenge.
An analogy discussed by Dr. Lorenz -- "one flap of a sea gull's wings would forever change the future course of the weather" -- provided an image of minute variations creating immense effects.
Computers made Dr. Lorenz's work possible because they permit detailed examination of solutions that cannot be obtained analytically. The advent of computers, numerical simulation and Dr. Lorenz's penetrating analysis combined to show that the solutions to the equations can only be predicted for a finite period of time. For weather phenomena, the limit of predictability is about two days.
Dr. Lorenz received his A.B. in mathematics from Dartmouth College in 1938 and his A.M. in mathematics from Harvard University in 1940. He received his S.M. and Sc.D. in meteorology from MIT in 1943 and 1948, respectively. He has received honorary doctorates from McGill University (1983), University of Arizona (1989), Rutgers University (1990) and Dartmouth College (1992).
He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Meteorological Society and the National Academy of Sciences. He is an honorary Fellow of the Indian Academy of Sciences and an honorary member of the Royal Meteorological Society and the American Meteorological Society. He is a foreign associate of the Academy of Sciences, Lisbon; a foreign member of the Royal Society of London and the USSR Academy of Sciences, and a member of the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters.
Dr. Lorenz has received numerous awards including the Louis J. Battan Author's Award in 1995 from the American Meteorological Society and, in 1991, the Kyoto Prize in basic sciences from the Inamori Foundation, Kyoto, Japan. He received the Roger Revelle Medal in 1992 from the American Geophysical Union.
Trained as a mathematician, Dr. Lorenz began his meteorological career in the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1942 as a weather forecaster. He became an associate professor of meteorology at MIT in 1955, an associate professor in 1956 and professor in 1962. He served as head of the department of meteorology and physical oceanography from 1977 to 1981 and retired as professor emeritus in 1987.
Dr. Lorenz's theory that "one flap of a sea gull's wings would forever change the future course of weather" provides a vivid image of how one small act can have far-reaching effects.
His discovery altered the landscape of meteorology and other sciences including biology and fluid mechanics.
Dr. Lorenz is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Meteorological Society and the National Academy of Sciences.
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