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Edward Norton Lorenz

Edward Norton Lorenz
Born May 23, 1917(1917-05-23)
West Hartford, Connecticut, United States
Died April 16, 2008 (aged 90)
Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States
Residence United States
Fields Mathematics and Meteorology
Institutions Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Alma mater Dartmouth College (BA, 1938)
Harvard University (Master's, 1940)
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (SM, 1943; ScD, 1948)
Doctoral advisor James Murdoch Austin
Doctoral students Kevin E. Trenberth
Known for Chaos theory
Lorenz attractor
Butterfly effect
Notable awards Kyoto Prize (1991)

Edward Norton Lorenz (May 23, 1917 - April 16, 2008) was an American mathematician and meteorologist, and a pioneer of chaos theory.[1] He discovered the strange attractor notion and coined the term butterfly effect.



Lorenz was born in West Hartford, Connecticut.[2] He studied mathematics at both Dartmouth College in New Hampshire and Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. From 1942 until 1946, he served as a weather forecaster for the United States Army Air Corps. After his return from the war, he decided to study meteorology.[1] Lorenz earned two degrees in the area from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he later was a professor for many years. He was a Professor Emeritus at MIT from 1987 until his death.[1]

During the 1950s, Lorenz became skeptical of the appropriateness of the linear statistical models in meteorology, as most atmospheric phenomena involved in weather forecasting are non-linear.[1] His work on the topic culminated in the publication of his 1963 paper Deterministic Nonperiodic Flow in Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences, and with it, the foundation of Chaos theory.[1][3] His description of the Butterfly effect followed in 1969, [1][4][5] Kyoto Prize for basic sciences, in the field of earth and planetary sciences, in 1991,[6] the Buys Ballot Award in 2004, and the Tomassoni Award in 2008.[citation needed] In his later years, he lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He was an avid outdoorsman, who enjoyed hiking, climbing, and cross-country skiing. He kept up with these pursuits until very late in his life, and managed to continue most of his regular activities until only a few weeks before his death. According to his daughter, Cheryl Lorenz, Lorenz had "finished a paper a week ago with a colleague."[7] On April 16, 2008, Lorenz died at his home in Cambridge at the age of 90, having suffered from cancer. [8]



Lorenz built a mathematical model of the way air moves around in the atmosphere. As Lorenz studied weather patterns he began to realize that they did not always change as predicted. Minute variations in the initial values of variables in his twelve variable computer weather model (c. 1960) would result in grossly divergent weather patterns.[1] This sensitive dependence on initial conditions came to be known as the butterfly effect.[9]

Lorenz went on to explore the underlying mathematics and published his conclusions in a seminal work titled Deterministic Nonperiodic Flow, in which he described a relatively simple system of equations that resulted in a very complicated dynamical object now known as the Lorenz attractor.[3]

See also


Lorenz published several books and articles. A selection:

  • 1955 Available potential energy and the maintenance of the general circulation. Tellus. Vol.7
  • 1963 Deterministic nonperiodic flow. Journal of Atmospheric Sciences. Vol.20 : 130—141 link [10].
  • 1967 The nature and theory of the general circulation of atmosphere. World Meteorological Organization. No.218
  • 1969 Three approaches to atmospheric predictability. American Meteorological Society. Vol.50
  • 1972 Predictability: Does the Flap of a Butterfly's Wings in Brazil Set Off a Tornado in Texas?
  • 1976 Nondeterministic theories of climate change. Quaternary Research. Vol.6
  • 1990 Can chaos and intransitivity lead to interannual variability? Tellus. Vol.42A
  • 2005 Designing Chaotic Models. Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences: Vol. 62, No. 5, pp. 1574–1587.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Tim Palmer (2008). "Edward Norton Lorenz". Physics Today 61 (9): 81–82. doi:10.1063/1.2982132. 
  2. ^ "Lorenz Receives 1991 Kyoto Prize". MIT News Office. 1991. 
  3. ^ a b Edward N. Lorenz (1963). "Deterministic Nonperiodic Flow". Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences 20: 130–141. doi:10.1175/1520-0469(1963)020<0130:DNF>2.0.CO;2. 
  4. ^ Edward N. Lorenz (1969). "Atmospheric predictability as revealed by naturally occurring analogues". Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences 26: 636–646. doi:10.1175/1520-0469(1969)26<636:APARBN>2.0.CO;2. 
  5. ^ Edward N. Lorenz (1969). "Three approaches to atmospheric predictability". Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society 50: 345–349. 
  6. ^ , Maggie Fox, Eric Walsh (2008). Edward Lorenz, father of chaos theory, dead at 90. Reuters. 
  7. ^ Kenneth Chang (2008). "Edward N. Lorenz, a Meteorologist and a Father of Chaos Theory, Dies at 90". New York Times. 
  8. ^ "Edward Lorenz, father of chaos theory, dies at age 90". CNN. 
  9. ^ The term was first recorded from Lorenz's address at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, on December 29, 1979.
  10. ^ According to the Web of Science online academic database, this paper has received at least 4000 unique citations by subsequent authors, making it one of the most-cited papers of all time.

External links



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