Complex systems community mourns death of Edward Norton Lorenz

Cambridge, MA--April 17, 2008--MIT Professor of meteorology Edward Norton Lorenz died Wednesday at age 90. Lorenz was best known for his pioneering work in chaos theory, a concept central to the field of complex systems.

Born in West Hartford, Conn., in 1917, Lorenz made many contributions to the study of meteorological predication. Lorenz's study of weather modeling equations led him to identify the "butterfly effect:" the concept that a small disturbance could be amplified into major consequences. The effect is often dramatized by the image of a butterfly flapping its wings resulting in a hurricane.

"We are saddened to announce the passing of Edward Lorenz, one of the founders of the study of complex systems," said Dr. Yaneer Bar-Yam, President of The New England Complex Systems Institute (NECSI). "His willingness to scientifically interpret what others might have seen as errors led to the study of deterministic chaos, a foundation of the modern study of complex systems."

The radical change that Lornez's work brought is due to the apparent paradox of his findings: deterministic systems are unpredictable. By violating the commonly held intuition that small effects can be ignored, Lorenz's research led scientists to reevaluate traditional scientific methods, including calculus.

Professor Lorenz spoke at the NECSI hosted International Conference on Complex Systems in both 2000 and 2002, on his ongoing work describing key properties of the dynamics of meteorological systems.

References to research by Lorenz:

  • E. N. Lorenz, Deterministic nonperiodic flow, J. of Atmospheric Sciences, 20, 130 (1963)
  • E. N. Lorenz. Predictability: Does the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil set off a tornado Texas? [Lecture at AAAS meeting] (1972) Reprinted in the following reference.
  • E. N. Lorenz, The Essence of Chaos. (University of Washington Press, 1996).

  • The New England Complex Systems Institute (NECSI) is a non-profit research and education institute developing new scientific methods, and applying them to the challenges of society.



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