WASHINGTON Edward Lorenz, the father of chaos
theory, who showed how small actions could lead to major
changes in what became known as the "butterfly effect," died of
cancer on Wednesday at the age of 90, the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology said.
Lorenz, a meteorologist, figured out in the 1960s that
small differences in a dynamic system such as the atmosphere
could set off enormous changes. In 1972 he presented a study
entitled "Predictability: Does the Flap of a Butterfly's Wings
in Brazil Set Off a Tornado in Texas?"
Born in 1917 in West Hartford, Connecticut, Lorenz earned
degrees in mathematics from Dartmouth College in 1938, from
Harvard University in 1940, and degrees in meteorology from MIT
in 1943 and 1948.
While serving as a weather forecaster for the U.S. Army Air
Corps in World War Two, he decided to study meteorology.
"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.
"By showing that certain deterministic systems have formal
predictability limits, Lorenz put the last nail in the coffin
of the Cartesian universe and fomented what some have called
the third scientific revolution of the 20th century, following
on the heels of relativity and quantum physics," said Kerry
Emanuel, professor of atmospheric science at MIT.
"He was also a perfect gentleman, and through his
intelligence, integrity and humility set a very high standard
for his and succeeding generations," Emanuel added in a
In 1991, Lorenz won the Kyoto Prize for basic sciences in
the field of earth and planetary sciences.
The prize committee said Lorenz "made his boldest
scientific achievement in discovering 'deterministic chaos,' a
principle which has profoundly influenced a wide range of basic
sciences and brought about one of the most dramatic changes in
mankind's view of nature since Sir Isaac Newton."
Lorenz, who enjoyed hiking and cross-country skiing, stayed
active until two weeks before his death at home in Cambridge,
Massachusetts, his family said. He is survived by three
children and four grandchildren.
(Reporting by Maggie Fox; Editing by Eric Walsh)