Strogatz, Steven H(enry)

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STROGATZ, Steven H(enry)


Male. Education: Princeton University, A.B., 1980; Cambridge University, B.A., 1982, M.A., 1986; Harvard University, Ph.D., 1986.


Office—Cornell University, 223 Kimball Hall, Ithaca, NY 14853-1503. E-mail—[email protected]


Writer and educator. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, instructor in department of mathematics, 1989-94; Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, professor and researcher in department of theoretical and applied mechanics and Center for Applied Mathematics, 1994—.


Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics, Society for Mathematical Biology.


National Science Foundation postdoctoral fellow to Harvard University; E. M. Baker Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Presidential Young Investigator Award, National Science Foundation.


The Mathematical Structure of the Human Sleep-Wake Cycle, Springer Verlag (New York, NY), 1986.

Nonlinear Dynamics and Chaos: With Applications to Physics, Biology, Chemistry, and Engineering, Addison-Wesley Publishers (Reading, MA), 1994.

(Editor, with Martin Golubitsky and Dan Luss) Pattern Formation in Continuous and Coupled Systems: A Survey Volume, Springer (New York, NY), 1999.

Sync: The Emerging Science of Spontaneous Order, Hyperion (New York, NY), 2003.

Contributor to journals and publications such as Nature, Mathematics, Scientific American, Discover, New Yorker, American Scientist, Science News, New York Times, Science, Die Zeit, London Daily Telegraph, and Physical Review Letters.

Collaborator on Interactive Differential Equations (software package), with Beverly West, Jean Marie McDill, and John Cantwell.


A professor in the department of theoretical and applied mechanics at Cornell University, Steven H. Strogatz studies a wide range of areas in applied mathematics and related disciplines. He has worked on subjects such as the dynamics of sleeping and waking cycles in humans and "the collective behavior of biological oscillators, such as swarms of synchronously flashing fireflies," as he stated in his autobiography posted on the Steven H. Strogatz Home Page. He has also conducted considerable research in areas related to "nonlinear dynamics and chaos applied to physics, engineering, and biology."

Strogatz's expertise is represented in his 1994 work, Nonlinear Dynamics and Chaos: With Applications to Physics, Biology, Chemistry, and Engineering. Intended as an introductory text for both advanced undergraduate students and for scientists in other disciplines who are new to nonlinear dynamics, the book offers a fundamental examination of the mathematics and differential equations relevant to nonlinear dynamics and chaos and how these mathematical tools operate in a variety of scientific disciplines. "Presenting such material in a self-contained and comprehensive fashion poses significant difficulties," noted Ronald F. Fox in Physics Today. "Strogatz has produced a text that succeeds admirably with this goal."

Topics covered in the book range from lasers to superconducting circuits to the coding of secret messages using concepts of chaos. Strogatz offers detailed explanations of the concepts, including highly technical areas. The book also includes "several hundred carefully conceived illustrations, dozens of worked examples, and hundreds of instructive problems for the student," Fox observed.

"Strogatz provides an excellent introduction to nonlinear differential equations and their applications to nonlinear dynamics and chaos," commented C. A. Hewett in Choice. R. B. Kellog, writing in SIAM Review, commented that Nonlinear Dynamics and Chaos "has a host of strong points"; it is "comprehensive" and "wholly accessible" and "has no peer" in the usefulness and efficiency of the examples and worked solutions it offers to readers. Strogatz's work "makes the study of the subject exciting and even amusing," Fox commented.

Chaos is a natural state of seemingly random, unpredictable disorder that can still be modeled mathematically. Synchrony, however, is an example of nature itself bringing order out of chaos. "The science of synchrony shows that order and cooperation are as much nature's way as disorder and chaos," noted Mary Carmichael in Newsweek. Strogatz carefully examines theories and examples of synchrony in Sync: The Emerging Science of Spontaneous Order. The concept of synchrony has existed in science since at least 1665, when Dutch mathematician, astronomer, and physicist Christiaan Huygens noticed that the pendulum movement of two clocks hanging near each other had synchronized. Synchrony can occur from the subatomic level to a cosmic scale, and has been observed in both living organisms and nonliving systems. It is dependent on what Strogatz calls "coupled oscillators," types of "entities that automatically cycle and have some physical or chemical influence on one another," noted a reviewer in Science News.

Synchrony is at one level the sudden emergence of organized behavior in systems that had moments before exhibited only random behavior. Distinct individual parts of a system will suddenly act in unison, as when a school of fish abruptly turns and swims in another direction. On another level, synchrony acts on larger organisms and systems. Humans synchronize their sleep and wake cycles—their circadian rhythms—to the cycles of night and day. Women living and working in close proximity with each other have been demonstrated to synchronize their menstrual periods. Highway traffic has been observed to organize itself into synchronous patterns to avoid traffic jams. Speculation exists that the rapid and widespread embracing of fads, and even consciousness itself, involve some form of synchrony capable of influencing the behavior of millions of people as well as millions of neurons, or nerve cells.

One of the clearer examples of synchrony discussed by Strogatz is that of a species of firefly that flashes in unison, unlike most other species. The insects' behavior had been observed for many years by visitors to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee. At dusk, and for hours afterward, "groupings of hundreds of male fireflies flash together four to eight times, with a brief pause between flashes," wrote Louis Jacobson in Washington Post. "Then the flashing stops for six to ten seconds before the cycle begins once again." The leading theory for this synchronous behavior is a mating display. "The inevitable result of this fierce competition, the theory goes, is that every firefly ends up flashing simultaneously," Jacobson reported.

Sync is an "eminently accessible and entertaining book," commented a Publishers Weekly reviewer. "This is a very personal account of Strogatz's involvement with synchrony and his personal interactions with leading scientists who have studied synchronously timed phenomena," noted Jonathan Copeland in Quarterly Review of Biology. "With a personable narrative voice, Strogatz delivers the goods for followers of complexity theory," wrote Gilbert Taylor in Booklist. The book "offers a real sense of what it's like to be at the beginning of Something Big," wrote Robert Matthews in New Scientist.



American Mathematical Monthly, August-September, 1998, Robert L. Devaney, software review of Interactive Differential Equations computer program, pp. 687-689.

Booklist, March 15, 2003, Gilbert Taylor, review of Sync: The Emerging Science of Spontaneous Order, p. 1255.

Choice, October, 1994, C. A. Hewett, review of Nonlinear Dynamics and Chaos: With Applications to Physics, Biology, Chemistry, and Engineering p. 324.

Discover, December, 1998, Polly Shulman, "From Muhammad Ali to Grandma Rose," p. 85.

Kirkus Reviews, January 1, 2003, review of Sync, p. 48.

Nature, February 20, 2003, Steve Nadis, "All Together Now: From Wobbly Bridges to New Speech-Recognition Systems, the Concept of Synchrony Seems to Pervade Our World," pp. 780-782; March 13, 2003, J. J. Collins, "Move to the Rhythm," pp. 117-118.

New Scientist, February 8, 2003, Robert Matthews, "Light in the Darkness," p. 54; May 31, 2003, review of Sync, p. 51.

Newsweek, March 17, 2003, Mary Carmichael, "In Sync," pp. 48-49.

New Technical Books, July, 1994, Barbara Berliner, review of Nonlinear Dynamics and Chaos, p. 698.

Physics Today, March, 1995, Ronald F. Fox, review of Nonlinear Dynamics and Chaos, pp. 93-94.

Publishers Weekly, February 17, 2003, review of Sync, pp. 66-67.

Quarterly Review of Biology, December, 2003, Jonathan Copeland, review of Sync, pp. 467-468.

Science News, April 12, 2003, review of Sync, p. 239.

SIAM Review, June, 1999, R. B. Kellog, review of Nonlinear Dynamics and Chaos, pp. 375-381.

Technology Review, February-March, 1987, Steve Nadis, "Mathematics of Sleep," pp. 13-14.

Washington Post, August 4, 2003, Louis Jacobson, "All Together Now: The New Science of Sync," p. A07.


Cornell Daily Sun Online, (September 15, 2003), Philip Lane, "Understanding the Science of 'Sync.'"

Cornell University Web site, (April 20, 2004), "Steven Strogatz."

Edge Web site, (April 2, 2004), "Steven Strogatz."

Hyperion Books Web site, (April 2, 2004).

Mathematical Association of America Web site, (April 2, 2004), Philip J. Davis, review of Sync: The Emerging Science of Spontaneous Order.