In the 1950s, MIT meteorologist and mathematician Edward Lorenz was among the first to use computers to model the weather. At that time most scientists assumed that with with sufficient computing power, people would be able to model and predict the weather as we predict tides or solar eclipses. But in 1963 Lorenz demonstrated a mathematical reality that limits what we can predict: in many complex systems, a small change in initial conditions can lead to an enormous and unexpected change in outcome. Slowly, scientists began to realize the implications of Lorenz's "butterfly effect", but it was not until 1988 that it caught the attention of the general public with the publication of James Gleick's book "Chaos: Making a New Science." Since then scientists in a variety of fields have found chaotic effects in surprising places, including the orbits of the planets in our own solar system. But those who have the deepest understanding of Lorenz's work say that its true impact on science, comparable to that of relativity or quantum mechanics, has yet to be fully appreciated.
"The Real Lorenz" is a short documentary I am producing independently, with the support of the MIT Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences and the Lorenz Center, to release in celebration of Lorenz's 100th birthday in 2017. It will be the first documentary on chaos theory to be produced with the participation of top scientists who knew and worked with Lorenz.
The clip below is from my interview with Kerry Emanuel, the Cecil and Ida Green Professor of Atmospheric Science at MIT and co-founder of the Lorenz Center.