Why is it that we can predict a solar eclipse centuries in advance, but we can only predict the weather about a week or two in advance? Can a small-scale movement, like the flap of a butterfly’s wing, influence large-scale systems like hurricanes? In the 1960s, an MIT meteorologist exploring these questions with the help of early digital computers made a discovery that would change the way we understand not only weather but nearly everything in our universe. His work suggested there are certain systems we may never be able to predict, not because they are too complex, but because “chaos” is built into their underlying math. Years later, this idea would enter popular culture as “the butterfly effect.”
"Weather and Chaos: The Work of Edward N. Lorenz" is the first film on Lorenz and his role in Chaos Theory produced with the participation and support of scientists who worked alongside him. With their help we take a closer look at what the “butterfly effect” actually meant in the context of Lorenz’s work, and why it should make all of us rethink our understanding of our universe.
I produced, wrote, edited, and created animations for this film which will be released online in late July. A preview of the film screened at MIT in February as part of a symposium honoring Lorenz and colleague Jule Charney, for an audience that included Lorenz's family and many scientists who worked with him. Since then I have revised the film based on their feedback, added professional narration by William Cline and an original score by Rob Jaret.