MLAP 31500

Natural Sciences Elective


Order and Chaos in the Natural World


Spring Quarter 2014


General Information and Schedule

March 28, 2014


Instructor:  Peter O. Vandervoort

Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics

The University of Chicago

5640 South Ellis Avenue

Chicago, Illinois 60637

(773) 702-8209 (Office)

(773) 752-8374 (Home)

(773) 710-2308 (Cell)



Readings: The main texts are


Gleick, James, Chaos. Making a New Science (New York: Penguin Books), 1987.  (ISBN: 987 014-311-3454),


Stewart, Ian, Does God Play Dice? The New Mathematics of Chaos (Malden,  MA: Blackwell Publishing Ltd.),  2002.  (ISBN 0-631-23251-6),




Lorenz, Edward N., The Essence of Chaos (Seattle: University of Washington Press), 1995.  (ISBN 0-295-97514-8),


The Bookstore will probably stock the most recent edition of each of these volumes.  However, any edition would be acceptable.


Course Requirements: Two brief papers will be assigned during the quarter.  The first is tentatively due on May 6, 2014, and the second on June 10, 2014.  Grades will be based mainly on the papers.  However, participation in class discussions will also be considered in the determination of final grades.  In order to encourage preparation for class discussions, students will be expected to submit in writing one-sentence answers to three questions about the readings at the beginning of each class meeting after the first.


In order to receive a grade in the course, a student must attend at least eight class meetings.  If a studentŐs absence more than twice is unavoidable, then at least one make-up meeting will be arranged.


Schedule:  Regular class meetings are scheduled from 6:30 P.m. to 9:30 p.m., on Tuesdays, April 1, through June 10, 2014, at the University of Chicago Gleacher Center.  The class will not meet on Tuesday, May 27.


Course Web Page:  A Web Page for MLA31500 is maintained at the URL <>.    Handouts and class notes will be posted there, and links to other useful web pages will be provided.


Tentative Schedule of Topics and Readings:


FIRST MEETING: April 1, 2014


SUBJECT:  Introduction to Chaos. I. The Weather and Thermal Convection.

READINGS: Gleick, pages 1-45.


SECOND MEETING: April 8, 2014


SUBJECT:  Introduction to Chaos. II. Pinball Machines and Iterated Maps.

READINGS: Lorenz, chapter 1; Stewart, Prologue & chapter 1.


THIRD MEETING: April 15, 2014


SUBJECT: Determinism in Classical Physics and the Fate of the Solar System. READINGS: Stewart, chapters 2 & 4.


FOURTH MEETING: April 22, 2014


SUBJECT: Phase Space Methods in Dynamics and the Fates of Dynamical Systems.

READINGS: Stewart, chapters 5, 6 & 8; Gleick, pages 45-53.


FIFTH MEETING: April 29, 2014


SUBJECT:  Turbulence; The Road to Chaos.

READINGS: Stewart, chapter 9; Gleick, pages 121-153.


SIXTH MEETING: May 6, 2014 (First writing assignment due.)


SUBJECT:  From the Logistic Map to Universality.

READINGS: Stewart, chapter 10; Gleick, pages 59-80 & 157-187.




SUBJECT:  Fractal Geometry in the Natural World; Chaos and the Shapes of Natural Objects.

READINGS: Stewart, chapter 11; Gleick, pages 83-118 & 215-240.


EIGHTH MEETING: May 20, 2014


SUBJECT: Chaos in the Solar System and on Ski Slopes.

READINGS: Stewart, chapter 12; Lorenz, chapter 2.


NINTH WEEK: May 27, 2014.  Class does not meet.


NINTH MEETING: June 3, 2014


SUBJECT:  Predicting the Weather

READINGS: Lorenz, chapter 3; Stewart, chapter 7.

TENTH MEETING: June 10, 2014 (Second writing assignment due.)


SUBJECT:  What is the Essence of Chaos?

READINGS: Lorenz, chapters 4 & 5.





Return to Course Page: mla315spring2013.html


Return to Peter Vandervoort's Home Page:  pov.html


Go to the home page of the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics

of the University of Chicago: