A Closer Look – Mathematician/NY Times Columnist Steven Strogatz

Happy Wednesday! We’re back from holiday break and ready to start a new year. Today, we’re going to take a closer look at mathematician/author/New York Times contributor Dr. Steven Strogatz.

Steven Strogatz is an applied mathematician who works in the areas of nonlinear dynamics and complex systems, often on topics inspired by the curiosities of everyday life.


OK, stop right there … I can hear your brain shutting down when you read ‘nonlinear dynamics’. Take a deep breath, turn off your math anxiety, and continue!


He loves finding math in places where you’d least expect it—and then using it to illuminate life’s mysteries, big and small. For example: Why is it so hard to fall asleep a few hours before your regular bedtime? When you start chatting with a stranger on a plane, why is it so common to find that you have a mutual acquaintance? What can twisting a rubber band teach us about our DNA? An award-winning researcher, teacher, and communicator, Strogatz enjoys sharing the beauty of math though his books, essays, public lectures, and radio and television appearances.

In his book Sync, Strogatz tells the story of the dawn of a new science. He explains how enormous systems can synchronize themselves, from the electrons in a superconductor to the pacemaker cells in our hearts. He shows that although these phenomena might seem unrelated on the surface, at a deeper level there is a connection, forged by the unifying power of mathematics.

Each short chapter of his book The Joy of X provides an “Aha!” moment, starting with why numbers are helpful, and moving on to such topics as shapes, calculus, fat tails, and infinity. Strogatz explains the ideas of math gently and clearly, with wit, insight, and brilliant illustrations. Assuming no knowledge, only curiosity, he shows how math connects to literature, philosophy, law, medicine, art, business, even pop culture and current events. For example, did O.J. do it? How should you flip your mattress to get the maximum wear out of it? How does Google search the Internet? How many people should you date before settling down?

His newest book Infinite Powers is a brilliant and endlessly appealing explanation of calculus—how it works and why it makes our lives immeasurably better. Without calculus, we wouldn’t have cell phones, TV, GPS, or ultrasound. We wouldn’t have unraveled DNA or discovered Neptune or figured out how to put 5,000 songs in your pocket. Though many of us were scared away from this essential, engrossing subject in high school and college, Steven Strogatz’s brilliantly creative, down to earth history shows that calculus is not about complexity; it’s about simplicity. It harnesses an unreal number—infinity—to tackle real world problems, breaking them down into easier ones and then reassembling the answers into solutions that feel miraculous.


Strogatz is the math teacher you wish you’d had!


Please contact us for more information about having Steven Strogatz speak at your institution or conference!


—And that is the story for this week! Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter to keep up with the latest from all of our speakers, scientists and change makers!



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