Steven Strogatz is the Jacob Gould Schurman Professor of Applied Mathematics at Cornell University. After graduating summa cum laude in mathematics from Princeton in 1980, Strogatz studied at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he was a Marshall Scholar. He did his doctoral work in applied mathematics at Harvard, followed by a National Science Foundation postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard and Boston University. From 1989 to 1994, Strogatz taught in the Department of Mathematics at MIT. He joined the Cornell faculty in 1994.
Strogatz has broad research interests. Early in his career, he worked on a variety of problems in mathematical biology, including the geometry of supercoiled DNA, the dynamics of the human sleep-wake cycle, the topology of three-dimensional chemical waves, and the collective behavior of biological oscillators, such as swarms of synchronously flashing fireflies. In the 1990s, his work focused on nonlinear dynamics and chaos applied to physics, engineering, and biology. Several of these projects dealt with coupled oscillators, such as lasers, superconducting Josephson junctions, and crickets that chirp in unison. In each case, the research involved close collaborations with experimentalists. He also likes branching out into new areas, often with students taking the lead. In the past few years, this has led him into such topics as the role of crowd synchronization in the wobbling of London’s Millennium Bridge on its opening day, and the dynamics of structural balance in social systems.
Perhaps his best-known research contribution is his 1998 Nature paper on "small-world" networks, co-authored with his former student Duncan Watts. It was the most highly cited paper about networks between 1998 and 2008, as well as the sixth most highly cited paper—on any topic—in physics. It has now been cited more than 38,000 times, according to Google Scholar. As of 17 October 2014, it was the 63rd most highly cited research article of all time.
Strogatz has received numerous awards for his research, teaching, and public communication, including: a Presidential Young Investigator Award from the National Science Foundation (1990); MIT's highest teaching prize, the E. M. Baker Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching (1991); the J.P. and Mary Barger '50 Teaching Award (1997), the Robert '55 and Vanne '57 Cowie Teaching Award (2001), the Tau Beta Pi Teaching Award (2006), and the Swanson Teaching Award (2009), all from Cornell's College of Engineering; the Communications Award from the Joint Policy Board for Mathematics (2007), a lifetime achievement award for the communication of mathematics to the general public; the AAAS Public Engagement with Science Award (2013), whose previous winners include Carl Sagan, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, and E.O. Wilson; the Lewis Thomas Prize for Writing about Science (2015), which honors "the scientist as poet" and whose previous awardees include Freeman Dyson, Oliver Sacks, and Atul Gawande; Cornell's highest teaching prize, the Stephen H. Weiss Presidential Fellowship (2016); and the SIAM George Pólya Prize for Mathematical Exposition (2019).
Strogatz is a Fellow of the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (2009), the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (2012), the American Physical Society (2014), and the American Mathematical Society (2016).
He has spoken at TED, the Aspen Ideas Festival, and the World Government Summit, and he is a frequent guest on Radiolab and Science Friday. In the spring of 2010, he wrote a weekly blog about mathematics for the The New York Times; the Harvard Business Review described these columns as “a model for how mathematics needs to be popularized." His second New York Times series, Me, Myself and Math, appeared in the fall of 2012. Strogatz has also filmed a series of 24 lectures on Chaos for the Teaching Company’s Great Courses series.
He is the author of Nonlinear Dynamics and Chaos (1994), Sync (2003), The Calculus of Friendship (2009), and The Joy of x (2012). His most recent book, Infinite Powers (2019), is a New York Times Best Seller.
Awards and Honors (click to view)
- George Pólya Prize for Mathematical Exposition (2019)
Awarded to Strogatz by the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics, for his "extensive and brilliant works conveying the fascination and the impact of mathematics to the general public through numerous books, newspaper and magazine articles, and radio, television, web, and video appearances, and for his important and influential textbook on nonlinear dynamics and chaos."
- Stephen H. Weiss Presidential Fellowship (2016)
“Recognizes tenured Cornell faculty members for the teaching and mentoring of undergraduates. Two or three recipients are named each year; in addition to a respected scholarly career, the recipients have sustained records of effective, inspiring and distinguished teaching and contributions to undergraduate education."
- Fellow of the American Mathematical Society (2016)
“For contributions to nonlinear dynamics and complex systems, and for the promotion of mathematics in the public sphere."
- Joseph Priestley Award (2015)
"Presented by Dickinson College in memory of Joseph Priestley, discoverer of oxygen, to a distinguished scientist whose work has contributed to the welfare of humanity. The award, first presented in 1952, recognizes outstanding achievement and contribution to our understanding of science and the world." Past awardees, including Francis Crick, Margaret Mead, and Linus Pauling, are listed here.
- Lewis Thomas Prize for Writing about Science (2015)
The Lewis Thomas Prize honors "the rare individual who bridges the worlds of science and the humanities – whose voice and vision can tell us about science's aesthetic and philosophical dimensions, providing not merely new information but cause for reflection, even revelation, as in a poem or painting." Previous awardees, including Lewis Thomas, Freeman Dyson, and Oliver Sacks, are listed here.
- Fellow of the American Physical Society (2014)
“For seminal work on complex networks, nonlinear oscillators, and synchronization phenomena.”
- Euler Book Prize, for The Joy of x, Mathematical Association of America (2014)
"The Euler Book Prize is awarded annually to an author or authors of an outstanding book about mathematics. The Prize is intended to recognize authors of exceptionally well written books with a positive impact on the public's view of mathematics and to encourage the writing of such books." Past recipients are listed here.
- Co-honoree (with Alan Alda),
National Museum of Mathematics (2014)
For “contributions to the public understanding and appreciation of mathematics.”
- Public Engagement with Science Award, American Association for the Advancement of Science (2013)
"For his exceptional commitment to and passion for conveying the beauty and importance of mathematics to the general public." Past recipients include Carl Sagan, Neil deGrasse Tyson, John Allen Paulos, and E.O. Wilson.
- Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (2012)
- Department of Mathematics Teaching Award, Cornell (2012)
- Simons Lecture Series, Mathematics Department, MIT (2011)
"The Department of Mathematics annually presents the Simons Lecture Series to celebrate the most exciting mathematical work by the very best mathematicians of our time."
- Louis Clark Vanuxem Lecture, Princeton University (2011)
“A series of public lectures before the University annually on subjects of scientific interest." Lecturers have included Alfred North Whitehead, J. Robert Oppenheimer, John von Neumann, Freeman Dyson, and Carl Sagan.
- AMS-MAA-SIAM Gerald and Judith Porter Public Lecturer, Joint Mathematics Meetings, San Francisco (2010)
- Rouse Ball Lecturer, University of Cambridge (2009)
Previous lecturers have included Albert Einstein, Paul Dirac, Wolfgang Pauli, Benoit Mandelbrot, Edward Lorenz, and numerous Nobel laureates and Fields Medalists.
- Fellow of the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (2009)
"For investigations of small-world networks and coupled oscillators and for outstanding science communication."
- Swanson Teaching Award, Cornell (2009)
The highest teaching award given in the College of Engineering.
- Highly Cited Paper in Physics (2008)
For “Collective dynamics of small-world networks,” which ranked #6 on the list of most highly cited papers in physics for 1998-2008.
- Jacob Gould Schurman Professor (2007)
A university-wide endowed chair at Cornell.
- Communications Award from the Joint Policy Board for Mathematics (2007)
A lifetime achievement award, presented jointly by the four major American mathematical societies, “to reward journalists and other communicators who, on a sustained basis, bring accurate mathematical information to non-mathematical audiences. The award recognizes a significant accumulated contribution to the public understanding of mathematics.”
- Tau Beta Pi Teaching Award, Cornell (2006)
“Professor of the Year” in the College of Engineering, chosen by the students in the engineering honor society.
- I. E. Block Community Lecturer, SIAM Annual Meeting, San Diego (2001)
- Robert `55 and Vanne `57 Cowie Excellence in Teaching Award, College of Engineering, Cornell (2001)
- J.P. and Mary Barger `50 Teaching Award, College of Engineering, Cornell (1997)
- NSF Presidential Young Investigator (1990–1995)
- E. M. Baker Award for Outstanding Teaching, MIT (1991)
MIT’s only institute-wide teaching prize, selected solely by students.
- NSF Postdoctoral Fellowship in Mathematical Sciences (1986–1989)
- Awarded four Certificates for Distinction in Teaching, Harvard University, Committee on Undergraduate Education (1983, 1984, 1985, 1987)
- Senior Scholarship and Tripos Prize, Trinity College, Cambridge, England (1982)
- Marshall Scholar, Trinity College, Cambridge (1980–1982)
- First place in Punt, Pass, and Kick, 8 year-old division, Torrington, CT (1967)