EDUCATION: Chaos Crib Sheet

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Science  10 May 2002:
Vol. 296, Issue 5570, pp. 987
DOI: 10.1126/science.296.5570.987a

Curious readers can find an orderly path through chaos theory with the help of The Chaos Hypertextbook. The quirky site covers the basics: one-dimensional iterated maps, strange attractors, fractals, and Lyapunov exponents—mathematical quantities that measure how chaotic or well-behaved a system may be. “I was a graduate student at Columbia and was studying chaos myself, and I wanted to write it up in a way that teachers could use,” says Web master Glenn Elert, a physics teacher at Midwood High School of Brooklyn College in New York City.

The site moves through material too quickly to serve as a textbook for a class, but Elert's insightful mediations should make fruitful supplementary reading for an undergraduate or high school student trying to come to grips with concepts such as fractional dimension. The Chaos Hypertextbook offers lovely illustrations and many links to chaos-related software for Mac users, but its real strength lies in its engaging tone. It's like getting a little help from the smartest kid in the class.

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