MacArthur Fellows Program

Mitchell J. Feigenbaum

Mathematical Physicist | Class of November 1984

Mathematical Physicist
Ithaca, New York
40 at time of award

Mitchell Feigenbaum is a mathematical physicist whose work focuses on complex motions in physical systems.

Building on the work of mathematical scientists who study turbulence, Feigenbaum discovered a universal way in which a transition from order to chaos can occur.  Using computer calculations, his mathematical proof demonstrated that the same constant and same behavior would occur in a wide class of mathematical functions across sciences, prior to the onset of chaos.  This number, around 4.6692, has come to be known as the Feigenbaum constant.  His scientific work has had an impact on a wide number of disciplines, including chemical kinetics, statistical physics, hydrodynamics, and meteorology.

In addition, Feigenbaum contributed to the mathematics of cartography using fractal geometry to describe natural forms, from which he developed software capable of reconfiguring coastlines, borders and mountain ranges to fit a multitude of map scales and projections.  He was on the staff of the theory division at Los Alamos National Laboratory (1974-1982) and a professor at Cornell University (1982-1986) before assuming his current position as the Toyota Professor in the Laboratory of Mathematical Physics at The Rockefeller University.

Feigenbaum received a B.E.E. (1964) from the City College of New York and a Ph.D. (1970) in elementary particle physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Last updated January 1, 2005.

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