Harry Swinney

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Harry Leonard Swinney
Born Harry Leonard Swinney
(1939-04-10)April 10, 1939
Opelousas, Louisiana, U.S.
Nationality United States
Fields Physics
Alma mater
Doctoral advisor Herman Z Cummins
Known for Chaos, pattern formation, and fluid dynamics experiments
Notable awards
  • Boltzmann Medal (2013)
  • Lewis Fry Richardson Medal (2012)
  • Jürgen Moser Award (2007)
  • American Physical Society Fluid Dynamics Prize (1995)

Harry L. Swinney (born April 10, 1939) is an American physicist noted for his contributions to the field of nonlinear dynamics.

Personal life[edit]

Harry Leonard Swinney was born in Opelousas, Louisiana, on April 10, 1939. His parents were Leonard R. Swinney and Ethel Bertheaud Swinney. In 1967 Harry Swinney married Gloria T. Luyas, and in 1978 they had a son, Brent Luyas Swinney. Brent died of cancer in 1995 and Gloria died of cancer in 1997. Harry Swinney married Lizabeth Kelley on August 12, 2000.


Swinney attended elementary school in Austin, Texas, and in 1957 graduated from Homer [Louisiana] High School. In 1961 he was awarded a B.S. with honors in physics by Southwestern at Memphis (now Rhodes College), where he was inspired by his physics professor and research mentor, Jack H. Taylor. In 1968 he was awarded a Ph.D. in physics by Johns Hopkins University; his advisor was Herman Z. Cummins.


Swinney was an assistant professor of physics at New York University (1971–73) and was associate professor and then professor at the City College of the City University of New York (1973–78). Since 1978 Swinney has been on the faculty of the University of Texas at Austin, where he is now Sid W. Richardson Foundation Regents Chair of Physics and director of the Center for Nonlinear Dynamics.


Swinney is a member of the National Academy of Sciences (1992) and a fellow of the American Physical Society (1977), the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1991), the American Association for the Advancement of Science (1999), and the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (2009). He was awarded the American Physical Society Fluid Dynamics Prize (1995), the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics Jürgen Moser Prize (2007), the European Geosciences Union Richardson Medal (2012), and the Boltzmann Medal (2013) of the Commission on Statistical Physics of the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics. He was a Guggenheim Fellow (1983–84) and he was inducted into The Johns Hopkins University Society of Scholars (1984). He was awarded honorary doctoral degrees by Rhodes College (2002), The Hebrew University of Jerusalem (2008), and the University of Buenos Aires (2010).

Research Contributions[edit]

Swinney conducts research on instabilities, chaos, and pattern formation in diverse systems, including fluid, chemical, and granular media. Swinney together with his students, postdocs, and other collaborators have:

  • determined the decay rate of order parameter fluctuations for fluids near the critical point [1][2]
  • observed a transition to chaos—deterministic yet nonperiodic behavior—in experiments on a fluid flow [3][4][5]
  • characterized chaos from time series data by computing the largest Lyapunov exponent (rate of loss of predictability) [6] and the mutual information (general dependence of two variables) [7]
  • discovered multiple transitions to different patterns of fluid flow between concentric independently rotating cylinders [8]
  • designed a laboratory experiment that yielded a stable vortex for conditions mimicking those on Jupiter.[9] This result provides a plausible explanation of the stability of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, which was first observed by Robert Hooke in 1664.
  • observed the emergence of a spatial pattern in a chemical system,[10] as predicted in 1952 by Alan Turning
  • determined the scaling of power dissipated in strongly turbulent flow between concentric rotating cylinders [11][12]
  • observed anomalous diffusion and Lévy flights in a fluid flow [13]
  • discovered localized structures, dubbed “oscillons”, in an oscillating granular layer;[14] oscillons were subsequently found in many dynamical systems. The granular experiments also investigated various extended spatial patterns,[15] shock waves,[16] and fluctuations.[17]
  • observed resonant pattern formation with frequency locking in chemical systems [18][19]
  • found fractal cascades of waves on the edges of leaves, flowers, and garbage bags [20][21]
  • found a resonance in internal wave boundary currents generated by tidal flow on a slope; this resonance apparently selects the angle (typically three degrees) of the continental slopes of the oceans [22]
  • discovered a new protein, Slf, which is produced by neighboring colonies of Paenibacillus dendritiformis bacteria.[23] Slf is lethal to bacteria near the edge of a colony that faces another P. dendritiformis colony.[24]
  • found that fluctuations in the number N of bacteria swimming in a volume varied as N^(3/4), in contrast to the N^(1/2) scaling of fluctuations for systems in thermodynamic equilibrium [25]


Swinney together with Rajarshi Roy and Kenneth Showalter founded a 2-week Hands-On Research School for early career scientists from developing countries: handsonresearch.org The schools, sponsored by the International Centre for Theoretical Physics, are described in a 3-minute video: here

Current Research here


  1. ^ H.L. Swinney and H.Z. Cummins, Physical Review 171, 152 (1968)
  2. ^ H.L. Swinney and D.L. Henry, Physical Review A 8, 2586-2617 (1973)
  3. ^ J.P. Gollub and H.L. Swinney, Physical Review Letters 35, 927-930 (1975)
  4. ^ P.R. Fenstermacher et al., J. Fluid Mechanics 94, 103-128 (1979)
  5. ^ A. Brandstater and H.L. Swinney, Physical Review A 35, 2207-2220 (1987)
  6. ^ A. Wolf et al., Physica D 16, 285-317 (1985)
  7. ^ A.M. Fraser and H.L. Swinney, Physical Review A 33, 1134-1140 (1986)
  8. ^ C. D. Andereck et al., J. Fluid Mechanics 164, 155-183 (1986)
  9. ^ J.D. Sommeria et al., Nature 331, 689-693 (1988)
  10. ^ Q. Ouyang and H.L. Swinney, Nature 352, 610-612 (1991)
  11. ^ D.P. Lathrop et al., Physical Review A 46, 6390-6405 (1992)
  12. ^ G.S. Lewis and H.L. Swinney, Physical Review E 59, 5457-5467 (1999)
  13. ^ T.H. Solomon et al., Physical Review Letters 71, 3975-3978 (1993).
  14. ^ P.B. Umbanhowar et al., Nature 382, 793-796 (1996)
  15. ^ F. Melo et al., Physical Review Letters 75, 2838-3841 (1995)
  16. ^ E.C. Rericha et al., Physical Review Letters 88, 014302 (2002)
  17. ^ M. Schroeter et al., Physical Review E 71, 130301 (2005)
  18. ^ V. Petrov et al., Nature 388, 655-657 (1997)
  19. ^ J. Maselko and H.L. Swinney,J. Chemical Physics 85 6430-6441(1986)
  20. ^ E. Sharon et al., Nature 419, 579 (2002)
  21. ^ E. Sharon et al., American Scientist 92, 254-261 (2004)
  22. ^ H.P. Zhang et al., Physical Review Letters 100, 244504 (2008)
  23. ^ A. Be’er et al., PNAS 106, 248-433 (2009)
  24. ^ A. Be’er et al., PNAS 107, 6258-6263 (2010)
  25. ^ H.P. Zhang, PNAS 107, 13626-13630 (2010)

External links[edit]