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HOME > PAST ISSUE > May-June 2009 > Article Detail

FEATURE ARTICLE

Fermi, Pasta, Ulam and the Birth of Experimental Mathematics

A numerical experiment that Enrico Fermi, John Pasta, and Stanislaw Ulam reported 54 years ago continues to inspire discovery

Mason A. Porter, Norman J. Zabusky, Bambi Hu, David K. Campbell

Figure 1. Surfing England’s Severn RiverClick to Enlarge ImageIn 1955, Enrico Fermi, John Pasta and Stanislav Ulam released a technical report entitled “Studies of Nonlinear Problems: I” that contained “a little discovery.” This modest claim ushered in the era of computational science and gave birth to nonlinear science. Today analyses of the FPU problem continue to lead to deeper insights into many areas—including the interplay between regular and chaotic behavior, heat conduction anomalies in low-dimensional systems and the origins of statistical mechanics.


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