[Feature photo above: Clifford Attractor by Yami89 (public domain) via Wikimedia Commons.]
Alexandria Jones collapsed onto the couch with a dramatic sigh. Her father, the world-famous archaeologist Dr. Fibonacci Jones, glanced up from his newspaper and rolled his eyes.
“I don’t even want to hear about it,” he said.
Alex’s brother Leonhard was playing on the floor, making faces at the baby. He looked up at Alex and grinned.
“I’ll take the bait,” he said. “What happened?”
“Mom called my bedroom a Strange Attractor.”
“Oh? What does it attract?”
“I don’t know. Mostly books and model horses. But what’s so strange about that?”
The Mathematics of Chaos
Dr. Jones laughed and put down his paper. “Strange attractor is a technical term from the branch of mathematics called dynamical systems analysis — often called chaos theory.”
“So my bedroom is a math problem?”
“No. I think Mom meant your bedroom was chaos.”
“Oh.” Alex looked like she might pout, then she shrugged. “I guess she’s right, at that. So what is a strange attractor, really?”
“Well, when scientists first drew graphs of classical, non-chaotic systems — like a planet’s orbit or the flight of a football — it was surprising how often they got an ellipse or parabola or some similar curve,” Dr. Jones explained. “For some reason, nature seemed to be attracted to the shapes of classical geometry.”