Accomplishments at the University of Wisconsin

Julien Clinton Sprott

March 2008

Prof. Sprott began his association with the University of Wisconsin as a graduate student in physics in September, 1964 after receiving a bachelor’s degree in physics from MIT. His Ph.D. thesis was on Behavior of RF Heated Plasmas in a Toroidal Octupole Magnetic Field under the supervision of Donald W. Kerst. After graduating in 1969, he spent a year as a postdoc jointly in Physics and Electrical Engineering before taking a position at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. In 1973 he returned to the University as an Assistant Professor of Physics. He was promoted to Associate Professor in 1977 and to full professor in 1979.
His early research was on heating and confinement of plasmas in the Toroidal Octupole and in the Levitated Octupole. He proposed, designed, and supervised the construction and operation of the Tokapole II poloidal divertor tokamak. After the retirement of Prof. Kerst in 1980, he served as principal investigator of the plasma physics program for the following six years, during which time the Madison Symmetric Torus was proposed, designed, and constructed. He oversaw its initial operation and achieved the first reversed field pinch plasmas in the device. He has consulted with a dozen different organizations including ORNL, McDonnell-Douglas, Argonne National Lab, TRW, Honeywell, and the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry.
In 1989, his interests turned to computational nonlinear dynamics, and he has lectured, collaborated, and published widely in that area over the past two decades. He has developed a number of new chaotic systems and electronic circuits, one of which is marketed by PASCO Scientific. In 1994 he initiated and continues to organize a weekly campus-wide seminar on Chaos and Complex Systems.
In 1984 Prof. Sprott began a program called The Wonders of Physics, a popular lecture/demonstration program for the general public. He has made 202 presentations over the past 25 years to an estimated audience of 60,000 people. For the past 20 years, he has supervised a traveling version of the show that has been given (by others) approximately 1000 times in schools and other settings in all 72 Wisconsin counties, 28 states, and 3 countries. He has produced a Lecture Kit, 24 hours of videos, two educational software programs, one of which won the first annual Computers in Physics contest for innovative educational software, and a book on Physics Demonstrations. He maintains a very popular web site with much educational material.
He has published over 300 technical papers and abstracts and has written six books, including two textbooks, Introduction to Modern Electronics (still used in Physics 321) and Chaos and Time-Series Analysis; two popularizations, Strange Attractors and Images of a Complex World; and a translation of Numerical Recipes into BASIC. He has produced commercial software for the analysis of chaotic data. He supervised the theses of 18 Ph.D. students, some of whom went on to win awards for their work in plasma physics.
He has taught twelve different courses in the Department including electronics, plasma, modern physics, chaos, and all the general physics courses. He has served on most departmental committees, has been a faculty senator for eleven years, and was chair of an L&S committee on Science and Math Education.
Prof. Sprott was elected a fellow of the American Physical Society in 1980, received the John Glover award from Dickinson College in 1994, the Van Hise Outreach Teaching award from UW in 1997, and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Wisconsin Association of Physics Teachers in 1999.