The Discovery of Self-Organized Criticality



In 1987 Chao Tang, Kurt Wiesenfeld, and I constructed the simple, prototypical model of self-organized criticality, the sandpile model. Our calculations on the model showed how a system that obeys simple, benign local rules can organize itself into a poised state that evolves in terms of flashing, intermittent bursts rather than following a smooth path. We did not set out with the intention of studying sandpiles. As with many other discoveries in science, the discovery of sandpile dynamics was accidental. This chapter describes the events leading to the discovery. In hindsight, things could have been much simpler; our thinking went through some quite convoluted paths.


Nobel Prize Charge Density Wave Nature Work Muon Neutrino Sandpile Model 
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  1. Bak, P, Tang, C. and Wiesenfeld, K. Self-Organized Criticality. An Explanation of ill Noise. Physical Review Letters 59 (1987)Google Scholar
  2. Sepkoski, J.- Self-Organized Criticality. Physical Review A8 (1988) 364Google Scholar

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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • Per Bak

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