A native of Methuen, Massachusetts, Robert L. Devaney is currently Professor of Mathematics at Boston University. He received his undergraduate degree from the College of the Holy Cross in 1969 and his PhD from the University of California at Berkeley in 1973 under the direction of Stephen Smale. (Click here for his complete "mathematical" genealogy.) He taught at Northwestern University and Tufts University before coming to Boston University in 1980.
His main area of research is dynamical systems, primarily complex analytic dynamics, but also including more general ideas about chaotic dynamical systems. Lately, he has become intrigued with the incredibly rich topological aspects of dynamics, including such things as indecomposable continua, Sierpinski curves, and Cantor bouquets.
He is the author of over 125 research papers in the field of dynamical systems as well as a dozen pedagogical papers in this field. He is also the (co)-author or editor of 16 books in this area of mathematics. These include An Introduction to Chaotic Dynamical Systems, a text for advanced undergraduate and graduate students in mathematics and researchers in other fields, A First Course in Chaotic Dynamical Systems, written for undergraduate college students who have taken calculus, Chaos, Fractals, and Dynamics: Computer Experiments in Modern Mathematics, and the series of four books collectively called A Tool Kit of Dynamics Activities, all aimed at high school students and teachers as well as college faculty teaching introductory dynamics courses, including courses aimed at non-science majors. Professor Devaney is involved in the Boston University Ordinary Differential Equations Project with Paul Blanchard and Glen R. Hall. This National Science Foundation project is an attempt to revitalize the sophomore level ordinary differential equations course by including material from dynamical systems theory in all aspects of the course. The fourth edition of the textbook Differential Equations resulting from this project was published in 2011. Most recently, he has worked with Morris W. Hirsch and Stephen Smale to update and revise their classic text on differential equations, now called Differential Equations, Dynamical Systems, and an Introduction to Chaos.
In 2013-15, he served as the President of the Mathematical Association of America . In 2015-16, he served as immediate past-president of the MAA. He is also a member of the Congress of the MAA during the period 2014-19.
Professor Devaney has delivered over 1,600 invited lectures on dynamical systems and related topics in all 50 states in the US and in over 35 countries on six continents worldwide. (He only needs Antartica to complete his goal of speaking on all continents ---so if you teach at South Pole State and run some kind of seminar, give him a call!) Approximately one-third of these lectures were aimed at research-level audiences; one-third were for undergraduate students and/or faculty; and one-third were for high school students and/or faculty or the general public. Several of these lectures are available on videotape from Science TV or Key Curriculum Press. He has also been the "Chaos Consultant" for several theaters' presentations of Tom Stoppard's play Arcadia. And, in 2007, he was the mathematical consultant for the Kevin Spacey movie called Twenty One.
For over twenty years, Professor Devaney has been the principal organizer and speaker at the Boston University Math Field Days. These events brought over 1,000 high school students and their teachers from all around New England to the campus of Boston University for a day of activities aimed at acquainting them with what's new and exciting in mathematics. These Field Days were also held in various other locations, including Portland ME, Hartford CT, and the Bay Area. Unfortunately, these events had to end when Prof. Devaney assumed the role of President of the MAA in 2013.
In 1994 he received the Award for Distinguished University Teaching from the Northeastern section of the Mathematical Association of America. In 1995 he was the recipient of the Deborah and Franklin Tepper Haimo Award for Distinguished University Teaching at the annual meeting of the Mathematical Association of America. In 1996, he was awarded the Boston University Scholar/Teacher of the Year Award. In 2002 he received the National Science Foundation Director's Award for Distinguished Teaching Scholars. In 2002, he also received the ICTCM Award for Excellence and Innovation with the Use of Technology in Collegiate Mathematics. In 2003, he was the recipient of Boston University's Metcalf Award for Teaching Excellence. In 2004 he was named the Carnegie/CASE Massachusetts Professor of the Year. In 2005 he received the Trevor Evans Award from the Mathematical Association of America for an article entitled Chaos Rules published in Math Horizons. In 2009 he was inducted into the Massachusetts Mathematics Educators Hall of Fame. In 2010 he was named the Feld Family Professor of Teaching Excellence at Boston University. And, in 2012, he was named a Fellow of the American Mathematical Society.
Since 1989 he has been director of the National Science Foundation's Dynamical Systems and Technology Project. The goal of this project is to show students and teachers how ideas from modern mathematics such as chaos, fractals, and dynamics, together with modern technology, can be used effectively in the high school and college curriculum. As part of this project, Professor Devaney and his students and colleagues have developed numerous computer programs for exploring dynamical systems. These are written in java and are available for most computer platforms at the Dynamical Systems and Technology website. He has also produced the Mandelbrot Set Explorer, an on-line, interactive series of explorations designed to teach students at all levels about the mathematics behind the interesting images known as the Mandelbrot and Julia sets.
In the summer he can usually be found cruising the waters off New England with his wife Kath and his old maniacal dog (now deceased) Killer or the new pup Cookie (who is called Kooky by other dogs) aboard the sailboat Cygnet. Cygnet was great friends with the whales off the New England coast, as you can see in these pictures. Unfortunately, Cygnet decided she was getting too old to sail up to Maine or over to Nantucket, so she retired in 2015. It doesn't really matter to us, since we can still swim to Maine or Nantucket from Boston. In other seasons, except when stuck teaching, he can most often be found at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City trying not to hum along to Verdi, Wagner, R. Strauss, Rossini, etc.
Like the cartoon character Dilbert, he has an artistic side: he collects a coffee mug from each College or University he speaks at. There are now over 350 coffee mugs all over his office. And he doesn't even drink coffee. Sick, huh?
He became Professor Emeritus in June, 2018. When he retired, millions of students joyfully marched around the BU campus screaming "No More F's! No More F's! No More F's! PHinally !!!" Now in retirement, Prof. Devaney plans to learn some other letters in the alphabet besides the letter F, assuming that there are such letters!
And, finally, like any dad, he can't help but point you to his kids (well, they're not really kids anymore) and all the grandkids over the years:
List of Publications
List of Invited Lectures
PowerPoint Slides from some Recent Lectures