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Joseph Ford Papers

Identifier: MS108

  • Staff Only


Dr. Joseph Ford was one of the pioneers in the field of chaotic dynamics in the 1960's and spent most of his 34-year career at the Georgia Tech School of Physics furthering this discipline. He dedicated his time between research, in which he was supported largely by the National Science Foundation, and education, either through conferences or in the classroom. This collection includes correspondence, prints of academic papers, course materials and visuals documenting his works and influence in both the Georgia Tech campus and the scientific global community.


  • 1953-1995 (bulk 1980-1994)
  • Majority of material found within 1980 - 1994


General Physical Description note

(27 document cases)

Restrictions: Access


Restrictions: Use

Permission to publish materials from this collection must be obtained from the Head of Archives and Special Collections


10.6 Linear Feet

Scope and Contents

The Joseph Ford Papers include correspondence, professional papers, class and research materials, news and magazine articles, and visuals documenting his career at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Although the bulk of the materials consists of papers written by Ford's colleagues, it is a strong indication that his influence and importance in chaotic dynamics and related sciences inspired research and studies in a field he pioneered.

Series 1. Correspondence, 1964-1995 is divided into seven subseries: Individuals, Georgia Tech, Publishing Articles, Addresses, Personal, Professional Discussions, and Conferences. All the materials in this series relate to Ford's professional career except for Subseries 5.

Subseries 1. Individuals, 1979-1995 contains correspondence to and from Ford's colleagues. The subject matter almost always concerned issues of scientific theory, although several included personal inquiries, as well.

Subseries 2. Georgia Tech, 1969-1994 details Ford's involvement in the campus community. He was active in opposing the controversial reorganization of the colleges initiated in 1988 by then Georgia Tech President Pat Crecine. Although some colleges and programs were eventually shifted to a new disciplinary infrastructure, Ford continued to be a vocal member of the faculty in criticizing Crecine until his (Crecine's) resignation in 1994. Also of note are issues within the School of Physics, including the opposition to a colleague's tenure, as well as a lack of confidence in several of the directors in the department.

Subseries 3. Publishing Articles, 1989-1994 contains correspondence regarding the publishing of articles either written by Ford or acknowledging his help and expertise.

Subseries 4. Addresses, 1980-1991 is comprised of letters to Ford requesting additions or changes to addresses for the Non-Linear Science Abstracts mailing list, a journal that Ford founded. There is also a card index of addresses that include most of Ford's correspondents, whether they were frequent or not.

Subseries 5. Personal, 1971-1995 contains letters of support to his son Mark, among other intimate issues. Of great significance are several letters dated in 1994 and 1995 which indicate not only his decline in health, but a hospital stay that eventually foreshadowed his death.

Subseries 6. Professional Discussions, 1964-1995 contain correspondence concerning a variety of issues, including technical debates, advice on readings in chaos, congratulations on awards won, and gratitude for help obtained from Ford. Correspondents included in Subseries 1 should not be contained within this subseries.

Subseries 7. Conferences, 1981-1995 separates chronologically the professional conferences, forums, and workshops Ford attended. He was invariably a scheduled speaker at most of these events and the letters spell out hotel and air travel details.

Series 2. Writings by Ford, 1957-1994 contains original material composed by Ford or as a collaboration with another author. This series is divided into three subseries: Papers, Journals, and Reviews.

Subseries 1. Papers, 1957-1994 is a collection of Ford's more significant works, most of which appear in preprint format. These papers span the course of his career and illustrate his continuing involvement in the field of chaos.

Subseries 2. Journals, 1958-1992 contains shorter papers on varying topics which appeared in specific trade journals. These fields of sciences ranged from applied mathematics to chemistry.

Subseries 3. Reviews, 1980-1989 includes reviews of books. As a leading figure in the field of chaos, Ford was often requested to offer his opinion on the growing number of books which delved into that subject.

Series 3. Course Materials, 1954-1995 covers lecture notes, quizzes, grade reports, and administrative paperwork related to his role as a professor. This series is divided into three subseries: Classes, General Class Materials, Student Notebooks.

Subseries 1. Classes, 1962-1983 contains materials specific to each course taught by Ford. Starting in 1961 as an associate and rising to the ranks of Regents' professor, he handled over # distinct courses and taught at least one class per semester.

Subseries 2. General Class Materials, 1954-1995 includes grade reports, class rosters, quizzes and tests, lab notes, and student assignments. Also included are notes relating to unspecified class lectures.

Subseries 3. Student Notebooks, undated contains two lab notebooks which were the property of former students. One was owned by Andrew VanDiver and the other is anonymous.

Series 4. Research Materials, 1953-1992 is divided into four subseries: Research Notes, Grant Applications, Proposals, and Science Reports. These materials deal with Ford's career as a research scientist. His work at Georgia Tech was made possible by generous grants from the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI), as well as the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Subseries 1. Research Notes, undated contain handwritten notes relating to research papers and experiments in the lab. References can be found to the research Ford performed under the grants awarded to him.

Subseries 2. Grant Applications, 1953-1988 includes a guide to obtaining government grants, as well as applications for funds from GTRI and the NSF.

Subseries 3. Proposals, 1978-1992 is mainly comprised of proposals to the NSF for ongoing research in chaotic dynamics. Also included is a proposal to DARPA, which was an applied and computational mathematics program, and a proposal to GTRI to study turbulence. Each proposal consists of an abstract, budget list, and overview of the entire project.

Subseries 4. Science Reports, 1964-1993 includes briefings on specific papers printed in 1987 as well as a technical report published by NASA.

Series 5. Organizations, 1970-1992 contains pamphlets, newsletters, and membership lists of the groups that Ford associated with both in his professional and personal lives. This series is divided into three subseries: Professional, Personal, and Other School Programs.

Subseries 1. Professional, 1988-1992 includes membership qualifications, editorial board list and organizational events for the National Academy of Science, the American Physical Society, and the International Journal of Bifurcation and Chaos.

Subseries 2. Personal, 1970-1979 contains newsletters from the Atlanta Yacht Club. It operated as a social club, where the members would gather for dinner and sail on Lake Allatoona.

Subseries 3. Other School Programs, 1988-1989 contains brochures from the Physics department of educational institutions, most notably the University of Maryland.

Series 6. Writings by Others, 1956-1995 is comprised of the written materials Ford amassed that were not created by him. As one of the more respected and well-known scientists in his field, all types of written work were forwarded to him, solicited or not, for his consideration. This series is divided into eight subseries: Student Theses, Individuals, Foreign Papers, Unknown Authors, Manuscript Reviews, Proposal Reviews, Reports, and Media Articles.

Subseries 1. Student Theses, 1964-1994 largely contains masters' and doctoral theses written by students who were under the advisement of Ford. Also included are a few theses which were sent from students of other schools. The topic is invariably of chaos or a related discipline.

Subseries 2. Individuals, 1956-1995 contains papers in preprint and reprint formats by specific authors that Ford collected during the course of his professional career. Noted authors include Boris Chirikov, Guilio Casati, and Franco Vivaldi, all of whom had professional and personal relationships with him. Many of the authors were eager to send Ford their papers in search of an acknowledgement or a well-regarded opinion from him. He was also keenly aware and interested in any article that dealt with chaos and physics.

Subseries 3. Foreign Papers, 1986-1988 is comprised of printed papers in foreign languages, including Russian and French. Ford may have collected these papers at one of the frequent international conferences he attended.

Subseries 4. Unknown Authors, 1989 includes papers for which no individual is attributed as the author.

Subseries 5. Manuscripts Reviews, 1985-1995 includes papers under review for publications in which Ford was requested to act as a referee. This position allowed him to accept the paper as it was written, accept it with changes, or reject it based on the invalidity of the topic at hand. The two most prominent publications requesting this service of him was The Physical Review and Physical Review Letters. Ford agreed to be a referee as regularly as he would decline the role, but kept all the manuscripts sent to him.

Subseries 6. Proposal Reviews, 1991-1994 includes abstracts of research proposals drawn by other scientists / professors. Ford was requested to evaluate the plausibility of the proposed projects in terms of scientific validity and rational.

Subseries 7. Reports, 1966-1992 includes reports from various faculty committees concerning the proposal and implementation of the 1989 campus reorganization. Many of these reports were generated from the Faculty Steering Committee. Also included in this subseries are the results and conclusions at which visiting groups from other institutions who evaluated the School of Chemistry at Georgia Tech arrived.

Subseries 8. Media Articles, 1983-1994 includes both newspaper and magazine articles on chaos and its related disciplines and on the controversy surrounding Georgia Tech President Pat Crecine. Most of the science-related articles quote or refer to Ford in passing. The majority of the articles on Crecine appeared in the student newspaper, The Technique, in which Ford occasionally submitted a letter to the editor, and in the faculty / staff weekly publication, The Whistle.

Series 7. Visuals, undated is divided into five subseries: Figures, Photographs, Negatives, Slides, and Transparencies. Ford utilized visual aids in both his research papers and his conference lectures and oftentimes included historic or biblical quotes to liven his presentations.

Subseries 1. Figures, undated includes diagrams and drawings relating to both specific and unknown papers written by Ford or authors with whom he collaborated. The majority of the figures are printed on photographic paper.

Subseries 2. Photographs, undated includes both color and black and white images. Family photographs, as well as earlier pictures of Ford are contained within this subseries. Also included are pictures associated with a paper by Michael Berry, a colleague from the University of Bristol, England.

Subseries 3. Negatives, undated contains some of the same images as in Subseries 1 in 35 mm and 4 x 5 negative format.

Subseries 4. Slides, undated contains some of the same images as in Subseries 1 in 35 mm slide format.

Subseries 5. Transparencies, undated includes the visual aids Ford used in his presentations at seminars and in classroom lectures. Since he conducted a specific presentation more than once, most of the transparencies are undated.

Biography of Joseph Ford (1927-1995)

Joseph Ford was born on December 18, 1927 in Buncombe County, North Carolina. He received a B.S. in Physics from the Georgia Institute of Technology (1952). While attending Georgia Tech, he was active in several organizations, including Phi Kappa Phi, the national honorary society, Tau Beta Pi, an engineering honor society, and the Kappa Alpha fraternity. Ford was also the Class Secretary in his junior year, Vice President of the Physics Club, and wrote for the Yellow Jacket, a student humor magazine.

In 1956, he earned a Ph.D. in Physics from Johns Hopkins University. He worked for two years at Union Carbide (Niagara Falls, NY) as a research physicist. He entered academics in 1958 at the University of Miami. In 1961 he became associate professor of physics at the Georgia Institute of Technology. He quickly rose through the ranks to become Regent's Professor of Physics in 1978, a position he held until his death in 1995. He was an active pioneer in his field, dedicated to research and especially to its dissemination. His efforts in disseminating Nonlinear Science Abstracts lead to the founding in 1980 of the first journal devoted to nonlinear dynamics, Physica D.

Significant and outstanding contributions included his work in the field of chaotic dynamics. In 1963 he discovered a new phenomenon, a transition from regular motion to what was later called dynamic chaos. Working with the concept that the exponential instability of motion was the most important property of the new dynamics, he isolated it from other characteristics of nonlinear phenomena and established an empirical criterion for chaos that later became standard. He was a co-organizer of the First International Conference on Classical and Quantum Chaos in 1977 .

In the 1980s until his death, he worked on the exploration of the deeper consequences of deterministic chaos. Again in the role of pioneer, he realized that the concept of chaos transcends the domains of mappings and differential equations. He used "algorithmic complexity" as a means of defining and assessing the fundamental limits of human ability to deal with chaotic systems. He was challenging the very basis of quantum mechanics by questioning the assumption that chaos should enter microscopic descriptions of nature when he died, cutting short his research in this area.

On the campus of Georgia Tech, Ford was a vocal leader through COSALS, the College of Science and Liberal Studies. In the late 1980's, he was especially opposed to a campus reorganization proposed by then president Pat Crecine. Though the reorganization was approved, Ford continued to publicly speak out against the controversial president until his (Crecine's) resignation in 1994.

In his personal life, Ford was married twice, leaving his second wife a widow. He also had several children. Succumbing after a short struggle with cancer, Ford died on April 26, 1995.


Missing Title

  1. SERIES 1. Correspondence, 1964-1995 [Boxes 1-4]
  2. SERIES 2. Writings by Joseph Ford, 1957-1994 [Boxes 4-5]
  3. SERIES 3. Course Materials, 1954-1995 [Boxes 5-9]
  4. SERIES 4. Research Materials, 1953-1992 [Boxes 9-10]
  5. SERIES 5. Organizations, 1970-1992 [Box 10]
  6. SERIES 6. Writings by Other People, 1956-1995 [Boxes 11-24]
  7. SERIES 7. Visuals, undated [Boxes 25-26]

The first series, Correspondence, is divided into seven subseries. The first subseries consists of correspondence between Ford and individuals, who were most often colleagues in the field of physics. This subseries is arranged alphabetically by the correspondents' last names. The rest of the subseries is arranged chronologically.

The second series, Writings by Joseph Ford, is divided into three subseries. The first subseries contains specific papers he wrote and is arranged alphabetically by the title. Shorter papers that are grouped by the journal in which they were published and book reviews are contained in Subseries 2 and 3, respectively.

Course materials that Ford used in his capacity as a professor in the School of Physics comprises Series 3. It is alphabetically arranged and separated by specific classes in Subseries 1, general materials in Subseries 2, and student notebooks in Subseries 3.

Series 4 contains Ford's research materials. Subseries 1 mainly includes handwritten notes pertaining to ongoing research projects. Grant applications are in Subseries 2 while written proposals are contained within Subseries 3. Technical reports and briefs are in Subseries 4.

Organizations associated with Ford or with his field of science are contained in Series 5. Subseries 1 and 2 are arranged by professional and personal organizations. Subseries 3 contain brochures of Physics programs at other institutions.

Writings by Others is the sixth and largest series. The bulk of this series, which includes theses by students and professional papers by individuals, is arranged alphabetically by author. The rest of the series is divided into topics and arranged chronologically.

The last series is mostly comprised of visuals Ford used in his papers or presentations. The exception to this is Subseries 2, which contains personal photographs of his family.

Other Finding Aids

A print copy of this finding aid is available in the Georgia Tech Archives reading room.


Winifred Ford, widow of the late Dr. Ford, donated these papers in 1998 (Accession #1999.010; old number: 99-10).


Three (3) linear feet of books were separated to the general library collection. One (1) linear foot of 5.25" computer disks and a hard drive were also separated.

General Physical Description note

(27 document cases)

Processing Information

Yen M. Tang processed this collection in 2001.


Inventory of the Joseph Ford Papers, 1953-1995 (bulk 1980-1994)
Yen M. Tang
Copyright 2002.
Description rules
Finding Aid Updated Using Rlg Best Practice Guidelines For Encoded Archival Description
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid is written in English.

Repository Details

Part of the Archives and Special Collections, Library, Georgia Institute of Technology Repository

Georgia Institute of Technology
266 4th Street, NW
Atlanta 30332-0900 USA