Alfred J. Lotka

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Alfred James Lotka (born March 2, 1880 in Lemberg , Austria-Hungary , today: Lviv, Ukraine , † December 5, 1949 in New York City ) was an Austrian - American chemist and actuary . He is considered to be the founder of modern mathematical demography .

life and work

Lotka's parents were US citizens. He went to school in France and received his Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Birmingham in 1901 . The following year he studied chemistry at the University of Leipzig . Especially the lectures of Wilhelm Ostwald and his physical chemistry had a lasting impact on Lotka. After his emigration to the USA in 1902 he worked as a chemical assistant at the General Chemical Company.

Lotka's first publications deal with mixing processes of gases (1907), periodic reactions in physical chemistry (1910), but also with demographic phenomena such as birth and death rates (1907) or the age distribution in the population (1911).

Also in the early creative period was a first article that aims to explain evolution through physical processes. The latter interest is also in the background of his major work from 1925: Elements of Physical Biology (the 1956 reprint was titled Elements of Mathematical Biology ). With this work Lotka wanted to launch a new branch of knowledge - physical biology - which consisted of transferring physical principles to biological systems. The basic assumption was that all developments (including ' evolution ') can be described by the principles of thermodynamics as energy conversion. In such a model, the entire inanimate and animate nature appears as a huge energy conversion system. After his death, this approach made him interesting for systems theorists such as Ludwig von Bertalanffy as well as for the ecologists of the 1960s and 1970s, with Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen for bioeconomics and ecological economics .

Lotka is best known for his mathematical formulation of the laws of population dynamics , which he published for the first time in Elements of Physical Biology . These laws can calculate and predict the numerical development of the two species in an idealized predator-prey relationship . Independently of Lotka, Vito Volterra , a Roman mathematician and physicist, had come across the same differential equations and the formulation of the same laws of population dynamics. After Vito Volterra published the laws in 1926, the two scientists exchanged letters. Even if Volterra tended to focus on the differences between their two approaches, the equations are now called Lotka-Volterra equations or Lotka-Volterra formulas. The Euler-Lotka equation also comes from population dynamics . Another law, came across the Lotka is that in bibliometrics under the name Lotka's Law (Lotka's Law) known relationship between the number of publications a person and the number of persons with an equally high publication output.

Lotka worked for a wide variety of employers: the General Chemical Company, the US Patent Office , the National Bureau of Standards , from 1911 to 1914 as editor of the Scientific American Supplement, from 1922 to 1924 as an employee of Johns Hopkins University and from 1924 to his Retired for the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company in New York. In his work The Money Value of a Man (together with Louis I. Dublin) he developed the method for calculating the net life income lost through death or disability for insurance purposes.

In 1935 he married Romola Beattie; the marriage remained childless.

He was president of the Population Association of America from 1938 to 1939 and president of the American Statistical Association in 1942 . He was Vice President of the International Union for the Scientific Study of Population and Chairman of the United States National Committee of that union from 1948 to 1949.

Alfred J. Lotka's estate is in the Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library in Princeton .

Publications (selection)

  • Note on the Volume Change on Mixing Two Gases. In: Engineering and Mining Journal. 83, 1907, p. 956.
  • Relation Between Birth Rates and Death Rates. In: Science . 26, 1907, pp. 21-22.
  • On the theory of periodic reactions. In: Journal of physical chemistry . 72, 1910, p. 508.
  • with FR Sharpe: A Problem in Age Distribution. In: Philosophical Magazine. 21, 1911, p. 435.
  • Evolution from the point of view of physics. In: Ostwald's annals of natural philosophy. 10, 1911, p. 59.
  • Elements of Physical Biology. Williams and Wilkins, Baltimore 1925; Reprint: Elements of Mathematical Biology. Dover Publications, New York 1956, ISBN 0-486-60346-6
  • The frequency distribution of scientific productivity. In: Journal of the Washington Academy of Sciences. 16, 1926, pp. 317-323.
  • with Louis I. Dublin: The Money Value of a Man. Ronald Press Co., New York 1930; Arno Press, New York 1977, ISBN 0-405-09814-6
  • Length of Life. 1936.
  • Analytical Theory of Biological Populations (= The Plenum Series on Demographic Methods and Population Analysis ). 1934-1939. New edition Plenum Press, New York 1998, ISBN 0-306-45927-2


  • Frank W. Notestein: Alfred James Lotka, 1880–1949. In: Population Index. Volume 16, No. 1, 1950, pp. 22-23.
  • Louis I. Dublin: Alfred James Lotka, 1880–1949. In: Journal of the American Statistical Association. Volume 45, No. 249, 1950, pp. 138-139.
  • Ariane Tanner: The mathematization of life: Alfred James Lotka and energetic holism in the 20th century . Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2017. ISBN 978-3-16-154491-0 .

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