Alan N. Wolf

Professor (retired)
Former Chair of Physics

Dr. Alan Wolf received his doctorate in Physics in 1983 from the University of Texas at Austin. His research focused on the then new field of “Chaos Theory.” For his dissertation he developed the first algorithm for detecting and quantifying deterministic chaotic behavior in any time series (essentially any meaningful list of numbers, from stock prices to oscillations in a car’s suspension system to voltage variations in a circuit). As of 2018, the paper outlining the algorithm, “Determining Lyapunov exponents from a Time Series,” which appeared in the journal Physica D, has been cited approximately 10,000 times in academic publications in remarkably diverse fields. In 1985, Prof. Wolf returned to Cooper Union, where he had been a physics major from 1974-1976, until that degree program was terminated.

In 1991, after a fascinating experience on jury duty in a criminal case, Prof. Wolf entered Benjamin Cardozo Law School (Yeshiva University) where he discovered a passion for contract law and an aversion for criminal law. Earning his J.D. while teaching full time at The Cooper Union involved making the transition from teacher to student as many as four times daily. Prof. Wolf then took a one year leave from The Cooper Union to serve as a law clerk to a federal judge in Manhattan. He was then asked  to return to Cardozo Law School to teach a required ‘introduction to law and legal theory’ course, and designed and taught courses that involved the intersection of science and law. Eventually, Prof. Wolf was asked to teach Patent Law. Having never studied the subject or practiced in the field, Prof. Wolf taught himself the subject and took (and thankfully passed) the Patent Bar exam. He taught Patent Law and later developed a “hands on” course in Patent Litigation. The head of Google’s Patent Transactions Team recently said of the latter course, “this class better prepared me for my early career in litigation than probably any other experience.” In 2010, Prof. Wolf retired from teaching law at Cardozo, but still occasionally teaches Patent Law at The Cooper Union.

In 2012, while serving as Acting Dean of Engineering at The Cooper Union, Prof. Wolf was asked to spend a generous “Dean’s Discretionary Gift” from Alumnus Edward Durbin (EE ’48) on Innovation. Prof. Wolf asked Prof. Eric Lima of the Mechanical Engineering Department to join him in designing and running a program in which students would invent a practical product (in the spirit of inveterate tinkerer Peter Cooper), prototype it, and start the patent process for it. The Invention Factory program has run continuously at Cooper Union since the summer of 2013, and has since spread to India’s Institute of Technology (Invent@IITGN) and Syracuse University (Invent@SU). The program has spawned a number of outstanding inventions, some of which have won awards and are moving towards commercial development.

See Prof. Wolf's full C.V.

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  • Founded by inventor, industrialist and philanthropist Peter Cooper in 1859, The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art offers education in art, architecture and engineering, as well as courses in the humanities and social sciences.

  • “My feelings, my desires, my hopes, embrace humanity throughout the world,” Peter Cooper proclaimed in a speech in 1853. He looked forward to a time when, “knowledge shall cover the earth as waters cover the great deep.”

  • From its beginnings, Cooper Union was a unique institution, dedicated to founder Peter Cooper's proposition that education is the key not only to personal prosperity but to civic virtue and harmony.

  • Peter Cooper wanted his graduates to acquire the technical mastery and entrepreneurial skills, enrich their intellects and spark their creativity, and develop a sense of social justice that would translate into action.