Alan N. Wolf
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.
Projects & Links
Invention Factory is an intensive summer program for Cooper Union undergraduate engineering students. This summer, students working in teams of two will conceive an invention, research the prior art (patents and products), build a working prototype, and compete for 1st and 2nd Prizes for Best Invention ($5,000 and $3,000, respectively). At the conclusion of the program, each team files a provisional patent application to help protect their invention for one year.
Previous inventions include the Snip-It Tape Dispenser, the Dual-Flush Easy Toilet Conversion Kit, and the Rapid Packing Container.
We are currently seeking guest evaluators for this year. Guest evaluators ask tough questions and help students refine their ideas. In addition, evaluators have an opportunity to guide Cooper students through the process of creating and refining their novel inventions.
Guest evaluators are needed for the following days in 41 Cooper Square (all sessions 5:30PM – 7 PM):
Thursday, July 26
Tuesday, July 31
Thursday, August 2
Tuesday, August 7
Thursday, August 9
Tuesday, August 14
Thursday, August 16
Tuesday, August 21
At each evaluation session, five of the ten teams will present their inventions. Evaluators taking part in the first few weeks of the program will have a strong influence on the early development of projects. Later in the program, evaluators will help students refine their presentations and their more robust prototypes.
We encourage evaluators to listen carefully to each presentation and give the students honest feedback. Evaluation criteria will be provided to help assess the inventions. Light refreshments will be served.
You may participate in up to two sessions (one Tuesday and/or one Thursday) to see and critique the evolving inventions.
You can learn more about the Invention Factory and see inventions from the past four summers at: http://www.inventionfactory.org.
Please email firstname.lastname@example.org today to sign up as an evaluator.