Harry Leonard Swinney
Harry Leonard Swinney was born in Opelousas, Louisiana, on April 10, 1939, to Leonard R. Swinney and Ethel Bertheaud Swinney. Harry was the older of their two sons which included Robert S. Swinney. Harry's mother, Ethel, born in Louisiana, graduated from Southwestern Louisiana Institute (now University of Louisiana). Ethel was a teacher and nutritionist. Harry's father, Leonard, born in New York, had graduated in Civil Engineering from Tulane University in 1935. He worked for his father's civil engineering firm in Baton Rouge, LA. After World War II, the family moved to Austin while Leonard attended Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. Following graduation from seminary, Rev. Swinny pastored churches in Texas and Louisana.
Swinney attended elementary school in Austin, Texas. In 1957, he graduated from Homer High School in Homer, Louisiana where he was active with the school yearbook, band, chorus, etc. Following graduation, he entered Southwestern at Memphis, TN (now Rhodes College) where he earned a B. S. with honors in physics in 1961. At Rhodes he was inspired by his physics professor and research mentor, Professor Jack H. Taylor. Harry followed Professor Taylor's path and entered graduate school at Johns Hopkins University. In 1968, Harry was awarded a Ph.D. in physics; his dissertation was entitled, " The Spectrum of Light Scattered by Carbon-Dioxide in the Critical Region." His advisor was Professor Herman Z. Cummins. He remained at Johns Hopkins as a Research Associate in Physics (1968-1970) and Visiting Assistant Professor of Physics (1970-1971).
During his time at Hopkins, Harry married Gloria T. Luyas in 1967. Gloria Luyas – was the top student in her sixth grade class in the Phillipines. That ranking made her eligible for a scholarship to Silliman High School – and set her on a path of lifelong learning. After high school, she entered Silliman University, graduating with a B.S. in nursing in 1963. A few years later, Gloria was serving as an exchange nurse at the University of Maryland Hospital in Baltimore, when Harry, then a graduate student at Johns Hopkins University, sat next to her at church one Sunday morning. They were married in 1967, and Gloria went on to earn a PhD at University of Texas in medical anthropology. Her dissertation was entitled, "The Biocultural Context of Low-income Mexican American Women with Type II Non-Insulin Dependent Diabetes and Its Implications for Health Care Delivery." She later joined the faculty of the School of Nursing at The University of Texas at Austin. They had a son Brent Luyas Swinney in 1978. Sadly, Brent died of brain cancer in 1995. Harry and Gloria established a scholarship in Brent's honor at Sillman University. The scholarships are award to students in science, engineering, nursing, information technology, mathematics, or related sciences fields. Tragically Gloria passed away in 1997. Harry established the Gloria Luyas Swinney Memorial Scholarship at Sillman in her memory.
Harry Swinney married Lizabeth Marie "Beth" Kelley on August 12, 2000. Beth grew up in Bloomington, Indiana, and became a nurse and public health educator for the state of Indiana. She moved to Austin in 1996 to develop public health curricula for the Texas Department of Health. Harry and Beth like to say, "We met in Honduras in 1999 on a mission trip, and that is not far from the truth. Although we had met each other briefly at the pre-trip meetings, it was the hours-long bus-rides through the mountainous Honduran countryside that really brought us together."
Swinney served as an assistant professor of physics at New York University from 1971 to 1973). From 1873 to 1978, Harry was associate professor and then professor at the City College of the City University of New York. In 1977, Swinney was made a Fellow of the American Physical Society. In 1978, the University of Texas Physics Department recruited Swinney. He was awarded the Trull Centennial Professor of Physics in 1984 andd the Sid W. Richardson Foundation Regents Chair of Physics in 1990. In 1985, he became founding Director of the new Center for Nonlinear Dynamics, a position he held until his retirement.
Swinney is a member of the National Academy of Sciences (1992) and a fellow of the American Physical Society (1977), the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1991), the American Association for the Advancement of Science (1999), and the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (2009). In 1995, Harry was awarded the American Physical Society Fluid Dynamics Prize, the citation read, "In recognition of his definitive characterizing of the onset of turbulence, his pioneering investigations of chaotic advection and fluid dynamics in rotating flows, and his discoveries and insights concerning pattern formation in chemical dynamics using novel experimental techniques. Professor Swinney's efforts were the first to bridge the gap between nonlinear dynamical systems theory and laboratory investigations of flow phenomena. His ability to bring together different fields of science to explore new ground with rigor, dedication, and enthusiasm is truly remarkable."
In 2007, the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics awarded Swinney the Jürgen Moser Prize, in recognition of "an individual who has made distinguished contributions to nonlinear science." In 2021, he received the European Geosciences Union Richardson Medal for "for his pioneering experiments on deterministic chaos and highly original laboratory models of geophysical flows."In 2013, he received the Boltzmann Medal ( of the Commission on Statistical Physics of the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics "for his ingenious and challenging experiments which have had a large impact on many areas of statistical physics." He was a Guggenheim Fellow (1983–84) and he was inducted into The Johns Hopkins University Society of Scholars (1984). He was awarded honorary doctoral degrees by Rhodes College (2002), The Hebrew University of Jerusalem (2008), and the University of Buenos Aires (2010).
Swinney conducted research on instabilities, chaos, and pattern formation in diverse systems, including fluid, chemical, and granular media. Swinney together with his students, postdocs, and other collaborators have:
In the 1970s-80s Swinney together with J.P. Gollub conducted experiments on fluids that revealed and characterized chaotic behavior in a fluid system. Swinney's group then characterized instabilities, chaos, and turbulence in several fluid systems. A laboratory model was designed to exhibit many of the properties of the Jovian atmospher, and experiments on this model provided insight into the formation and stability of Jupiter's Great Red Spot. Experiments on chemical systems yielded in 1991 the "Turing patterns" predicted by Alan Turing in 1952. Experiments and simulations on granular media yielded many different spatial patterns, including oscillating localized structures, "oscillons," which were subsequently found in mathematical models and in other types of physical and chemical systems. Swinney's current research concerns energy transport by internal gravity waves in the oceans, and crystallization in granular media.
Here are a few videos of some of Swinney public lectures:
In 2018, Swinney gave an interview to the Austin History Center about his life and career. The transcription is here: Swinney Austin History Center Interview.
In August of 2018, Swinney retired and was appointed Professor Emeritus. He is an avid cyclist and he and Beth are world travelers.
Listed below are links to videos of a few of Professor Swinney's public lectures.
Harry L. Swinney Photo and Document Album