The Firefly Machine

  • Arthur T. Winfree
Part of the Interdisciplinary Applied Mathematics book series (IAM, volume 12)


In 1964 I built a machine christened “polytalanton” (“many-oscillators”: Figure 1) in which 71 flickering neon lamps were each coupled electrically to all the others (Winfree, 1965, 1967a, 1971). (There were 71 because out of 100 constructed, 29 drifted outside the intended range of autonomous period during initial “wearing in”) The purpose of building this machine was just to “look and see what would happen,” on a hunch that groups of oscillators might synchronize together in fleeting alliances of “syntalansis” (“together-oscillation”) One hope was that by plotting the output of this population of interacting oscillators in the same format as biologists use to plot activity rhythms of multicellular animals, enough resemblances might be noticed to suggest some interpretation of the tantalizingly complex biological records.


Capacitor Voltage Multicellular Animal Couple Ordinary Differential Equation Circadian Activity Rhythm Mutual Synchronization 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • Arthur T. Winfree
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Ecology and Evolutionary BiologyUniversity of ArizonaTucsonUSA

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