Alfred J. Lotka

Alfred J. Lotka books and biography

Alfred J. Lotka

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Alfred James Lotka (March 2, 1880 - December 5, 1949) was a US mathematician, physical chemist, and statistician famous for his work in population dynamics and energetics.



Born in Lemberg, Austria-Hungary (now L'viv, Ukraine), Lotka's parents were US nationals and he was educated internationally, including a degree at the University of Birmingham, England. In 1935, he married Romola Beattie. They had no children. His varied working life included:

  • General Chemical Company
  • US Patent Office
  • National Bureau of Standards
  • Editor of the Scientific American Supplement (1911-1914)
  • Staff member at Johns Hopkins University (1922 - 1924)
  • Statistician for the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, New York (1924 until his retirement)

While at Johns Hopkins, Lotka completed his book Elements of Physical Biology (1924) in which he extended the work of Pierre Franois Verhulst and Vito Volterra. His name is most famously associated with the Lotka-Volterra equation of population dynamics.

Energetics of evolution

Lotka proposed the theory that the Darwinian concept of natural selection could be quantified as a physical law. The law that he proposed was that the selective principle of evolution was one which favoured the maximum useful energy flow transformation. The general systems ecologist Howard T. Odum later applied Lotka's proposal as a central guiding feature of his work in ecosystems ecology. Odum called Lotka's law the maximum power principle.


  • President of the Population Association of America (1938-1939)
  • President of the American Statistical Association (1942)


  • Louis I. Dublin 'Alfred James Lotka, 1880-1949,' Journal of the American Statistical Association, Vol. 45, No. 249 (Mar., 1950), pp. 138-139.

See also

  • Lotka-Volterra equations
  • Lotka's law (a special case of Zipf's law)


  • A.J.Lotka (1922a) 'Contribution to the energetics of evolution' [PDF]. Proc Natl Acad Sci, 8: pp. 147–51.
  • A.J.Lotka (1922b) 'Natural selection as a physical principle
  • A.J.Lotka (1924) Elements of Physical Biology reprinted by Dover in 1956 as Elements of Mathematical Biology.

The Dover volume contains a list of Lotka's technical papers.

This article might use material from a Wikipedia article, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.

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