I studied physics, with a minor in mathematics, at the Westfälische Wilhelms Universität Münster in Germany. In 1975 I was awarded the degree of Diplomphysiker (M.S. degree); thesis: "Behandlung von Zufallsprozessen mit stochastischen Differentialgleichungen, Fokker-Planck-Gleichungen, unendlichdimensionalen Verteilungen", Adviser: J. Kamphusmann.
For my doctoral studies in physical chemistry, I went to the Université Libre de Bruxelles, Belgium, to work with G. Nicolis and I. Prigogine (Chemistry Nobel Laureate 1977). In November 1978 I defended my dissertation "Stochastic Differential Equations and Nonequilibrium Phase Transitions" and received the degree of docteur en sciences. My studies were supported by the Studienstiftung des deutschen Volkes (German Academic Scholarship Foundation) from 1970 to 1978.
I stayed on in Brussels as a research associate for a couple of years to work on noise-induced transitions with R. Lefever, with whom I had initiated the field in 1977. One intuitively expects random perturbations to create more disorder in a system. We discovered the counterintuitive effect that order can be induced in nonlinear systems by external random fluctuations (noise). These noise-induced transitions can occur if the influence of the fluctuations depends on the state of the system. Then the random noise may stabilize unstable states or even give rise to states that do not exist in a nonrandom environment, leading to increased order.
In 1981 I joined the Physics Department of the University of Texas at Austin. My research on noise-induced transitions with Lefever culminated in a monograph ("Noise Induced Transitions"), and I then began to work with Harry Swinney and his group on chemical spatial pattern formation. I joined SMU's Chemistry Department in 1988.
U. S. Patent 4,832,914; May 23, 1989, "Two-Dimensional Uniformly Fed Unstirred Chemical Reactor," W. Y. Tam, W. Horsthemke, W. D. McCormick, H. L. Swinney
U. S. Patent 4,968,484; Nov 6, 1990, "Annular Gel Reactor for Chemical Pattern Formation," Z. Noszticzius, W. Horsthemke, W. D. McCormick, H. L. Swinney, W. Y. Tam