Research & Scholarly Activity

My research before 1987, my first year at San Jose State University, is summarized in my c.v.

Since 1987, in the first 10 years I worked on simple systems (liquid crystal, soliton, and science education) and complex systems (pattern formationa and active walk); the next 20 years, the humanities (arts, history, philosophy, and scimat). Here is what I have done at SJSU.

In 1987, I established the Nonlinear Physics Group in the physics department. Undergraduate and graduate students joined the group, under my supervision, produced many novel results. Our research was supported by the Research Corporation and the National Science Foundation. Our work covers four areas: pattern formation, complex systems, liquid crystals, and science education. [A selected list of publications can be found in Appendix A2 of my book, Nonlinear Physics for Beginners (World Scientific, 1998).]

Some highlights:

Simple System

Bowlic Liquid Crystal

  • I predicted the existence of bowlic liquid crystal polymers in 1987, and more generally in 1988, which was successfully synthesized by a group in the East Coast in 1999.

Soliton in Liquid Crystal

  • Propagating solitons in (shearing) liquid crystals was pioneered by Lam in 1982.
  • At SJSU, Sam continued to lead this field, culminating in the book Solitons in Liquid Crystals (Springer, 1992), coedited with Jacques Prost, a top scholar and student of the Nobel laureate Pierre de Gennes.
  • Out of Lam’s 23 soliton papers, 14 were published at SJSU, including a student’s master thesis and an invited review in the journal Chaos Solitons Fractals (1995).

 Science Education

  • Established and taught two new graduate courses: Nonlinear Physics and Nonlinear Systems; a new upper-division course: The Real World; and a new general-education course for incoming freshmen of any major: The Real World (2002).
  • Published two textbooks on nonlinear physics: Nonlinear Physics for Beginners (World Scientific, 1998) for undergraduates and Introduction to Nonlinear Physics (Springer, 1997) for graduate students. The latter is called “probably the best introductory textbook on nonlinear science I have recently seen,” in a review appeared in Pure and Applied Geophysics.
  • Established a public lecture series, God, Science, Scientists, Dec. 1999. (Charles Townes, Nobelist and inventor of laser, was the third speaker on Feb. 12, 2001.)
  • Integrated popular science books into regular college physics teaching [see my abstract in Am. Phys. Soc. Bull. 45(1), 117 (2000), which was highlighted in APS News, March 2000, p.3].
  • Volunteered and encouraged students to volunteer as tutors at the brand new high school in downtown San Jose, Downtown College Preparatory, 2000.
  • Considered by the Foundation For the Future at Bellevue, WA, to be one of "the world's most prominent thinkers"; invited to their "Humanity 3000" seminar, August 2001, to give a keynote lecture on "Modeling History and Predicting the Future: The Active Walk Approach"; was the only physicist invited, among 23 “experts” from around the world.
  • Established a public lecture series, Science and Art, May 2001.
  • Invited by SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) to give a talk on “A Science-and-Art Interstellar Message: The Self-Similar Sierpinski Gasket” at the workshop in Paris, March 18, 2002. [See Lam' paper in Leonardo37(1), 37-38 (2004).]

Complex System

 Pattern Formation

  • First group in the world to generate and study surface filamentary patterns in thin cells containing air, liquid, or liquid crystals.
  • Our experimental research on electrodeposit pattern formation has been profiled in San Jose Mercury News, Oct. 14, 1990.
  • Our experimental pattern formation result was featured in the “San Jose State University, School of Science Brochure, Fall 1990.”
  • One student project, “Instabilities of finite water columns,” won the Allied-Signal Award of the Society of Physics Students.
  • We discovered multiple morphological changes in electrodeposit patterns--which was included in a poster by the American Physical Society in the Centenary Celebration, in Atlanta, Georgia, March 1999.
  • Studied granular flow in the presence of electric fields.

Active Walk

  • We invented the Active Walk theory/paradigm for complex systems (1992), which is now being used by the Canadians in modeling oil recovery, a Harvard Medical School Fellow in modeling tumor growth, the Germans in modeling ant swarms and pedestrian traffic, and the Taiwanese in pattern formation. We now focus on the application of AW on humanities and human history. A summary of active walk research worldwide in the first 12 years is published as two review articles, which are highlighted on the cover of the journal in color pictures.



  • Started a new discipline Histophysics in 2002, which applies physics methods to human history—the study of a many-body system consisting of Homo Sapiens—active walk is used to model a number of histories in economic, evolutionary, and social systems; obtained new quantitative laws in the distribution of dynasty lifetimes in China.


  • People’s understanding of what art is (often associated with aesthetics) crumbled in 1917 with the appearance of Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain.
  • The art question was thus an unsolved problem for 2,400 years since Plato.
  • In 2011, Lam proposed a new interpretation of the origin and nature of arts.



  • Started the new multidiscipline called Scimat (Science Matters) in 2007/2008, which treats all human-dependent matter as part of science.
  • The first four steps in the International Scimat Program, initiated and coordinated by Lam, have been accomplished:
  1. A biennial international conference series on Scimat was established. [First conf., Science Matters: A Unified Perspective (2007); 2nd, Arts & Science: Humanities as Complex Systems (2009); 3rdAll About Science: Philosophy, History, Sociology and Communication (2011) ... 6th, Bettering Humanities: Secular Historical Movements, all were held in Portuga.]
  2. An international scimat committee (ISMC) was formed in 2007, consisting of 17 prominent scholars in humanities and science from Europe, China and USA (including a Nobelist and the President of the European Academy of Science Arts Letters).
  3. An international book series on Scimat was established--the Science Matters Series by the renowned international publisher, World Scientific, based in Singapore, UK, USA and China. [First book: Science Matters: Humanities as Complex Systems (2008); 2nd book: Arts: A Science Matter (2010); 3rd book: All About Science: Philosophy, History, Sociology & Communication (2014), all edited by M. Burguete and L. Lam.]
  4. Created a general-education course, "Humanities, Science, Scimat," for any major in any university.
  • The next step in this international scimat program is to establish 100 scimat centers around the world. (Scimat website: