Benoît B. Mandelbrot, the French-American mathematician, described as the founding father of fractal geometry, lost his battle to pancreatic cancer on Oct. 16.
In the mid 1970s, Mandelbrot coined the term “fractal,” derived from the Latin word fractious, meaning to be broken or fractured. A fractal often features structures that are arbitrarily small or a structure that is shaped too irregularly to be explained using Euclidean geometry.
Fractals can be found in all forms of magnification and size. According to the New York Times, Mandelbrot traced his work on fractals and fractal geometry to a question he was first asked as young researcher. The question was: “How long is the coast of Britain?” He realized that the answer to this question was entirely dependant on how close you look. “On a map an island may appear smooth, but zooming in will reveal jagged edges that add up to a longer coast. Zooming in further will reveal even more coastline.”
He said to the New York Times, “Here is a question, a staple of grade-school geometry that, if you think about it, is impossible. The length of the coastline, in a sense, is infinite.”
Many natural objects from clouds, snowflakes and lighting bolts, to mountain ranges and cells can be described by fractal geometry and are virtual impossible to measure.
Mandelbrot had a heavy influence in the field of geometry. He was one of the first researchers to use computer graphics for the purposes studying mathematical objects. The Mandelbrot set was named in his honor.
Mandelbrot spent many decades researching with many professors in several fields. He worked as a researcher for IBM from 1958 until he took a position at Yale in 1987.
Some of his many prizes include the Wolf Prize for Physics in 1993 and in 2003, the Japan Prize for Science and Technology.