Mandelbrot, father of fractal geometry, dies

Benoit Mandelbrot, a French-American mathematician who explored a new class of mathematical shapes known as "fractals," has died at age 85 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, his family said.

The cause of death was cancer, his family said in a statement.

His seminal book, "The Fractal Geometry of Nature," published in 1982, argued that irregular mathematical objects once dismissed as "pathological" were a reflection of nature.

The fractal geometry he developed would be used to measure natural phenomena like clouds or coastlines that once were believed to be unmeasurable.

He applied the theory to physics, biology, finance and many other fields of study.

"Fractals are easy to explain, it's like a romanesco cauliflower, which is to say that each small part of it is exactly the same as the entire cauliflower itself," Catherine Hill, a statistician at the Gustave Roussy Institute, told AFP.

"It's a curve that reproduces itself to infinity. Every time you zoom in further, you find the same curve," she said.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy paid tribute to Mandelbrot, saying he had "a powerful, original mind that never shied away from innovation and battering preconceived ideas," according to a statement published by his office.

"His work, which was entirely developed outside the main research channels, led to a modern information theory," Sarkozy added.

Mandelbrot had been "very critical of the prevailing banking models," adding that his "warnings were not heeded," Sarkozy said.

"France is proud to have received Benoit Mandelbrot and to have allowed him to benefit from the best education."

A professor emeritus at Yale University, Mandelbrot was born in Poland but as a child moved with his family to France where he was educated.

In the United States and around the world, his work attracted the attention of academics, but also pop culture because the fractals he uncovered could be illustrated in stunningly beautiful, multi-colored representations.

"Mandelbrot spent most of his professional life working at IBM's main research laboratory at Yorktown Heights, New York," the family statement said.

"He also taught mathematics for many years at Yale University; he was Sterling Professor Emeritus of Mathematical Sciences."

He was awarded the Wolf Prize for Physics in 1993, and the 2003 Japan Prize for Science and Technology.

David Mumford, a professor of mathematics at Brown University, told the New York Times that Mandelbrot revolutionized his field.

"Applied mathematics had been concentrating for a century on phenomena which were smooth, but many things were not like that: the more you blew them up with a microscope the more complexity you found," the Times quoted him as saying.

"He was one of the primary people who realized these were legitimate objects," Mumford added.

Mathematicians and economists were among those who reacted swiftly to Mandelbrot's death on the Internet.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, the statistician and philosopher best known for the book "The Black Swan," turned over his website to mourn Mandelbrot's passing.

The page featured only the words: "Benoit Mandelbrot, 1924-2010, A Greek among Romans."

Chris Anderson, the organizer of the TED conferences that feature addresses from prominent thinkers drawn from a variety of fields, also offered his condolences.

He described Mandelbrot, who addressed the Technology, Entertainment, Design conference earlier this year, as "an icon who changed how we see the world" on the TED blog.

Mandelbrot leaves behind his wife, Aliette, two sons and three grandchildren.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Recruitment Genius: Technical Support Analyst

    £20000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Managed IT Services Provid...

    Recruitment Genius: 1st / 2nd Line IT Support Engineer

    £20000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This specialist high tech compa...

    Recruitment Genius: Web Designer / Developer

    £12000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: New Full-time, Part-time and Fr...

    Recruitment Genius: Creative Web and UI Designer

    £30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An experienced creative web and...

    Day In a Page

    Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

    Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

    Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
    Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
    Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

    The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

    Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
    The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

    The future of songwriting

    How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
    William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

    Recognition at long last

    Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
    Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

    Beating obesity

    The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
    9 best women's festival waterproofs

    Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

    These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
    Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

    Wiggins worried

    Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
    On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

    On your feet!

    Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
    With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

    The big NHS question

    Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
    Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Big knickers are back
    Thurston Moore interview

    Thurston Moore interview

    On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
    In full bloom

    In full bloom

    Floral print womenswear
    From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

    From leading man to Elephant Man

    Bradley Cooper is terrific