Mathematicians Benoit Mandelbrot, the father of fractals died late last week at age 85, prompting reflection on his contributions to our understanding of natural phenomena.
Benoit B. Mandelbro (20 November 1924 – 14 October 2010) was a Polish-born French and American mathematician and polymath with broad interests in the practical sciences, especially regarding what he labeled as “the art of roughness” of physical phenomena and “the uncontrolled element in life”. He referred to himself as a “fractalist” and is recognized for his contribution to the field of fractal geometry, which included coining the word “fractal”, as well as developing a theory of “roughness and self-similarity” in nature.
In 1936, while he was a child, Mandelbrot’s family emigrated to France from Warsaw, Poland. After World War II ended, Mandelbrot studied mathematics, graduating from universities in Paris and the United States and receiving a master’s degree in aeronautics from the California Institute of Technology. He spent most of his career in both the United States and France, having dual French and American citizenship. In 1958, he began a 35-year career at IBM, where he became an IBM Fellow, and periodically took leaves of absence to teach at Harvard University. At Harvard, following the publication of his study of U.S. commodity markets in relation to cotton futures, he taught economics and applied sciences.