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.

Last Updated: Oct 18, 2010, 00:35 AM IST

Washington: 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, the New York Times reported today.

His wife Aliette told the newspaper he died of pancreatic cancer at a hospice. 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. David Mumford, a professor of mathematics at Brown University, told the Times that Mandelbrot had effectively 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.

Bureau Report