Benoit Mandelbrot, 2010Steve Jurvetson photostream on Flickr: Benoît Mandelbrot, February 13th, 2010 (CC)

Benoît B. Mandelbrot, a maverick mathematician who developed the field of fractal geometry and applied it to physics, biology, finance and many other fields, died on Thursday in Cambridge, Mass. He was 85. (The New York Times: “Benoît Mandelbrot, Novel Mathematician, Dies at 85” by Jascha Hoffman, October 16, 2010)

Learn more about Mandelbrot and his fractal in the obituary by The Economist:

What is the length of a country’s coastline? Any encyclopedia will give you a figure. Yet stand by the sea and watch the irregularity of its edge, and you begin to doubt. It is not just a matter of tide and waves. Even measuring the boundary of a static body of water is no mean feat. The closer you look, the more irregular the line. That, at bottom, is what describes a fractal. When you magnify it, it rushes away from you and becomes a simulacrum of its larger self, eventually infinitely long.
Dr Mandelbrot asked himself the coastline question, and answered it in 1967, in an essay called “How long is the coast of Britain?”. In 1975 he invented the word fractal to describe his discoveries. Extending fractals into the plane of complex numbers followed in 1979. But the breakthrough that made them famous was the ability of computers to plot them in a way that is easy on the eye. Thus were launched the posters, the cards and the T-shirts. (“Benoît Mandelbrot, father of fractal geometry, died on October 14th, aged 85”, October 21st, 2010)

And here’s Mandelbrot’s paper on the coast of britain: “How Long Is the Coast of Britain? Statistical Self-Similarity and Fractional Dimension” (Science, Vol. 156, no. 3775, pp. 636-638)

[UPDATE–December 12, 2013] On November 18, 2013, IBM uploaded a short video tribute to Benoît B. Mandelbrot on their YouTube channel, as part of their Big Brains. Small Films series. “Benoît Mandelbrot, The Father of Fractals” is an interview shot by filmmaker Errol Morris, 19 days prior to Madelbrot’s death. Watch it below:


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