November 20 – Happy Birthday, Benoit Mandelbrot

Posted on November 20, 2013

A “theory of roughness” in nature;
.....a new sort of geometry to explain “random” and chaotic phenomena;
............a complicated life.

Benoit Mandelbrot was from a Jewish Lithuanian family, but he was born in Poland. As a child, his family fled from the Nazis to Paris, where they stayed with an uncle who was a mathematician. Mandelbrot was pretty sure that his uncle saved their lives, and we can be pretty sure that his uncle also influenced Mandelbrot's interest in mathematics.

After World War II, Mandelbrot lived in France and in the U.S. He had dual citizenship, he attended and earned degrees from universities in both countries, and he held positions in institutes and universities in both countries. I guess that makes him a Polish-born French-American man with Lithuanian roots!

I don't know if that distinctly non-settled sort of life led to Mandelbrot studying complex shapes in nature, but he ended up developing an entirely new sort of geometry: fractal geometry.

What is a fractal?

A fractal is a curve or figure that has a self-similar pattern at every scale. For example, a snowflake has a beautifully symmetrical but complex shape. If you zoom in on any one part of the snowflake, you will see details that have similar angles and symmetries to those seen in the whole snowflake. Zoom in farther, and you will see even more complexities and details that are again similar to the whole.

Self-similarity and complexity can be seen in many different places in nature, such as eroded coastlines, clouds, crystals, or galaxies.

  • I love me some fractals! I have pulled together a bunch more fractal links and even an idea or two for fractal crafts on a Fractal Pinterest board.

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