Benoit Mandelbrot, the Polish-born, French and American mathematician, known as the “father of fractal geometry,” is celebrated in today’s Google Doodle, on what would have been his 96th birthday.
Mandelbrot’s pioneering research played an important role in introducing the world to the concept of fractals—a geometric pattern that repeats itself when magnified, or as Mandelbrot said: “a fractal is a geometric shape that can be separated into parts, each of which is a reduced-scale version of the whole.”
The mathematician was born on this day in 1924 in Warsaw, Poland, to parents of Lithuanian-Jewish heritage. Mandelbrot was exposed to mathematics and geometry in everyday life from a young age and was a local chess champion and student of his father’s map collection.
In 1936, his family emigrated to France, and Mandelbrot pursued his education in Paris and the U.S., achieving a doctorate in 1952.
Mandelbrot began working at the Watson Research Center at IBM in New York in 1958, where his study of peculiar repetitions in signal noise inspired his groundbreaking work. He was an early pioneer of the use of computers for research and later used a basic computerized typewriter to develop an algorithm that modeled landforms found in nature.
Then, in 1975, Mandelbrot coined the term “fractal geometry” to describe these mathematical phenomena, and in 1982, his work was shared with the world with the release of his book The Fractal Geometry of Nature. His work forever altered the field of applied mathematics.
Fractals are important as they help us understand important scientific concepts and have made many scientific breakthroughs possible, like wireless cell phone antennas, for example.
Mandelbrot received countless awards for his work, including the Wolf Foundation Prize for Physics in 1993. He died in 2010, aged 85.
His family worked with Google Doodle on this project and Benoit’s son, Dr. Didier Mandelbrot, said about his father: “Throughout his life, Benoit was driven by curiosity. His memory was prodigious; he played with ideas, always looking for connections.
“Consequently, he could have interesting conversations with almost anyone, from brilliant scientists and artists to humble machinists and school children. So much of science is about specializing, looking ever more closely at ever narrower parts of the world.
“Benoit was a rare person who looked more broadly and by this, saw more deeply.”
Google Doodle says: “Happy birthday to Benoit Mandelbrot, a man whose curiosity helped to expand the way we see the world around us.”