Benoit Mandelbrot’s 96th Birthday – Today’s Doodle celebrates the 96th birthday of Polish-born, French and American mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot, widely known as the “father of fractal geometry.” Mandelbrot’s pioneering research was instrumental in introducing the world to the powerful concept of fractals–irregular yet infinitely repeating mathematical shapes found throughout nature and our everyday lives.
Mandelbrot was born on this day in 1924 in Warsaw, Poland to parents of Lithuanian-Jewish heritage. From being a local chess champion to a student of his father’s map collection, at a young age Mandelbrot was exposed to mathematics and geometry in everyday life. In 1936 the family emigrated to France, and Mandelbrot went on to pursue his education in both Paris and the United States, culminating in a doctorate in 1952.
In 1958 Mandelbrot began working at the Watson Research Center at IBM in New York, where his study of peculiar repetitions in signal noise formed an early inspiration for his groundbreaking work. An early pioneer of the use of computers for research, he later used a basic computerized typewriter to develop an algorithm that modeled landforms found in nature. In 1975, he coined the now-famous term “fractal geometry” to describe these mathematical phenomena; with the release of his book “The Fractal Geometry of Nature” in 1982, Mandelbrot’s work reached the world, forever altering the field of applied mathematics.
Mandelbrot went on to receive countless awards for his work, including the Wolf Foundation Prize for Physics in 1993.
Happy birthday to Benoit Mandelbrot, a man whose curiosity helped to expand the way we see the world around us.
Special thanks to the family of Benoit Mandelbrot for their partnership on this project. Below, Benoit’s son, Dr. Didier Mandelbrot, shares his thoughts on his father’s legacy.
Benoit Mandelbrot was the chief architect of our understanding of roughness in nature. With careful calculations, immense knowledge, and the ability to see geometry in almost everything, he developed a new geometry, fractal geometry. Benoit always was generous with young scientists, with students, and with teachers. To put at ease a group of high school teachers, he began the discussion with “Sometimes people ask what is the most difficult theorem I’ve proved. I’ve proved only very simple theorems.” The room was dead silent, and he continued, “But I reserve the right to ask very hard questions.” The teachers laughed, relaxed, and had a wonderful conversation with Benoit.”
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.
Pictured: Benoit Mandelbrot
Photo credits: Courtesy of the Mandelbrot Family
Interested in learning more about fractals — and experiencing their intricate beauty? Now you can explore the endless patterns of the Mandelbrot set, zooming in and out of its recursive loops, with our interactive fractal viewer.
You can find more about Benoit Mandelbrot’s 96th Birthday on the official Google Doodle Page