“He Gave Us Order Out of Chaos” — R.I.P. Benoît Mandelbrot, 1924-2010

By Matt Blum

Benoît MandelbrotImage via Wikimedia Commons.

There is sad news this morning.

It has yet to be confirmed by the mainstream media, but it seems that Benoît Mandelbrot, the father of fractal geometry and one of the most famous mathematicians of all time, has passed away about a month shy of his 86th birthday.

I had the rare and amazing privilege of hearing Mandelbrot speak when he came to visit my high school about 20 years ago. Even at my science-and-technology high school, most of the students didn’t know much about Mandelbrot, but I’d been fascinated by fractals for years and had brought a copy of his seminal work The Fractal Geometry of Nature for him to autograph, and we chatted for a few minutes. I was a bit starstruck — I was 16 or 17 at the time — but I recall that he asked me what kind of fractal-related work I’d done, and showed genuine interest when I told him that I’d played around a lot with the Mandelbrot Set and some variations on the Sierpinski Gasket. In retrospect, I realize this could not possibly have been of much interest to him, but he took a few minutes to make me feel like an intelligent human being because a mathematical genius wanted to hear about what I was working on.

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