Home > Mathematician of the Week Archive Detail

<< Prev 3/3/2013 Next >>

What follows is a break from the normal pattern of posing soundbytes, and your task being to identify the mathematician. The pattern is broken so that parts of a recent article about Benoit Mandelbrot can be shared.

  • Born in Warsaw in 1924 to a Lithuanian Jewish family, he introduced the term “fractal” in 1975, from the Latin “fractus” meaning "broken or shattered"
  • He used "fractal" to measure rough shapes and irregular surfaces, from graphs of the stock market to coastlines...or as he said: "I wanted to convey the idea of a broken stone, something irregular and fragmented...”
  • As a teenager, separated from his Jewish family who were on the run in the late 1930s from Poland to France, Mandelbrott tried to ignore the growing war by reading “several out-of-date math books” filled with fascinating images, from which he “built in [his] mind a zoo of shapes…. Learning mathematics from such books made me intimately familiar with a large zoo, collected over centuries, of very specialized shapes of every kind.”
  • At Paris’s École Polytechnique, Mandelbrot studied under Gaston Julia, who wore a leather mask to cover the part of his face shot off during WWI combat...and used Julia's special "sets” as a further introduction to his growing world of fractal images
  • Considered "a risibly freakish phenomenon," Mandelbrot’s new ideas were laughed at widely when first presented, except by greats such as John von Neumann and J. Robert Oppenheimer.
  • He worked as a IBM researcher, claiming "I was in an industrial laboratory because academia found me unsuitable."
  • Mandelbrot was visually inspired and often considered himself "an artist as well as a thinker."
  • In his final memoir, Mandelbrot wrote: “My long, meandering ride through life has been lonely and often very rough…. Father and Mother taught me the art of survival” then summarized his professional encounters with “unusually diverse and forceful persons...many were warm and welcoming; many were indifferent, dismissive, hostile — even beastly.” How sad!
If you want to read more about Mandelbrot or watch a video about his connection of fractals to the "butterfly effect," please consider Benjamin Ivry's article. Also, Mandelbrot was a contestant in the weekly quiz pattern on MathNEXUS.

Answer:

Source: B. Ivry. "Benoit Mandelbrot Influenced Art and Mathematics." Jewish Daily Forward. 11/17/12