Today (November 20) is the birthday of Benoit Mandelbrot (1924-2010). Mandelbrot is known for his work in fractal geometry, specifically hIs “theory of roughness” and his discovery of the Mandelbrot set. Mandelbrot also coined the term “fractal”.

Mandelbrot was born in Poland, but his family fled to France to escape Nazi persecution. He studied mathematics at university in Paris, and then came to the U.S. to pursue a master’s degree in aeronatics at CalTech. Mandelbrot returned to Europe for a time, but he then took a job at IBM in New York, where he worked for 35 years.

Other mathematicians had studied the mathematical sets we now know as fractals, but Mandelbrot had the advantage of access to IBM computers. Fractal sets are created by feeding a value into an equation, and then taking that result and feeding it back into the equation. Up until the advent of computers, calculations had to be done by hand, limiting the number of iterations that were possible. Using computers, Mandelbrot was the first to do millions of iterations, creating his now famous Mandelbrot set.

Nova did a great show on fractals and Mandelbrot, which you may have seen in a previous post. But, if you missed it, hear it is again.