Former Big Think guest Benoit Mandelbrot, the father of fractal geometry, has died of cancer at the age of 85, according to the New York Times. The newspaper describes him as “a maverick mathematician who developed an innovative theory of roughness and applied it to physics, biology, finance and many other fields.”
When Mandelbrot first began the work that led to the birth of fractal geometry, there was “an explosion of interest” from his colleagues he told us during his Big Think interview: “Everybody in mathematics had given up for 100 years or 200 years the idea that you could … from looking at pictures, find new ideas. That was the case long ago in the Middle Ages, in the Renaissance, in later periods, but by then mathematicians had become very abstract.” By contrast, the complex mathematical shapes called fractals were not only available to the senses, they were downright beautiful
The shapes didn’t just turn mathematicians’ heads, either, Mandelbrot recounted. Fractals have become beloved by non-mathematicians around the world, to the point of entering the popular culture. There is now not just one but a whole genre of “fractal nightclubs” (he doesn’t know what kind of clubs they are, but says he has a guess), as well as a popular rock song named after the most famous fractal of all, the Mandelbrot set.