Cantor's Dust is a famous fractal, a basic pattern that repeats itself over and over. It's a pretty pattern, but it didn't seem very useful at the time it was invented. Years later, it was invoked again at the dawn of chaos theory to explain an odd phenomenon in broadcasting.
Back in 2010 — a mere 19 days before his death — Benoît Mandelbrot gave a candid and moving interview describing his life's work and how he came to devise fractal geometry, the notion that the much of the natural world is organized according to elegant and predictable mathematical principles.
Benoit Mandelbrot, who died last week at 85, was to math what Carl Sagan was to astrophysics. He wasn't just a researcher; he popularized scientific thought. And he's best known for bringing fractal mathematics to the masses.