The beautiful mathematics that Benoit Mandelbrot left as his legacy

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.

Mandelbrot's experiments with number sets and computers in the 1970s led to his discovery that you could draw geometric shapes that were "self similar," which is to say each of their parts shares similarities with the whole. (This is why, for example, when you look at a Mandelbrot fractal, you see the same shapes emerging at its edges as you zoom into it.) His great insight was to group a number of similar kinds of mathematical phenomena together and identify them all as part of fractal mathematics. By using fractals, mathematicians and physicists could much more easily explain "rough" shapes in the real world, ranging from mountain ranges to the shapes of trees. They could also simulate those shapes too.

Advertisement

In 1982, Mandelbrot published The Fractal Geometry of Nature, which popularized the idea the natural world was organized by elegant, mathematical principles that could be predicted. He worked tirelessly to make his work accessible to a broad audience, which is why the fractal is perhaps one of the most widely-recognized mathematical ideas of the past half-century. Nearly everyone can recognize a fractal when they see it. Here are some gorgeous examples of fractal art, from the Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest.

via Fractal Art Contests, 2007 and 2009

Illustration for article titled The beautiful mathematics that Benoit Mandelbrot left as his legacy
Advertisement

Cynthia Pederosa

Illustration for article titled The beautiful mathematics that Benoit Mandelbrot left as his legacy

Vivian Wood

Illustration for article titled The beautiful mathematics that Benoit Mandelbrot left as his legacy
Advertisement

Alfred Laing

Illustration for article titled The beautiful mathematics that Benoit Mandelbrot left as his legacy
Advertisement

Antonio Chiesa

Illustration for article titled The beautiful mathematics that Benoit Mandelbrot left as his legacy
Advertisement

Christopher Oldfield

Illustration for article titled The beautiful mathematics that Benoit Mandelbrot left as his legacy
Advertisement

Cory Ench

Illustration for article titled The beautiful mathematics that Benoit Mandelbrot left as his legacy
Advertisement

Cory Ench

Illustration for article titled The beautiful mathematics that Benoit Mandelbrot left as his legacy
Advertisement

Diane Walker

Illustration for article titled The beautiful mathematics that Benoit Mandelbrot left as his legacy
Advertisement

Elizabeth Thallauer

Illustration for article titled The beautiful mathematics that Benoit Mandelbrot left as his legacy
Advertisement

Elizabeth Thallauer

Illustration for article titled The beautiful mathematics that Benoit Mandelbrot left as his legacy
Advertisement

Eric Prevost

Illustration for article titled The beautiful mathematics that Benoit Mandelbrot left as his legacy
Advertisement

Esin Turkakin

Illustration for article titled The beautiful mathematics that Benoit Mandelbrot left as his legacy
Advertisement

Ewa Stryza

Illustration for article titled The beautiful mathematics that Benoit Mandelbrot left as his legacy
Advertisement

Iwona Fido

Illustration for article titled The beautiful mathematics that Benoit Mandelbrot left as his legacy
Advertisement

Jock Cooper

Illustration for article titled The beautiful mathematics that Benoit Mandelbrot left as his legacy
Advertisement

Joe Zazulak

Illustration for article titled The beautiful mathematics that Benoit Mandelbrot left as his legacy
Advertisement

Joe Zazulak

Illustration for article titled The beautiful mathematics that Benoit Mandelbrot left as his legacy
Advertisement

Juliette Gribnau

Illustration for article titled The beautiful mathematics that Benoit Mandelbrot left as his legacy
Advertisement

Lillian Rosschaert

Illustration for article titled The beautiful mathematics that Benoit Mandelbrot left as his legacy
Advertisement

Manu Martin

Illustration for article titled The beautiful mathematics that Benoit Mandelbrot left as his legacy
Advertisement

Ron Barnette

Illustration for article titled The beautiful mathematics that Benoit Mandelbrot left as his legacy
Advertisement

Samuel Monnier

Illustration for article titled The beautiful mathematics that Benoit Mandelbrot left as his legacy
Advertisement

Stefan Vitanov

Illustration for article titled The beautiful mathematics that Benoit Mandelbrot left as his legacy
Advertisement

Ulli Behrendt

Share This Story

Get our newsletter

DISCUSSION