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Science

Benoit Mandelbrot, French-American maverick mathematician, dies at 85

One of the leading mathematical minds of the modern age, Benoit Mandelbrot developed ideas on fractal geometry – which found order in nature’s complex shapes and influenced fields of study from physics to finance.

Benoit Mandelbrot speaks during a press conference for the Japan Prize in 2003

Benoit Mandelbrot was honored with numerous awards for his pioneering work

Benoit Mandelbrot, known as the father of fractal geometry, died on Thursday at the age of 85. A statement from his family said Mandelbrot died in Cambridge, Massachusetts in the United States, of pancreatic cancer.

In his groundbreaking 1982 book, "The Fractal Geometry of Nature," Mandelbrot helped revolutionize thinking on what were long considered "random" shapes in nature, arguing instead that such objects exhibited "self similarity."

His work to define the idea of "roughness" paved the way for measuring occurrences in nature, from coastlines to clouds.

"He introduced an important point of view - and he took some types of geometry that had been considered to be exotic and showed that they were actually very natural, and important to think about in many contexts," Yair Minsky, chair of the mathematics department at Yale University, told Deutsche Welle.

The cover of a book coauthored by mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot

Fractal geometry found order in natural phenomena

National pride

Born in Poland in 1924, Mandelbrot moved to France with his family at a young age, where he attended school.

"France is proud to have received Benoit Mandelbrot and to have allowed him to benefit from the best education," French President Nicolas Sarkozy said in a statement.

Sarkozy remembered Mandelbrot as a man with a "powerful original mind" who was not afraid to push the boundaries of existing thought.

"His work, which was entirely developed outside the main research channels, led to a modern information theory," Sarkozy said.

Benoit Mandelbrot displays a plaque of the Japan Prize

Mandelbrot won the Japan Prize in 2003

IBM and the Ivy League

Mandelbrot spent much of his career working at computer giant IBM in New York. In a statement, his family said the mathematician dedicated a large part of his professional life to the company's central research laboratory based in Yorktown Heights.

He also served as a professor emeritus at Yale University, where he taught mathematics.

In 2003, Mandelbrot was one of the recipients of the Japan Prize for Science and Technology. According to the Japan Prize Foundation, Mandelbrot's work with fractals "furnished us with new frameworks for understanding complex phenomena."

A decade earlier, he won the Wolf Prize for Physics. In giving the award to Mandelbrot, the Wolf Foundation said the mathematician "has changed our view of nature," by "recognizing the widespread occurrence of fractals and developing mathematical tools for describing them."

Mandelbrot won numerous other awards over the course of his career. He is survived by two children, three grandchildren and his wife, Aliette.

Author: Amanda Price (AFP/AP)
Editor: Cyrus Farivar

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