There is sad news this morning.
It has yet to be confirmed by the mainstream media, but it seems that Benoît Mandelbrot, the father of fractal geometry and one of the most famous mathematicians of all time, has passed away about a month shy of his 86th birthday. EDIT: The New York Times has confirmed the news.
I had the rare and amazing privilege of hearing Mandelbrot speak when he came to visit my high school about 20 years ago. Even at my science-and-technology high school, most of the students didn’t know much about Mandelbrot, but I’d been fascinated by fractals for years and had brought a copy of his seminal work The Fractal Geometry of Nature for him to autograph, and we chatted for a few minutes. I was a bit starstruck — I was 16 or 17 at the time — but I recall that he asked me what kind of fractal-related work I’d done, and showed genuine interest when I told him that I’d played around a lot with the Mandelbrot Set and some variations on the Sierpinski Gasket. In retrospect, I realize this could not possibly have been of much interest to him, but he took a few minutes to make me feel like an intelligent human being because a mathematical genius wanted to hear about what I was working on.
After the jump, enjoy an awesome video based on Jonathan Coulton’s awesome tribute to Mandelbrot and his most famous subject of study (which was not actually discovered by him, despite its name).
Rest in peace, Benoît Mandelbrot. I’ll never forget our brief conversation, nor will the world of mathematics ever forget your contributions to it.