Mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot, the father of fractals, died of pancreatic cancer on Oct. 14, 2010, AFP reported. He was 85 years old.
His work on fractals has become a foundation of the Chaos theory and is critical to many applications and systems, ranging from digital compression on computers, modeling turbulence on aircraft wing designs, and texturing medical images.
Most people know fractals as the weird, colorful patterns drawn by computers. The word "fractals" was coined by Mandelbrot to refer to rough or fragmented geometric shapes or processes that have similar properties at all levels of magnification or across all times. There are mathematical shapes with uneven contours that mimic irregularities found in nature, such as clouds and trees, and can be measured and simulated, Mandelbrot discovered.
Up until then, mathematicians believed that most of the patterns of nature were too complex and irregular to be described mathematically.
In his 1982 book, "The Fractal Geometry of Nature," Mandelbrot said complex outlines of clouds and coastlines, once considered unmeasurable, could "be approached in rigorous and vigorous quantitative fashion" with fractal geometry. With fractals, it is possible to create models of coastlines, cell growth and other processes that look like the real thing.
He even applied the theory to the financial market, predicting and warning about the global financial meltdown in his 2005 book "The (Mis)Behaviour of Markets." He cited the huge risks being taken by traders who tend to act as if the market is predictable, comparing them to "mariners who heed no weather warnings."
For more, read the eWeek article Benoit Mandelbrot, Father of Fractals, Dies at 85.