Portrait of a legend—mathematician Benoit Mandlebrot
At 81, Benoit Mandelbrot takes on new challenges in advanced mathematics for computational science.
One of the world's most influential mathematicians, Benoit Mandelbrot has joined the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.
Mandelbrot is recognized as the mathematician principally responsible for originating fractal geometry and applying it to science and engineering research. Examples of fractals range from natural objects with self-similar patterns, such as clouds and plants, to unique computer-generated graphical art forms created using mathematical formulas. The best known of these is called the Mandelbrot Set. Researchers use fractals to model and measure irregular patterns and structures, such as the rough coastline that cannot be represented by classical geometry.
Today, it is common to find fractals applied to many fields, including economics, linguistics, meteorology, demography, and fine arts. The financial bestseller, The Misbehavior of Markets: A Fractal View of Risk, Ruin, and Reward, which Mandelbrot wrote with former Wall Street Journal editor Richard Hudson, applies fractal geometry to the stock market.
Mandelbrot was born in Poland in 1924 but moved to France in 1936. Because his family is Jewish, he was forced to spend much of World War II hiding in the countryside rather than in school. During that time, he studied on his own, developing a free-thinking and independent attitude that never left him. He completed his undergraduate studies at Ecole Polytechnique in Paris, earned a master's degree in aeronautics from the California Institute of Technology, and his doctorate in mathematics at the University of Paris. Mandelbrot is now a member of the National Academy of Sciences and France's Legion of Honor. He is Sterling Professor of Mathematics Emeritus, at Yale University and Fellow Emeritus of IBM's Watson Research Center, where he developed some of the first computer programs to print graphics.
According to George Michaels, associate laboratory director for PNNL's Computational and Information Sciences Directorate, Mandelbrot's "unique ability to think freely and unconventionally" lends itself to creating new methods for solving the kinds of computational conundrums that science is currently confronting. Among these challenges are managing, measuring, and making sense of vast amounts of data generated by proteomic research, information analytics, and cyber security.