Do you know who Benoit Mandelbrot is? Well, even if you think you don’t, you probably do. He’s today’s Google Doodle, and he’s a famous mathematician who is being honored on November 20, 2020 — otherwise known as what would have been his 96th birthday if he were still doing math equations on this side of the veil. For parents who might have been potheads in their teenage years, they’ll recognize Mandelbrot’s work before his name.
He’s known as the “father” of fractal geometry — i.e. those super trippy mathematical visualizations that are infinite in scope — because he created the first computer-generated visualization of those fractals. Of course, they were first known as a “Mandelbrot Set,” named after the man himself.
Who Was Benoit Mandelbrot?
Born in 1924 in Warsaw, Poland, Mandelbrot was a mathematician and scientist at heart. When he immigrated to the United States, he got a master’s in aeronautics in California and then started working at IBM in the late 1950s, per CNET.
He began to code to create fractal images — those that have since been co-opted by the more hippie-like folks among us — because he was thinking about Euclidian geometry, which describes planes as flat surfaces.
“Why is geometry often described as ‘cold’ and ‘dry’? One reason lies in its inability to describe the shape of a cloud, a mountain, a coastline, or a tree,” he wrote in his 1982 book The Fractal Geometry of Nature. This approach to geometry as an imperfect, beautiful, and functionally artistic thing was revolutionary — but Mandelbrot didn’t achieve widespread fame for his Mandelbrot Set until the late 1980s.
Why Is It An Inspiration for Parents and Kids?
The Mandelbrot Set proves that math can sometimes be deeply beautiful and confusing and confounding at once. For most teenagers and Pink Floyd listeners, fractals are simply beautiful psychedelic art. But the Mandelbrot Set actually answers geometrical questions. The fractal has become an indelible part of our culture — in both pop culture and science. Zen out to a Mandelbrot set today.
Benoit B. Mandelbrot was born 96 years ago #onthisday. He made one of the first computer-generated visualisations of what would later be known as the “Mandelbrot Set” – an infinitely complex and incredibly beautiful #fractal. Learn more at https://t.co/dDZ9fy2jug pic.twitter.com/KpZ43SyBuh
— Mathigon (@MathigonOrg) November 20, 2020