So long Mandelbrot and thanks for all the fractals
The mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot died today of pancreatic cancer at the age of 85. I guess most people don’t have a clue who he is, but he used to be one of my unlikely childhood heroes.
Often called the “father of fractals”, Mandelbrot was one of the most well-known pioneers into this abstract field of mathematics.
He studied the works of Gaston Julia among others and coined the term “fractal” for certain geometric shapes that displayed certain unique properties. Fractal geometry had already been studied by Leibniz back in the 17th century, but Mandelbrot brought this obscure backwater mathematics out into the open. In 1980 he saw the first visualization of what would later be named the Mandelbrot set.
The infinitely complex patterns of a fractal geometry become apparent as more intricate details appear during recursive zooming. If you are unfamiliar with the Mandelbrot set, have a look at this video.
The colors are simply representing certain numbers in the complex plane. Think of it the same way as the images of space we see from the telescopes where the colors are vividly enhanced.
Since the Mandelbrot set and its friends were visually appealing and mathematically interesting, it also became popular among young computer enthusiasts in the early days. I coded my first fractal in the early nineties using assembly language and later made a Java version of the Julia set: