back to article Benoit Mandelbrot, father of fractals, dies at 85

Benoit Mandelbrot, the father of fractals, died on October 14 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, at the age of 85. The cause of death was pancreatic cancer, according to an obituary in the New York Times. Mandelbrot fled Poland ahead of Nazi occupation when he was 11 and moved with his family to Paris. He studied at the Ecole …


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  1. Steen Hive

    Death of a Giant

    'nuff said.

    1. dave 93

      Can't we have a black fractal as the Article picture?

      The black rectangle, while respectful, doesn't pay tribute. RIP

  2. Anonymous Coward

    Postscript files...

    I remember being shown some fractal postscript files - a pretty short .ps file that would cause the printer to sit silently for a long time (*) and would then either crash, produce an error page or, occasionally a beautiful fractal. (*) long = an hour or more. Probably would be less time now as this was a few (cough) years ago.

    1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

      This one, for example?

      Although I'd recommend running it through ghostscript and producing a PDF, rather than wasting toner...

  3. AGirlFromVenus

    Powerfull influence

    Reading about Mandlebrot sets in the early 80's, the maths. and computing visualisation was a major, major influence on my life at a time when I needed some direction. Bless you Beniot.


  4. Goatan

    Farewell Mandelbrot

    The man was a genius and a legend.

    I like the fractals in the winamp visulisation Milkdrop 2. Without Mandelbrot there would be nothing psychedelic to enjoy on computers.

  5. The Fuzzy Wotnot


    I remember a lot of off-the shelf software packages producing fractals came out around the time when PCs were picking pace in the gaming market, around 93/94.

    Still fascinating and still a cool way to show kids that maths does have a fun side.

  6. joe 4
    Dead Vulture



    /tears of loss

  7. Big_Boomer Silver badge

    All hail Benny the Brot

    Creator of awesome artworks, explainer of snowflakes and cauliflower, creator of encryption algorithms.

    Of course he never did any of the above, but his mathematics enabled others to do these.

    If I achieve that much and live to 85 it'll be a ***ing miracle.

    Well done Benny. Respect!

  8. hi_robb

    I'll bet...

    The autopsy on him was a bugger. I'd imagine it a bit like opening a Russian Doll.

  9. Anonymous Coward

    Genuinely Sad

    *A toast to a genius*

    I spent many a happy hour writing (then optimising) fractal generators in university while learning to program. It was a lovely convergence of code, maths and beauty.

  10. Anonymous Coward

    au revoir

    Good luck in the next iteration, Mr Mandelbrot.


  11. Yesnomaybe

    I have heard...

    ...that the "B." in Benoit B. Mandelbrot stands for "Benoit B. Mandelbrot"

  12. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

    RIP Benoit

    His work inspired me to take an interest in the mathematics behind fractals at an early age, which led to an interest in programming. I can honestly say that if I had not discovered the Mandelbrot set at the age of nine, I wouldn't be where I am today.

  13. zedee
    Thumb Up

    Try Winfract - or fractint for old skool CLI users...

    One of the first programs that made me sit up and think - 'Wow - computers and maths together? This could be quite interesting...."

    Awesomeness from the stone soup group. Lots and lots of types of fractals and other mathematical phenomena.

  14. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge

    I would love to see his coffin

    To be honest I didn't even realise he was still alive.

    Thanks for all the pretty pictures Benoit (oh and all the useful ideas too).

  15. graeme leggett Silver badge

    Ah, the beauty

    Though prosaicalIy I call the first image "podgy spaceship", and the second "seahorses".

    (I remember waiting an age for the images to render on my Amiga)

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge


      ....try to do it on an Z-80 based MSX in Microsoft Basic.

      At least something to look forward to when Mom wakes you up in the morning, Coz school .. nah.

      1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

        It wasn't particularly speedy

        on an Amstrad CPC 464 running locomotive basic either, which also ran on a Z80(a). And that was generating 200x200 px IIRC. Used to leave that running overnight too...

    2. Paul RND*1000

      Spectrum, too

      I recall typing in a listing (remember those?) from either Your Sinclair or Popular Computing Weekly, which rendered a passable Mandelbrot set in black and white using Sinclair BASIC.

      It took a Very Long Time Indeed, though.

  16. thenim

    my most memorable program...

    was an attempt to generate that very same image... Didn't understand the mathematics then (or now), but what fun...

  17. Gianni Straniero

    Get set

    "I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space"

    1. BorkedAgain

      Get out.

      You're bard.

  18. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

    Let's get physical!

    So you want to apply this in Physics? This has already happened. Laurent Nottale has tried a fractal approach to spacetime. He gets the expected Higgs mass wrong though and predicts that the large-scale structure of the universe should be self-similar, of which there is not a whole lot of evidence (it's more like a synaptic mess, innit). Maybe he tries too hard:

  19. MinionZero

    RIP Benoit Mandelbrot

    I was very sorry to hear he had died. We need more like him willing to doggedly work to critically dig through and overturn orthodox paradigms. His dogged promotion of fractals transformed the thinking of so many scientists (often in the face of initial considerable opposition) and yet he has ended up opening up so many new ways to approach problems. Some in the media have classed him as a maverick but I considered his determination inspiring.

    Anyway, if you want to see how much impact fractals have had (and are increasingly having), I recommend this fascinating documentary...

    Also if you want to play with fractals (zooming in and out (via mouse buttons) in real time on any PC :), I recommended XaoS, i.e.

  20. John Sanders

    Sad day today.

    The man was a genius.

    I spent countless hours rendering IFF animations with my Amiga 3000 of interminable zooms inside a Julia set, I even bought more memory to be able to render deeper and deeper.

    At the time a big portion of my (Then huge) 50mb SCSI disk was full of fractal zooms.

    Some animations took entire weeks to render.

    There is something mysterious, easily appreciable, and seemingly impossible to grasp about how fractals work.

    What I mean is that if you look at the way nature work, it seems that mother nature has some way to pack a lot of information on a tiny space with a very limited set (see DNA for example).

    Fractal Maths give us some insight into how that kind of information compression works.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "Some animations took entire weeks to render."

      ...and now your web browser can do it at 60fps with javascript at 20x the resolution...

      I remember doing the same thing - except on my 286. Eventually I got tired of the iteration, and did hybrid things where I'd set color based on other aspects, which was kind of interesting.

      That eventually got me into chaotic systems ('Computers, Pattern, Chaos, and Beauty' was my bible when I was 12), which I ended up enjoying more; it felt more difficult to understand. With fractals, once I saw where the pattern was, the self-similarity actually bothered me; it *simplified* the whole thing. Once you know how the self-similarity works, you can see all the way down in without really seeing it.

      Chaos was more fulfilling, since I could create something I really couldn't predict. I wish I had the time to reimplement some of the code I wrote then; I could probably use a thousand times as many particles and still render a hundred times as fast. Maybe it's time to break out the bible again...

      Still, it was Mandelbrot who got the ball rolling on the entire discipline. The vision required to do what he did in an era *without computing hardware* to speak of is little short of breathtaking - a bit like Beethoven's ability to compose a symphony while deaf.

  21. Troy Peterson

    One badass f*cking fractal

    Jo Co said it best...

    Mandelbrot Set you’re a Rorschach Test on fire

    You’re a day-glo pterodactyl

    You’re a heart-shaped box of springs and wire

    You’re one badass f*cking fractal

    And you’re just in time to save the day

    Sweeping all our fears away

    You can change the world in a tiny way

    Mandelbrot’s in heaven, at least he will be when he’s dead

    Right now he’s still alive and teaching math at Yale

    He gave us order out of chaos, he gave us hope where there was none

    And his geometry succeeds where others fail

    If you ever lose your way, a butterfly will flap its wings

    From a million miles away, a little miracle will come to take you home

  22. f1rest0rm

    Turbo Pascal 4 for me ...

    my first experience of losing whole nights to a computer ....

    I'll raise a glass later.

  23. defiler

    Fun days of ARM assembly optimisation

    I used to write programs to animate Mandelbrot sets by shifting the starting parameters. Got my old Archimedes to render them in real-time with a mix of fixed-point maths, and laboriously-optimised hand-coded assembly. Wish I still had that program - my inner-loop was a work of art.

    The sad thing is that at the time I didn't really understand it. I daresay I could go back to it now and make more sense of the unreal numbers and such, but at the time it just made pretty pictures.

  24. This post has been deleted by its author

  25. Simon Harris


    ARM assembly code - that's pure luxury...

    When I wrote my first Mandelbrot set program, it was on an Acorn Atom, in 6502 assembly code.

    Of course, the Atom wasn't exactly blessed with that many screen colours, so I half-toned the output and sent it straight to my printer - ended up with a few poster sized Mandelbrot sets that took days to produce!

    It was only when I finished that I realised that there was a carry error in my 32 bit fixed-point multiply routine, and the zones of divergence had curious scalloped edges to them - but the errors turned out to be nicely fractal too!

  26. Panix
    Thumb Up

    Electric Sheep

    The graphics in the article reminds me of Electric Sheep - It's pretty cool screen saver. It's a distributed computing project for animating fractals.

  27. Henry Wertz 1 Gold badge


    Agree w/ zeedee. xfractint is the way to go. When the Mandelbrot *immediately* appears, escape goes to a menu, F1 shows some common options, pageup and pagedown zoom in/out (with arrows and return key setting up the box to zoom in on). This Mandelbrot used to take several seconds on older PCs (up to 15 or 20 on a 486 or so) and overnight on an Atari 800. There's LOADS of fractals to choose from (with mandelbrot and Julia being "the classics". Try the "@" command, this has some nice presets people have found over the years. I'm looking at them now, most used to take so long to generate that I never looked through them all -- now they generate in under a second to a few seconds.

    It's too bad the "C" (Color cycle) mode doesn't work (I think it requires 256 color mode), that color cycling mode was a real trip.

    RIP Mandelbrot!

  28. Frumious Bandersnatch

    interdimensional - lol

    it's funny cos "inter" means between :-).

  29. JB


    You tend to take these mathematicians for granted, don't you. I remember wasting countless hours with FractInt in the early 90s, entering all sorts of command-line parameters and watching the image appear, line by line, down the screen! Makes you wonder where the next mathematical breakthrough will come from?

  30. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    Fractal compression did'nt work so well

    Still Michael Beasley picked up a shedload of money in the process so all's well that ends well.

    1. Frumious Bandersnatch

      Barnsley / fractal compression

      Well it depends on what you mean "not working well"... the collage theorem was/is very successful in producing very high compression ratios. Of course the problem was finding the right set of iterated function systems that would be a good approximation of what you wanted to compress and do it in a reasonable amount of time (compared to other lossy compression schemes). As for getting money to do the research, I think it was probably worthwhile even if it didn't fulfill the initial promise.

      I might be wrong on this point, but I seem to remember Barnsley eventually proving that there wasn't a tractable algorithmic way of searching for the minimal set of coding IFS's. It was always possible for humans to come up with tuned sets of IFSs that would have good compression properties, but without being able to codify that in an algorithm, it wasn't going to work, so the proof was a kind of variation on the Church-Turing thesis, iirc.On the other hand, the wikipedia page seems to contradict this, so I don't really know at this point...

      1. John Smith 19 Gold badge

        @Frumious Bandersnatch

        "Of course the problem was finding the right set of iterated function systems that would be a good approximation of what you wanted to compress and do it in a reasonable amount of time (compared to other lossy compression schemes). "

        The best generator seemed to be a graduate student locked in a room. IIRC *all* the classic examples (single pictures, not a single mpg amongst them) were the result of this "algorythm"

        "As for getting money to do the research, I think it was probably worthwhile even if it didn't fulfill the initial promise."

        I was thinking of a company called Iterated Systems which IIRC made a substantial number of clams for their compression tech. AFAIK they ended up supplying a fairly effective (but *very* resource hungry) asymmetric (heavy processing to compress, relatively easy to decompress) website content management systems.

  31. Anonymous Coward

    He can't die ...

    He'll just end up as lots and lots of little Mandelbrot processes whirling towards infinity until time runs out.

  32. ianc10
    Thumb Up

    My fractal website, a tribute to Benoit Mandelbrot

    I would like to pay my respects to Benoit Mandelbrot. I have a website with some awesome fractal animation videos and a Java Mandelbrot applet I made. Please check them out. The website is:

  33. Rev. Ignatius Killfile
    Thumb Up

    So long Beniot

    So long Benoit, and thanks for all the images. You were an interdimensional explorer. z=z2+c

  34. Anonymous Coward

    Oh what fun..

    You could have with a 3D printer

  35. Sam Therapy

    RIP Mr Mandelbrot

    A genius, a legend, a profound influence on maths, CGI and much more.

  36. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

    IAS is not part of Princeton University

    "he did a stint at the Institute of Advanced Studies at Princeton University"

    The IAS is in Princeton, NJ, which is also the home of Princeton University; but it is not part of Princeton University. It's a separate organization, founded in 1930 by Louis Bamberger and Caroline Bamberger Fuld to be a new kind of academic institution, where faculty and graduate students could pursue research together without the distraction of those pesky undergrads.

    Because of proximity the IAS and PU have a lot of playdates, but they're strictly friends.

    There are a couple of anecdotes about Mandelbrot's time at the IAS, and why they never tried to hire him on as a faculty member, in Ed Regis' entertaining history _Who Got Einstein's Office?_.

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