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Mandelbrot?s data legacy
18 Oct, 2010 - Glen Rabie
Mandelbrot Set

The passing this week of Dr Benoit B. Mandelbrot, the creator of fractal geometry, reminds us of his important contribution to graphical representations, data visualization and collaboration in the process of data analysis and interpretation.  Not to mention the pure beauty of his work.

Mandelbrot created a new group of geometric visualizations – fractal geometry – capable of representing, mimicking and measuring irregular and naturally occurring shapes.

His groundbreaking 1982 book – The Fractal Geometry of Nature – argued and demonstrated that the circumference of complex naturally occurring features and geographic masses, such as coastlines, could be accurately measured in a “vigorous quantitative fashion.”

What appeals to me about this work, is that if you wish measure the length of coastline, then typically those measurements tend to be simplistic and understate the true length of that coastline.

Mandelbrot’s work showed that the closer you looked the more complex the coastline was - from relatively smooth on a map to the roughness of grains of sand.  Hence, the longer the distance of the coastline. It was this insight that has stuck with me for years as a wonderful example of the detail that sits behind many of our world views and basic assumptions.

Mandelbrot contributed to research within the fields of engineering, geology, medicine and cosmology, using his theory of fractal geometry to describe such phenomena as galaxy clusters and fluctuation in wheat prices.

In a career spanning almost seven decades, he was a founding force behind the introduction and use of computer graphics to study and solve mathematical and data-based problems.

Yellowfin acknowledges Dr Mandelbrot’s pioneering work and influence on the modern data industry.

See Mandelbrot on TED here

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