Benoit Mandelbrot, Mathematician, Dies at 85

Shizuo Kambayashi/Associated Press

Benoit B. Mandelbrot at a conference in Tokyo in 2003.

His death was caused by pancreatic cancer, his wife, Aliette, said. He had lived in Cambridge.

Dr. Mandelbrot coined the term “fractal” to refer to a new class of mathematical shapes whose uneven contours could mimic the irregularities found in nature.

“Applied mathematics had been concentrating for a century on phenomena which were smooth, but many things were not like that: the more you blew them up with a microscope the more complexity you found,” said David Mumford, a professor of mathematics at Brown University. “He was one of the primary people who realized these were legitimate objects of study.”

Benoit Mandelbrot, Mathematician, Dies at 85

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