'Father of fractal geometry' dies at 85

Benoit Mandelbrot, a world-renowned mathematician who worked briefly for Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, has died.

Mandelbrot was known as the "father of fractal geometry" for his work to originate the field and apply it to mathematics, science, engineering and other fields.

Mandelbrot, 85, died Thursday of pancreatic cancer in Cambridge, Mass., The Associated Press reported.

Even those who have never heard the term fractal geometry likely have seen the computer-generated artwork with brightly colored swirls created from it.

In intellectual fields, the shapes and forms created with mathematical formulae in fractal geometry can be used to approximate complex phenomenon.

It's been applied not only to science, but also to economics, linguistics, meteorology, demography, fine arts and finances, including in the financial bestseller The Misbehavior of Markets: A Fractal View of Risk, Ruin and Reward. Mandelbrot wrote the book with former Wall Street Journal editor Richard Hudson.

After Mandelbrot retired from Yale University, he joined the Department of Energy national laboratory in Richland part-time in late 2005 and was associated with the lab until August 2007.

He was hired as a Battelle fellow, PNNL's highest technical position, and worked primarily from Cambridge, Mass. He led a project to further advance multi-fractal mathematics in the United States and served as a lecturer and consultant to scientists working on projects that deal with modeling complex phenomenon. In addition, he promoted improved mathematics curriculum for high schools.

In 2006, PNNL officials said that his ability to think "freely and unconventionally" would help as the lab was challenged to measure and make sense of vast amounts of data generated by proteomic research, information analytics and cyber security.

Mandelbrot was born in Poland and moved to France in 1936, but because his family is Jewish he spent much of World War II hiding in the countryside rather than in school. During that time he studied on his own, developing a free-thinking and independent attitude that never left him, according to PNNL. He earned a doctorate degree in mathematics at the University of Paris.