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Legendary mathematician joins national laboratory

At 81, Benoit Mandelbrot takes on new challenges in advanced mathematics for computational science

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February 16, 2006 Share This!

RICHLAND, Wash. — One of the world’s most influential mathematicians, Benoit Mandelbrot, has joined the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

Mandelbrot is recognized for originating the field of fractal geometry and applying it in mathematics, science and engineering. Fractals, unique computer-generated graphical forms created using mathematical formulas, are also viewed as art. The best known of these is called the Mandelbrot Set. Researchers use fractals to model and measure irregular patterns and structures, such as the rough edges of a coastline, that cannot be represented by classical geometry.

Today, it is common to find fractals applied to many fields, including economics, linguistics, meteorology, demography and fine arts. The financial bestseller, “The Misbehavior of Markets: A Fractal View of Risk, Ruin and Reward,” which Mandelbrot wrote with former Wall Street Journal editor Richard Hudson, applies fractal geometry to the stock market.

According to George Michaels, associate laboratory director for computational and information sciences, Mandelbrot’s “unique ability to think freely and unconventionally” lends itself to creating new methods for solving the kinds of computational conundrums that science is currently confronting. Among these challenges are managing, measuring and making sense of vast amounts of data generated by proteomic research, information analytics and cyber security.

Mandelbrot will hold the title of Battelle Fellow, the laboratory’s highest technical position. He will work primarily from a Battelle office in Cambridge, Mass., leading a project to further advance multi-fractal mathematics in the United States.

One aspect of this project is the development of a new mathematics curriculum for high schools. “The laboratory is a very good match for both our interests in research and my interest in teachers of mathematics,” Mandelbrot said. “Math instruction has become very standardized in a manner that most people find dull and boring. I think there is a better way.”

Mandelbrot is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and France’s Legion of Honor. He is Sterling Professor of Mathematics, Emeritus, at Yale University and Fellow Emeritus of IBM’s Watson Research Center, where he developed some of the first computer programs to print graphics.

Mandelbrot was born in Poland and spent much of World War II hiding in the French countryside, rather than in school. He completed his undergraduate studies at the Ecole Polytechnique in Paris, holds a master’s degree in Aeronautics from the California Institute of Technology and earned his doctorate in mathematics at the University of Paris.

Recipient of more than 50 honorary degrees and other awards, Mandelbrot has authored hundreds of research publications, numerous invited lectures and presentations, contributions to encyclopedias and dictionaries and nearly a dozen books. He has been cited more than 20,000 times for his journal publications alone.

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory ( is a DOE Office of Science laboratory that solves complex problems in energy, national security, the environment and life sciences by advancing the understanding of physics, chemistry, biology and computation. PNNL employs 4,100 staff, has a $700 million annual budget, and has been managed by Ohio-based Battelle since the lab's inception in 1965.

Tags: Energy, Environment, Fundamental Science, Computational Science, National Security, Meteorology, Chemistry, Biology, Cybersecurity

PNNL LogoInterdisciplinary teams at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory address many of America's most pressing issues in energy, the environment and national security through advances in basic and applied science. Founded in 1965, PNNL employs 4,400 staff and has an annual budget of nearly $1 billion. It is managed and operated by Battelle for the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science. As the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, the Office of Science is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information on PNNL, visit the PNNL News Center, or follow PNNL on Facebook, Google+, Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter.

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