Mandelbrot receives multiple honors in Poland and Italy

August 09, 2005

New Haven, Conn. -- Benoit Mandelbrot, Sterling Professor of Mathematical Sciences, Emeritus, at Yale University has been named the 2005 recipient of the prestigious Sierpinski Prize, awarded jointly since 1974 by the Polish Mathematical Society and the University of Warsaw.

Waclaw Sierpinski (1882-1969), like Mandelbrot a native of Warsaw, was known for major contributions to abstract mathematics and for the creation around 1920 of a Polish school of mathematics specifically devoted to his particular interest in pure mathematics, "Fundamenta Mathematicae." Polish mathematics took pride in breaking with tradition, and specifically with any possible links between mathematics and the real world. Their perspectives greatly influenced the international "new math" movement in grade and high school education

From 1974 to 2004 the Prize laureates were colleagues of Sierpinski and other pure mathematicians. The fractal geometry of roughness, Mandelbrot's life work, although apparently different in its spirit, in fact, has deep links to this tradition. Ironically, Mandelbrot singled out two shapes favored by the Polish school, labeled them Sierpinski gasket and carpet, and showed both to be extraordinarily useful in representing roughness in nature and Man's works. These structures have become widely known, even to young students.

Fractal geometry credits Sierpinski's work but refutes its interpretation and restores an element of unity that Sierpinski had worked to destroy. Sierpinski also profoundly affected the personal life of Mandelbrot, whom he never met, giving this Prize and the accompanying lecture on "The unity of mathematics" exceptionally rich, personal, and ironic connotations.

On the way to Warsaw, Mandelbrot lectured at the Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznan, Poland, which granted him the first medal named after an early Sierpinski medalist, the great Polish mathematician Wladislaw Orlicz.

Earlier this year, Mandelbrot was awarded the honor of Doctor in Civil Engineering by the Technical University (Politecnico) in Torino, Italy, at the International Congress on Fracture. He was specifically cited for the practical value of fractals for providing the first quantitative measure of the roughness of metal and glass fractures.

Yale University

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