I had the rare and amazing privilege of hearing Mandelbrot speak when he came to visit my high school about 20 years ago. Even at my science-and-technology high school, most of the students didn’t know much about Mandelbrot, but I’d been fascinated by fractals for years and had brought a copy of his seminal work The Fractal Geometry of Nature for him to autograph, and we chatted for a few minutes. I was a bit starstruck — I was 16 or 17 at the time — but I recall that he asked me what kind of fractal-related work I’d done, and showed genuine interest when I told him that I’d played around a lot with the Mandelbrot Set and some variations on the Sierpinski Gasket. In retrospect, I realize this could not possibly have been of much interest to him, but he took a few minutes to make me feel like an intelligent human being because a mathematical genius wanted to hear about what I was working on.
Here’s a fun video for Jonathan Coulton’s song “Mandelbrot Set” by Pisut Wisessing:
As the lyrics to the song say: “He saw that infinite complexity could be described by simple rules.” And for that, and many other of his ideas and discoveries, he will be remember as a giant of science.