“What is the point in studying Maths?” This is a question I have been asked on many occasions, by parents, fellow students, and even my flatmate who studies drama! All jokes aside, this is something that lots of you reading this will have considered at some point whilst studying Maths. Most of you would probably prefer to spend this time at your computer, or on your smartphone. The irony of this is that neither of these devices would have been possible without the subject in question. Maths has laid the foundation for all technological advances in history. This includes the development of the smartphone, which brings me on to talk about Benoit Mandelbrot. He is a relative unknown to most people, I only stumbled across him during research for this article, but his impact on modern life cannot be underestimated.
Mandelbrot, born in 1924, did not coin the term “fractals” until 1975. It is an incredibly difficult concept to define and can best be described as a shape having an identical structure at different scales. For example, a tree is composed of branches that are composed of branches, and is known as a natural fractal, alongside coastlines, mountains, and clouds. This may seem about as far away from technology as possible. However, fractals have been used in a vast array of fields, from astrophysics to computer graphics. This is because the principle of objects being the identical at a different scale (known as self-similarity) can be applied to computer/smartphone graphics. Therefore, by using fractal algorithms, file sizes can be decreased by huge amounts. This decreases the volume of space needed to store data on your phone and therefore decreases the size that it needs to be. It is Mandelbrot’s work that has led to the ever-decreasing size of phones and computers. This goes to show how Mandelbrot, a name that 99% of you will not have heard of, changed the lives of that same 99%.