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IBM fellowship (Part 2)
Benoît Mandelbrot Mathematician
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Some of the IBM fellows were happy with their title but they did not use the perks, which were freedom, and they continued to be managers of large laboratories, having more respect and well, a kind of award, a prize, more than an actual change of status. But a fair number took it very seriously, and I was one of them. That is, I spent much of my time at IBM in situations that can be described as being a micro-subsidiary of IBM, one which consisted of myself, a secretary and a programmer, for other people it was a technician, some people preferred two secretaries, but actually that was about the size of these small enterprises. We had to write a report every year. The report was not to ask for permission to do something, but to report what had been done before, and implicitly to request continuation, even though continuation was never granted in a kind of brutal fashion. It was understood that if someone were lapsing he would be told that perhaps he could do something useful if he was doing nothing particularly striking. This happened very seldom. It is just odd that the kind of strong wills and strong individuals, who became IBM fellows, when they wanted to go into more daily practical work, gave signs that they wished to do so. Ralph Gomery, who was Director of Research for 17 years and boss for many more years, was very quick to see the signs. He would get someone who was a scientist to start looking into problems with some devices and then he would change their field. I think that the Fellowship was an extraordinarily important innovation because it exemplified in the most extreme fashion this separation from a field, from an activity of a straight nature. And most of the Fellows with whom I dealt most and appreciated most strongly used it very strongly to work very strongly in fields in which there was not much actual competition, in between fields, in fields of a less-defined nature. I am glad to say the Fellowship continues at a lesser scale and perhaps with emphasis more on achievement of a practical nature, but I hope it will continue for ever. As for me, I am now an IBM Fellow Emeritus.

Benoît Mandelbrot (1924-2010) discovered his ability to think about mathematics in images while working with the French Resistance during the Second World War, and is famous for his work on fractal geometry - the maths of the shapes found in nature.

Listeners: Daniel Zajdenweber Bernard Sapoval

Daniel Zajdenweber is a Professor at the College of Economics, University of Paris.

Bernard Sapoval is Research Director at C.N.R.S. Since 1983 his work has focused on the physics of fractals and irregular systems and structures and properties in general. The main themes are the fractal structure of diffusion fronts, the concept of percolation in a gradient, random walks in a probability gradient as a method to calculate the threshold of percolation in two dimensions, the concept of intercalation and invasion noise, observed, for example, in the absorbance of a liquid in a porous substance, prediction of the fractal dimension of certain corrosion figures, the possibility of increasing sharpness in fuzzy images by a numerical analysis using the concept of percolation in a gradient, calculation of the way a fractal model will respond to external stimulus and the correspondence between the electrochemical response of an irregular electrode and the absorbance of a membrane of the same geometry.

Duration: 2 minutes, 41 seconds

Date story recorded: May 1998

Date story went live: 29 September 2010