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Marcel-Paul Schützenberger


Benoît Mandelbrot Mathematician
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Now to the awards that I received, they taught me many, many things that I did not know and that some people do not know either. I think that the one that is the highest and which pleased me most was the Wolf Prize for Physics, and the reason precisely was that it was for physics. Strangely enough I have proven again and again that I can function for long periods of time without ego strokes and without awards and recognition. But having recognition that is specifically for one type of work has more value because of that. The Wolf Prize for Physics, first of all, has been given to very eminent people. There was a meeting of the Wolf Prize laureates a few days ago, for the twentieth anniversary, and I was very pleased to be one of them, but for most of them the motivation was completely for some specific discovery, theoretical or practical. In my case the citation was in two parts, one part, which was specific for work done, and the second part, which is for having changed our view of nature, which I found to be, first of all, marvellous. And perhaps it is appropriate that fractals have beyond any technical application changed the view of nature, not only for children and the common man, as I think we may have the occasion of discussing, but also of the scientists. Otherwise, one prize that is perhaps the least well known was perhaps also the most striking. It was one of the first of the Barnard Medals. It was given every five years and I say it was: I am not even sure whether it is given any longer, because being given every five years it does not have, how should I say, sufficient mass to be recognised, acknowledged, followed. They don't announce it very loudly. What was extraordinarily flattering in it is that the previous laureates of the Barnard Medal - which is given by Columbia University and National Academy of Sciences of the USA the previous winners included most of the great men of science in different fields in this century, and they were rewarded well before they became absolutely famous. That is, some committees were good at searching individuals who might in a few years become very influential. The Barnard Medal was of that kind. But what is very striking is that most of these awards have a strange individuality. One was the prize for science and art of a champagne company, Moet and Chandon. This is not normal in science prizes! As a matter of fact, I think it no longer exists. The Franklin Medal was marvellous, but again it is given every year and therefore doesn't have the trouble of the Barnard Medal, but it is somewhat confidential. Each of them had something very strong and touching about them, but again, the Wolf Prize with this citation was particularly nice.

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: 3 minutes, 58 seconds

Date story recorded: May 1998

Date story went live: 29 September 2010