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Two years at Caltech: Wiener and Delbruck


The decision not to go into physics
Benoît Mandelbrot Mathematician
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Now, I haven't said why I didn't go into physics, and that's rather a complicated story. First of all, my uncle was a brave man with enormous experience, but extraordinarily narrow-minded, and very conscious of reputations. He judged his field by personal knowledge; outside fields by reputations. He believed the experts. And he told me immediately that if I went to the École Normale I must not touch physics, because he said physics at the École Normale is not only not good, it is bad, it's old-fashioned, it is done by people who don't know anything, etc., etc. He was very, very scornful. Probably he was right, because physics then was in a very poor state. It was very difficult to imagine where to study physics in Paris in 1945, in a kind of great fashion. Physics came back to France only several years later - theoretical physics, I mean. Experimental physics again was beginning with Leprince-Ringuet. Actually, at the time, I didn't like the associations of physics with the atom bomb. I don't know why I didn't mind airplanes but I did mind the atom bomb. Actually it's a very common attitude of making a sharp distinction, at one level, of arms.

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: 1 minute, 26 seconds

Date story recorded: May 1998

Date story went live: 24 January 2008