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The theory of Fatou and Julia


Fatou and Julia
Benoît Mandelbrot Mathematician
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These two men were as different as can be. Fatou was no longer very young. He was a very strange man who did not want to have a career as such because he never wanted to leave Paris. He was a solitary person, as I understand it, and he became a calculator at the observatory. He had a position in the daytime doing calculations with slide rules of tables or logarithms, of trajectories of planets, and at night and on weekends was doing mathematics. This double life was very strange. He was very much the black sheep in the French mathematical community. Besides, he was physically very weak; I thought he had a foot much longer than the other. Anyhow, he was not called to war because he was just not good as a soldier. So he was in Paris. Who was Julia? Julia was a very up and coming person, actually from Oran, Algeria, of a Spanish family originally, who was the greatest discovery of French mathematics at the time. He had been sent to the front in 1914 or 1915 and deeply wounded. He came back alive, which is quite extraordinary, but for many, many months he had operations performed on him to remove shrapnel, and on his face they were doing that without anaesthesia because they were afraid of killing him. So he was being tortured, in a certain sense, for his own good. At the same time he started doing mathematics.

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, 33 seconds

Date story recorded: May 1998

Date story went live: 24 January 2008