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fractal geometry

fractal geometry, branch of mathematics concerned with irregular patterns made of parts that are in some way similar to the whole, e.g., twigs and tree branches, a property called self-similarity or self-symmetry. Unlike conventional geometry, which is concerned with regular shapes and whole-number dimensions, such as lines (one-dimensional) and cones (three-dimensional), fractal geometry deals with shapes found in nature that have non-integer, or fractal, dimensions—linelike rivers with a fractal dimension of about 1.2 and conelike mountains with a fractal dimension between 2 and 3.

Fractal geometry developed from Benoit Mandelbrot's study of complexity and chaos (see chaos theory). Beginning in 1961, he published a series of studies on fluctuations of the stock market, the turbulent motion of fluids, the distribution of galaxies in the universe, and on irregular shorelines on the English coast. By 1975 Mandelbrot had developed a theory of fractals that became a serious subject for mathematical study. Fractal geometry has been applied to such diverse fields as the stock market, chemical industry, meteorology, and computer graphics.

See B. B. Mandelbrot, The Fractal Geometry of Nature (1983); K. J. Falconer, Fractal Geometry: Mathematical Foundations and Applications (1990); H.-O. Peitgen, H. Jurgens, and D. Saupe, Chaos and Fractals: New Frontiers of Science (1992).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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