York Science & Innovation Grand Tour May - Sept 2012

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39 High Petergate

Did you know?

Fractals, like this Mandelbrot plot, are self-repeating patterns found throughout nature, in plants, lightning and even coastlines. Early work on fractals was pioneered by Lewis Fry Richardson, who went to Bootham School, 1894 – 1898.

Lewis Fry Richardson, mathematician, physicist, psychologist and a father of modern meteorology pioneered mathematical weather forecasting. Inspired by his Quaker beliefs, in investigating reasons for conflict, he discovered the startling idea that borders and coastlines are actually infinitely long. This research influenced Mandelbrot in his famous fractal discoveries.

1. Exhibit image
2. 1898 leavers photo with Fry Richardson highlighted.
3. Extract from his natural history diary.
Watch fractal video

Lewis Fry Richardson was a pupil at Bootham School between 1894 and 1898. He was a brilliant mathematician, scientist, psychologist, meteorologist and pacifist who pioneered work in many different fields, often inspired by his beliefs.

Early Life
Lewis was born in Newcastle in 1881 and came to Bootham School in 1894. There, he was part of the very active Natural History Society, which occupied much of the pupils’ spare time with excursions, lectures, collections and diaries. Lewis kept a natural history diary when he was 13. A typical entry reads: “Showery. Went to Stocksfield. A squirrel sitting at the bottom of a tree in Hindler Wood.” Perhaps a sign of his future career, almost every entry includes a note about what the weather was like that day. Later on he won prizes for his insect collection and a collection of plaster casts of animal and bird tracks.

Career and research
After school and university, he had several roles in meteorology and served in the Friends Ambulance Unit during the First World War. As a pacifist, he left the Met Office when it was taken over by the Air Ministry, and held various teaching posts for the rest of his career.

He made one of his most interesting mathematical discoveries while looking at the reasons countries went to war. He noted that neighbouring countries regularly had quarrels so looked at the length of the borders between them. He realised that the length of border depended on the length of instrument used to measure them. The smaller the instrument, the larger the border.

This property was dubbed the Richardson Effect by Mandelbrot and inspired him in his work developing Fractals.

The Fractal presented here is part of a Mandelbrot Set. Benoit Mandelbrot (1924 – 2010) was a French American Mathematician who referenced a lot of Fry Richardson’s work, and indeed was awarded the Lewis Fry Richardson Medal.
The fractal is generated by checking how quickly a series gets above a certain value. Each point of the fractal is a different variable in the series. If the point is black then it will always loop in the low numbers. It is possible to infinitely zoom into the fractal and continue to see the familiar pattern, The style of which depends where you zoom.
For more information on Lewis Fry Richardson, explanations of the maths behind the Mandelbrot set and way to explore fractals further please go to website

Reproduction in any form of any of the images on this website is strictly prohibited.


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