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.
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.
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.
To learn more about the maths behind our Fractal, click here.
Lewis Fry Richardson (highlighted) in the 1898 leavers photo.
An extract from the Natural History diary
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.
Oliver M. Ashford (at Bootham between 1929 and 1932) wrote a biography of Lewis Fry Richardson called Prophet - or Professor? The Life and Work of Lewis Fry Richardson, and presented a copy to the John Bright library in 1986.