With regard to computer graphics, fractals are a lossy compression method used for color images. Providing ratios of 100:1 or greater, fractals are especially suited to natural objects, such as trees, clouds and rivers. Fractals turn an image into a set of data and an algorithm for expanding it back to the original.
Stemming from "fractus," which is Latin for broken or fragmented, the term fractals was coined by IBM Fellow and doctor of mathematics Benoit Mandelbrot, who expanded on ideas from earlier mathematicians and discovered similarities in chaotic and random events and shapes. Mandelbrot determined that there are repeating patterns in the architecture of nature.
As Gregg Braden put it in his extraordinary book "Fractal Time, The Secret of 2012 and a New World Age," which deals with patterns and predictions leading to the present era: "Nature uses a few simple, self-similar, and repeating patterns-- fractals --to build energy and atoms into the familiar forms of everything from roots, rivers, and trees, to rocks, mountains, and us."