Ingrid Daubechies, mother of the wavelet
Ingrid Daubechies is an internationally renowned physicist and mathematician who thanks to her pioneering research into ‘wavelets’ has made an essential contribution to various practical applications such as the JPEG2000-standard for digital images.
Ingrid Daubechies was born in 1954 as the daughter of a mining engineer in Houthalen, Belgian Limburg. After her physics studies at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) she obtained her Ph.D. at the same university in 1980. After her marriage to American scientist Robert Calderbank in 1987 she left for the United States to work in the research group of AT&T Bell Laboratories.
That was the period during which Daubechies made her major discoveries in the field of ‘wavelets’, studying mathematical structures perceived as a kind of waves. Daubechies discovered that there are various types of wavelets, the characteristics of which she described in her publication that has become a classic: Ten Lectures on Wavelets (1992).
It is typical of Daubechies that from her newly acquired insights she also wanted to provide applications outside pure mathematics. The American intelligence service FBI was the first to benefit from them: thanks to the ‘Daubechies Wavelets’ it became possible to use compression for reducing drastically all fingerprints available, implying much more efficient personal identifications and identity controls.
It was obvious that other practical applications would follow, the best-known of which probably is the JPEG2000 standard as format for digital images. We owe the fact that all of us can very easily share our holiday pictures via the internet to the specific mathematical formulas prepared by Daubechies and hidden behind the digital image format JPEG2000.
Daubechies’ lasting involvement in practice appears clearly from the initiative she took in 2010 to organize via the VUB the yearly maths competition ‘Wiskunnend Wiske’. As a result of their participation, 2000 Flemish pupils, in particular girls, cross swords in their search for solutions to intriguing mathematical problems.
On account of her achievements, Ingrid Daubechies was awarded a number of honorary doctorates and distinctions in several countries. In 2012 King Albert II granted her the title of Baroness. From 2011 to 2014 she was the first woman president of the International Mathematical Union (IMU).
At present Ingrid Daubechies is Professor of mathematics at the Duke University, North Carolina, United States. From 2004 to 2011 she was Professor of mathematics at Princeton University, New Jersey, United States.
© Photo: David von Becker