Math professor Ingrid Daubechies awarded $1.5 million grant

<p>Daubechies has received recognition for&nbsp;her study of wavelets, or mathematical functions with the ability to enhance image compression technology.</p>

Daubechies has received recognition for her study of wavelets, or mathematical functions with the ability to enhance image compression technology.

Ingrid Daubechies—a Belgian James B. Duke professor of mathematics and electrical and computer engineering—received a $1.5 million grant from the Simons Foundation, the University announced Monday.

Daubechies is well known at Duke for her study of wavelets, or mathematical functions with the ability to enhance image compression technology. The Simons Foundation—a private foundation based in New York City that funds research in mathematics and the basic sciences—gave her the the Math + X Investigator award, which provides money to professors at American and Canadian universities to encourage new partnerships between mathematicians and researchers other fields of science.

“I’m delighted that Ingrid Daubechies’ innovative and groundbreaking work has been recognized with this award from the Simons Foundation,” President Richard Brodhead said in a Duke Today release. “I’m grateful to the Simons Foundation for supporting promising scholarship at the intersection of mathematics and other fields.”

Daubechies told The Chronicle that she plans to use the money to fund her research projects involving machine learning and mathematics. One such project works with biologists to develop technology that makes it easier to study the morphology of bones in biological anthropology. Another involves creating image processing tools related to art to make analyzing artwork more straightforward.

"I'm not seeking to develop software or a company," she said. "I want to prove concepts and provide softwarde to do it and then it's up to the community to determine how to use it."

The funds will be used to pay the salaries of the post doctorate students involved in her projects, she said.

Daubechies came to Duke in 2010 after being on faculty at Princeton University, and she served as the first female president of the International Mathematical Union from 2011 to 2014. Daubechies’ work in applied mathematics is well-known, particularly in regard to the “Daubechies wavelets”—which are integral to the JPEG image compression format.

Daubechies’ wavelets can be used to summarize and compress images as well as to detect art fraud. She has also been developing new ways to compare 3-D shapes, which assists fossil experts in analyzing images of bones and teeth.

“I like to work with people who have problems that they’d like to figure out and where I can detect a mathematical aspect to it,” Daubechies told The Chronicle in April.

She noted that she has always been interested in math and science and majored in physics in college to pursue this passion.

"I like learning things, understanding things and teasing out interesting mathematical questions," Daubechies said.

The award will help fund her research in mathematics and electrical and computer engineering for the next five years.

“This is a tremendous honor,” Daubechies said in the release. “Thanks to these funds, I will be able to explore new ways to apply ideas from machine learning to adaptive signal analysis and to biological morphology."

Editor's note: This article was updated August 3, 2016 at 10:00 p.m. to include additional information and quotes from Daubechies. 


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