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Simons Foundation Awards Duke's Ingrid Daubechies $1.5M Grant

Ingrid Daubechies is the James B. Duke Professor of Mathematics and Electrical and Computer Engineering at Duke University.
Ingrid Daubechies is the James B. Duke Professor of Mathematics and Electrical and Computer Engineering at Duke University.

Ingrid Daubechies, a prominent mathematician whose pioneering work on wavelets is the foundation for millions of consumer products, has received a $1.5 million grant from the Simons Foundation.

The Math + X Investigator award provides research funds to professors at American and Canadian universities to encourage novel collaborations between mathematicians and researchers in another field of science or engineering.

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

Daubechies, a James B. Duke Professor of Mathematics, is known for her seminal work on wavelets -- a mathematical tool used to analyze and compress images that has far-reaching impact.

The ability to store photos on computers and phones is one example of her contribution to audio, image and video communication. She also collaborates with artists, historians and conservators to restore ancient works of art and identify forgeries. Her wavelet method has even helped brain scientists restore a paraplegic patient’s hand mobility.

The Math + X Investigator award will support Daubechies’ research between mathematics and electrical and computer engineering over the next five years.

“This is a tremendous honor,” said Daubechies, who joined Duke’s faculty in 2011. “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.” For example, she will work with scientists to identify ways to measure fossilized teeth and bones in an effort to map evolutionary changes.

Born in Houthalen, Belgium, Daubechies studied physics at the Vrije Universiteit in Brussels, completing a doctorate in theoretical physics in 1980.  She conducted research at AT&T Bell Laboratories in New Jersey before joining Princeton University’s faculty in 1993, eventually becoming the first woman to be a tenured professor in mathematics.

In 2000, she was the first woman to receive the National Academy of Sciences Award in Mathematics. A decade later, she was the first woman elected president of the International Mathematical Union. She is a 1992 MacArthur Fellow, a 2010 Guggenheim Fellow and has been elected into the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering.

“Professor Daubechies has brought her expertise and creativity to bear not only in the sciences -- an area incredibly important to Duke -- but she’s also exploring new intersections with other fields such as paleontology,” said Valerie Ashby, dean of Duke’s Trinity College of Arts & Sciences. “This grant will help open even more avenues of discovery.”

The Simons Foundation was co-founded in New York City in 1994 by Jim and Marilyn Simons to advance the frontiers of research in mathematics and the basic sciences. Jim Simons is the founder of Renaissance Technologies and chair of the foundation, and Marilyn Simons is its president.

The foundation seeks to create strong collaborations and foster cross-pollination of ideas between investigators, as these interactions often lead to unexpected breakthroughs.