Professor Ingrid Daubechies

Professor Ingrid Daubechies is a Belgian physicist and mathematician. 

Ingrid Daubechies was born in 1954 as the daughter of a mining engineer in Houthalen, Belgian Limburg. She is currently a James B. Duke Distinguished Professor of Mathematics and Electrical and Computer Engineering at Duke University.

Her interest in mathematics began at an early age. In her autobiography she recalls “when I couldn't fall asleep at night, I would compute the powers of 2 in my head: 1, 2, 4, 8, 16,... (multiplying by 2 every time). The numbers became very large very quickly but I would keep going quite a while. It was fascinating, again, to see how fast these numbers grew.”

Although I obtained my Bachelor’s degree in Physics, and my PhD degree in Theoretical Physics, I am now generally considered to be a mathematician. I am often asked what made me switch from one field to another. In fact, if switch there was, it didn’t result from a conscious decision—it happened entirely naturally.

Professor Ingrid Daubechies

Daubechies studied physics at the Free University Brussels, obtaining her bachelors degree in 1975. In 1980 she was awarded her PhD in physics for a thesis entitled Representation of quantum mechanical operators by kernels on Hilbert spaces of analytic functions.

Between 1981 and 1987 Daubechies continued working as a Research Assistant at the Free University Brussels but also travelled to the United States and later took up the position of Technical Staff Member at the Mathematics Research Center of AT&T Bell Laboratories, New Jersey. In 1994 she became the first female full professor of mathematics at Princeton University and held this position until 2010.

Ingrid’s work has focused on researching wavelets and their use in solving the problem of separating a signal from surrounding noise or random data. This in turn led her to find a way to construct wavelets in 1987 that proved effective in helping computers.

In 2000, Daubechies became the first woman to receive the National Academy of Sciences Award in Mathematics (now known as the Maryam Mirzakhani Prize in Mathematics), presented every four years for excellence in published mathematical research. The award honoured her "for fundamental discoveries on wavelets and wavelet expansions and for her role in making wavelets methods a practical basic tool of applied mathematics."

In January 2005, Daubechies became the third woman since 1924 to give the Josiah Willard Gibbs Lecture sponsored by the American Mathematical Society. She is also the first woman elected president of the International Mathematical Union (2011).