Face of Flanders: Ingrid Daubechies
A Flemish mathematician has been voted one of the 50 most influential Belgians in the world
The Daubechies wavelet
Of the entire 50, only three are women – but at least they all made the top 12. In the highest place, at fourth, was Ingrid Daubechies.
Though you’d be forgiven for not knowing who that is, mathematicians and computer scientists the world over certainly do. Daubechies, a mathematics professor at Duke University in North Carolina, is a world authority on wavelets, a crucial component of the compression of images.
Daubechies, 62, was born in Houthalen-Helchteren, Limburg, in 1954 and studied physics at the Free University of Brussels (VUB). She graduated in 1975 and continued to earn a doctorate in physics.
She remained at the VUB as a researcher and assistant professor until she moved to the US to join the research team at AT&T Bell Labs. In 1994, she became a lecturer at Princeton University, remaining until 2011, when she moved to Duke.
The next time you post a photo of your lunch to Instagram or Facebook, consider that such a thing would not have been possible were it not for Daubechies’ work. Her major discovery was the wavelet – now named after her – that lies at the base of the JPG-2000 standard. It allows images to be compressed so that they can be more easily carried over the internet.
Without the Daubechies wavelet, your data limits would be reached in no time, internet speeds would be slower than dial-up, and Facebook would need to find an exoplanet just to house its image servers.
“Ingrid Daubechies is in the lives of every smartphone and internet user across the world,” economist Geert Noels told Humo. I have an incredible amount of respect for her.”
Daubechies – named a baroness by King Albert II in 2014 – is also behind the school competition Wiskunnend Wiske (Mathing Wiske), named after the adventurous female half of the comic-book duo Suske en Wiske. The programme aims to get secondary school pupils interested in maths.
Photo credit: Tasos Katopodis/AFP/BELGA
million school-going children in 2013
million euros Flemish education budget for new school infrastructures in 2013
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