UW Today

April 3, 2012

Ingrid Daubechies: Using math to identify art forgeries, reconstruct extinct animals' diets

News and Information

One of the country’s most prominent mathematicians uses math to compare works of art and identify forgeries, and to calculate the complexity of molar tooth surfaces in order to piece together the diets of extinct species.

Ingrid Daubechies, a professor of mathematics at Duke University and head of the International Mathematical Union, will give a public talk at 4:30 p.m. Monday, April 9 in the atrium of the Paul Allen Center for Computer Science and Engineering. She will give another more technical talk Tuesday morning in the Electrical Engineering Building.

The lectures are presented as this years Lytle Lecture hosted by the Department of Electrical Engineering.

Ingrid Daubechies

Ingrid Daubechies

Her public talk Monday will describe wavelets, a mathematical tool used to analyze and compress images. These have recently been used to study paintings by Gauguin, Giotto and Flemish painter Goossen van der Weyden, and to compare Van Goghs paintings to identify forgeries.

She will give a technical symposium, “Quantifying the (dis)similarity between surfaces,” at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, April 10 in room 105 of the Electrical Engineering Building. There she will describe a mathematical way to compare geometrical surfaces, and illustrate its application to evolutionary biology using teeth and bone data from primates and humans.

A native of Belgium, Daubechies earned her doctorate in physics in 1980 from the Free University of Brussels and taught there for 12 years before she joined AT&T Bell Laboratories. From 1993 to 2011 she was at Princeton University, where she was the first tenured female professor in mathematics.

An expert on data compression, she has made theoretical and applied contributions to audio, image and video communication, including work incorporated in the JPEG 2000 standard.

Daubechies is also the first woman to head the International Mathematical Union, for which she serves as president from 2011 to 2014. She was elected in 1998 to the National Academy of Sciences, is a 1992 MacArthur Fellow and a 2010 Guggenheim Fellow.

Her courses at Duke include: “Math Everywhere,” “Wavelets: What, Why, How?” and “Introduction to Mathematical Logic.” She was awarded the Steele Prize for mathematical exposition in 1994 for her book, Ten Lectures on Wavelets.

She is one of the most prominent scientists to join a recent boycott of academic publisher Elsevier. As reported by Duke, she has said she will no long publish, referee or do editorial work for the Amsterdam-based publisher because of the prices it charges libraries to carry its journals.

Daubechies’ other interests include improving secondary mathematics education.

Mondays public talk will be followed by a Q&A, and will be available for later viewing on UWTV.

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For more information, contact uwee_event@ee.washington.edu.