Ingrid Daubechies

“Always be young. Discover! I realised that inside you don’t really age.”

Born: 17th August 1954 in Houthalen, Belgium

Nationality: Belgian

Occupation: Professor of Mathematics, Duke University

Academic Interests: Wavelets, shape space, inverse problems, time-frequency analysis

Personal Interests: Motherhood, gardening, cooking, reading

Childhood and Education

Born in Belgium to a civil mining engineer and criminologist, Ingrid was always supported in her learning. Her father encouraged her to take an interest in the sciences and her mother – who attended college herself after retiring – constantly inspired her to be her own person, whoever that may be. They sound like pretty cool parents if you ask me! Ingrid excelled through primary school and secondary school and entered Vrije Universiteit Brussel at 17! Here, she completed her bachelor’s degree in physics in 1975 and achieved her PhD in theoretical physics in 1980. Clever girl. During her PhD, she had the opportunity to collaborate with Alex Grossmann at the Center for Theoretical Physics in France. This work formed the basis for her doctorate in quantum mechanics. Ooh er!

Ingrid professes to have studied to become a physicist rather than a mathematician, however through her work on theoretical physics she became particularly interested in the applications of mathematics outside of this, for example in engineering – an influence of her father perhaps? Pottery and weaving were just a couple of Ingrid’s childhood hobbies. With a surprisingly bright and curious mind for her age, she was intrigued by how the machinery worked and wanted to understand the maths at work behind material production. She enjoyed sewing clothes for her dolls and making patterns with pieces of fabric – something most of us would’ve taken just as it is without thinking much further into it. However, Ingrid found it fascinating how the flat patches – once sewn together – could follow curved surfaces. I mean, now I think about it…

So, what were we always told to do as a child if we couldn’t sleep? Yes, you know what I’m talking about. Counting sheep! I know. It never worked for me either. But! Just to give you an idea of this wonderful young child’s mind – instead of counting sheep to fall asleep like the average child might, Ingrid used to continue to multiply numbers by two in her head, watching them grow and grow to no end. And hence, she came to understand and ponder – quite early on, I might add – the concept of exponential growth and the powers of 2 leading to binary which as we all know is at the centre of our digital world.


Evidently, Ingrid couldn’t get enough of uni life as she spent the next 2 years as a postdoctoral fellow in the physics department at Princeton University getting her first taste for life in the U.S. This didn’t appear to be her scene as Ingrid returned home to Belgium to work as a research assistant professor funded by a fellowship from the Belgian National Fund for Scientific Research. Following this, she spent the best part of a year in 1986 as a guest researcher at the Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences in New York  — wait, she went back? Wouldn’t have anything to do with a boy would it? Actually, yes it would (more on this later)! Well, it was a good job she did as this was where she made her best known discovery – “based on quadrature mirror filter-technology she constructed compactly supported continuous wavelets that would require only a finite amount of processing, in this way enabling wavelet theory to enter the realm of digital signal processing”.

In 1987, she married her husband (also a mathematician – handy!) whom gave her a pretty good reason to settle in the US for good. Aww. It was here where she started her work at AT&T Bell Laboratories in New Jersey, from 1987 to 1994, during which time she was finally able to publish the results of her discovery in scientific journals. Ingrid was the first female full professor of mathematics at Princeton University and held this position from 1994 to 2010. Alongside this she was the programme director for applied and computational mathematics at Princeton from 1997 to 2001. In 2004, she took the William R. Kenan Jr. Professorship at Princeton until she moved to the Mathematics department at Duke University in 2011 to work as a professor. In 2016, she cofounded Duke Summer Workshop in Mathematics for female rising high school students. Today, Ingrid is the James B. Duke professor in the department of mathematics and electrical and computer engineering at Duke University due to her outstanding record of extraordinary achievements.

Ingrid focuses her career on researching wavelets and their use in solving the problem of separating a signal from surrounding noise or random data. In 1987, she made a breakthrough and found a way to construct wavelets that proved effective in helping computers solve a major problem. This problem related to the ability to both determine the pitch of a note as well as when it was struck which had not been possible using earlier methods. Her work on wavelets highlights broad applications in compressing data. It has been used by the FBI in order to improve storage and retrieval of information from their databases as well as their use in medical imaging and airplane wing analysis (air streaming).

Throughout her career, Ingrid had several mentors including Alex Grossmann, John Klauder and Yves Meyer. She in turn became a mentor herself, directing PhD students through their thesis work whilst also working with postdoctoral research fellows. Whilst she offers up a lot of her time on this and her own research, she also performs administrative duties for the University and other external organisations – such as the AMS – and participates in mathematical committees both nationally and internationally. In fact, in 2010, Ingrid became the first female president of the International Mathematical Union which she served in for 4 years! Go Ingrid! You make us ladies proud.

Awards and Achievements

  • Louis Empain Prize for Physics in 1984
  • Fellow of MacArthur Foundation, 1992-97
  • Elected to American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1993
  • AMS Steele Prize for Mathematical Exposition, 1994
  • Invited to give lecture at International Congress of Mathematicians in Zurich, 1994
  • AMS Ruth Lyttle Satter Prize in Mathematics, 1997
  • Elected to United States NAS, 1998
  • Golden Jubilee Award for Technological Innovation from the IEEE Information Theory Society, 1998
  • Fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), 1998
  • Became a foreign member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1999
  • First female to receive the NAS Award in Mathematics, 2000
  • Basic Research Award, German Eduard Rhein Foundation, 2000
  • Third woman since 1924 to give the Josiah Willard Gibbs Lecture, 2005
  • Emmy Noether Lecturer, 2006
  • Pioneer Prize from the International Council for Industrial and Applied Mathematics, 2006
  • Guggenheim Fellowship, 2010
  • SIAM John von Neumann Lecturer, 2011
  • IEEE Jack S. Kilby Signal Processing Medal, 2011
  • Leroy P. Steele Prize for Seminal Contribution to Research from the AMS, 2011
  • Benjamin Franklin Medal in Electrical Engineering from the Franklin Institute, 2011
  • Given the title of Baroness by King Albert II of Belgium, 2012
  • Nemmers Prize in Mathematics, Northwestern University, 2012
  • Fellow of the American Mathematical Society, 2012
  • BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award in the Basic Sciences category, 2012
  • Gauss Lecture of the German Mathematical Society, 2015

Video Links


For a full list of publications see