STEM Around the Globe: Belgium
The field of STEM is an ever-changing industry that highlights many of the world’s brightest people. In this section of STEM10, we will dive deep into the most innovative leaders on a global scale, focusing on a new country and their selected individual.
For this issue of STEM Around the Globe, we have chosen to cover Belgian mathematician and physicist Ingrid Daubechies. Known for her substantial published work (150 papers to be exact) and her involvement with the wavelet theory, Daubechies is living proof that a woman in STEM can have it all. Now living in America, she is happily married with a family and a beautiful, thriving garden that symbolically represents her journey in becoming one of the most famous Belgian mathematicians.
Born in Houthalen, Belgium on August 17, 1954, Daubechies expressed her curiosity about the world from a very young age. Describing her life, she states “I really like weaving and pottery, and I have liked this kind of craft pursuit since my childhood. But I also was interested in seeing how the machinery worked, or in why certain mathematical things were true" (1). Maintaining this passion for understanding patterns in both the fields of STEM and the arts, Daubechies enrolled in the Free University Brussels, where she received her Bachelor’s degree in 1975 in Physics (2). In five years' time, she would receive her Ph.D. in Physics from Free University Brussels, where she was offered a teaching position. Acting as the Research Assistant in the Theoretical Physics Department, this period of time led her straight to her first acknowledgment, the Louis Empain Prize of Physics. This honor is only awarded once every five years, and for Ingrid Daubechies, it skyrocketed her career.
By the time she was 40, Daubechies had been awarded the American Mathematical Society Steele Prize due to her book titled Ten Lectures on Wavelets (3). Connecting her admiration of art and math, “Daubechies used wavelets to help restore classical frescoes and paintings, digitally filling in cracks and projecting pictures of their original brilliant colors for artists to physically render" (1). She was not the only one obsessing over her wavelet theory, though. Mathematicians around the world were fascinated by a wavelet’s ability to cut processing time, making it even more efficient in signal processing.
Throughout her career, Daubechies made inspirational advancements for women in the field. At the age of 46, she was announced to have received the National Academy of Science’s Award in Mathematics for the year 2000, the first woman to have ever won (3). Just five years later, she became the third woman to have given the Josiah Willard Gibbs Lecture, a prestigious opportunity that continued to prove her value in STEM. Now, in the year 2020, Daubechies continues to amaze, working at the Rhodes Information Initiative at Duke University, where she collaborates with others on campus to solve big data-related issues one curious question at a time.
1. Ingrid Daubechies - Biography. https://mathshistory.st-andrews.ac.uk/Biographies/Daubechies/.
2. Making Wavelets: A Profile of Ingrid Daubechies. Simons Foundation. (2020, April 14). https://www.simonsfoundation.org/2019/06/12/making-wavelets-a-profile-of-ingrid-daubechies/.
3. Ingrid Daubechies. https://www.agnesscott.edu/lriddle/women/daub.htm.