Ingrid Daubechies' Personal Biography

The following was written in response to requests from several high school and junior high school students who were doing research papers on contemporary mathematicians, and wanted a bit more detailed and personal information about me.

I was born on August 17, 1954 in Houthalen, Belgium, and I did all my schooling in Belgium. I first came to the United States for a postdoctoral position of two years, starting in 1981, but then I went back to Belgium. I didn't think that I would come back to the US after that except for short visits. But life decided otherwise. After meeting Robert Calderbank in 1985, I returned to the US to settle for good in 1987, after we got married. I started to work for Bell Labs (where, many years ago, the first transistor was built; it is also where the cosmic microwave background radiation was discovered, as well as many other wonderful things -- check it out!).

I didn't study to become a mathematician, but a physicist. I was always very interested in mathematics, and even as a physicist, my work was very theoretical, very mathematical. I became interested in applications of mathematics outside physics (especially in engineering), and that is how I am now considered a mathematician. Some of my mentors include Alex Grossmann, John Klauder, and Yves Meyer.

My husband is a mathematician too, but we do not work on the same things. We have two children: one boy, Michael, who is almost eighteen, and one girl, Carolyn, who has just turned fifteen. A lot of the time that I am not working or asleep I like to spend with them. I also like to garden, to cook and to read.

I am currently a professor at Princeton University, which means that I teach undergraduate and graduate courses, that I direct PhD students in their thesis work (twelve students who have worked with me have graduated, and have gone on to their own careers; I have four students right now), that I work on research with postdoctoral fellows (two postdocs at this time) and several collaborators in different countries, and that I do administrative work for both the University and other outside organizations, such as the American Mathematical Society. I also work on mathematical research, which means that I try to solve problems that nobody else has tackled before, by inventing new approaches for them. Results of this research typically are published in highly specialized technical journals. I also participate in a number of national and international committees that work on topics related to mathematics (such as coming up with ideas for K-12 math curriculum that reflect present-day applications of mathematics).

I spent my whole childhood in Belgium. My father, Marcel Daubechies, is a retired civil mining engineer. He always encouraged me to pursue my interest in science. As far as I can remember, I was interested in math and how things work. My mother, Simone Daubechies, is a retired crimonologist. She is a very strong woman---she is went back to college after she retired; she had always wanted to study art history. She always taught me, and showed by her example, that it is important to be your own person. I have one brother. He was never interested in science or math, and he majored in French. He has worked for Cartier and Yves Saint-Laurent, and is an expert on expensive jewelry.

I was always interested in how things worked and how to make things. For instance, I really like weaving and pottery, and I have liked this kind of craft pursuits since my childhood. But I also was interested in seeing how machinery worked, or in why certain mathematical things were true (like the fact that a number is divisible by nine if, when you add all its digits together, you get another number divisible by 9---try it with 73512 and 8577, both multiples of 9; there is also a rule for divisibility by 7, although it is not quite as simple).

Here are a few childhood memories: When I was eight or nine, the thing I liked best when playing with my dolls was to sew clothes for them. I liked trying to make patterns that would fit them well---it was fascinating to me that by putting together flat pieces of fabric one could make something that was not flat at all, but followed curved surfaces. Around the same time, 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. Years later, when I met my husband, I was amused to learn that he used to do this too.

Some general and basic information about my research in wavelets can be found in the May 1995 issue of Discover Magazine, in an article entitled Wave of the Future by Hans Christian Von Baeyer, on page 68. When available, back issues can be obtained from DISCOVER (toll-free, 1-800-829-9132). Please be advised, however, that some of the pictures shown in this article are inaccurate. More recently, I was interviewed for the Math Horizons magazine, published by the Mathematical Association of America (see http://turing.mathcs.carleton.edu/math_horizons ) ; that article (which has a lot more personal history and a sidebar about the math) appeared in the April 2000 issue.