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FBI applies Flemish wavelets for fingerprints

Pioneering work by the Flemish mathematician Ingrid Daubechies has not only made Internet surfing a better experience, it has now also enabled the FBI to encode digitally its massive fingerprint database.

Professor Daubechies, of the Applied Mathematics Department at Princeton University, New Jersey, transformed a 19th century mathematical algorithm into what are now known as Daubechies’ wavelets. The wavelet technique has now enabled the FBI to switch from a manual card system of fingerprint storage to a digital inventory.

With some 250 million manual cards, 45,000 daily requests for fingerprint checks and around 5,000 new prints each day, the manual system was cumbersome. The new digital system means that police across the USA can check fingerprints within seconds by using a radio link and a digital scanner.

Professor Daubechies was born at Houthalen in the Flemish province of Limburg. She completed her PhD in physics at the Free University of Brussels and became a Research Assistant and later Research Professor at the university’s Department for Theoretical Physics. She worked at the Mathematics Research Center for AT&T Bell Laboratories and was then made Professor in the Mathematics Department, Rutgers University.

She has won a number of international prizes and been awarded honorary degrees for her work. In addition, she has been awarded the prestigious US National Academy of Science Medal in Mathematics, an award made only once every four years.


Reported by
23 September 2003

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