Top math award goes to Yves Meyer

The theory of wavelets he helped develop finds wide applications today

The Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters has awarded the Abel Prize for 2017 to mathematician Yves Meyer of the Ecole normale superieure Paris-Saclay, France, for his “pivotal role in the development of mathematical theory of wavelets.” The theory of wavelets that he started and made fundamental contributions to finds wide-ranging applications from image processing to fluid dynamics.

Mathematician Shobha Madan, visiting professor at IISER Mohali, recalls how in the 1980s Meyer and his students were working on the “Calderon programme.” “Meyers recognised the connection with wavelets and then there was a boom in work in this area. I heard him lecture on this in 1984, in Ecole Polytechnique, and he was so enthusiastic, like a child, giving examples of how it came to him,” she says.

In an e-mail, Terence Tao, University of California, Los Angeles, described Meyer’s work thus: “One can use wavelets to efficiently break up many types of digital data (e.g. sound files, image files, or video files) into a small number of simple pieces, which one can then process for many further applications (e.g. image compression, fingerprint identification, solving physical equations such as the Navier-Stokes equations of fluid mechanics, or Einstein’s equations of general relativity)…”

Prizes in mathematics have often celebrated work in “pure mathematics” while this one talks about the ensuing applications as well. “The Abel prize has been in existence for about 14 years. In most of the previous years, the prize was awarded largely for very deep work in theoretical (or “pure”) mathematics, without much emphasis on how applicable the work would be outside of mathematics. This year’s award is notable for recognizing both Meyer’s contributions to pure mathematics (for instance, in solving some major open problems in harmonic analysis) and to applied mathematics,” says Professor Tao.

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