Yale mathematician Ronald Coifman awarded Presidential Medal of Science

President Clinton has awarded Yale mathematician Ronald Coifman the National Medal of Science, which is the highest recognition of its kind in the country.

President Clinton has awarded Yale University Mathematician Ronald Coifman the National Medal of Science, which is the highest recognition of its kind in the country.

“This is like winning the lottery,” said Coifman, the Phillips Professor of Mathematics at Yale who is considered a world leader in the field of harmonic analysis.

The National Medal of Science recognizes the discoveries and lifetime achievements of the nation's top scientists. It is the latest of many awards for Coifman, who said he has been attracted to mathematics as long as he can remember because of a fascination with patterns.

“Mathematics is a science of patterns,” he said. “It's a way of understanding relations between patterns and structures and formulating new structures. Basically, it's a language that permits you to formulate thoughts and ideas. It is a very rich language that is constantly being invented and reinvented.”

Coifman, who obtained his Ph.D. from the University of Geneva in 1965, is noted for his pioneering work in wavelet packets, a mathematical shorthand for compressing and restoring virtually any image or sound. His wavelet packets have been used by the FBI and Scotland Yard to compress their fingerprint files to a more manageable size. The FBI shrank its massive database of more than 300 million fingerprints to a fraction of its original size for a savings of $25 million in optical storage discs alone.

“He introduced tools powerful enough to solve key problems in pure mathematics, yet sufficiently simple and flexible to become the basis for new, fast algorithms to handle the problems of wave propagation, data storage, denoising, and medical imaging,” it was stated in the presidential award. “As Coifman moved to applied mathematics, his work in the development of wavelet analysis had a revolutionary impact.”

Coifman said mathematics is evolving rapidly as it interacts with the field of computing, making math more tangible. He currently is working with colleagues at Stanford and the University of Kansas to combine chemical analysis and mathematical harmonic analysis in building a portable camera that will perceive “the chemistry of things.”

Coifman, who previously taught at Washington University (St. Louis) and the University of Chicago, is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the Connecticut Academy of Sciences and Engineering. He received the DARPA Sustained Excellence Award in 1996, as well as the Connecticut Science Medal. He recently received the 1999 Pioneer Award from the International Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics.

The National Medal of Science was established by Congress in 1959 as a Presidential award. Since that time, 362 of America's leading scientists and engineers have received the award, which is based on the total impact an individual's work has had on the present state of physical, chemical, biological, mathematical, engineering, behavioral or social sciences.

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