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60 Minutes or Less: A mathematical approach to art history

Portrait William R. Kenan Jr. Professor Mathematics Applied Computational Mathematics Ingrid Daubechies

Portrait of William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Mathematics and Applied and Computational Mathematics, Ingrid Daubechies

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Updated: April 26, 2013 5:20PM

What: Given that Ingrid Daubechies ranks among the top mathematicians in the world, it might come as a surprise that her lecture Wednesday afternoon at Northwestern University will delve into the artistic worlds of painters like Van Gogh, Gauguin and Giotto. She’s not changing fields. Instead, the 1992 MacArthur “genius grant” winner is applying her mathematical research in an unexpected new way.

The talk, titled “The Master’s Hand: Can Image Analysis Detect the Master?,” is taking place in conjunction with her winning Northwestern’s 2012 Nemmers Prize in Mathematics — an honor that comes with a $200,000 stipend.

Insider’s take: “Don’t get me wrong,” said Jared Wunsch, chairman of Northwestern’s department of mathematics. “The focus is going to be on the mathematics, but there is this fascinating application to art-historical problems. So, the question she is addressing is whether you can use this mathematical tool which she is famous for developing — this wavelet method — to try and have a computer help authenticate a picture and maybe see something that even the human eye can’t easily pick out.”

Particulars: Daubechies’ lecture will take place at 4 p.m. Wednesday in the Harris Hall Auditorium, 1881 Sheridan Rd., at Northwestern University in Evanston. Admission is free. (847) 491-3131 or

Kyle MacMillan

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