Wiesner and Daubechies Named National Academy of Engineering Members

Mark Wiesner, the James L. Meriam Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and Ingrid Daubechies, professor of electrical and computer engineering and the James B. Duke Professor of Mathematics, have been named members of the National Academy of Engineering (NAE)—one of the highest professional distinctions for engineers.

Wiesner, who was cited for “contributions to membrane technologies for water treatment and understanding of environmental behavior and risk of nanomaterials,” and Daubechies, who was cited for “contributions to the mathematics and applications of wavelets,” are two of the 79 new members selected to join the academy in 2015.

“We’re delighted that two star leaders for Duke Engineering are now officially recognized as star leaders for the nation,” said Tom Katsouleas, dean of the Pratt School of Engineering.  “With Mark’s contributions to understanding how nanoparticles affect the environment and Ingrid’s construction of mathematical wavelets used for data compression, I can’t think of any two more deserving of the honor. It’s especially exciting, and yet another sign of our school’s rising stature, that not one but two of our faculty were elected this year—a first for Pratt.”

Wiesner came to Duke in 2006 from Rice University and helped found the Center for the Environmental Impacts of Nanotechnology (CEINT) in 2008, which he now directs. CEINT brings together institutions and researchers from around the world to explore the relationship between a vast array of nanomaterials— from natural, to manufactured, to those produced incidentally by human activities— and their potential environmental exposure, biological effects and ecological impacts.

Wiesner’s own research focuses on membrane processes, nanostructured materials, transport and fate of nanomaterials in the environment, colloidal and interfacial processes, and environmental systems analysis. In 2010, he helped demonstrate that nanomaterials accumulate in living organisms and can become more concentrated the further up the food chain they go, revealing the potential impacts nanotechnology could have on the environment.

"Mark is leading a broad and vigorous international team in the race to explore these new nanomaterials as quickly as they are being invented,” said John Albertson, chair of the civil and environmental engineering department at Duke. “Rather than waiting until environmental impacts have been observed over years, he is leading an approach of anticipating negative impacts before they happen. In the future we will look back at this as a turning point in how environmental engineering research is conducted."

“This is, of course, a very special honor,” said Wiesner. “And it’s an honor that reflects the incredible students, colleagues and mentors I have been lucky enough to work with over the years.”

Daubechies came to Duke in 2011 from Princeton University as a professor in mathematics. She is one of the foremost mathematicians in the world, noted for developing mathematical constructs called wavelets, which led to image compression standards now widely used in formats such as .jpg2000s, and others. Her work has also made significant contributions in the areas of signal processing, quantum mechanics, discrete geometry and applied mathematics.

One of Daubechies’s projects since coming to Duke has been working with the North Carolina Museum of Art and Dutch artist and art historian Charlotte Caspers to reconstruct a missing panel of an altarpiece by Francescuccio di Cecco Ghissi, an Italian painter from the 14th century.

Using her expertise in mathematics, Daubechies is helping to artificially age the reconstructed replacement panel with very precise placement of cracks and other dating details. By studying crack patterns and other processes on the older paintings, she can digitally “learn” how they affect the piece and then transpose that to the recreated piece, so the new art closely resembles its historic counterparts.

"Ingrid is well deserving of this high honor as a pioneer in developing the multi-resolution analysis of signals and her continuing work to develop interesting mathematics motivated by applied problems in art forgery and restoration and fossil classification," said Harold Layton, chair of the mathematics department at Duke. "Ingrid also leads by example when it comes to service and the communication of mathematics, having developed innovative courses such as Math Everywhere, which brings the beauty and power of mathematics to a broader audience."

“I am of course very pleased and I feel greatly honored,” said Daubechies. “It has always been my belief that "applicability" doesn't have to come at the expense of mathematical rigor or beauty, and I have striven, in my own work, to identify and then concentrate on problems and questions that tickled the mathematical fiber in me, while also being truly relevant to engineers and scientists. It is wonderful for me to see the applications of my work valued at this highest level.”

As NAE members, Daubechies and Wiesner will help carry out the academy’s mission of providing engineering leadership in service to the nation. They join more than 2,400 peer-elected members and foreign members in the NAE, which serves as an advisor to the federal government and conducts independent studies to examine important topics in engineering and technology.

Membership in the National Academy of Engineering honors those who have made outstanding contributions to "engineering research, practice, or education, including, where appropriate, significant contributions to the engineering literature," and to the "pioneering of new and developing fields of technology, making major advancements in traditional fields of engineering, or developing/implementing innovative approaches to engineering education."