Photo of Ronald R. Coifman

Ronald R. Coifman

  • National Medal of Science
  • Mathematics And Computer Science

For his fundamental contributions to pure mathematics in the field of harmonic analysis, and for his achievements in the adaptation of that field to the capabilities of the digital computer to produce a family of fast, robust computational tools that have substantially benefited science and technology.

A recording taken of Johannes Brahms in 1889 is barely decipherable. Its static-filled garble – the late German composer playing his Hungarian Dance No. 1 – would be lost if it weren’t for the power of math.

In the early 1990s, Ronald R. Coifman, a professor at Yale, unearthed Brahms’ voice from the static using wavelet packets, a method to compress and analyze information.

The same algorithms can be used to convert a scratchy record to a CD or put an image into a JPEG file. The tool is a function of harmonic analysis, a field pioneered by Coifman that quantifies data of real world phenomena.

“Mathematics permeates every activity in the information age,” Coifman said. “Just as it is essential to understand basic aspects of the law to survive and navigate the shoals of commerce, it is just as important to be proficient in the basics of mathematical thinking and organization.”