VUB professor recognised for international impact in maths

Prof Jan De Beule from the Department of Mathematics and Data Science at VUB has received the 2022 Hall Medal from the Institute of Combinatorics and its Applications (ICA) for his extensive high-quality research. His peers have given him this award in recognition of his substantial international impact in the field of finite geometry and applications in coding theory.

Prof Jan De Beule obtained a PhD in mathematics from Ghent University in 2004 and worked first as a postdoctoral researcher for the Research Foundation - Flanders in Ghent and later at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel. He has been a lecturer at VUB since 2020. His research area includes finite geometries and their substructures and applications in coding theory and cryptography. This involves developing methods to send and encrypt data without error. "If you entrust large amounts of data to your favourite cloud, that encryption ensures you won’t lose data due to a computer failure," he explains.

"I do my research for two reasons. On the one hand, I want to understand the beautiful research field of mathematics more and more; on the other, the variety of technological applications is a key driver for deepening research. The rise of increasingly complex networks, such as the internet, raises interesting questions. Better knowledge about certain abstract geometric structures helps in the search for a more efficient way to transmit large amounts of data intact over a complex network. This is relevant to the internet or 5G networks," he says. "Some new coding paradigms have only been around for 20 years. That’s a very short time in the history of mathematics, and so there are a lot of unanswered questions."

He adds: "I am obviously very happy to receive international recognition for my contribution to the research field. We mathematicians do what we do because we love it, but this recognition of course motivates me to go further in my research. It energises me to get students excited about my own research area, and about mathematics in general."

De Beule works at VUB within the Digital Mathematics research group of the Department of Mathematics and Data Science. "On the applied part, I’m currently working with my colleague Prof Ann Dooms and some PhD students on code-based cryptography. This is a piece of cryptography that will become extremely relevant once a usable quantum computer becomes available," he says.

The ICA is an international scientific organisation founded in 1990 by Ralph Stanton to promote the development of combinatorics and to encourage publications and conferences on combinatorics and its applications.

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