Tristan van Leeuwen appointed as Professor of Computational Inverse Problems

Utrecht University has announced the appointment of Tristan van Leeuwen as professor of Computational Inverse Problems, starting from 1 October.

Publication date
2 Oct 2023

In this new role, Van Leeuwen focuses on unraveling the underlying mathematics of imaging techniques. His primary goal is to improve the application of these techniques in healthcare and geosciences, but his research methods are applicable across a wide range of disciplines. One of his driving motivations is to make mathematics approachable for all.

Is mathematics too abstract? Not according to Tristan van Leeuwen. The newly appointed professor at the Mathematical Institute sees mathematics as a versatile tool that can be applied in nearly every scientific field to address very concrete problems. "The fun thing about mathematics is that you can address a wide range of applications using the same kind of mathematical questions," he explains.

Turning the tables

Van Leeuwen develops computational methods, including algorithms, to solve inverse problems. Inverse problems involve determining unknown causes or properties of a system based on observable effects or data. Here's an example of such a problem: when you take a picture of the stars with a telescope, the image may come out blurry. Is it possible to turn such a blurry image into a sharp one? "It's not difficult to make a sharp image blurry: you just need to remove data", Van Leeuwen explains. "To make a blurry image sharp, you first need to figure out what data you're missing, and that's much more complex." The models created by Van Leeuwen enable these types of reverse computational processes.

Solving multidisciplinary challenges

Inverse problems can be found across various disciplines. That's why Van Leeuwen collaborates extensively with other individuals and organisations, including geoscientists and the UMC Utrecht. At the UMC, for instance, he investigates how MRI imaging can be improved. "Enhancing MRI images requires a significant amount of mathematics, and I'm working to bring that expertise to the field." In the coming years, he will be developing methods to quantify uncertainties in imaging techniques, which is particularly valuable when utilising AI to interpret MRI scans.

In collaboration with colleagues from the Faculty of Geosciences, he tackles similar challenges. For example, he assists a team in deducing the magnetic properties of rocks by analysing e.g. x-ray scans those rocks.

Making mathematics approachable to all

In addition to his research endeavors, Tristan van Leeuwen is determined to make the world of mathematics more approachable to everyone. He does this by sharing his ideas with fellow researchers and by teaching master's students and PhD candidates. According to Van Leeuwen, researchers from diverse disciplines can benefit from incorporating mathematics into their work, but sometimes they are hesitant or unsure where to start in the mathematical literature. Van Leeuwen expresses, "I aim to reduce the fear of mathematics among PhD candidates in various fields and to ensure that they can easily reach out to mathematicians."

But it's not just researchers who can benefit from a deeper understanding of mathematics, as Van Leeuwen believes it's valuable for everyone. "Society is becoming increasingly complex. Newspapers and TV present numerous statistics; having some insight into numbers can help people critically evaluate them."

researchers at cwi's flexray lab
Tristan van Leeuwen at CWI's FleX-ray lab, together with Poulami Ganguly.

About Tristan

Tristan Van Leeuwen has been serving as an assistant professor at the Mathematical Institute of Utrecht University since 2014. He earned his PhD in Delft in 2010, focusing on geophysical research into the inversion of seismographic data. Subsequently, Van Leeuwen went on to work as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of British Columbia until 2013 in the Seismic Laboratory for Imaging and Modeling. After a brief postdoctoral position at the Centrum Wiskunde & Informatica in Amsterdam, he joined Utrecht University in 2014. Since 2020, he has been actively involved with the Centrum Wiskunde & Informatica as the leader of the Computational Imaging Group.

Copyright: Utrecht University