Andrea Mitchell University Professor
Robert Ghrist breathes new life into mathematics. His work in topology—the mathematical study of abstract space—converts qualitative mathematics to engineering solutions. The result brings a theoretical area of study off the page and into the real world.
By applying topological methods to robotics, sensor networks, data analysis, and many other areas, Ghrist has helped mathematicians and engineers come together to solve problems impacting environmental sensing, target tracking, and big data. Since coming to Penn, he’s been the lead investigator on more than $10 million in grants from the Department of Defense to develop new applications of topology for networks. He was named one of the top 50 for research innovation by Scientific American in 2007, and in 2013, his peers recognized Ghrist with the Chauvenet Prize for mathematical writing, awarded by the Mathematical Association of America.
Inside and outside his classroom, Ghrist strives to make math inspiring for all students. He’s keenly aware that calculus has been taught the same way for the last 50 years and wants to change that. He has been a pioneer of new approaches to education, including the Funny Little Calculus Text. Available online and downloaded by students around the world, Ghrist’s hand-written and -illustrated book offers a colorful, engaging entry point to calculus. At Penn, he has won both the Good Teaching Award for mathematics and the S. Reid Warren Jr. teaching award for engineering.
To ensure that math reaches every corner of the globe, Ghrist developed a massive open online course for Coursera. His single-variable calculus course quickly rose to national prominence and has attracted more than 130,000 students from all over the world. In 2013, it also became one of the first Coursera offerings approved for accreditation by the American Council on Education.
Ghrist received his B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Toledo in 1991 and his M.S. and Ph.D. in Applied Mathematics from Cornell University. He joined Penn’s faculty in 2008.