Math scholar to return to alma mater to give talks

August 31, 2010 | Events, UToday
By Staff



Dr. Robert Ghrist is working to make the scientific and engineering communities more aware of the power of mathematics.

“I am evangelical in my belief that topology — the study of abstract spaces and their properties — is an ideal mathematical discipline for contemporary problems in science and engineering,” he said. “Topological results, being based not on precise distances or displacements but rather upon global features, tend to be very robust and insensitive to noise and various errors, a useful feature for real-world problems.”

Ghrist is the Andrea Mitchell University Professor of Mathematics and Electrical/Systems Engineering at the University of Pennsylvania. He is the principal investigator on a four-year, $8 million study for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency on sensors, topology and planning.

In 2004, the researcher received a National Science Foundation Presidential Early Career Award in Science and Engineering. For his work on homological methods for sensor networks, Scientific American magazine named him to the “SciAm Top 50” for research innovation.

His love for mathematics began at UT.

“I was slowly drawn to mathematics for reasons primarily aesthetic,” Ghrist said. “Mathematics is beautiful in a way that is hard to grasp quickly, unlike music or painting, whose beauties are easily recognized.”

The 1991 UT College of Engineering valedictorian continued his studies at Cornell University, where he received a PhD in applied mathematics in 1995. He will return to Main Campus to give three talks about his work:

• “Calculi for Sensor Networks” Thursday, Sept. 2, at 3:30 p.m. in Nitschke Hall Room 1027. Ghrist will discuss a new mathematical calculus for sensor network data that could be used to collect information.

• “Donut Mugs and Glazed Coffee: Why Topology Counts” Thursday, Sept. 2, at 7:30 p.m. in Memorial Field House Room 2100. Ghrist will cover the many uses for algebraic topology — from robotics to sensor networks. This event is sponsored by the Mathematics Department, Delta X Math Student Interest Organization and Pi Mu Epsilon National Mathematics Honor Society, the Ohio Gamma Chapter.

• “Sheaves and Data” Friday, Sept. 3, at 3 p.m. in University Hall Room 4010. At the Department of Mathematics Colloquium, Ghrist will talk about sheaves, a sophisticated tool for solving mathematical jigsaw puzzles, and how they can be applied to problems in networks and data management.

For more information on these free, public events, contact Dr. Ivie Stein Jr., UT professor of mathematics, at or 419.530.2568 or 419.530.2232.