Robert Ghrist

Robert Ghrist is the Andrea Mitchell University Professor of Mathematics and Electrical & Systems Engineering. With appointments in the School of Arts & Sciences and the School of Engineering and Applied Science, Ghrist works at the intersection of applied mathematics, systems engineering and topology.

Mathematics + Systems Engineering

robert ghrist

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 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.

  • topological signal processing
  • algebraic topology and sensor networks
  • geometric/topological robotics
  • contact topology and fluid dynamics
  • knots, links, and braids in dynamics


Elementary Applied Topology, in progress

Funny Little Calculus Text, 2012

Applied Algebraic Topology and Sensor Networks, 2010

Knots and Links in Three-Dimensional Flows, 1997

Academic Writing (Selected)

J. Curry, R. Ghrist, and M. Robinson, “Euler calculus and its applications to signals and sensing,” Proc. Sympos. Appl. Math., AMS, 2012.

Y. Baryshnikov and R. Ghrist, “Euler integration for definable functions,” Proc. National Acad. Sci., 107(21), May 25, 2010, 9525-9530.

R. Ghrist, “Barcodes: The persistent topology of data,'' Bull. Amer. Math. Soc., 45(1), 2008, 61-75.

For complete list of Ghrist's papers and publications, visit his CV.

Features & Interviews (Selected)

"Ghrist wins Lindback Award for Distinguished Teaching," The Almanac, April 14, 2015

"Writing the Textbook," The Daily Pennsylvanian, March 20, 2015

"Penn Professor's Open Calculus Course Engages Students Locally and Globally," Penn News, August 2014

"MOOCs and The Future of Mathematics," American Mathematical Society, November 2013 

"High Schools to Use Penn Coursera Class," The Daily Pennsylvanian, August 29, 2013

"Penn Coursera Course Among First To Be Considered for Credit," The Daily Pennsylvanian, February 7, 2013

"Online Educational Journey: My Travelogue," Coursera Blog, May 9, 2013

"MOOC Professors Claim No Responsibility for How Courses Are Used," Chronicle of Higher Education, May 21, 2013

"Students Rush to Web Classes, but Profits May Be Much Later," The New York Times, January 6, 2013

​"Applied Topology and Dante: An Interview with Robert Ghrist," The Endeavour, September 13, 2012

"Penn Engineering's Camp for Girls Grows, Adds Math Classes," Penn News, August 6, 2012

"Following Robert Ghrist," Penn Engineering Magazine, Fall 2011

"Putting Topology To Work," Mathematical Associate of America [audio interview included]

Follow @robertghrist


"Music of the Spheres: The Beauty and Utility of Topology," Engaging Minds, University of Pennsylvania Alumni Lecture Series, February 7, 2012

"Calculus: Single Variable," Coursera Course Introduction, April 18, 2012

"Why Is Mathematics Useful?Penn Arts & Sciences 60-second Lectures, April 8, 2009

Visit Robert Ghrist's YouTube page

Andrea Mitchell

“I got my first taste of interdisciplinary pursuits as an undergraduate at Penn. What I learned then, and I know for sure today, is that the most important questions do not recognize boundaries. These are the questions that we need to be asking, and the professors who hold these chairs will be asking them. It’s an honor to support Penn Integrates Knowledge.”

  - Andrea Mitchell

Andrea Mitchell, CW'67 and her husband, Alan Greenspan, HON’98, endowed their first Andrea Mitchell University Professorship in 2007. Five years later, they created a second professorship in Mitchell's name. Andrea Mitchell is Vice Chair of the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees and is a former chair of the Annenberg School for Communication Advisory Board. She w​​as a founding member of the Trustees’ Council of Penn Women and, in 2002, was awarded the University’s highest alumni honor—the Alumni Award of Merit.


  • Robert Ghrist was named the Andrea Mitchell University Professor in June 2008. 
  • Beth Simmons was named the Andrea Mitchell University Professor in July 2016. 
  • Ph.D., Cornell University (Applied Mathematics)
  • M.S., Cornell University (Applied Mathematics)
  • B.S., University of Toledo (Mechanical Engineering)


University Service
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