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If robots really are the way of the future, then Penn is lucky to have Professor Robert Ghrist on board for next semester.

Ghrist, an applied mathematician who specializes in topology - the study of abstract spaces and shapes - was recently appointed as the Andrea Mitchell University Professor and the seventh Penn Integrates Knowledge faculty member.

The PIK program recruits scholars who specialize in interdisciplinary, cross-departmental research. Appointed faculty members hold endowed professorships and joint appointments between two of Penn's 12 schools.

Ghrist will join both the Department of Electrical and Systems Engineering in the School of Engineering and Applied Science and the Department of Mathematics in the School of Arts and Sciences.

Ghrist called the PIK program "fantastic" and cited it, along with the General Robotics, Automation, Sensing and Perception Laboratory as a main reason for coming to Penn in the fall.

Much of Ghrist's research has focused on applying mathematical methods to real-world engineering challenges, especially in robotics and wireless sensor networks.

"It's going to be great to be a mathematician and switch hats and be an engineer," Ghrist said. "In so-doing, I will hopefully help both colleges to communicate better and to progress in research and education missions.

School of Arts and Sciences Dean Rebecca Bushnell said, not only does Ghrist "really embody the spirit of the program," he is also "a terrific teacher."

According to University President Amy Gutmann, who started the PIK program in 2005, most problems in the world today cross disciplines.

"Take any issue- - like AIDS or poverty, or crime or terrorism - all of those problems require expertise in more than one department," Gutmann said. "What the PIK program represents is the ability to, in one person, research important issues from multiple, different perspectives."

Bushnell called the program "very successful," adding that all seven of the PIK professors to date are faculty members of the School of Arts and Sciences, in conjunction with the School of Medicine, Engineering or the Annenberg School for Communication.

The PIK program has already secured endowment commitments for 10 professors, and Gutmann said she is "confident that we can reach the goal of 18."

The Andrea Mitchell University Professorship is the gift of Penn Trustee Andrea Mitchell, '67 College and Wharton alumnus, and Alan Greenspan, former chairman of the Federal Reserve.

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