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Grigsby Is First Winner of New Mathematics Prize

J. Elisenda Grigsby (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)

By Sean Smith | Chronicle Editor

Published: May 21, 2015

Assistant Professor of Mathematics J. Elisenda Grigsby is the inaugural recipient of the AWM-Joan and Joseph Birman Research Prize in Topology and Geometry, awarded by the Association for Women in Mathematics (AWM). The award, which recognizes exceptional research in topology and/or geometry by a woman early in her career, was presented to Grigsby at the Joint Mathematics Meetings held earlier this year.

Grigsby was selected for the Birman Prize for her “pioneering and influential contributions to low-dimensional topology, particularly in the areas of knot theory [the study of loops imbedded in three-dimensional space] and categorified invariants,” according to AWM.

Grigsby’s research focuses on the interplay between the combinatorial theory of Khovanov homology and the more geometric Heegaard-Floer homology. The mathematical objects she studies are relevant to fields ranging from information technology to DNA research.

“I am deeply honored to have received this award, especially since Joan Birman is a personal hero of mine,” said Grigsby, who in 2012 received a CAREER award, the National Science Foundation’s most important prize for early-career faculty. “Her work laid the foundations for much of my own, and the field of topology would be far poorer without her contributions. Her academic accomplishments are particularly impressive in light of the fact that she received her PhD only after a 15-year detour in industry, during which she also had three children. She is without question one of the most amazing people I have ever known.”  

While appreciative of the recognition accompanying the award, Grigsby said, “working on interesting mathematics that may at some point be useful to the world is reward enough.”

Grigsby, who teaches courses in linear algebra, advanced calculus and algebraic topology, holds an undergraduate degree in mathematics from Harvard University and a doctorate from the University of California-Berkeley. Prior to joining the University in 2009, she was an NSF Postdoctoral Fellow at Columbia University and held a position at the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute.