Louis J. Gross, Chancellor’s Professor and Alvin and Sally Beaman Distinguished Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Mathematics, has been named the University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s 2022 Macebearer. The award is the university’s highest faculty honor and symbolizes the faculty’s commitment of service to students, scholarship, and society. Gross will officially receive the award at the Chancellor’s Honors Banquet May 3.
The founding director and now director emeritus of the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis (NIMBioS), Gross also directs the Institute for Environmental Modeling. For 20 years he co-directed a series of courses and workshops on the applications of math to ecology, epidemiology, and resource management at the International Center for Theoretical Physics in Trieste, Italy.
When asked what it means to be the Macebearer, Gross said, “It means that, after 43 years here, my work is appreciated. But it’s been a real joy, and it’s been pretty astounding what we’ve been able to build here over such a long time. I view myself as a complete faculty member, in all the aspects, research, teaching, and service, on campus and in the broader university community and the world.”
Building a Program in a New Field
Before joining UT’s faculty, Gross received his BS in mathematics from Drexel University in 1974 and his PhD in applied mathematics from Cornell University in 1979.
“Forty-three years ago,” explained Gross, “I was recruited by a phenomenal colleague, math professor Thomas Hallam, to build a program in a brand-new field, the intersection between math and biology. We were charged with building a world-class program, and we did. UT has allowed me to have phenomenal colleagues, great students, and the capability to build a world-leading program that utilizes quantitative methods to address biological and societal problems.”
“Lou Gross has had a transformative impact on the university as an academic community and been a tremendous promoter of our staff and students for decades,” wrote Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Head Susan Kalisz in her nomination letter. “Lou’s research has been at the forefront of mathematical biology for decades. He has specialized in modeling ecosystem dynamics in such a way as to obtain recommendations for how these systems can be managed.” Gross has brought in over $50 million in external research grants.
“Lou is also a passionate teacher. He has designed and taught many courses to undergraduates and graduates at UT that bring biologists to mathematics and mathematicians to biology. He encapsulated that experience when coauthoring the Mathematics for the Life Sciences textbook, published by Princeton University Press,” said Kalisz.
In addition to his research and education efforts, Gross has held many faculty leadership roles, including president of the Faculty Senate, and he has worked with hosts of administrators to enhance academic programs across the campus. In the Knoxville community, Gross has served since the early 1980s as volunteer sound engineer for the Laurel Theatre Jubilee Community Arts, taping the Live at Laurel and Mountain Jubilee shows played on WUOT and WDVX.
Addressing Climate Change
As Gross prepares to retire in June, he continues to collaborate on a significant research project.
“Over the last decade or so,” he said, “my colleagues at other universities and I have conducted a multidisciplinary effort—including psychology, sociology, economics, modeling, and ecology—seeking a rational basis for hope in linking human behavior to CO2 reduction and thereby addressing climate change. We didn’t know when we started that there was a rational basis for linking human behavior to CO2 reduction, but we have found some.”
The findings were recently published in Nature, and Gross presented them at UT’s Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy on April 7—“my swan song before I retire in June,” said Gross.
Brooks Clark (firstname.lastname@example.org, 865-974-5471)