He attended the Colegio Americano de Quito in Ecuador, and earned degrees at Princeton University and Yale University. For most of his career he was a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he was the only person ever to be appointed Professor of Applied Mathematics and Philosophy. He was also the Norbert Wiener Professor of Applied Mathematics. (See also Norbert Wiener.)
He began his career as a functional analyst, but changed directions and became a distinguished combinatorialist. His series of ten papers on "Foundations of Combinatorics" in the 1960s is credited with making it a respectable branch of modern mathematics. He said that the one combinatorial idea he would like to remembered for is the correspondence between combinatorial problems and problems of the location of the zeroes of polynomials. He inaugurated the theory of incidence algebras (which generalize the 19th-century theory of Möbius inversion), set the umbral calculus on a rigorous foundation, unified the theory of Sheffer sequences and polynomial sequences of binomial type, and worked on fundamental problems in probability theory. His philosophical work was largely in the phenomenology of Edmund Husserl.
He died in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
- Gian-Carlo Rota
- The Forbidden City of Gian-Carlo Rota (a memorial site) This page at www.rota.org was not originally intended to be a memorial web site, but was created by Rota himself with the assistance of his friend Bill Chen in January 1999 while Rota was visiting Los Alamos National Laboratory.
- Mathematics, Philosophy, and Artificial Intelligence: a dialogue with Gian-Carlo Rota and David Sharp