Meet Kirsten Morris, 2021-22 Faculty of Mathematics Research Chair

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Kirsten Morris

Each year the Faculty of Mathematics awards research chairs to exceptional faculty members. Kirsten Morris, a professor in the Department of Applied Mathematics, was one of the recipients for 2021-22. 

“I am honoured to have received it,” said Morris. “I was happy to put my name forward when my department chair nominated me and I was surprised by the announcement because of the company it puts me in. It’s so nice to be recognized and this is such a vote of confidence by the faculty.”

Morris’ research interests are control and estimation of systems modelled by partial differential equations and also systems, such as smart materials, involving hysteresis. Her recent research has focused on improving performance through attention to actuator location as part of controller design, and sensor location as part of estimator design. She has written the books Controller Design for Distributed Parameter Systems and Introduction to Feedback Control and was editor of the book Control of Flexible Structures. As part of her research activity, she has held visiting positions at ICASE (NASA Langley), the Fields Institute, the Institute for Mathematics & Applications and the Institut de Mathematiques in Bordeaux. Morris is a Fellow of IEEE and SIAM.

“Just about every system has some kind of control in it,” Morris said. “Every engineered system has and a lot of biological systems. It's a field with wide applicability. But at the same time, the mathematics that goes into it can be quite deep. So, to have that connection between applications and challenging mathematics makes it an exciting field to work in.”

Morris’s work also involves significant service to the university and the academy more broadly. Morris served as a vice-president of the IEEE Control System Society from 2013-2016, vice-chair of the SIAM Control & Systems Theory Group 2016-2017 and chair 2018-2019. She was an associate editor with the IEEE Transactions on Automatic Control and is currently an editor for SIAM Journal on Control & Optimization, Mathematics of Control, Signals & Systems, Asian Journal of Control and a member of the editorial board of the SIAM book series Advances in Design & Control. 

“One thing that’s been really satisfying is knowing that I’m making a difference in my field, helping my field and getting to know colleagues working all over the world,” she said. “Academic life is a collaborative affair. We learn from one another and support one another, and I enjoy giving back to organizations that have given me so much.”

Along with her research and service, Morris is renowned for her teaching and supervision. She says that she enjoys teaching undergraduate and graduate courses, but also the opportunity to work one-on-one with students and to mentor them. 

“Sometimes for graduate students, it can be a challenge to find the right kind of problem,” she said. “You want to help them find something where they're going to get original results in a short timeframe. It can't be trivial, of course, but at the same time you don't want to give them something on which they're going to flounder. It’s important to know what the student's goals are. Are they planning on becoming an academic or are they planning on working in industry? Are they more interested in computation, or they more interested in theory? It’s a real balancing act and it’s important to do what I can to get it right.”

Asked about her plans for her time as the Faculty of Mathematics Research Chair, Morris said she’s looking to expand her research in the field of estimation.

“Typically both data and a mathematical model are available. Both contain errors. The fundamental issue is to use these sources of information to yield the best estimate of the full system state, despite the errors.  Systems with high-order dynamics and nonlinear systems are particularly challenging and there are many open problems.”

“This award will give me some extra time to think about these research problems, and also research funds for support of additional students and post-doctoral fellows. I’m excited about the work in the year ahead.”