Kristi Morgansen

Professor Kristi Morgansen
Associate Professor
Aeronautics and Astronautics
College of Engineering
Interview Date: 
Mon, 07/28/2014

Dr. Kristi Morgansen is an Associate Professor in the William E. Boeing Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics. She serves as the Principal Investigator of the Nonlinear Dynamics and Control Lab, where she researches processes for translating biological capabilities into engineering systems. She is well known in the engineering community for her fin actuated autonomous underwater vehicles, or “fish robots,” which her lab displays each year at the Engineering Discovery Days. Dr. Morgansen received her PhD in Engineering Sciences from Harvard University in 1999.

How did Dr. Morgansen become interested in the intersection of engineering and biology?  “I became interested in robotics during a college summer program and worked in a robotics lab afterwards. I totally loved it. Then, after completing graduate school, I did a postdoc specifically in bio-inspired robotics, and have been doing similar work ever since.”

In an interview with UW ADVANCE, Dr. Morgansen elaborates on her current research and misperceptions about engineering:

Q&A: Current work and professional message

Q: What are you currently working on?

One of our recent projects focuses on flight systems. We study both engineering and biology to create systems that can fly through complex and unknown environments. Birds and bats, for example, can navigate through dynamic conditions such as shifting winds, variable light conditions, and cluttered environments. We hope to design engineered flight vehicles that can operate in similarly complex circumstances.

Another project, referenced above, focuses on underwater and open-ocean vehicles. Our lab has built a number of fish robots, about the size of salmon. The goal is to create systems that move like fish, that move with greater agility than propellers, which are usually used on underwater vehicles. Whereas propellers are noisy and limited to larger spaces, the fish robots are much quieter and move better through small and dynamic spaces.

Q: What message(s) would you like people to take away from your work?

A: My primary message is that engineering is collaborative. There is often a perception that engineering is done alone, but that is not very accurate for most engineers. I do a lot of interdisciplinary work with biologists, psychologists, and computer scientists from departments across UW and institutions across the country. It’s really fun to build connections and develop new methods and techniques that benefit a variety of fields. It’s important that engineers build strong communication skills and work well on teams. 

Watch Dr. Morgansen’s TEDxRainier presentation at