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Professor Margaret Chapman is developing new mathematical tools to improve healthcare, quality of life, and urban sustainability. (Photo courtesy of Margaret Chapman)

Professor Margaret Chapman is one of four new faculty members joining The Edward S. Rogers Sr. Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering (ECE) this summer. Professor Chapman received both her BS and MS degrees from Stanford University and joins us from the University of California Berkeley, where she completed her PhD.

Her research aims to help control stochastic systems, with practical applications from health care to sustainability. Writer Jessica MacInnis sat down with Professor Chapman to ask her about her research, her goals as an educator and researcher, and the transdisciplinary collaborations she’s excited to embark on here in Toronto.

Tell us about your research.

Uncertain systems that evolve over time (called stochastic dynamical systems) are all around us. Examples include a patient who is fighting cancer and the combined sewer system in the city of Toronto. I am interested in developing improved ways to control these systems safely using mathematical theory and data analysis. I am especially interested in managing the risk of harmful outcomes despite real-world uncertainties.

What excites you about this research?

I am excited about developing new mathematical tools to improve healthcare, quality of life, and urban sustainability. The applications of my research are broad and practical. For example, I work with cancer specialists to apply mathematical systems theory to inform the management of cancer. I also work with civil engineers to inform the design and operation of water systems using control theory. On the theoretical side, I am excited about developing new mathematical methods at the intersection of risk analysis, probability theory, and control theory.

Why did you choose ECE at U of T?

The Systems Control group at U of T is working on really interesting problems, and I’m absolutely delighted to be joining this stellar group of researchers. The entire ECE Department has been very welcoming. When I visited Toronto, I was impressed by the diversity and friendliness of the people. It seems like a wonderful place to live and work.

Any collaborations or interdisciplinary work you are most looking forward to pursuing?

I’m thrilled to be working with Dr. Steven Chan, a leukemia expert with the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in Toronto. I’m also very excited about a green infrastructure project with Dr. Darko Joksimovic, an associate professor of civil engineering at Ryerson University.

What do you hope to accomplish, as an educator and as a researcher, in the next few years?

As an educator, I aspire to create a welcoming and inclusive learning environment where all students feel comfortable to ask questions. I hope that the students in my classes and my research group are challenged in a positive way and also learn more about what they truly enjoy. I hope that my students both expand their mathematical/technical capabilities and also grow/develop personally. It’s my goal to help make systems control theory and the underlying mathematics more accessible to all students.

As a researcher, I’m interested in the application of systems control theory to important problems, such as improving leukemia treatment and evaluating the efficacy of green infrastructure. In my research group, I’m excited about developing new risk-sensitive control methods that scale to high-dimensional systems and also provide safety guarantees. This is feasible, I believe, by creatively merging domain knowledge with risk analysis, probability theory, and control theory.

Any advice for the incoming ECE class?

I’d like to share some advice that’s helped me. Try to let your interests evolve naturally. You may be surprised where you end up, but the journey and the destination will be enjoyable and interesting! Try to not compare yourself to others. We all grow and learn differently, and this diversity is a source of strength. The most important thing is to be kind to yourself and others each and every day.

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