Johns Hopkins University Whiting School of Engineering

Noah J. Cowan

Associate Professor
Mechanical Engineering
Secondary Appointment: Computer Science, Electrical and Computer Engineering (primary)

Hackerman Hall 126 (office)
410-516-5301 (office) (primary)

Staff Contact:
Alison Morrow
ResearcherID webpage >>


Ph.D. 1997, University of Michigan
M.S. 1995, University of Michigan
B.S. 1990, Ohio State University


2010: Associate Professor, Johns Hopkins University, Department of Mechanical Engineering. Secondary Appointments in Computer Science and Electrical and Computer Engineering.
2010-2011: University of Washington, Seattle, Visiting Scholar in Biology
2003-2010: Assistant Professor, Johns Hopkins University, Department of Mechanical Engineering. Secondary Appointment in Computer Science.
2001-2003: Postdoctoral Researcher. The University of California at Berkeley.
1995-1995: Custom Ad Design, Columbus, Ohio. Graphic design, sales, computer support, database management.
1995-1995: ToolChest CAD/CAM, Inc., Dublin, Ohio. Support engineer.
1992-1995: Research Assistant. The Ohio State University and Neoprobe Corporation.

Research Areas

Sensorimotor Control of Animal Locomotion

Computational and Systems Neuromechanics

Robotics, computer vision and control
Mobile robotics and legged locomotion
Biomechanics and bio-inspired robotics

Journal Articles

Dyhr, J.P., Cowan, N.J., Morgansen, K.A., Daniel, T.L. (2013). Agile airframes I: maneuverability from abdominal actuation. Integrative and Comparative Biology. 53.
 View record in Web of Science SM
Sefati, S., Neveln, I., Maciver, M.A., Fortune, E.S., Cowan, N.J., Desai, J., Jay, L., Zollo, L. (2012). Counter-propagating waves enhance maneuverability and stability: a bio-inspired strategy for robotic ribbon-fin propulsion. 2012 4th Ieee Ras & Embs International Conference on Biomedical Robotics and Biomechatronics (Biorob). 1620-1625.
 View record in Web of Science SM
Swensen, J.P., Cowan, N.J., Ieee, . (2012). Torsional Dynamics Compensation Enhances Robotic Control of Tip-Steerable Needles. 2012 Ieee International Conference on Robotics and Automation (Icra). 1601-1606.
 View record in Web of Science SM
Stamper, S.A., Roth, E., Cowan, N.J., Fortune, E.S. (2012). Active Sensing via Movement Shapes Spatiotemporal Patterns of Sensory Feedback. J. Exp. Biol..
Cowan, N.J., Chastain, E.J., Vilhena, D.A., Freudenberg, J.S., Bergstrom, C.T. (2012). Nodal Dynamics, Not Degree Distributions, Determine the Structural Controllability of Complex Networks. Plos One. 7(6).
DOI » View record in Web of Science SM

Conference Proceedings

Lee, J., Loh, O.Y., Cowan, N.J. "A Hierarchy of Neuromechanical and Robotic Models of Antenna-Based Wall Following in Cockroaches", Proc. IEEE/RSJ Int. Conf. Intell. Robots Syst., pp.3547-3553.
Cowan, N.J., Rosenberg, A., Angelaki, D.E. "A topological model for three-dimensional spatial orientation", The Society for Neuroscience.
Jao, T.R., Cowan, N.J., Fortune, E.S. "An Optimal State Estimation Model of Sensory Integration for Gymnotiform Tracking Behavior", Neuroscience.
Madhav, M.S., Stamper, S.A., Roth, E.S., Cowan, N.J., Fortune, E.S. "Balancing the jamming avoidance response: Closed-loop identification of an unstable sensorimotor behavior", Neuroscience.
Cowan, N.J. "Binocular Visual Servoing with a Limited Field of View", Mathematical Theory of Networks and Systems.

Awards & Honors

2012: Finalist, Best Paper in 2012 in Journal of Experimental Biology
2012: James S. McDonnell Complex Systems Scholar Award
2011: PECASE
2009 - 2014: National Science Foundation CAREER Award
2006 - 2006: Finalist, Best Paper, 2006 Intelligent Robots and Systems (IROS) Conference, awarded at the 2007 IROS Conference. Joint with Robert J. Webster, III, and Allison M. Okamura.
2005 - 2005: William H. Huggins Excellence in Teaching Award: This award is given in recognition of outstanding teaching in the Whiting School of Engineering at both the undergraduate and graduate levels and a demonstrated dedication to students.
2000 - 2001: Rackham Graduate Fellow, University of Michigan.
2000 - 2000: Finalist, Best Student Paper, Conference on Decisions and Controls, Sydney, Australia.
1995 - 1995: Summa Cum Laude, Ohio State University
1995 - 1995: I.E.C. Everitt Award
1994 - 1995: Undergraduate Research Scholar, Ohio State University.
1994 - 1994: Golden Key
1993 - 1993: Tau Beta Pi
1993 - 1993: Eta Kappa Nu


Sensory Guidance of Locomotion: From Neurons to Newton's Laws. Invited Speaker, EU-US Frontiers of Engineering Workshop, sponsored by the NAE and Euro-CASE, Cambridge, England, September 1, 2010
Stability and Maneuverability at the Expense of Energy. Civil Engineering Seminar Series, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD, March 2, 2010
Plenary Lecture, International Consortium on Biomimetic Technology for Vibrissal Active Touch (BIOTACT), Garmisch, Germany
, February 10, 2010
Sensorimotor Control: From Neurons to Newton's Laws. Robotics and Intelligent Machines (RIM) Seminar Series, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, GA, September 16, 2009
Neural Control of Locomotion: Air, Land and Sea LCSR Seminar Series. Johns Hopkins University. 2009-01-28. (Invited), January 28, 2009
Neural Control of Locomotion Machines and Organisms Seminar Series. Cornell University. 2008-11-05. (Invited), November 5, 2008
Image Guidance of Motion: From Pixels to Torques in Biology and Robotics Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab Colloquium. MIT. 2008-10-21. (Invited), October 21, 2008
Decoding Neural Mechanisms for Feedback Control of Locomotion Yale Workshop on Adaptive and Learning Systems. Yale University. 2008-06-03. (Invited), June 3, 2008
Decoding neural mechanisms for locomotor control of image stabilization Workshop on the Neuromechanics of Locomotion. Mathematical Biosciences Institute, Ohio State University. 2008-04-02. (Invited), April 2, 2008
Decoding neural mechanisms for multisensory control of locomotion Control Systems Seminar Series. University of Michigan, Ann Arbor . 2007-00-00. (Invited), November 30, 2006
Decoding neural mechanisms for multisensory control of locomotion Mechanical & Aerospace Eng. Seminar Series. George Washington University, Washington, DC. 2007-00-00. (Invited), November 30, 2006
Robotic Sensing and Control Algorithms Inspired by Fabulous Fixating Fish & Quickly Curving Cockroaches Johns Hopkins Student Research Group. Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD. 2007-00-00. (Invited), November 30, 2006
Sensorimotor Integration in Robots and Animals: Signals, Geometry and Mechanics Early Career Spotlight Presentation. Robotics: Science and Systems Conference, Atlanta, GA. 2007-00-00. (Invited), November 30, 2006
Templates and Anchors for Task-Level Control in Cockroaches and Robots Active Sensation Workshop. Computational Systems Neuroscience, Park City, UT. 2007-00-00. (Invited), November 30, 2006
The Critical Role of Locomotion Mechanics in Decoding Sensory Systems Electrical Engineering Seminar Series. Harvard University. 2006-12-01. (Invited), December 1, 2006
The Critical Role of Locomotion Mechanics in Decoding Sensory Biomedical Engineering Seminar Series. Northwestern University. 2006-11-16. (Invited), November 16, 2006
Locomotor control in knifefish via visual and electrosensory feedback Society for Neuroscience Meeting. Atlanta, Ga. 2006-10-17., October 17, 2006
Task-Level Control and Enhanced Yaw Dynamics of the Lateral Leg Spring Model of Cockroach Locomotion 2005 Fast Motions in Biomechanics and Robotics. Heidelberg, Germany. 2005-09-08. (Invited), September 8, 2005
Task-Level Control of a Self-Stabilizing Dynamic System: Antennal Wall Following in Insects and Robots Progress in Motor Control V. Pennsylvania State University. 2005-08-17., August 17, 2005
Task-level control of antennal wall following in the American cockroach Telluride Neuromorphic Engineering Workshop. Telluride, CO. 2005-07-01. (Invited), July 1, 2005
Dynamical control of antennal wall following in the American cockroach The Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology, Annual Meeting. San Diego, CA. 2005-01-00., December 31, 2004
Whole-animal Closed-loop Locomotor Performance of Weakly Electric Gymnotiform Fishes The Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology, Annual Meeting. San Diego, CA. 2005-01-00., December 31, 2004
Sensor-Based Locomotion Control in Animals and Machines GRASP Laboratory Seminar Series. University of Pennsylvania. 2004-11-08. (Invited), November 8, 2004
Composing Navigation Functions on Cartesian Products of Manifolds with Boundary Workshop on the Algorithmic Foundations of Robotics. Zeist, The Netherlands. 2004-07-13., July 13, 2004
High-fidelity Maneuvering Mediated by Tactile Antenna Feedback: From Biological Inspiration to Robotic Design Mechanical Engineering Seminar Series. The Ohio State University. 2004-05-28. (Invited), May 28, 2004
High-fidelity Maneuvering Mediated by Tactile Antenna Feedback: From Biological Inspiration to Robotic Design Ohio State University, ME Seminar Series. Columbus, OH. 2004-04-00. (Invited), March 31, 2004
A biologically inspired passive antenna for steering control of a running robot. International Symposium on Robotics Research,. Siena, Italy. 2003-10-00., September 30, 2003
Vision-based Follow-the-Leader Intelligent Robots and Systems Conference. Las Vegas, NV. 2003-10-00. (Invited), September 30, 2003
A tactile antenna sensor for steering control of a robot hexapod University of Washington, Control Systems Seminar. Seattle, Washington. 2003-00-00. (Invited), November 30, 2002
Generalized coordinates for vision-based control Controllo di Sistemi Robotici per la Manipolazione e la Cooperazione. Bertonoro, Italy. 2003-00-00. (Invited), November 30, 2002
Tactile sensing for dynamical maneuvering Johns Hopkins University Department of Mechanical Engineering Seminar Series. Baltimore, MD. 2003-00-00., November 30, 2002
Toward Geometric Visual Servoing Second Workshop on Control Problems in Robotics and Automation. Las Vegas. 2002-12-00. (Invited), November 30, 2002
Binocular visual servoing with a limited field of view Mathematical Theory of Networks and Systems. Notre Dame, Indiana. 2002-08-00. (Invited), July 31, 2002
Vision-based control via navigation functions. Ohio State University Department of Electrical Engineering Symposium., January 4, 2002
Empirical validation of a new visual servoing strategy Conference on Control Applications. Mexico City. 2001-09-00. (Invited), August 31, 2001
Biological inspiration as a framework for robotics Johns Hopkins University Department of Mechanical Engineering Seminar Series. Baltimore, MD. 2001-00-00. (Invited), November 30, 2000
Rigid body visual servoing using navigation functions. Conference on Decisions and Control. Sydney, Australia. 2000-12-00., November 30, 2000
Vision-based control Ohio State University Control Workshop. Columbus, OH. 2000-00-00., November 30, 1999
Vision-based dexterous manipulation Industrial Partners of Computer Science (IPoCSE) Symposium. Ann Arbor, MI. 2000-00-00. (Invited), November 30, 1999
Planar image based visual servoing as a navigation problem International Conference on Robotics and Automation. Detroit, MI. 1999-04-00., March 31, 1999
Toward global visual servos and estimators for rigid bodies. International Conference on Robotics and Automation. Leuven, Belgium. 1998-04-00., March 31, 1998


2011: Chair, Mechanical Engineering Graduate Recruiting Committee
2011: Data Management Services, ME Departmental Representative
2010: Faculty Advisor, Homewood Postdoctoral Association
2010: PI Partner, Best Environment for Research and Scholarship (BERS)
2012 - 2012: Member, Grad Program, Affairs, and Mech. Eng. Grad. Assoc. (MEGA) Committee
2011 - 2012: Mechanical Engineering (Robotics) Faculty Search Committee
2011 - 2012: Mechanical Engineering (Biomechanics) Faculty Search Committee
2010 - 2012: LCSR Senior Faculty Search Committee
2010 - 2011: LCSR Junior Faculty Search Committee.
2010 - 2010: Program Coordinator, Robotics Minor
2010 - 2010: ME Department Representative, WSE Faculty IT Group
2007 - 2010: ME Department Representative, WSE Communications Committee
2005 - 2010: Web/Publicity Committee
2003 - 2010: Computing Facilities Committee (Chair: 2004–2006, 2008-2009)
2003 - 2010: Advisor, Tau Alpha Chapter of Pi Tau Sigma
2009 - 2009: Grant Preparation, Submission, and Award Faculty Working Group
2009 - 2009: Faculty Advisor, Shaffer Hall Lobby Working Group
2009 - 2009: Reviewer, Student Initiatives Fund
2008 - 2008: Selection Committee, Vredenburg Scholarship
2006 - 2007: PR Committee Member
2004 - 2007: Advisor of Pi Tau Sigma, Tau Alpha chapter
2003 - 2007: Mechanical Engineering Computing Committee
2005 - 2005: Selection Committee, Westgate Scholarship
2004 - 2004: Mechanical Engineering Computing Committee Chairman