UTM Celebrates International Women's Day: Jessica Burgner-Kahrs

Jessica Burgner-Kahrs
Professor Jessica Burgner-Kahrs: founding director of the Continuum Robotics Laboratory, associate director of the Robotics Institute at U of T and Vice Chair of Mathematical and Computational Sciences. Photo courtesy of Professor Burgner-Kahrs.

Professor Jessica Burgner-Kahrs is the founding director of the Continuum Robotics Lab at UTM and a visionary researcher who is revolutionizing the field of continuum robotics.  

Jessica has spent over a decade building small, snake-like robots — a few millimetres in diameter — that can navigate narrow, confined spaces. These curvilinear robots are ideal for a wide range of surgical applications, including brain surgery, as they will enable doctors to reach their target through a minimally invasive path while avoiding damage to vital tissues. This approach can significantly enhance patient care, yielding benefits such as reduced risk of infection, fewer post-operative complications and a shorter and less painful recovery time. 

Jessica’s expertise in continuum robotics does not just apply to surgery. These robots can also enter an environment for in-situ inspection, maintenance and repair through multiple keyholes. Jessica has worked closely with industry to understand safety and time-critical applications for continuum robots, for example, inspecting the inside of a jet engine without having to take it apart or destroy it in the process. 

Over the years, Jessica has received numerous accolades for her research, including the Heinz Maier-Leibnitz Prize, the Engineering Science Prize of the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities and the Lower Saxony Science Award in the Young Researcher category. She was recognized as Young Researcher of the Year in 2015 in Germany and was named in the Top 40 under 40 in the category Science and Society in 2015, 2016 and 2017 by the business magazine Capital. The World Economic Forum also selected her as a Young Global Leader 2019. 

Beyond her innovative research endeavours, Jessica advocates for diversity and inclusion in STEM fields. She mentors aspiring researchers through U of T’s Robotics Leadership Program — an initiative that aims to move the needle on gender diversity and inclusion. We are grateful for Jessica’s expertise, passion and commitment to fueling innovation and breaking barriers in the traditionally male-dominated field of robotics.