Jennifer Morris: Research That Plays it Safe in Any Language


February 2, 2004

A second-year ECE graduate student and recipient of the 2003 NSF Graduate Research Fellowship, Jennifer Morris plays it safe with her research. Her work studying the safety of critical embedded networks in cars, trains and other devices has industrial sponsors beckoning and the international research community's attention. A bilingual job in the Latin American Division of Lucent Technologies' software products group in Miami gave her an inside perspective on the customer's needs when she came to Carnegie Mellon.

"The research area that I work in has a lot of industrial applications," Morris said, pointing out that one of her most rewarding moments was guiding an industry partner to a solution for one of their embedded networking issues.

Working with her advisor, Philip Koopman, she strives to remove the stumbling blocks that bar the path to safe computing.

"An increasing number of products mix together safety critical and non-critical functions in the same embedded computer system. When making a safety case, designers assume that defects in the non-critical software can't interfere with the safety critical software. Jen has found that with current design practices this can often be an invalid assumption," explained Koopman. "She is working on creating simple, cost-effective solutions to this problem that can be applied to everyday systems. Her first results will be put into service in a commercial system this year," Koopman continued.

Their paper on this research, "Critical Message Integrity Over a Shared Network," was featured in Portugal at FeT 2003, the 5th IFAC International Conference on Fieldbus Systems and Their Applications.

Morris also met the challenge of clearing the jam presented in 18-741, Babak Falsafi's Advanced Computer Architecture class: "A major bottleneck in modern high-performance processors (e.g., the Pentium 4) is long latency operations (e.g., accesses to memory) that stop the flow of instructions and reduce performance," accounted Falsafi, associate professor of ECE and CS.

She examined a new solution to this problem with ECE graduate student Shelley Chen in their final paper, "Out-of-Order Memory Accesses Using a Load Wait Buffer."

Originally from Ohio, Morris attended Ohio State University for her undergraduate degrees in ECE and Spanish. There, she researched real-time quality of service in distributed systems and completed a co-op with Goodyear Tire and Rubber in Akron, Ohio. After graduation, she spent two and a half years at Lucent, before enrolling in Carnegie Mellon's ECE Department.

"I liked how there were a lot of different research areas that were very strong," Morris said, adding that the department's collaborative nature and solid ties to research, government, and industry appealed to her.

Expecting to earn her master's in the spring and her Ph.D. in five or six years, she is working on narrowing down her thesis topic, which will focus on embedded networks.

Great high school physics and calculus teachers propelled her toward math and science, and she wants to encourage others, too, first as a graduate assistant, and then as a professor at a research university when she finishes here. A volunteer for ECE's Engineering Graduate Organization (EGO), Morris loves Pittsburgh, and already has important instructions for her future pupils and hopeful engineers: "work hard, but don't forget the big picture and remember to have fun, too."