Dagmar Sternad

University Distinguished Professor,  Biology
University Distinguished Professor,  Electrical and Computer Engineering
Affiliated Faculty,  Bioengineering



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Research Focus

Motor control and learning, variability and stability, virtual rehabilitation, dynamic modeling, rhythmic and discrete movements as primitives for action


Dagmar Sternad received the BS in Movement Science and Linguistics from the Technical University of Munich and the PhD in Experimental Psychology from the University of Connecticut. From 1995 until 2008, she was Assistant, Associate, and Full Professor at the Pennsylvania State University in Kinesiology and Integrative Biosciences. At Northeastern, she holds an interdisciplinary appointment in the departments of Biology, Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Physics. Her research in computational neuroscience and motor control focuses on learning and control of sensorimotor coordination in humans, both in healthy and neurologically impaired individuals. This work spans behavioral experiments with mathematical models of control and nonlinear dynamics, bridging biology with engineering and physics. The results are documented in over 80 publications in scientific journals and several books. The research has been continuously supported by grants from the National Institute of Health, the National Science Foundation and Office of Naval Research.

The central interest of research in the Action Lab is the control and coordination of goal-directed human behavior. Adopting a systems-level approach we aim to reveal the organizational principles of the nervous system in interaction with the mechanical system of the body and the environment. Our research strategy intertwines behavioral experiments on human subjects with theoretical work using mathematical models of movement generation. The theoretical approach views the actor in the environment as a dynamical system, which is high-dimensional and nonlinear. Our experimental research focuses on single- and multi- joint human movements including upper limb manipulation tasks and locomotion examined in virtual environments. We have extended these experimental paradigms to study the elderly and patients with neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease.

Honors & Awards

  • Klein Lectureship Award
  • Distinguished Lecturer on Life and the Sciences of Complexity, Center for the Ecological Study of Perception and Action

Research Overview

Motor control and learning, variability and stability, virtual rehabilitation, dynamic modeling, rhythmic and discrete movements as primitives for action

Selected Publications

  • S.W. Park, H. Marino, S. Charles, D. Sternad, N. Hogan, Moving Slowly is Hard for Humans: Limitations of Dynamic Primitives, Journal of Neurophysiology, 118(1), 2017, 69-83
  • P. Stein, E.L. Saltzman, K.G. Holt, D. Sternad, Is Failed Predictive Control a Risk Factor for Focal Dystonia?, Motor Disorders, 31(12), 2016, 1772-1777
  • C.J. Hasson, Z. Zhang, M.O. Abe, D. Sternad, Neuromotor Noise is Malleable by Amplification of Perceived Error, PLoS Computational Biology, 2016
  • M.E. Huber, N. Kuznetsov, D. Sternad, Persistence of Reduced Neuromotor Noise in Long-term Motor Skill Learning, Journal of Neurophysiology, 116(6), 2016, 2922-2935


Dec 04, 2020

Best student paper at 8th IEEE Biomedical Robotics and Biomechatronics Conference

Bioengineering student Aleksei Krotov, PhD’24, received a Best Student Paper Award at the 8th IEEE Biomedical Robotics and Biomechatronics Conference.


Jul 06, 2020

PhD Student Rashida Nayeem finalist for Best Paper Award in Cognitive Robotics at The International Conference on Robotics and Automation 2020

EE PhD student Rashida Nayeem, advised by Prof. Dagmar Sternad, was a finalist for the Best Paper Award in Cognitive Robotics at the 2020 IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation for her paper “Transient Behavior and Predictability in Manipulating Complex Objects.”


Apr 02, 2019

Sternad Promoted to University Distinguished Professor

COS/ECE Professor Dagmar Sternad has been promoted to the rank of University Distinguished Professor, the highest honor the university can bestow upon a faculty member, for her achievements in the field of experimental and computational motor neuroscience.


Jan 30, 2019

Finding the Right Balance

COS/ECE Professor Dagmar Sternad is studying the motion of dancers from the Boston Ballet to determine how the human body balances itself which could help improve medical rehabilitation as well as stabilizing robots.


Oct 09, 2018

Humans Control Complex Objects by Exploiting Their Stability

COS/ECE Professor Dagmar Sternad was featured in Physics Today's article "Humans control complex objects by exploiting their stability."


Sep 10, 2018

Improving Human-Robot Interactions with Dynamically Complex Objects

Professor Dagmar Sternad, Biology, Electrical and Computer Engineering and Physics, recently received a $700,000 National Science Foundation grant title, “Learning to Control Dynamically Complex Objects” to improve human-robot interaction by exploring how humans manipulate complex objects and tools. Insights gained from the three-year grant, awarded to both Sternad and her collaborator, Professor Neville Hogan, Mechanical Engineering […]

Sep 29, 2016

Sternad Awarded Grant to Create Robots with Better Human Dexterity

COS/ECE Professor Dagmar Sternad was awarded a $500K collaborative NSF grant to research "Towards Robots with Human Dexterity".

Sep 09, 2015

Sternad Awarded EAGER Grant

COS & ECE Professor Dagmar Sternad was awarded a $171K NSF EAGER grant for "Challenging the Cognitive-Control Divide". Abstract Source: NSF This EArly-concept Grant for Exploratory Research (EAGER) collaborative research project is between an expert in robotics and control theory and an expert in experimental and computational motor neuroscience. It bridges cognitive science, experimental psychology […]

Jun 29, 2015

Sternad Receives the Best Paper award

ECE Professor Dagmar Sternad received the Best Paper award at the International Conference for Virtual Rehabilitation (ICVR) 2015.

Mar 25, 2014

Sternad Selected Klein Lecturer

ECE & COS Professor Dagmar Sternad has been selected as this year’s Robert D. Klein University Lecturer. This award honors faculty members who have contributed to their field of study and share that scholarship with the University and the general public. Dagmar Sternad is an internationally known authority in the field of experimental and computational […]

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