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Barbara Mazzolai

Senior Researcher Tenured - Principal Investigator - Center Coordinator
Center Director

Research Line

Bioinspired Soft Robotics




Viale Rinaldo Piaggio 34
+39 050 883444
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Barbara Mazzolai is Director of the Center for Micro-BioRobotics since February 16th, 2011, and she was Deputy Director for the Supervision and Organization of the IIT Centers Network from July 2012 to 2017.

She graduated (MSc) in Biology (with Honours) at the University of Pisa, Italy, in 1995, and received the Ph.D. in Microsystem Engineering from the University of Rome Tor Vergata. From 1994 to 1998 she worked at the Institute of Biophysics of the National Research Council in Pisa. In 1998 she obtained an International Master Degree in Eco-Management and Audit Schemes at the Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna (SSSA) in Pisa. From February 1999 until June 2004 she had a position at the Center for Research in Microengineering (CRIM Lab, now the BioRobotics Institute) of SSSA as Research Assistant and, from July 2004 to October 2009, as Assistant Professor in Biomedical Engineering at SSSA. She was co-founder of the Research Centre on Sea Technologies and Marine Robotics of SSSA in Livorno. From November 2009 to February 2011 she was Team Leader at the CMBR.

From January to July 2017 she was Visiting Faculty at Aerial Robotics Lab, Department of Aeronautics, of Imperial College of London.

In 2010 she received the "Marisa Bellisario" Award for her scientific and management activities in the EU DustBot project for improving the urban hygiene and the quality of life of citizens. In 2013 she was awarded the Medal of the Senate of the Italian Republic for her scientific activities in biomimetics and biorobotics. In 2015 she was listed among the 25 most influential women in robotics by RoboHub.

Her current scientific activity focuses on bioinspired soft robotics, with a particular research interest in merging Biology and Engineering (see e.g. B Mazzolai, Biology for Robotics-A Multidisciplinary Approach to a Researcher's Life [Women in Engineering], IEEE Robotics & Automation Magazine 23 (1), 114-115, 2016). She has a long experience as Project Manager of European Projects in this field (e.g. OCTOPUS, FP7-231608; HydroNet, FP7-212790; DustBot, FP6-045299; EMECAP, QLK4-CT-2000-00489; etc.) and she was the Coordinator of the FET-Open PLANTOID European Project (n° 293431). She was the Project Manager of the SeedBot ESA-ARIADNA Project in 2006 and, more recently, the Principal Investigator for CMBR-IIT of the ESA-ARIADNA Study Project, titled "Self-burial strategy and performance in Erodium cicutarium (SeeDriller)", aimed at studying the soil penetration strategies implemented by the seed of this plant and developing models based on these penetration mechanisms. She is the Principal Investigator for CMBR-IIT for the EC H2020-ICT-2015 XoSoft Project (Soft modular biomimetic exoskeleton to assist people with mobility impairments).

She has been member of panels of the European Commission within the Seventh Frame Program in the field of Robotics and ICT, and of the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology in the field of Environment and Health. She is member of the Editorial Board of Bioinspiration & Biomimetics, Soft Robotics, Biomimetics, Robotics & Automation Letters, and Associated Editor for Frontiers in Bionics and Biomimetics. She served as Associated Editor for ICRA 2016-2018, IEEE RA-L 2016-2018, IROS 2013 and 2017, as Interdisciplinary Program Co-Chairs for RoboSoft 2018, Government Forum Co-Chair for IROS 2016, and Publicity Co-Chair for BIOROB 2012.

She is also member of the Scientific Advisory Board of the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems, Tübingen and Stuttgart, Germany.

She is author of more than 180 papers appeared in international journals, books, and conference proceedings. She is member of the IEEE, and of the Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society and of the Robotics and Automation Society.


XoSoft - Soft modular biomimetic exoskeleton to assist people with mobility impairments (EC H2020-ICT-2015, IIT Coordinator) – CMBR PI

EOLO - Tuscany Region (2017-2019)

RoboCom++ - Italian Ministry of Education, University and Research + EC (2017-2020) - IIT PI

Innovative Robotic Artefacts Inspired by Plant Roots for Soil Monitoring (PLANTOID, ICT-2011.9.1 FET Open, Grant Agreement no. 293431, 2012-2015) - Coordinator



2015 Listed among the 25 most influential women in robotics by RoboHub

2015 International Award, We Woman for EXPO, October 7, 2015, Genoa, Italy (for the scientific activities performed in biomimetics and biorobotics)

2014 Best Poster Award at EuroEAP 2014, International conference on Electromechanically Active Polymer (EAP) transducers & artificial muscles, Linköping, Sweden, 10-11 June 2014, with the work "Shaping and patterning of electrically driven soft PEDOT:PSS bilayer actuators" by S. Taccola, F. Greco, A. Mondini, B. Mazzolai, V. Mattoli.

2013 Medal of the Senate of the Italian Republic, October 27, 2013, Rimini, Italy (for the scientific activities performed in biomimetics and biorobotics)

2013 Best Poster Award at EuroEAP 2013, International conference on Electromechanically Active Polymer (EAP) transducers & artificial muscles, Duebendorf, 25-26 June, 2013, with the work S. Taccola, A. Zucca, F. Greco, B. Mazzolai, V. Mattoli, Electrically driven dry state actuators based on PEDOT:PSS nanofilms.

2012 TMECH Best Paper Award with the work B. Mazzolai, A. Mondini, P. Corradi, C. Laschi, V. Mattoli, E. Sinibaldi, P. Dario, A Miniaturized Mechatronic System Inspired by Plant Roots, IEEE Transaction on Mechatronics, vol 16(2), pp. 201-212, 2011.

2010 Award Marisa Bellisario, “Germoglio d’Oro”, XXII Edition, June 18 2010, Rome (for the creativity and innovative character of the DustBot idea and for its social and environmental impact)

2007 Best Paper Award at RoBio 2007, IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Biomimetics, 15-18 December, 2007 Sanya, with the work F. Patanè, V. Mattoli, C. Laschi, B. Mazzolai and P. Dario, H. Ishii, A. Takanishi, Biomechatronic Design and Development of a Legged Rat Robot.


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I numeri di IIT

L’Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (IIT) è una fondazione di diritto privato - cfr. determinazione Corte dei Conti 23/2015 “IIT è una fondazione da inquadrare fra gli organismi di diritto pubblico con la scelta di un modello di organizzazione di diritto privato per rispondere all’esigenza di assicurare procedure più snelle nella selezione non solo nell’ambito nazionale dei collaboratori, scienziati e ricercatori ”.

IIT è sotto la vigilanza del Ministero dell'Istruzione, dell'Università e della Ricerca e del Ministero dell'Economia e delle Finanze ed è stato istituito con la Legge 326/2003. La Fondazione ha l'obiettivo di promuovere l'eccellenza nella ricerca di base e in quella applicata e di favorire lo sviluppo del sistema economico nazionale. La costruzione dei laboratori iniziata nel 2006 si è conclusa nel 2009.

Lo staff complessivo di IIT conta circa 1440 persone. L’area scientifica è rappresentata da circa l’85% del personale. Il 45% dei ricercatori proviene dall’estero: di questi, il 29% è costituito da stranieri provenienti da oltre 50 Paesi e il 16% da italiani rientrati. Oggi il personale scientifico è composto da circa 60 principal investigators, circa 110 ricercatori e tecnologi di staff, circa 350 post doc, circa 500 studenti di dottorato e borsisti, circa 130 tecnici. Oltre 330 posti su 1400 creati su fondi esterni. Età media 34 anni. 41% donne / 59 % uomini.

Nel 2015 IIT ha ricevuto finanziamenti pubblici per circa 96 milioni di euro (80% del budget), conseguendo fondi esterni per 22 milioni di euro (20% budget) provenienti da 18 progetti europei17 finanziamenti da istituzioni nazionali e internazionali, circa 60 progetti industriali

La produzione di IIT ad oggi vanta circa 6990 pubblicazioni, oltre 130 finanziamenti Europei e 11 ERC, più di 350 domande di brevetto attive, oltre 12 start up costituite e altrettante in fase di lancio. Dal 2009 l’attività scientifica è stata ulteriormente rafforzata con la creazione di dieci centri di ricerca nel territorio nazionale (a Torino, Milano, Trento, Parma, Roma, Pisa, Napoli, Lecce, Ferrara) e internazionale (MIT ed Harvard negli USA) che, unitamente al Laboratorio Centrale di Genova, sviluppano i programmi di ricerca del piano scientifico 2015-2017.

IIT: the numbers

Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (IIT) is a public research institute that adopts the organizational model of a private law foundation. IIT is overseen by Ministero dell'Istruzione, dell'Università e della Ricerca and Ministero dell'Economia e delle Finanze (the Italian Ministries of Education, Economy and Finance).  The Institute was set up according to Italian law 326/2003 with the objective of promoting excellence in basic and applied research andfostering Italy’s economic development. Construction of the Laboratories started in 2006 and finished in 2009.

IIT has an overall staff of about 1,440 people. The scientific staff covers about 85% of the total. Out of 45% of researchers coming from abroad 29% are foreigners coming from more than 50 countries and 16% are returned Italians. The scientific staff currently consists of approximately 60 Principal Investigators110 researchers and technologists350 post-docs and 500 PhD students and grant holders and 130 technicians. External funding has allowed the creation of more than 330 positions . The average age is 34 and the gender balance proportion  is 41% female against 59% male.

In 2015 IIT received 96 million euros in public funding (accounting for 80% of its budget) and obtained 22 million euros in external funding (accounting for 20% of its budget). External funding comes from 18 European Projects, other 17 national and international competitive projects and approximately 60 industrial projects.

So far IIT accounts for: about 6990 publications, more than 130 European grants and 11 ERC grants, more than 350 patents or patent applications12 up start-ups and as many  which are about to be launched. The Institute’s scientific activity has been further strengthened since 2009 with the establishment of 11 research nodes throughout Italy (Torino, Milano, Trento, Parma, Roma, Pisa, Napoli, Lecce, Ferrara) and abroad (MIT and Harvard University, USA), which, along with the Genoa-based Central Lab, implement the research programs included in the 2015-2017 Strategic Plan.