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Barbara Mazzolai

Associate Director for Robotics; Director of Bioinspired Soft Robotics Lab
Senior Researcher Tenured - Principal Investigator
Bioinspired Soft Robotics
Research center

Barbara Mazzolai is Associate Director for Robotics and Director of the Bioinspired Soft Robotics Laboratory at the Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (IIT). From February 2011 to March 2021 she was the Director of the IIT Center for Micro-BioRobotics (CMBR).

Her research activities are in the areas of biologically-inspired robotics and soft robotics. In this context, she is the pioneer of the fields of plant-inspired robots and growing robots.

With the motto “from Nature to Nature”, her research is a mutual combination of biology and engineering, pursuing the development of new technologies and robotic systems inspired by biological models - specifically plants and soft animals - and the advancement of scientific knowledge on living organisms and natural ecosystems.

She graduated in Biology at the University of Pisa (Italy) in 1995, obtained an International Master Diploma in Eco-Management in 1998 at the Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna (SSSA), and in 2011 the Ph.D. in Microsystems Engineering from the University of Rome Tor Vergata. In the years 1999-2009, she was Research Assistant and then Assistant Professor in Biomedical Engineering at the SSSA Center for Research in Microengineering (CRIM Lab, now the BioRobotics Institute). In November 2009, she joined IIT at the Center for Micro-BioRobotics (CMBR) as Team Leader, and then from 2011 to 2021 she has been the Director CMBR. In 2013, she started research line on Bioinspired Soft Robotics, for which she is the Principal Investigator. From July 2012 to 2017, she has also covered the role of Deputy Director for the Supervision and Organization of the IIT Centers Network.

She is member of the Scientific Advisory Board of the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems (Tübingen and Stuttgart, Germany), since 2016; and member of the Advisory Committee of the Cluster on Living Adaptive and Energy-autonomous Materials Systems - livMatS (Freiburg, Germany), since 2019. In 2017, from January to July, she was at Imperial College London (UK) as Visiting Faculty of the Aerial Robotics Lab. In 2020, she has obtained the Italian National Scientific Qualification of Full Professor in Bioengineering.

She has a long experience as researcher and project manager of European projects in the topics of biorobotics, soft robotics and environmental robotics, including OCTOPUS (FP7-231608), HydroNet (FP7-212790), DustBot (FP6-045299), EMECAP (QLK4-CT-2000-00489), and of the SeedBot ESA-ARIADNA Project. From 2012 to 2015 she was the Coordinator of the EU-funded FET-Open PLANTOID project (FP7-293431), for the design of innovative artefacts inspired by plant roots sensing, actuation, and intelligence for environmental exploration and monitoring, and developed the world-first plant-inspired robot, “Plantoid”. Since January 2019, she is the Coordinator of the EU-funded FET-Proactive GrowBot Project (https://www.growbot.eu/), which proposes a disruptively new paradigm of movement in robotics inspired by the moving-by-growing abilities of climbing plants, and aims at the development of a new generation of plant-inspired self-growing robots. Since January 2020, she is a National Geographic Explorer with the grant “RoKER - Roots of Knowledge with Environmental Robots”. Since January 2021, Dr. Mazzolai is coordinator of the EU H2020 FET Environmental Intelligence project I-Seed (https://www.iseedproject.eu/), which aims at developing self-deployable and biodegradable soft miniaturized robots, inspired by the morphology and dispersion abilities of plant seeds, to perform an environmentally responsible in-situ detection of key environmental parameters in air and topsoil. She is winner of a 2020 European Research Council (ERC) Consolidator Grant, with the project “I-Wood”, Forest Intelligence: robotic networks inspired by the Wood Wide Web, which is going to start next May 2021.

She is author and co-author of more than 270 papers appeared in international journals, books, and conference proceedings, and in 2019, she has published her book “La Natura Geniale” (ed. Longanesi).

Invited as speaker at national and international scientific events, Dr. Mazzolai periodically organizes workshops and special sessions on the topics of soft robotics, bioinspired robotics, plant-inspired growing robots at major conferences for the scientific community and general public. She is member of the Executive Advisory Board of Advanced Intelligent Systems; member of the Editorial Board of Bioinspiration & Biomimetics, Soft Robotics, Biomimetics, Robotics & Automation Letters; and Associated Editor for IEEE Transactions on Medical Robotics and Bionics, Frontiers in Bionics and Biomimetics, and Frontiers in Robotics and AI - Soft Robotics. She served as Associated Editor for ICRA 2016-2020, IEEE RA-L 2016-2020, IROS 2013, 2017, 2020, as Interdisciplinary Program Co-Chair for RoboSoft 2018-2019, Government Forum Co-Chair for IROS 2016, Publicity Co-Chair for BIOROB 2012, workshop Co-Chair for I-RIM 2019 and for RoboSoft 2020. She is member of the IEEE, of the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society (EMBS), of the IEEE Robotics and Automation Society (RAS), of the Materials Research Society (MRS) and of the Italian Institute of Robotics and Intelligent Machines (I-RIM).

All Publications
Laschi C., Mazzolai B.
Bioinspired materials and approaches for soft robotics
MRS Bulletin, vol. 46, (no. 4), pp. 345-349
Article Journal
Loshchilov I., Del Dottore E., Mazzolai B., Floreano D.
Conditions for the emergence of circumnutations in plant roots
PLoS ONE, vol. 16, (no. 5 May)
Article Journal
Cardini A., Pellegrino E., Declerck S., Calonne-Salmon M., Mazzolai B., Ercoli L.
Direct transfer of zinc between plants is channelled by common mycorrhizal network of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi and evidenced by changes in expression of zinc transporter genes in fungus and plant
Environmental Microbiology
Article Journal
Makvandi P., Kirkby M., Hutton A.R.J., Shabani M., Yiu C.K.Y., Baghbantaraghdari Z., Jamaledin R., Carlotti M., Mazzolai B., Mattoli V., Donnelly R.F.
Engineering Microneedle Patches for Improved Penetration: Analysis, Skin Models and Factors Affecting Needle Insertion
Nano-Micro Letters, vol. 13, (no. 1)
Review Journal
Visentin F., Murali Babu S.P., Meder F., Mazzolai B.
Selective Stiffening in Soft Actuators by Triggered Phase Transition of Hydrogel-Filled Elastomers
Advanced Functional Materials
Article Journal
Awards and Achievements
Fiorello I., Mondini A., Mazzolai B.
2nd Best Poster Award at Living Machines 2020, International Conference on Biomimetic and Biohybrid System, Freiburg (online edition), 28-30 July 2020 with the work: "Biomechanical Characterization of Hook-Climber Stems for Soft Robotic Applications".
Mazzolai B.
Abilitazione Scientifica Nazionale - Settore concorsuale 09/G2 Bioingegneria - professore di I fascia
Mazzolai B.
Advisory Board Co-Chair for the IEEE International Conference on Soft Robotics
Mazzolai B.
Tuscany Inner Wheel Woman Award
Mazzolai B.
Member of the Advisory Committee for the Cluster Living, Adaptive and Energy-autonomous Materials Systems (livMatS), Freiburg, Germany