Fred Kavli Professor of Computer Science
School of Engineering and Applied Sciences
Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering
235 Maxwell Dworkin
33 Oxford Street,Cambridge, MA 02138
rad at eecs harvard edu
Scientific American Guest Blog
The Awesomest 7-Year Postdoc or:
How I Learned to Stop Worrying
and Love the Tenure-Track Faculty Life.
Research Interests: My group is interested in engineering
and understanding self-organizing collective systems; we investigate many topics
on the border of CS and biology. Two main areas are: (1)
Biologically-inspired multi-agent systems: collective algorithms,
programming paradigms, modular and swarm robotics (2) Biological
multi-agent systems: models of multicellular morphogenesis, collective
insect behavior. For more about our lab: SSR website.
Short bio: I am a professor in Computer Science, in the Harvard School of Engineering and
Applied Sciences. I am also a core faculty member of the Harvard Wyss Institute for Biologically
Inspired Engineering, where I co-lead the BioRobotics Platform.
Before becoming faculty, I spent a year as a research fellow in the Department of Systems Biology at
Harvard Medical School, where I am still affiliated.
I was a graduate student and postdoc lecturer at the MIT Computer
Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) and a member of the Amorphous Computing Group and
the Bell Labs GRPW graduate fellowship program. I am grateful to have
received the Microsoft New Faculty Fellowship (2005), NSF Career Award
(2007), Anita Borg Early Career Award (2010), Radcliffe Fellowship
(2012), and most recently, the Nature 10 award (2014).
I am also the author of a blog article on tenure-track life (7
year postdoc), faculty advisor for the Harvard women-in-cs group
(WICS), and a strong advocate for a
nurturing and inclusive culture in science. Outside of research, I
enjoy the arts (dance, music, and painting) and
our Indian+Caribbean cultures with my husband and two kids.
Teaching: CS189 and CS289 Spring 2016
Contact: Office hours by appointment. You can also email me,
and I will try to reply.
(note: I do not check email over the
Nature 10: Ten people who mattered in science this year (Nature, Dec 2014)
The Gathering Robot Swarm (Kilobots, Science, Aug 2014)
Robots to the Rescue, Gazette (Termes Robots, Science, Feb 2014).
Exploring Collective Intelligence, Video by the Radcliffe Institute, Oct 2013
My Research and CV
SSR Research Group |
Self-Organising Systems Research
Biological systems get tremendous mileage by using vast numbers of
cheap and unreliable components to achieve complex goals reliably. For
example, cells with identical DNA cooperate to form complex
structures, such as ourselves, with incredible reliability in the face
of cell death, variations in cell numbers, and changes in the
environment. Emerging technologies have made it possible to create our
own large-scale multi-agent systems, by bulk-manufacturing tiny
computing and sensing agents and embedding these into materials and
the environment. We would like to build novel applications from these
technologies --- vast sensor-rich environments, robot swarms and
reconfigurable modular robots, programmable materials. A key challenge
is achieving the kind ofreliability and complexity that cells
- How does one creat globally robust systems, from the
cooperation of vast numbers of unreliable agents?
- How does one translate desired global goals into the local
interactions of vast numbers of agents?
My research interest is developing programming paradigms for robust collective
behavior, inspired by biology. Developmental biology, how
cells cooperate in tissues and multicellular organisms, can provide
insights into how global self-repair and adaptation can be achieved
through simple local behaviors. The study of social insects can teach
us how to program cooperation and adaptation amongst mobile agents.
Ultimately, the goal is to create a framework for the design and
analysis of self-organising multi-agent systems. My group's
approach is to formalize these strategies as algorithms, analysis,
theoretical models, and programming languages. We are especially
interested in global-to-local compilation, the ability to specify user
goals at the high level and automatically derive provable strategies
at the agent level. This methodology is applicable to a wide range of
distributed multi-agent systems, from wireless sensor networks to
modular and swarm robotics, and we pursue both theory and physical
implementations of our work, especially in robotics.
My other research interest is understanding robust collective behavior in
biological systems. Building artificial systems can give us
insights into how complex global properties can arise from
identically-programmed parts --- for example, how cells can form
scale-independent patterns, how large morphological variations can
arise from small genetic changes, and how complex cascades of
decisions can tolerate variations in timing.
I am interested in mathematical and computational models of
multi-cellular behavior, that capture hypotheses of cell behavior and
cell-cell interactions as multi-agent systems, and can be used to
provide insights into systems level behavior that should emerge. We
work in close collaboration with biologists, and currently study
growth and pattern formation in the fruit fly wing.
For more detailed description of the
projects we work on, see our SSR research group
Programmable Self-Assembly Using
Biologically-Inspired Multiagent Control, AAMAS 2002.
- The Emergence of Geometric Order in
Proliferating Metazoan Epithelia, Nature, Aug 31, 2006.
- Self-organizing Desynchronization
and TDMA on Wireless Sensor Networks, IPSN 2007. (pdf)
- Automated Global-to-Local Programming in 1-D
Spatial Multi-Agent Systems, AAMAS 2008. (pdf)
- Self-Adapting Modular Robotics: A
Generalized Distributed Consensus Framework, ICRA 2009 (pdf)
- Control of the Mitotic Cleavage Plane by
Local Epithelial Topology, Cell 2011 (pdf)
- Kilobot: A Low Cost Scalable Robot System
for Collective Behaviors, ICRA 2012. (pdf)
- Flight of the Robobees, Scientific
American, March 2013. (link)
- Designing Collective Behavior in a Termite-Inspired Robot
Construction Team, Science, Feb 2014.
- Programmable Self-Assembly in a
Thousand-Robot Swarm, Science, Aug 2014.
Exploring Collective Intelligence, Video by the Radcliffe Institute, Oct 2013
The Gathering Kilobot Swarm, Science News (Science, Aug 2014).
Termes Robots to the Rescue, Gazette (Science, Feb 2014).
The Rise of the Swarm, Communications of the ACM, March 2013.
The Flight of the Robobees, Scientific American, March, 2013
Kilobots leave the nest, SEAS Article, 2011 and
Slashdot Article, 2011
- Getting Robots to Play Together, Boston
Globe Article, March 2010
Magazine Article, Jan 2009
Daily Article, 2009
Faculty Profile in SEAS Newsletter, 2007.
- Microsoft New Faculty Fellowship Video, 2007
- Nature 10: Ten people who mattered in science this year, 2014
- Science Top 10 Breakthroughs of the Year, 2014
- Radcliffe Fellowship, 2012
- Borg Early Career Award, 2010
- Thomas D. Cabot Associate Professor Chair, 2009
- NSF Career Award, 2007
- Microsoft New Faculty Fellowship Award, 2005
- AT&T Bell Labs GRPW Fellowship, 1995-2001
CS 189r: Autonomous Multi-Robot Systems
(CS189r Spring 2011-present, CS199r Spring 2009) Building autonomous robotic
systems requires understanding how to make robots that observe,
reason, act and coordinate. In this project-based course, we study
this area in the context of a new project each year. In previous
years, the focus has been on autonomous robot soccer, how to
get robots to play adversarial games without human intervention. This
course combines learning the fundamentals of robotics programming with
AI and systems engineering for robotics.
CS 289: Bio-inspired Multi-agent Systems (previously cs266)
(Fall 04-08, Spring 2010-present) This class
surveys the state of the art in biologically-inspired approaches to
designing collective intelligence in diverse domains. Topics include:
swarm intelligence, cellular automata and computing, and evolutionary
algorithms, with applications to networking, optimization, and
robotics. Class is based on reading and discussing research papers,
and students undertake a semester-long research project.
Previous Courses taught at Harvard
CS182: Intelligent Machines: Reasoning, Actions, and Plans (Fall 2009, 2010, 2011)
CS51: Introduction to Computer Science II (Spring 2005, 06, 07, 08)
SB 301: Special Topics in Systems Biology (Fall 2005)
Courses taught at MIT, as a postdoctoral lecturer
Mathematics for Computer Scientists: Fall01-02, with Prof. Albert
Meyer.(also on MIT OpenCourseWare)
6.978: Biologically Motivated Programming Technology for Robust
Systems: Fall 2002. (final
MIT 6.033: Computer
Systems Engineering: Spring 2003, Recitation Instructor.
MIT 2004 IAP Course on Synthetic Biology, with Drew Endy, Tom Knight, and Pam
Undergraduate Clubs and OutReach Activities
Harvard Women in CS Club (WICS)
Harvard Women in Computer Science is a group dedicated to
building a network of women in computer science accross
Harvard - undergrads, grads, faculty, entreprenuers,
technologists, and alums! We host regular social events,
career events with companies, and try to connect with the
larger CS happenings around Boston area. Visit our website
to join the group and subscribe to our mailing list and
Our lab uses inspiration from nature to design computing and
robotic systems. We enjoy presenting our work to K-12
students and getting them excited about science and
engineering. We have several non-technical presentations and
robot demonstrations that can travel to a local school or
event, and we can also host short lab tours in our
lab. Although we are a small lab, we try to do a few
outreach events every semester and we are especially
interested in reaching minorities that are underrepresented
in engineering. You can read more about the events we have
done on the webpage link. If you are interested in having
students visit the lab, or us bringing a workshop to you,
contact Radhika by email.
Robotic Futbol Club (RFC) Cambridge
RFC Cambridge is the Harvard-MIT undergraduate RoboCup
soccer team. We took our first team of autonomous robots to
play soccer in the Robocup US Open held at Georgia Tech
(2006). Then they headed to Germany to compete in the
International Robocup Competition!. Our very own RFC
Members were even featured on CARTOON NETWORK! In 2009, we
hosted the U.S Open Small-size Robot Soccer Competition at
Hilles Penthouse, Harvard University. The Harvard College
Engineering Society (HCES) is the umbrella undergraduate
group aimed at promoting engineering and cross disciplinary
collaboration on campus - i.e. We do COOL things. Come join
Faculty Advisors: Radhika Nagpal, Robert Wood
Highlights video, 2007
iGEM Intercollegiate Genetically Engineered Machine
Although I no longer participate in iGEM activities,
happy to talk to any one who is interested in joining.
Each year many universities compete in iGEM
--- to design, build and characterize genetically-encoded
finite state machines. The challenge is to
go from idea, to design, to DNA, to implementation (in
cells) in 3 months! The Harvard Team consists of
undergraduates from many different disciplines, and they
have built many things from bacteria that can propogate a
pulse, to dna structures that self-assemble.
Read about it here: Gazette Article (Aug 25,
2005) and The
New York Times (Nov, 2005); the Harvard iGEM 2006 team
project on DNA nanostructures for drug delivery ( MIT
Technology Review article); Harvard's 2008 team won gold
with their bactricity project
ART, and Other Fun Stuff
As an undergraduate at MIT, I co-founded the MIT Bhangra Club
and taught there for many years (1994-2004
website). During my time at Harvard, I have made a number of
paintings, that you can see in My Art Album.
days I spend alot of my time with my husband and our two kids, who all
also happen to like art, dance, robots, etc - Go figure!
The painting below ("Museum of Natural history") is based on a
beautiful tree on Oxford Street right accross from the Harvard Museum
of Natural History. The birds and animals are ones you'd find in New
England, India, and Suriname. Acrylic on canvas. The other painting
("Riding the Dragon") is based on a tree on the banks of the Charles
River, not far from the Esplanade. The third painting ("Losing ones
self") is based on a tree and my time at Radcliffe.