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Postdoc - Biologically inspired engineering

BC: 68530

The Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (IIT – with headquarters in Genova (Italy) is a non-profit institution with the primary goal of creating and disseminating scientific knowledge and strengthening Italy's technological competitiveness. The research areas cover scientific topics of high innovative content, which represent the most advanced frontiers of modern technology, with wide application possibilities in various fields ranging from medicine to industry, from computer science to robotics, life sciences, and nanobiotechnology.

The Center for MicroBioRobotics of IIT (CMBR@SSSA), is part of the IIT-Network of centers in Italy. Directed by Dr. Barbara Mazzolai, the Center aims at designing and developing new robotic solutions and advanced components taking inspiration from nature. Starting from the study and observation of the anatomy, physiology, structures, and behavioural features of biological models, technological innovation can be pursued and reached as a final result. Among many, some fields which benefit from this approach are sensing, actuation, materials, and robotics. The principal biological models investigated at the Center are plants and soft-bodied animals. The research aim is twofold. The first set of goals is to select the biological system(s) responsible for producing desired characteristics relevant in robotics, to identify and extract the key principles underlying these biological functions and to translate them into technological solutions. The second goal is to increase the knowledge of the biological system that we use as models.

The CMBR@SSSA is activating a procedure for the selection of n. 1 Post-doc to work in the framework of the PLANTOID European project (FET OPEN Program, Contract number:29343). The candidate will have a key research role on mechanical design for biologically inspired engineering within the soft robotics research area. The major objective of this research project is to investigate new design principles and technologies for developing robotic solutions, broadly based on the morphology of a plant root system, with similar performances, in terms of adaptive growth and elongation capabilities, capability of soil penetration at any angle, actuation, sensing, energy efficiency, control, and applicability. The research plan has two main objectives. First, we aim for a deeper understanding of the form, material properties, tropisms, kinematics, sensing, actuation, communication capabilities and control of the plant roots in shaping their behaviour. Second, we will develop new design principles and technologies for exploration and anchorage systems for terrestrial (and potentially non-terrestrial) surfaces, such as an autonomous robot that can move, steer, and grow in soil.

The selected applicant will join an interdisciplinary research group coordinated by Dr. Mazzolai, and contribute to the design and development of soft robots inspired by selected biological models. The focus of the research, which approach will be strongly science grounded, will be on the integrated design of the robotic systems based on the interplay between their form and function, with the objective of improving performance while keeping a low control complexity. Non-traditional robotics (e.g. soft robotics) strategies will be followed at different levels for movement, sensing and interaction with the environment, also embodying innovative soft and smart materials in the robot body, and bioinspiration will be used as a design guideline.


We are looking for a highly motivated young scientist with a strong capacity to generate novel ideas at the borderline of science and technology, a broad range of technical skills and a track record in translating conceptual ideas into working prototypes. The ideal candidate has background and PhD in Biorobotics, Robotics or Mechanical Engineering and an excellent, well established publication record on mechanical design in at least two or more of the following areas:

  • Continuous-like hyper redundant robotic systems
  • Mechanical components and robots inspired to the morphology and functionality of soft structures in Nature
  • Bioinspired dexterous robotic systems
  • Smart hierarchical soft structures

Advanced experimental and theoretical skills in mechanical design are fundamental. Proficiency in hardware design and mechanism analysis with a proven portfolio of practical designs, excellent hands-on practical skills and competences in robot kinematics/dynamics, as well as physical system modelling for mechanical design, are important.

A major requirement for the candidate is to publish scholarly papers. The successful candidate: has good analytical and communicational skills; is expected to proactively perform research in a team of senior researchers, post-docs and PhD students; will cooperate over various disciplines, such as biology, material science and engineering; will be able to set-up, follow, monitor and be responsible for his/her own personal research plans and directions; has good methodological and organization skills.

Proficiency in written/spoken English is mandatory.


Applications will be evaluated for a 12-month position to start from October 1st, 2013. The applications received until 31 August, 2013 will be considered. The selected applicant will work at the Center for MicroBioRobotics, located in Pontedera, Italy.

The successful candidate will be offered a contract with a highly competitive salary which will be commensurate with qualifications and experience. International applications are encouraged.

Application documents, to be sent electronically, are: Cover Letter, CV listing all publications, a pdf of your most representative publications, and two letters of reference.

Interested applicants should submit documents to:

Dr. Barbara Mazzolai (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

Mrs Emma Cappelleri (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

In order to comply with the Italian law (art. 23 of Privacy Law of the Italian Legislative Decree n. 196/03), we have to kindly ask the candidate to give his/her consent to allow IIT to process his/her personal data.

We inform you that the information you provide will be used solely for the purpose of assessing your professional profile to meet the requirements of Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia. Your data will be processed by Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia, with headquarters in Genoa, Via Morego 30, acting as the Data Holder, using computer and paper based means, observing the rules on protection of personal data, including those relating to the security of data. Please also note that, pursuant to art.7 of Legislative Decree 196/2003, you may exercise your rights at any time as a party concerned by contacting the Data Manager.

Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia is an Equal Opportunity Employer that actively seeks diversity in the workforce.

Copyright © 2017 Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (IIT). Via Morego, 30 16163 Genova, Italy. Tel: +39 010 71781. C.F. 97329350587 - P.I. 09198791007
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