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Robert J. Wood named National Geographic Emerging Explorer

Robotics expert honored for contributions to science and potential for future breakthroughs

Robert J. Wood is the Charles River Professor of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Harvard SEAS. (Photo by Eliza Grinnell, SEAS Communications.)

Cambridge, Mass. – May 16, 2014 – Robert J. Wood, Charles River Professor of Engineering and Applied Sciences at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), has been named an Emerging Explorer by the National Geographic Society.

The 14 Emerging Explorers are “incredible individuals who are making significant contributions to our world in a variety of disciplines and who show potential for future breakthroughs,” the society announced today.

An electrical engineer, Wood is the founder of the Harvard Microrobotics Laboratory at SEAS, which leverages expertise in microfabrication for the development of biologically inspired robots. His research has advanced knowledge of the aerodynamics of flapping wings, new manufacturing techniques for millimeter- or centimeter-scale electromechanical devices, intelligent control systems for devices with limited sensing and computational power, and active materials. His laboratory has produced tiny, flying robotic insects; a technique for assembling electronic devices in the style of pop-up books; self-folding origami; and soft-bodied robots.

In addition to his role at SEAS, he is also a core faculty member at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard. One of his projects there, called "Second Skin," is a system in which sensing, actuation, and control mechanisms are embedded in soft devices that can be worn by patients with neuromuscular disorders to help them regain function.

With researchers at MIT, Wood is also working on novel manufacturing processes for "printable robots" with the goal of automating robot development and creating new methods for rapidly prototyping complex electromechanical devices.

He has received numerous awards for his work. In 2012, he was selected for the Alan T. Waterman award, the most prestigious early career award given by the National Science Foundation (NSF). In 2010, he received the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers from President Barack Obama, for his work in microrobotics. Wood’s other awards include the DARPA Young Faculty Award, the NSF Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award, the ONR Young Investigator Award, the Air Force Young Investigator Award, and multiple best paper awards. He has also been named to Technology Review's TR35.

As an Emerging Explorer, Wood will receive a $10,000 award to continue his groundbreaking work and will be honored at the National Geographic Society headquarters in June.

“National Geographic’s mission is to inspire people to care about the planet, and our Emerging Explorers are outstanding young leaders whose endeavors further this mission,” said Terry Garcia, National Geographic’s chief science and exploration officer. “We are pleased to support them as they set out on promising careers. They are visionaries and innovators in their respective fields and will help lead the world in a new age of exploration.”

For more information about the 2014 class of Emerging Explorers, visit

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Robert J. Wood

Harry Lewis and Marlyn McGrath Professor of Engineering and Applied Sciences