Scientific American Guest Blog
The Awesomest 7-Year Postdoc or:
How I Learned to Stop Worrying
and Love the Tenure-Track Faculty Life.
Professor of Robotics
Dept of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering (MAE)
Dept of Computer Science (COS)
School of Engineering and Applied Sciences
Research Interests: My lab studies Self-organizing Systems and Collective Artificial Intelligence; we investigate many topics on the border of Robotics, AI, and Biology. Two main areas are: (1) Biologically-inspired Robot Collectives, including novel hardware design for robot swarms, decentralized collective algorithms/theory, and global-to-local swarm programming (2) Biological Collectives, including mathematical models and field experiments with social insects and cellular morphogenesis. For more about our lab see: SSR website.
Contact: Email: email@example.com
I am a Professor in Robotics at Princeton University, joint between the departments of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and Computer Science (2022-present). Prior to joining Princeton I was the Fred Kavli Professor of Computer Science at Harvard University and a founding Faculty Member of the Harvard Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering. Before becoming faculty, I spent a year as a Research Fellow in the Department of Systems Biology at Harvard Medical School. I received my PhD and was a Postdoc Lecturer at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence (CSAIL) supported by the Bell Labs GRPW Fellowship (1995-2001).
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 be an invited TED Speaker (2017), a AAAI Fellow (2020) and an ACM Fellow (2020). In 2014, I was chosen for the Nature 10 Award, given to the top ten influential scientists and engineers by the journal Nature (Dec 2014). In 2017, I co-founded ROOT Robotics, an educational robotics company aimed at democratizing coding, AI, and robotics through early education; Root was acquired by iRobot (2019). Our lab's Kilobots have also been commercialized by K-Team Inc and over 8000 robots have been sold worldwide. I was an Amazon Scholar (2020-21), working on algorithms for warehouse multi-robot systems.
I am also the author of a popular Scientific American blog article on tenure-track life (The Awesomest 7-year Postdoc), the founding advisor for the Harvard Women-in-CS Club (WiCS), a founding ally member of the Black-in-Robotics Boston Chapter (BiR), and an advocate for a nurturing culture and gender/racial equity in academia and STEM. I am honored to have received the McDonald Mentoring Award, and to have a large network of mentees and peers who care about these same issues. I work on many diversity and equity issues within Robotics/CS/Academia; you can read more about this on my Activism page.
Videos: For more about my lab's research, see a TED talk that I gave at the annual TED conference in Vancouver in April 2017. For more about my work on cultural change, see my Cornell Talk that I gave as part of their new Distinguished Lecture Series on Science and Engineering Culture in April 2018. For more about me as a Roboticist and person, see my IROS2020: Real Roboticist interview by Prof. Sabine Hauert. You can also read more about my background and work in this MIT Technology Review article.
Personal Bio: Outside of research, I enjoy the arts (painting, music and dance) and our Indian(me)+AfroCaribbean(Q) culture with my husband and two teenagers. Civic engagement and social justice is very important to my family. My husband Quinton Zondervan (also an MIT alum) is an elected Cambridge City Councillor and my daughter Jahnavi Zondervan was a founding member of the Black Student Union (BSU) at the CRLS public high-school.
Talks and Profiles:
TED Talk, Harnessing Collective Intelligence (TED, Main Conference, April 2017)
MIT Technology Review, RoboSwarm (Aug 2016)
Nature 10: Ten people who mattered in science (Nature, Dec 2014)