Written on July 29th, 2015





Host Terrence McNally interviews Robert Wood. Podcast published July 27, 2015.
Hello, welcome to DISRUPTIVE the podcast from Harvard’s Wyss Institute of Biologically Inspired Engineering. I’m your host, Terrence McNally.

The mission of the Wyss Institute is to: Transform healthcare, industry, and the environment by emulating the way nature builds.

Our bodies — and all living systems — accomplish tasks far more sophisticated and dynamic than anything yet designed by humans. By emulating nature’s principles for self-organizing and self-regulating, Wyss researchers develop innovative engineering solutions for healthcare, energy, architecture, robotics, and manufacturing.

They focus on technology development and its translation into products and therapies that will have an impact on the world in which we live. At the Wyss, folks are not interested in making incremental improvements to existing materials and devices, but in shifting paradigms. In this episode of DISRUPTIVE, we will explore: BIOINSPIRED ROBOTICS.

Many of the most advanced robots in use today are still far less sophisticated than ants that “self-organize” to build an ant hill, or termites that work together to build impressive, massive mounds in Africa.

From insects in your backyard, to creatures in the sea, to what you see in the mirror, engineers and scientists at Wyss are drawing inspiration to design a whole new class of smart robotic devices.

We’re going to explore this exciting territory in a three-part episode of DISRUPTIVE, featuring three members of the Wyss faculty, CONOR WALSH, ROBERT WOOD, and RADHIKA NAGPAL.

Wood’s Bio
Today’s guest, ROBERT WOOD is the Charles River Professor of Engineering and Applied Sciences in the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, founder of the Harvard Microrobotics Lab, a founding core faculty member of the Wyss Institute, and co-leader of its Bioinspired Robotics platform. Wood completed his M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences at UC Berkeley.

In 2010, Wood received the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers from President Obama for his work in micro-robotics and in 2012 was selected for the Alan T. Waterman award, the National Science Foundation’s most prestigious early career award.

Welcome, Robert Wood to DISRUPTIVE…I mentioned a few biographical highlights, but before we jump into your work, in your own words, can you tell us a bit about your path?

Wood’s Personal Path


Holiday Greetings 2012

Written on December 27th, 2012

In this holiday season, may you find yourself surrounded by those you love, cherished by those who love you, awakened by time spent outside the patterns of your everyday life, refreshed by the simple joys of play without purpose, nourished by insights born of quiet reflection, and eager to approach your life and work with renewed passion and creativity in the year ahead.

Happy Holidays


Please accept a few simple gifts of inspiration in the form of quotations regarding the world of story and narrative from some wise folks I’ve had the opportunity to interview. 

Out of what William James called the “blooming buzzing confusion of everyday life,” the story, whether spoken or written, pulls things together to find a certain coherence that makes sense.
— Robert Coles, psychologist, Pulitzer-Prize-winning author

 The story lives in the dynamic between the teller and the listener. The great novelist, E.M. Forster, once put it very brilliantly: “Only connect.”
— Robert Coles

Tolstoy defines story as an infection. The idea for Tolstoy is to infect the audience with the storyteller’s ideas and emotions. The better the story, the more infectious it is; the more infectious the ideas and the emotions.
— Jonathan Gottschall, The Storytelling Animal 

It’s very hard to generate a decent narrative if the scenes aren’t electric, if the characters aren’t alive, if there isn’t change or progress in the story or in a character.
— Michael Lewis, Moneyball; The Blind Side

If the story doesn’t have a moral or ethical dimension to it, some sort of value or idea that’s being communicated, it seems empty to us. We want the story to have a larger point.
— Jonathan Gottschall

Stories are basically containers for values. In a story, you’ll have characters and conflict and the setting, the things you see on the surface. Those are all placed there for a specific reason: to illustrate the moral of the story, a core truth about how the world works.
— Jonah Sachs, Winning the Story Wars

May our paths cross next year in pursuit of a world that just might work,