Radhika Nagpal is a professor of computer science in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and a core faculty member of the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University. Her research interest is developing computational models and engineering principles for self-organizing systems in which large numbers of simple agents cooperate to produce complex and robust global behavior. Her work has explored many topics on the border of computer science, robotics, and biology: for example, using inspiration from cardiac cell synchronization to design novel wireless networks; using principles of social-insect nest building to design robots that cooperatively build large-scale structures; and studying the emergent tissue architectures in the fruit fly wing.
At Radcliffe, Nagpal will carry out research to develop mathematical models of collective intelligence in social insects. Social insects are prime examples of how effective collectives can be. Insect groups accomplish large-scale complex tasks—foraging, transport, construction—through the distributed coordination of limited and unreliable individuals. By applying tools from distributed computing and working closely with biologists, she aims to create a mathematical basis for understanding the scalability and adaptability of these insect groups.
Nagpal did her undergraduate and PhD work at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and spent a year as a fellow in the Department of Systems Biology at Harvard Medical School. She is a recipient of the National Science Foundation’s Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award, the Borg Early Career Award, and the Microsoft Research New Faculty Fellowship.