Maurizio Porfiri Named One of Popular Science’s Brilliant 10

Popular Science magazine hailed NYU-Poly’s Maurizio Porfiri, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, as one of the nation’s brightest young researchers. The magazine, which is the nation’s largest consumer science publication, named Porfiri one of this year’s “Brilliant 10” – an elite group of scientists under age 40 whose work stands to dramatically impact their fields. The article appeared in the October 20, 2010 edition.



Porfiri is recognized for his work on biologically inspired robots that mimic the near-silent movement of schooling fish so convincingly that real fish are enticed to follow them. His goal is to create self-powered underwater robots capable of steering fish populations away from hazards such as oil and chemical spills or power turbines. Porfiri, who brings a lifelong passion for wildlife to his research, told Popular Science, “If we borrow design from nature to build our robots, why not use the robots to assist nature?”

“If we borrow design from nature to build our robots, why not use the robots to assist nature?”

NYU-Poly Provost Elizabeth Dianne Rekow congratulated Porfiri on his “Brilliant 10” honor. “This is an opportunity for a worldwide audience to get a glimpse of the creativity and tireless innovation that drives Dr. Porfiri’s work, and for him to take the stage alongside scientists and engineers from nationally recognized universities much larger than NYU-Poly,” she said. “Dr. Porfiri’s robotic fish hold great promise for humans and the inhabitants of our oceans, and I join with his students and colleagues in congratulating him for this high honor.”

Porfiri, who came to NYU-Poly in 2006, is also the recipient of the National Science Foundation’s prestigious CAREER award. The grant supports early career development activities for teachers and scholars, and in this case, enabled Porfiri’s studies of fish behavior and the development of his biomimetic robots.

Another component of the award allows Porfiri to team with the New York Aquarium, where he brings the thrill of robotics to life in workshops with elementary and middle school students from area schools.

Up next for Porfiri? Research to develop methods for harvesting untapped energy from small eddies in ocean currents to power self-sustained marine microsensors. These sensors could be used for multiple purposes, including monitoring ocean environments for contaminants.

“The ‘Brilliant 10’ is our annual salute to young scientists who are shaking up their fields,” said Popular Science Editor-in-Chief Mark Jannot. “This year’s group brings fresh perspective and extraordinary smarts to bear on issues ranging from infectious diseases to endangered marine life, and their solutions won’t just change the world – they’ll make it better.”