MechE Colloquium: Motile unicellular organisms and morphing structures


Event details

Date 03.05.2022
Hour 12:0013:00
Speaker Prof. Antonio De Simone, The Biorobotics Institute, Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna, Pisa, and MathLab, SISSA, Trieste
Location Online
Category Conferences - Seminars
Face masks are recommended for in-person attendance in MED 0 1418.


Locomotion strategies employed by unicellular organism are a rich source of inspiration for studying mechanisms for shape control. Unicellular organisms are invisible to the naked eye, and offer surprising new solutions to the question of how shape can be controlled. In turn, these unusual shape changing strategies may inspire novel solutions in fields such as mechanical meta-materials, robotics (in particular, micro-robotics and soft robotics), biomedical engineering, and deployable structures.

In recent years, we have studied locomotion and shape control in Euglena gracilis using a broad range of tools ranging from theoretical and computational mechanics, to experiment and observations at the microscope, to manufacturing of prototypes. This unicellular protist is particularly intriguing because it can adopt different motility strategies: swimming by flagellar propulsion, or crawling thanks to large amplitude shape changes of the whole body (a behavior known as metaboly). We will survey our most recent findings [1–6] within this stream of research. Possible applications to engineered devices exploiting advanced manufacturing techniques will also be discussed.

[1] A. DeSimone, Cell motility and locomotion by shape control. In: The Mathematics of Mechanobiology, Springer Lecture Notes in Mathematics vol. 2260, Chapter 1, pp. 1-41 (2020).
[2] G. Cicconofri, G. Noselli, A. DeSimone: “The biomechanical role of extra-axonemal structures in shaping the flagellar beat of Euglena gracilis”, eLife 10:e58610,  DOI: 10.7554/eLife.58610 (2021).
[3] T. Gao, E. Siefert, A. DeSimone, B. Roman: Shape programming by modulating actuation over hierarchical length scales. Advanced Materials, 32(47), 2004515 (2020).
[4] G, Noselli, A. Beran, M. Arroyo, A. DeSimone: “Swimming Euglena respond to confinement with a behavioural change enabling effective crawling”, Nature Physics 15(5), 496-502, (2019).
[5] M. Rossi, G. Cicconofri, A. Beran, G. Noselli, A. DeSimone:  “Kinematics of flagellar swimming in Euglena gracilis: helical trajectories and flagellar shapes” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 114(50), 13085-13090 (2017).
[6] M. Arroyo, A. DeSimone: Shape control of active surfaces inspired by the movement of euglenids. J. Mech Phys Solids 62, 99–112 (2014)

Bio: Antonio De Simone is professor of Scienza delle Costruzioni (Mechanics of Solids and Structures) at The BioRobotic Institute of Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna (Pisa) and at SISSA-International School for Advanced Studies (Trieste) within the laboratory for Applied Mathematics “MathLab” that he founded in 2010. His research interests are on the mechanics and multi-physics of advanced materials, of soft and biological matter, on morphing and shape-control, and on mechanobiology (in particular: biological and bio-inspired motility). On these topics he has published extensively and across disciplinary boundaries, contributing to specialist journals covering a broad range of disciplines from mathematics to biophysics to engineering. He is a EUROMECH Fellow since 2015.

Practical information

  • General public
  • Free



MechE Colloquium: Motile unicellular organisms and morphing structures