Naomi Ehrich Leonard is the Edwin S. Wilsey Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and associated faculty member of the Program in Applied and Computational Mathematics at Princeton University. She is Director of Princeton’s Council on Science and Technology and affiliated faculty member of the Princeton Neuroscience Institute and Program on Quantitative and Computational Biology. She received her BSE in Mechanical Engineering from Princeton University and her PhD in Electrical Engineering from the University of Maryland. Leonard is a MacArthur Fellow, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a Fellow of the ASME, IEEE, IFAC, and SIAM.
Leonard’s background includes feedback control theory, nonlinear dynamics, geometric mechanics, and robotics, where she has made contributions both to theory and to application. She studies and designs complex, dynamical systems comprised of many interacting agents, including, for example, animals, robots, and/or humans that move, sense, and decide together. Her research program emphasizes the development of analytically tractable mathematical models of collective dynamics that provide the systematic means to examine the role of feedback (responsive behavior), interconnection (who is communicating with whom), heterogeneity (individual differences) in the behavior, learning, and resilience of groups in changing environments.
Leveraging mathematical models, Leonard has studied mechanisms of collective behavior in fish schools, bird flocks, honeybee swarms, and ant colonies, and she has designed rules for distributed robotic vehicles to perform collaborative tasks ranging from adaptive ocean sampling to trash collection in human-populated spaces. She led a large, collaborative, multidisciplinary Adaptive Sampling and Prediction project on the development and demonstration, in Monterey Bay, CA in 2006, of an automated and adaptive ocean observing system consisting of a coordinated network of underwater robotic vehicles that move about on their own and carry sensors to collect scientific data about the ocean.
Leonard has enjoyed a long history of collaboration across disciplines, including with researchers from oceanography, ecology and evolutionary biology, neuroscience and psychology, and most recently from political science. A former student of dance and life-long dance enthusiast, she has grown increasingly interested in intersections with dance and composition. In 2010 she co-created Flock Logic, an art-making project that explores what happens when dancers carry out the rules used in models of flocking birds. She subsequently collaborated on the rule-based improvisational dance piece There Might Be Others, which premiered in New York City in 2016.