Chen Li

Assistant Professor

Research Interests

Terradynamics, locomotion, biological physics, biorobotics, robophysics

Chen Li is an assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering. He is also a core faculty member of the Laboratory for Computational Sensing and Robotics.

Li’s research aims to create terradynamics, a new field at the interface of biology, robotics, and physics, which models the locomotor-terrain interaction during terrestrial locomotion in complex terrain, analogous to fluid-structure interaction during aerial and aquatic locomotion. He also uses the principles of terradynamics to understand animal movement and to advance robot mobility. As a PhD student, Li created the first terradynamics of legged animal and robot locomotion on flowable ground such as sand. Since his postdoctoral work and at Johns Hopkins, he been creating terradynamics of locomotion in complex 3-D terrain such as forest floor, mountain boulders, earthquake rubble, and Martian rocks.

His recent research has uncovered how snakes climb over large steps and how cockroaches move across cluttered obstacles; his team has created bio-inspired robots capable of doing so robustly.

Li’s research has been recognized by publication in journals including Science and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), and has been selected as Best Paper (Advanced Robotics 2017), Highlight Papers (IROS 2016, Bioinspiration & Biomimetics 2015), and Best Student Papers (Robotics: Science & Systems 2012, Society for Integrative & Comparative Biology 2009). Li is a recipient of a Miller Research Fellowship from the University of California, Berkeley; a Burroughs Wellcome Fund Career Award at the Scientific Interface; an Army Research Office Young Investigator Award; and a Beckman Young Investigator Award. He also has been selected as an alumnus of the National Academy of Sciences’ Kavli Frontiers of Science.

A member of the American Physical Society, Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology, Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, and the American Society of Biomechanics, Li has served as a reviewer for journals such as Nature Communications, Science Robotics, Bioinspiration & Biomimetics, and The Journal of Experimental Biology.

Li received his bachelor’s degree in physics from Peking University in Beijing, China, in 2005, and a PhD in physics from the Georgia Institute of Technology in 2011. He then spent three and a half years at the University of California, Berkeley, as a Miller Postdoctoral Fellow studying integrative biology and robotics. He joined the Whiting School of Engineering faculty in 2016.

Instructions for applicants: https://li.me.jhu.edu/join/  


  • Ph.D. 2011, Georgia Institute of Technology
  • Bachelor of Science 2005, Peking University
  • 2012 - 2015:  Miller Postdoctoral Fellow, University of California, Berkeley
Research Areas
  • Biological physics
  • Biorobotics
  • Locomotion
  • Robophysics
  • Terradynamics
  • 2019:  Catalyst Award, Johns Hopkins University
  • 2019:  Alumnus, Kavli Frontiers of Science, National Academy of Sciences
  • 2018:  Best Paper Award, Advanced Robotics (4 awards out of 96)
  • 2018:  Beckman Young Investigator Award, Arnold & Mable Beckman Foundation (10 awards out of ~500)
  • 2017:  Young Investigator Award, Army Research Office
  • 2016:  Highlight Paper, 2016 IEEE/RSJ International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems (IROS) (20 awards out of 840)
  • 2016:  Highlight Paper of 2015, Bioinspiration & Biomimetics (12 awards out of 110)
  • 2015:  Career Award at the Scientific Interface, Burroughs Wellcome Fund (12 awards out of ~300)
  • 2012:  Miller Research Fellowship, Miller Institute for Basic Research in Science, University of California, Berkeley (11 awards out of ~300)
  • 2012:  Best Student Paper, Robotics: Science and Systems Conference (1 award per year)
  • 2012:  Sigma Xi Best PhD Thesis Award, Georgia Institute of Technology (5 awards per year)
  • 2009:  First Place Oral Presentation, Georgia Tech Graduate Research Symposium
  • 2009:  Amelio Fellowship for Excellence in Research, Georgia Institute of Technology, School of Physics (1 award per year)
  • 2009:  Best Student Paper, Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology Annual Meeting, Division of Comparative Biomechanics (1 award per year)
  • 2004:  Award for Academic Excellence, Peking University
Journal Articles
  • Xuan Q, Li C (2020).  Randomness in appendage coordination facilitates strenuous ground self-righting.  Bioinspiration & Biomimetics.  IOP Publishing.  15.  65004.
  • Fu Q, Gart SW, Mitchel TW, Kim JS, Chirikjian GS, Li C (2020).  Lateral Oscillation and Body Compliance Help Snakes and Snake Robots Stably Traverse Large, Smooth Obstacles.  Integrative and comparative biology.  60.  171--179.
  • Othayoth R, Thoms G, Li C (2020).  An energy landscape approach to locomotor transitions in complex 3D terrain.  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.  117.  14987--16995.
  • Fu Q, Li C (2020).  Robotic modelling of snake traversing large, smooth obstacles reveals stability benefits of body compliance.  Royal Society Open Science.  7.  191192.
  • Xuan Q, Li C (2020).  Coordinated Appendages Accumulate More Energy to Self-Right on the Ground.  IEEE Robotics and Automation Letters.  5.  6137--6144.
  • Yang C, Ding L, Tang D, Gao H, Niu L, Lan Q, Li C, Deng Z (2020).  Improved Terzaghi-theory-based interaction modeling of rotary robotic locomotors with granular substrates.  Mechanism and Machine Theory.  Elsevier Ltd.  152.  103901.
  • Gart SW, Mitchel TW, Li C (2019).  Snakes partition their body to traverse large steps stably.  The Journal of Experimental Biology.  222.  jeb185991.
  • Li C, Wöhrl T, Lam HK, Full RJ (2019).  Cockroaches use diverse strategies to self-right on the ground.  Journal of Experimental Biology.  222.  jeb186080.
  • Gart SW, Yan C, Othayoth R, Ren Z, Li C (2018).  Dynamic traversal of large gaps by insects and legged robots reveals a template.  Bioinspiration & Biomimetics.  13.  026006.
  • Gart SW, Li C (2018).  Body-terrain interaction affects large bump traversal of insects and legged robots.  Bioinspiration & Biomimetics.  13.  026005.
  • Li C, Kessens CC, Fearing RS, Full RJ (2017).  Mechanical principles of dynamic terrestrial self-righting using wings.  Advanced Robotics.  31.  881--900.
  • Aguilar J, Zhang T, Qian F, Kingsbury M, McInroe B, Mazouchova N, Li C, Maladen R, Gong C, Travers M, Hatton RL, Choset H, Umbanhowar PB, Goldman DI (2016).  A review on locomotion robophysics: The study of movement at the intersection of robotics, soft matter and dynamical systems.  Reports on Progress in Physics.  79.  110001.
  • Haldane DW, Casarez CS, Karras JT, Lee J, Li C, Pullin AO, Schaler EW, Yun D, Ota H, Javey A, Fearing RS (2015).  Integrated Manufacture of Exoskeletons and Sensing Structures for Folded Millirobots.  Journal of Mechanisms and Robotics.  7.  021011.
  • Li C, Pullin AO, Haldane DW, Lam HK, Fearing RS, Full RJ (2015).  Terradynamically streamlined shapes in animals and robots enhance traversability through densely cluttered terrain.  Bioinspiration & Biomimetics.  10.  046003.
  • Zhang T, Qian F, Li C, Masarati P, Hoover AM, Birkmeyer P, Pullin A, Fearing RS, Goldman DI (2013).  Ground fluidization promotes rapid running of a lightweight robot.  International Journal of Robotics Research.  32.  859--869.
  • Ding Y, Li C, Goldman DI (2013).  Swimming in the desert.  Physics Today.  66.  68--69.
  • Li C, Zhang T, Goldman DI (2013).  A terradynamics of legged locomotion on granular media.  Science.  339.  1408--1412.
  • Li C, Hsieh ST, Goldman DI (2012).  Multi-functional foot use during running in the zebra-tailed lizard (Callisaurus draconoides).  Journal of Experimental Biology.  215.  3293--3308.
  • Li C, Umbanhowar PB, Komsuoglu H, Goldman DI (2010).  The effect of limb kinematics on the speed of a legged robot on granular media.  Experimental Mechanics.  67.  1383--1393.
  • Maladen R, Ding Y, Li C, Goldman DI (2009).  Undulatory swimming in sand: Subsurface locomotion of the sandfish lizard.  Science.  325.  314--318.
  • Li C, Umbanhowar PB, Komsuoglu H, Koditschek DE, Goldman DI (2009).  Sensitive dependence of the motion of a legged robot on granular media.  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.  106.  3029--3034.
Conference Proceedings
  • Li C, Kessens CC, Young A, Fearing RS, Full RJ (2016).  Cockroach-inspired winged robot reveals principles of ground-based dynamic self-righting.  IEEE/RSJ International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems.  2128--2134.
  • Qian F, Zhang T, Li C, Masarati P, Hoover AM, Birkmeyer P, Pullin A, Fearing RS, Goldman DI, Olin FW (2013).  Walking and running on yielding and fluidizing ground.  Robotics: Science & Systems.  345.
  • Li C, Ding Y, Gravish N, Maladen R, Masse A, Umbanhowar P, Komsuoglu H, Koditschek D, Goldman D, Paul B (2012).  Towards a terramechanics for bio-inspired locomotion in granular environments.  ASCE Earth and Space Conference.  264--273.
  • Ding Y, Gravish N, Li C, Maladen RD, Mazouchova N, Sharpe SS, Umbanhowar PB, Goldman DI (2012).  Comparative Studies Reveal Principles of Movement on and Within Granular Media.  Natural Locomotion in Fluids and on Surfaces, The IMA Volumes in Mathematics and its Applications.  281--292.
  • Li C, Zhang T, Goldman DI (2012).  A resistive force model of legged locomotion on granular media.  Proceedings of CLAWAR.  433--440.
  • Li C, Hoover AM, Birkmeyer P, Umbanhowar PB, Fearing RS, Goldman DI (2010).  Systematic study of the performance of small robots on controlled laboratory substrates.  Proceedings of SPIE.  76790Z.
Back to top