Core Faculty Profile

Malcolm A. MacIver

Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanical Engineering

2145 Sheridan Road

Tech B292

Evanston, IL 60208-3107

maciver( at )


Ph.D. Neuroscience, Univeristy of Illinois at Urbana, Champaign, IL

M.A. Philosophy, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON

B.S. Computer Science, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON

Research Interests

Professor MacIver believes that the body’s mechanical intelligence can be just as important, if not more important, than what’s going on in your head. His primary scientific efforts are in understanding how animal mechanics and sensory abilities fit together, and he pursues that problem using approaches from neuroscience, animal behavior studies, robotics, mathematical modeling, and computer simulations. In engineering, he has pioneered the development of a new sensor inspired by the ability of certain fish to sense using a self-generated electric field, and highly maneuverable propulsion systems based on fish locomotion. In 2009 he received the Presidential Early Career Award for Science and Engineering from President Obama at the White House, the highest award given to emerging scientists by the government. He develops science-inspired interactive art installations that have exhibited internationally, has served as science advisor for several sci-fi TV series and movies (Battlestar Galactica prequel CapricaTron LegacySuperman, Man of Steel), and has been a blogger for Discover Magazine.

Significant Recognition

  • Presidential Early Career Award for Science and Engineering, 2009
  • NSF Career Award, 2009

Significant Professional Service

  • Organizer, First International Symposium on Robotic Electrosense, Aug 2012 College Park MD
  • Science Consultant for movie and television industry, National Academy of Science's Science Entertainment Exchange
  • Northwestern Faculty Senate Representative

In the Classroom

Prof. MacIver teaches graduate level courses in neural engineering (BME 464 Neuromechatronics, and BME 461 Computational Neuromechanics and Neuroethology), as well as undergraduate classes in biomechanics and data acquisition and analysis for mechanical engineers.

Selected Publications

    Bale, R., A. P. S. Bhalla, I. D. Neveln, M. A. MacIver, and N. A. Patankar. Convergent evolution of mechanically optimal locomotion in aquatic invertebrates and vertebrates. Under review, Science.

    Bale, R. A., Shirgaonkar, A. A., Neveln, I. D., Bhalla, A. P. S., MacIver, M. A., Patankar, N.A. Separability of drag and thrust in undulatory animals and machines. Under review, Journal of the Royal Society Interface.

    Neveln, I. D., Bale, R., Bhalla, A. P. S., Curet, O. M., Patankar, N. A., MacIver, M. A. Undulating fins produce off-axis thrust and flow structures. Journal of Experimental Biology, In press. Advance Online Publication posted Sept 26, 2013, doi: 10.1242/jeb.091520.

    Shahin S., Neveln, I., Mitchel T., Snyder, J. B., MacIver, M. A., Fortune, E. S., Cowan N. J. (2013). Mutually opposing forces during locomotion can eliminate the tradeoff between maneuverability and stability. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, In Press.

    Neveln, I. D., Bai, Y., Snyder, J. B., Solberg, James R., Curet, O. M., Lynch, Kevin M., & MacIver, M. A. (2013). Biomimetic and bio-inspired robotics in electric fish research. Journal of Experimental Biology, 216, 2501-2514.

    Patterson, B.W., Abraham*, A.O., MacIver, M.A., & McLean, D. L. (2013). Visually guided gradation of prey capture movements in larval zebrafish. Journal of Experimental Biology, 216, 3071-3083.

    Ruiz-Torres, R., Curet, O. M., Lauder, G. V., & MacIver, M.A. (2012). Kinematics of the ribbon fin in hovering and swimming of the electric ghost knifefish. Journal of Experimental Biology, 216, 823-834.

    MacIver, M. A. Fitting Science and Screen [Book Review]. Science, 6 May 2011: Vol. 332 no. 6030 p. 665. DOI: 10.1126/science.1205130.

    Curet, O.M., Patankar, N. A., Lauder, G.V., MacIver, M. A. (2011) Mechanical properties of a bio-inspired robotic knifefish with an undulatory propulsor. Bioinspiration & Biomimetics, published online before print April 7, 2011, doi:10.1088/1748-3182/6/2/026004.

    Curet, O.M., Patankar, N. A., Lauder, G.V., MacIver, M. A. (2010) Aquatic maneuvering with counter-propagating waves: a novel locomotive strategy. Journal of the Royal Society Interface, July 6, 2011 8:1041-1050; published online before print December 22, 2010, doi: 10.1098/rsif.2010.0493. Cover.

    MacIver, M.A., Patankar, N. A., Shirgaonkar, A. A. (2010) Energy-information trade-offs between movement and sensing. PLoS Computational Biology 6(5): e1000769. doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.1000769.

    Curet, O.M., AlAli, I. K., MacIver, M.A., Patankar, N. A. (2010) A versatile implicit iterative approach for fully resolved simulation of self-propulsion. Computer Methods in Applied Mechanics and Engineering, doi:10.1016/j.cma.2010.03.026.

    Shirgaonkar, A. S., MacIver, M. A., Patankar, N. A. (2009) A new mathematical formulation and fast algorithm for fully resolved simulation of self-propulsion. Journal of Computational Physics, 228, 2366-2390.

    Postlethwaite, C. M., Psemeneki, T. M., Selimkhanov*, J., Silber, M., MacIver, M. A. (2009) Optimal movement in the prey strikes of weakly electric fish: A case study of the interplay of body plan and movement capability. Journal of the Royal Society Interface. Published online Oct 8, 2008; doi:10.1098/rsif.2008.0286; published in journal 2009. *Undergraduate researcher.

    Shirgaonkar, A. A., Curet, O.M., Patankar, N. A., MacIver, M. A. (2008) The hydrodynamics of ribbon-fin propulsion under impulsive motion. Journal of Experimental Biology 211: 3490-3503.

    Solberg, J. R., Lynch, K. M., & MacIver, M. A. (2008). Active electrolocation for underwater target localization. International Journal of Robotics Research, 27(5), 529-548.

    Snyder, J.B., Nelson, M.E., Burdick, J. W., MacIver, M.A. (2007) Omnidirectional sensory and movement volumes in electric fish. PLoS Biology 5(11): e301.

    Nelson, M.E. and MacIver, M.A. (2006) Sensory acquisition in active sensing systems. Journal of Comparative Physiology A 192: 573-586.

    MacIver, M.A., Fontaine, E., Burdick, J. W. (2004) Designing future underwater vehicles: principles and mechanisms of the weakly electric fish. IEEE Journal of Oceanic Engineering 29(3):651-659.


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