Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Computer Science

Major Professor

Bruce J. MacLennan

Committee Members

Lynne E. Parker, James S. Plank, Louis J. Gross


Artificial morphogenesis (or morphogenetic engineering) seeks inspiration from developmental biology to engineer self-organizing systems. The Morphgen language uses partial differential equations (PDEs) to express artificial morphogenetic processes as spatial fields describing large numbers of agents in the continuum limit. I present an approach to compile such systems of PDEs by discretizing their behavior to derive controllers for finite numbers of agents of finite size. This approach builds on a generalization of methods to control swarms of robots based on the computational fluid dynamics technique of smoothed particle hydrodynamics (SPH). I address potential scalability and efficiency challenges in SPH robotics by proposing embodied kernel functions that allow key operations to be offloaded to the physical environment. These kernel functions assume the ability of agents to produce local physical fields with certain properties. I especially explore the possibility of cell-like agents able to control the secretion rate of morphogens that diffuse and are degraded in an aqueous medium. I present strategies to mitigate gaps between simplifying assumptions and expected realities. I explore in simulation the validity, accuracy, and robustness of these strategies and of my overall approach.

diffdemo.mp4 (1931 kB)
Simulation of basic heat equation Morphgen program

difftransdemo.mp4 (2013 kB)
Simulation of heat equation Morphgen program with lateral motion

advectdemo.mp4 (908 kB)
Simulation of Morphgen program holding pattern despite agent motion

growthdemo.mp4 (3278 kB)
Simulation of plant stem Morphgen program

overgrowth.mp4 (6261 kB)
Simulation showing tumor-like overgrowth in plant stem Morphgen program

growxdemo.mp4 (5995 kB)
Simulation of Morphgen program with two crossing plant stems

pathdemo.mp4 (21919 kB)
Simulation of Morphgen program for path finding

Files over 3MB may be slow to open. For best results, right-click and select "save as..."