Vertical aerial view of a tiger bush plateau in Niger. Vegetation is dominated by Combretum micranthum and Guiera senegalensis. Image size : 5 x 5 km on the ground. Satellite image from the Declassified corona KH-4A national intelligence reconnaissance system, 1965-12-31. US Agency - Data available from the U.S. Geological Survey. Source: Wikipedia.

Robustness in Biological Systems

15531726881_d61f680f97_oAn Interdisciplinary Workshop held at University Campus Bio-Medico in Rome, October 14-15, 2014.

With increasing interest in systems biology, properties at the system level such as robustness have attracted relevant scientific research.Robustness is a central concept in physics, chemistry and engineering, as it deals with different aspects of systems adapting to boundary changes without loosing their functional initial configuration. The concept of robustness is really important to define the organism as it reveals its individuality and persistence, its ability to maintain the initial functional structure through contingent changes, i.e. internal and external perturbations.

The aim of this workshop is to work on the philosophical foundations of the promising concept of robustness, focusing particularly on its relevance in order to characterize the peculiarity of living systems dynamics and relationships.

In this regard, we give particular attention to three organismic dimensions:

  • the relationship between autonomy and robustness;
  • the identification of the main organizational principles underlying robustness;
  • the increasingly evident crucial role of robustness in endorsing both evolutionary and developmental changes.

These different dimensions will shed light both on the ontological closure of living systems as on their peculiar capacity of adaptive transformation.

An integrative approach characterizes the whole workshop and discussion: on one hand going deeper into the theoretical and philosophical groundings of the concept, phenomenologically finding the evidence of the concept, while, on the other, pointing out the actual applications of the concept of robustness in scientific practice. Practitioners from different sciences join the workshop, such as: biology, physics, chemistry, environmental engineering, life and sustainability sciences.

Goal of the workshop is to rise relevant questions as well as to encourage interdisciplinary discussions surrounding the topic of Robustness.


Plenary Session – Gerald H. Pollack

Session: The methodological and conceptual foundations of robustness

Silvia Caianiello – Prolegomena to a history of the notion of robustness

Guido Caniglia – Robustness, Integration and What We Can Do When We Cannot Observe Something

Sandra D. Mitchell – Challenges of Robustness for Causal Explanation

Philippe Huneman – Robustness as an explanandum and explanans in evolutionary biology and ecology

Session: Talking about robustness

Giuseppe Vitiello – Dynamical rearrangement of Symmetry, minimum stimulus and robustness

Luisa Di Paola, Alessandro Giuliani – Ecological Process Design and Robustness: the Case of Biofuels

Simonetta Filippi – Robustness and Emergent Dynamics in Noisy Biological Systems

Flavio Keller – Robustness and Embodiment of Higher Cognitive Functions

Marcella Trombetta – Tissue Engineering and Cell Driving

Alfredo Marcos – Difference

Alvaro Moreno – Robustness and Autonomy


Full program on

More pictures on Flickr.


Marta BertolasoUniversità Campus Bio-Medico di Roma, FAST e Facoltà di Ingegneria

Philosophical and Scientific Steering Committee

Marta BertolasoUniversità Campus Bio-Medico di Roma, FAST e Facoltà di Ingegneria

Sandra D. Mitchell – University of Pittsburgh

Jane Maienschein – Arizona State University

Simonetta FilippiUniversità Campus Bio-Medico di Roma, Facoltà di Ingegneria

Flavio KellerUniversità Campus  Bio-Medico di Roma, Facoltà di Medicina

Organization contact person

Silvia CaianielloISPF, C.N.R.

Local Organizing Committee

Luca Valera – Università Campus Bio-Medico di Roma, FAST

Anna Maria Dieli – Università Tor Vergata, Roma; IHPST, Paris

Organized by
With the contribution of


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