Daraio's research contributions include a version of Newton's cradle that can generate "sound bullets"—sound waves focused tightly enough to disrupt matter; walls filled with ball bearings that can pass sound in only one direction; 3d-printed self-assembling rolling robots; solar panels for space missions made of a shape-memory polymer that unfolds in sunlight; and heat-sensitive artificial skin made out of pectin for both robotic and prosthetic uses.
Daraio earned a laurea in mechanical engineering from Marche Polytechnic University in 2001, and a Ph.D. in materials science and engineering in 2006 from the University of California, San Diego. Her dissertation, Design of materials: Configurations for enhanced phononic and electronic properties, was jointly supervised by Sungho Jin and Vitali Nesterenko.
She joined the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) faculty in 2006, and has remained there since with a leave from 2013 to 2016 to take a chair of Mechanics and Materials at ETH Zurich. At Caltech, she was initially in the Aeronautics and Applied Physics department, where she was promoted to full professor in 2010; she moved to the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Applied Physics in 2016.
Daraio won the Felice De Carli Medal of the Italian Metallurgical Society in 2006, and the Richard von Mises Prize of the Gesellschaft für Angewandte Mathematik und Mechanik in 2008.
In 2018 she won the UC San Diego Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Outstanding Alumna Award, "for outstanding achievements in mechanical metamaterials and materials science".