Santa Fe Institute

Physics and Computation of Complex Systems

Fundamental physics is a founding research area at SFI, and its methods and theories remain at the core of the Institute's scientific research. The Institute's researchers draw from these theories and techniques, particularly from statistical mechanics, to study how complex systems behave.

In many systems flows of information are more important than flows of energy or nutrients. In the most general sense, computation is the process of storing, transmitting, and transforming information from one form to another. In computation a mathematical equation (known as an algorithm) describes a problem and a path to its solution, searching for ways to balance competing constraints.

SFI research on computation includes the study of such search problems, including phase transitions where – as when water freezes – a problem suddenly becomes rigid and unsolvable if there are too many constraints. SFI researchers also study the strengths and limitations of algorithms whether they take place on our laptops, among networks of agents, or in the quantum world.