Our Mission

Searching for Order in the Complexity of Evolving Worlds

Our researchers endeavor to understand and unify the underlying, shared patterns in complex physical, biological, social, cultural, technological, and even possible astrobiological worlds. Our global research network of scholars spans borders, departments, and disciplines, unifying curious minds steeped in rigorous logical, mathematical, and computational reasoning. As we reveal the unseen mechanisms and processes that shape these evolving worlds, we seek to use this understanding to promote the well-being of humankind and of life on earth.

What is Complex Systems Science?

Complexity arises in any system in which many agents interact and adapt to one another and their environments. Examples of these complex systems include the nervous system, the Internet, ecosystems, economies, cities, and civilizations. As individual agents interact and adapt within these systems, evolutionary processes and often surprising "emergent" behaviors arise at the macro level. Complexity science attempts to find common mechanisms that lead to complexity in nominally distinct physical, biological, social, and technological systems.

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Applications and Impact

​​​​​​​SFI has contributed new methods, applications, and frameworks in a large number of areas. A few of these with significant impact are listed below.

Science of Networks: Small worlds, clustering and cliques, communities

Scaling Theory: Limits to lifespan, diversity, urban growth and development

Ecological Stability & Resilience: Forests, islands, prehistoric communities

Genetic Algorithms: Optimization of markets, search, cybersecurity

Agent-based Modeling: Pandemics, evolutionary economics, game mechanics, conflict modeling

Physics of Computation: Quantum computation, biological computation, social computation

Mathematical Immunology: HIV, influenza, Ebola, the microbiome

Origin of Life: Prebiotic chemistry, protocells, astrobiology, artificial life

Theory of Robustness & Fragility: Ecology, physiology, societal collapse and catastrophe

Complex Economies: Inequality, cooperation, systemic risk, financial markets development

Cities & Urbanization: Socio-economic networks, infrastructure, sustainable development

SFI's History

Founded in 1984, the Santa Fe Institute was the first research institute dedicated to the study of complex adaptive systems. We are operated as an independent, nonprofit 501(c)(3) research and education center.

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SFI Timeline