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Complexity Interactive
Online | Exploratory | Transdisciplinary

Program Overview

A new program from the Santa Fe Institute combines the guided interaction of an in-person course with the flexibility to learn from anywhere in the world. This three-week, part-time, online course offers participants a theory- and applications-based view of complexity science. Complexity Interactive will focus on providing a foundation for thinking broadly about complex systems, encouraging participants to explore syntheses across systems in an open dialog with SFI faculty. SFI-CI will be limited to ~ 50 participants to ensure everyone has ample opportunity to discuss with faculty and with each other.



Complexity Interactive is aimed at practicing researchers from academic, private, non-profit, and government sectors who wish to understand how the methods and philosophy of a complex systems approach may enhance their work. The curriculum is especially suited to graduate students and postdocs (or those at similar career stages) in a particular discipline who wish to develop a more trans-disciplinary, mutualistic approach in their work.

Dates & Times

12 - 30 October 2020

“Live” events* [All times Mountain Time (GMT –06:00)]

M: 10:00am –  12:30pm

Tu: 10:00am – 12:00pm

W: 10:00am – 2:00pm

Th: 10:00am – 12:00pm

F: 10:00am – 1:30pm

Plus about 5-10 hours per week of self-scheduled time for group projects, office hours, and self-directed study

* minor changes are possible; applicants offered admission will be notified of the final schedule prior to registration


●  A series of live* lectures, panel discussions, and Q&As organized around select themes in complexity science. Content will cover methods/approaches, applications, debates, and open questions.   

●  Mentored group projects will provide practice in the content introduced in tutorials and lectures and allow exploration of complex systems research.

●  Curated recorded materials as well as quizzes, problem sets, and recommended readings will provide a reference and resource for foundational theory.

       * Recorded and archived for participants during the course. 

Participants will receive a certification of completion from the Santa Fe Institute at the conclusion of the course.


The curriculum will focus on the broad themes of robustness, adaptation and transmission, and criticality as evident in a variety of systems.


The Complexity Interactive faculty incorporates the diverse interests of SFI scientists. Speakers include:

Jenna Bednar • Government   U Michigan | Santa Fe Institute
Aviv Bergman • Genes   Albert Einstein College of Medicine | Santa Fe Institute
Luís Bettencourt • Cities   U Chicago | Santa Fe Institute
Simon DeDeo • Culture   Carnegie Mellon U | Santa Fe Institute
Jean Carlson • Disasters   University of California | Santa Fe Institute
Doyne Farmer • Economies   University of Oxford | Santa Fe Institute
Mirta Galesic • Opinions   Santa Fe Institute
Michelle Girvan • Tipping Points   University of Maryland | Santa Fe Institute
Chris Kempes • Lifeforms   Santa Fe Institute
Cristopher Moore • Algorithms   Santa Fe Institute
Melanie Mitchell • AIs   Portland State U | Santa Fe Institute
Melanie Moses • Robots   U New Mexico | Santa Fe Institute
Mark Newman • Communities   University of Michigan | Santa Fe Institute
Orit Peleg • Insects   U Colorado Boulder | Santa Fe Institute
Marten Scheffer • Ecosystems   Wageningen U | Santa Fe Institute
Ricard Solé • Patterns   U Pompeu Fabra | Santa Fe Institute
Stefan Thurner • Power Laws   Medical University of Vienna | Santa Fe Institute

More may be announced.


If accepted into Complexity Interactive, participants will be expected to pay a $500 tuition. A small number of scholarships are available to participants who can articulate a need for support; scholarship application instructions will be provided upon acceptance into the program.

Tuition helps us pay stipends to the program Teaching Assistants and course director and to offer our faculty a nominal honorarium. Most of our faculty have substantial teaching duties at their home institutions and we greatly appreciate and wish to recognize their willingness to make time to contribute to SFI educational programs.

Program Goals 

After completing the Complexity Interactive, participants will be able to:

  1. Recognize cross-system regularities that govern complex systems and have a vocabulary for describing those properties. 
  2. Describe the mathematical and/or physical bases of information, computation, and complexity.
  3. Discuss the approaches used to understand and model complex systems and considerations for employing different approaches.
  4. Qualitatively compare complex systems across scales and compositions.
  5. Apply methods from information theory, computational theory, evolutionary theory, and/or game theory to a question in complex systems science.


Because of the short duration of the program, Complexity Interactive will facilitate the identification of project ideas and the formation of project groups. Participants will be invited to choose from approximately ten broad project ideas, each of which will be associated with an SFI mentor. Participants will also have an opportunity to propose novel projects to their peers. Participants will select from among all of the project ideas presented.


We will be using the following platforms to provide content and facilitate interactions: google classroom, Zoom, Slack, YouTube, AWS. Please ensure that you can access all of these in order to participate fully in the program.

Application Requirements

Applicants must submit an online application, Apply Here, which will include:

- Completing the application form. 

- Uploading a current CV or resume.

- Uploading a statement that describes your interest in the course (1 page maximum).

- Uploading a short essay to describe a question, issue, or problem that you have a deep interest in (1 page maximum). 

It is the applicant's responsibility to ensure that all materials have been submitted by the deadline.

To Apply

Online applications will open from July 7, 2020, and close at 11:59 PM MDT August 31, 2020. Please start your application now to meet the deadline. Applicants should be notified by e-mail regarding the status of their applications in mid September 2020.

Questions: email (We are not available by telephone at this time.)

SFI Complexity Interactive (SFI-CI) compared to Complex Systems Summer School (CSSS)

SFI-CI and CSSS are complementary but distinct programs.

SFI-CI is an online course that runs part-time for three (3) weeks. The curriculum focuses on a few themes in each offering to enable participants to fully explore those ideas across diverse systems.  Its projects are necessarily limited in scope, intended to provide practice in applying the tools of complexity science. It serves participants who are interested in thinking broadly about complex systems. SFI-CI also fills a gap for participants who cannot devote four weeks of full-time study in Santa Fe for CSSS because of professional or personal obligations, financial considerations, and/or travel complications.

CSSS is a residential, in-person course that meets from 9-5 weekdays for four (4) weeks with extracurricular activities on evenings and weekends. The curriculum spans the breadth of complex systems concepts.  Its projects are wider in scope and many of the projects reach publication after the program. It serves participants who have expertise in a particular domain but who want to enhance their approach with a complexity perspective. The course requires a four-week commitment to an intensive, scientific retreat-like environment.