Some 650 U.S. research centers host NSF-sponsored Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) summer programs. Only one offers its participants a chance to work shoulder to shoulder with the leading thinkers in complex systems science.

Juniper Lovato, SFI Education Program Coordinator, says a key motive of the Institute’s REU program is to train the next generation of complexity scholars to one day take over as leading complexity scholars.

SFI 2014 REU Marcus Levine, who is double majoring in astrophysics and philosophy from Columbia University, says his stay at SFI has provided him a unique opportunity to immerse in a topic of his choice – analysis of the human microbiome, “ecosystems” in the human body that he believes haven’t received enough attention.

“It occurred to me that we really don’t have a good dataset for microbial interaction in the human body,” says Levine. “Something I’m trying to do is identify structures in these interaction networks.” 

His SFI mentors included Professor David Wolpert, Omidyar Fellow Eric Libby, and former Omidyar Fellow James O’Dwyer.

For 2014 REU Emily Robertson, an economics major from Portland State University, the economy is a complex system, and she is interested in understanding how cooperative behavior emerges in large groups of people.

Her research so far has involved creating threshold models for collective action problems, in which individuals decide whether or not to participate in a collective action. She hopes her research will provide insight into individual decision-making strategies in massive social gatherings like the Arab Spring protests of 2010-2011.

She worked alongside SFI External Professor John Miller.

“Research opportunities at larger schools can be limited, and most projects prefer students with prior experience,” she says. “I never would have received this amount of attention at Portland State.”