SFI welcomes new External Faculty

External Faculty are central to SFI’s identity as a world-class research institute. They enrich our networks of interactions, help us push the boundaries of complex systems science, and connect us to over 70 institutions around the globe. SFI welcomes eight new External Faculty members. 

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Working group explores feasible — but undiscovered — metabolisms

From the perch of modernity, it is tempting to envision the limbs of the tree of life as inevitable, a steady march toward existence from one generation to the next. Some branches in the tree are shorter than others, of course — tales of extinction, from the asteroid-blasted dinosaurs to the human-blasted passenger pigeon, offer a tragic alternative vision of what life on Earth could look like today.  An August working group, “Feasible but Undiscovered Metabolisms II: Thermodynamics, Evolution, and the Origin of Life,” explores spaces of undiscovered life.

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Study: The importance of the mesoscale

From the smallest, micro-scales to large, macro-scales, the workings of many systems can be understood at multiple levels. Growing evidence suggests that the mesoscale, which connects the two extremes, is a good starting point when trying to build an ontology or complete understanding of a system. In a new paper in Philosophy of Science, Julia Bursten (University of Kentucky) and SFI Postdoctoral Fellow Kelle Dhein add to that argument, highlighting the importance of the mesoscale through a case study of modeling insect behavior at multiple scales.

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Alison Gopnik wins Rumelhart Prize

The Cognitive Science Society announced SFI External Professor Alison Gopnik as the 2024 winner of the Rumelhart Prize for her contributions to the field of cognitive science. 

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Research News: Tit for tattling — cooperation, communication, and altruism

Altruistic behavior often comes at a personal cost, but there are also benefits. The person you help might return the favor directly — tit-for-tat. Or, people might talk about your good deeds, and reciprocity could come via a third party.  In a recent paper in Evolution and Human Behavior, SFI Graduate Fellow Victor Odouard and former Applied Complexity Fellow Michael Price explore the communication systems necessary to sustain indirect reciprocity.

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Workshop explores complex-systems solutions for 21st-Century challenges

When COVID-19 hit, SFI External Professor J. Doyne Farmer (University of Oxford) wanted to use his expertise to help predict how the economy would respond to the emerging pandemic. But the realities of COVID-19 — like so many of the concerns humanity currently faces — didn’t fit neatly into standard economic theory. It meant that he and his colleagues had to build new models based on “complexity economics” to make those predictions.

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SFI hosts conference-style event on Collective Intelligence

SFI hosted its first public conference-style event June 20-22 at the La Fonda Hotel in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The event, which focused on the foundations of collective intelligence and was a combined symposium and short course, drew over 200 in-person attendees and about 150 virtual participants from around the world. 

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Wendy Carlin named Fellow of the British Academy

The British Academy announced its list of Fellows for 2023, which included SFI External Professor Wendy Carlin. She was among 52 other distinguished individuals recognized for their significant contributions to research in the humanities and social sciences.

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Study: An inverse model for food webs and ecosystem stability

In a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, authors Gabriel Gellner and Kevin McCann from the University of Guelph and SFI External Professor Alan Hastings (UC Davis) invert a classical approach to modeling food webs. Instead of trying to replicate stable, complex ecosystems using simplistic representations of species interactions, the authors’ novel inverse method assumes the ecosystems exist and works backward to characterize food webs that support that assumption.

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Two SFI External Faculty named Network Science Society Fellows

The Network Science Society announced SFI External Professors Aaron Clauset and Tina Eliassi-Rad as two of their 2023 Fellows in recognition for their contributions in network science. The ceremony was held in Vienna, Austria as part of the International Conference on Network Science. 

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Study: Unravelling a debate on insect cognition

There’s a debate among insect-cognition researchers, but the two camps have been arguing for so many decades that many onlookers are no longer sure what they are arguing about. SFI Postdoctoral Fellow Kelle Dhein, a philosopher and historian, published a paper in Studies in History and Philosophy of Science on February 28, 2023, clarifying the debate, with lessons for philosophers, historians, and scientists alike.

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Phase transitions in big data

By using knowledge of phase transitions in physical systems, researchers can gain new insights into more efficient ways to answer questions about patterns and structures in sprawling datasets. SFI Professor Cris Moore recently organized a working group, held July 17–21 at SFI, that brought together experts from computer science, physics, and mathematics to explore connections between theoretical computer science and spin-glass theory, which is a framework for understanding phase transitions in complex materials. 

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Harnessing sensory prediction for nonliving systems

Prediction is a key part of complex systems, in a wide variety of fields. Physicists and mathematicians use prediction performance to evaluate their models of mechanical systems; engineering prediction algorithms can inform the design of complicated devices. Prediction is also integral in artificial intelligence, in large language models like ChatGPT, which are designed to predict a word or words that follow from a prompt. A July 10–14 workshop at SFI called “Sensory Prediction: Engineered and Evolved” met to discuss how to build better models of prediction in living organisms.

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Tina Eliassi-Rad awarded the Lagrange Prize

SFI External Professor Tina Eliassi-Rad won the 2023 Lagrange Prize. The LaGrange Prize recognizes researchers and scientists for their excellence in the study of complexity. The award ceremony was held in Turin, Italy.  

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Applications open for the first Complexity Global School

Graduate students and early-career scholars, as well as change-makers in civil society and industry, based in South Asia and Africa are invited to apply for the first Complexity Global School (CGS) for Emerging Political Economies. CGS will run two concurrent schools — one in South Africa and one in India — December 3–15, 2023. All accepted participants will receive full scholarships, and travel stipends where applicable.

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SFI Board welcomes Dan Tierney

The Santa Fe Institute’s Board of Trustees welcomed Dan Tierney as a new member during the May 2023 Science Board & Board of Trustees Symposium. Tierney, an investor and the founder of Wicklow Capital, describes himself as a systems thinker, innately drawn to interdisciplinary approaches and innovation.

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In memoriam: Cormac McCarthy

Cormac McCarthy, a trustee of the Santa Fe Institute and one of the greatest American novelists, passed away on Tuesday, June 12, at his home in Santa Fe. He was 89 years old.

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