Photo by Rodion Kutsaev, Unsplash

Program Overview

Location: Santa Fe Institute (SFI) | Santa Fe, New Mexico, Southwest United States

Dates: June 5 to August 13, 2022

The SFI Undergraduate Complexity Research (UCR) program provides a ten-week residential research experience during which students develop innovative research projects in collaboration with an SFI mentor. The program asks students to discard traditional disciplinary boundaries, and combine concepts and tools from the physical, natural, and social sciences. This allows students to ask big questions about real-world complex systems using the rigorous methods employed at the Santa Fe Institute. The program is designed to assist students in developing their own research questions and projects in close collaboration with the SFI faculty and postdoctoral fellows. Explore past UCR projects in our Proceedings pages.

2020 SFI UCR Group who participated online.

The v-UCR program was an incredible learning experience that helped shape my research passions. The staff, my mentors, and my cohort peers provided so much support and inspiration! Throughout the summer, I was constantly reminded of how palpable the SFI spirit is, even through a computer screen.  -- 2020 Participant

2019 SFI UCR Group at the Santa Fe Opera with UCR Mentor Vicky Yang

It has become increasingly vital for students across the sciences to gain computational and mathematical skills: the ability to translate real-world systems into quantitative models, carry out computational experiments, analyze these experiments using statistics, and compare results with real-world data.  Students need to understand the strengths and weaknesses of multiple types of models — such as differential equations, discrete stochastic processes, and agent-based simulations — and judge which are useful for a given scientific question. At the same time, there is the need to combine these quantitative techniques with knowledge about specific systems in order to address the most important and frontier questions of the 21st century. The SFI UCR program is designed to meet these 21st-century needs through an exchange of quantitative techniques and specific knowledge.

The UCRs naturally form a tight-knit and supportive community, facilitated by living together in a campus setting and participating in a variety of social activities. Students are encouraged to, and in practice do, support each other socially and academically. Given the multi-disciplinary nature of the students and the program, students support each other using their respective strengths: a math major might help a biologist with a calculation; a computer science major might help coding and analyzing an algorithm; and a social or behavioral science major might help transform and analyze experimental data.


Video Interviews

Watch this video of interviews with our undergraduate alumni and hear about their experiences in the program at SFI. Note: the program's name was changed from Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) to Undergraduate Complexity Research (UCR) in 2020.

More Program Information

The program recruits undergraduates from many different majors, ranging from computer science to physics, mathematics, biology, and the social sciences. We pair these students with mentors from many different scientific backgrounds, who guide the UCRs through projects that cross multiple fields. Recent project areas have included natural language processing, topic modeling, epidemiology, network theory, cell biology, and statistical physics. Projects have ranged from simulation to data analysis to proving theorems.

Students are in residence in Santa Fe for approximately 10 weeks. Prior to their SFI residency, students are encouraged to complete the online course “Introduction to Complexity” available on SFI’s Complexity Explorer ( Throughout the summer, students are offered tutorials on the basics of data analysis, including concepts from computation, linear algebra, and statistics. Tutorials are also offered on science writing, presenting research, applying for jobs in science and how to pick a graduate school that is right for you.

UCR Final Presentations

Program Leaders

Mentors in this program include a range of specialists, including SFI resident and external faculty and post-doctoral fellows. The principal investigator of the UCR program, Christopher Kempes, is an SFI Professor.  Chris generally focuses his work on biological architecture—which may include phenomena ranging from explicit biological morphology to metabolic and genetic network structure—as an intermediate between organism physiology and environmental conditions. 


Housing and meals are provided at no cost to every student accepted into the program. Students reside in double-occupancy rooms with shared bathrooms at a nearby college in Santa Fe. Because Santa Fe lacks a full public transportation system, we encourage interns who can bring private transportation to do so. They can arrange to be reimbursed for travel to the institute and back to campus each day. A stipend of $600/week is also provided to students.


For the purposes of this program, an undergraduate student is a student who is enrolled in a degree program (part-time or full-time) leading to a baccalaureate or associate degree. Students transferring from one institution to another who are enrolled at neither institution during the intervening summer may participate. College seniors graduating before December 2021 are not eligible. High school graduates who have been accepted at an undergraduate institution but who have not yet started their undergraduate study are also eligible to apply. International students are welcome to apply.

Students must be able to attend all ten weeks of the program and start on Monday, June 7.

Strong mathematical skills and experience with a programming language are favorably considered. Students from all backgrounds in the physical, natural, and social sciences are invited to participate. Applicants are welcome from any country. Accepted applicants who are not US citizens or permanent residents will receive assistance with visa sponsorship as appropriate to their individual circumstances.

Women, students from underrepresented groups, and students from institutions with limited research opportunities are especially encouraged to apply.

Participant Quotes

It's not just about meeting interesting people, but exceptional people who are all exceptional in very different ways. -- 2019 Participant

I have already started to try and convince other students to apply to the program! I usually explain that it changes the way you think about thinking, and lets you combine everything you have ever been interested in, even if it isn't STEM-focused, and helps you make something cool out of it-- 2019 Participant

Mentors guide you – you can come to them with an idea and they will help you achieve it. -- 2019 Participant

The UCR program at SFI is one of the weirdest places that you can spend your summer, and it is the type of opportunity that can be offered no where else on this Earth. You will be stretched intellectually and welcomed into the SFI family with open arms. Your fellow UCRs will help show you new ways of thinking and together you will create a summer that will be some of the best months of you life. -- 2018 Participant

UCRs at Work

Application Requirements

All applicants need to complete an online application. The application will require the following items (application tasks will guide you): 

  • Completed application form
  • One (1) letter of recommendation from a professor or advisor (see application for details). A second letter of recommendation can be requested (optional).
  • Current resume or CV
  • Statement of research interests (see application for details).
  • Transcript from each college or university attended. Be sure to request your transcripts from the registrar sufficiently in advance so that you can upload it to your application by the January deadline.

Note About PDFs: All documents uploaded as part of your application must be in a PDF format. Please ensure that the document is not password protected or encrypted. If we cannot open the document, you will be ineligible for the official review.

UCR with SFI Mentor Artemy Kolchinsky

To Apply

Use the APPY NOW button on the top of this page once the application process opens for the next year. All application requirements must be met by the deadline to be considered for review. No exceptions.

We plan to open the 2022 application process in mid October 2021.

For further information about the program, please e-mail, or call (505) 946-2726.

Program Support

The Santa Fe Institute UCR Program is supported by the National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program under Grant Number ACI-1757923, the ASU-SFI Center for Biosocial Complex Systems and private donors. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation or Arizona State University.

UCRs with SFI Mentor Joshua Garland