The 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.

As Cormac McCarthy wrote in his Operating Principles –– SFI: “We are beyond relentless in seeking out the best people in every discipline. We will get you here. No matter what.”

This year, ten new researchers join SFI’s external faculty

Jean Carlson investigates robustness, tradeoffs, and feedback in complex systems, studying everything from earthquakes, wildfires, and infectious disease to biomaterials, and network neuroscience. For the past 30 years, she has worked with researchers in a range of disciplines to develop the field of earthquake physics, and in 1998, introduced Highly Optimized Tolerance (HOT), a mechanism for complexity and power law distributions, with co-author John Doyle. Carlson has a long history of collaboration with SFI, including her current roles as co-organizer of the Aging, Adaptation, and the Arrow of Time theme and Advisory Board member for the JSMF Complex Systems Postdoctoral Fellowship.

She is a Professor of Physics at UC Santa Barbara.


James Evans has been developing a theoretically and computationally enhanced science of knowledge, using big data, machine learning, crowd-sourcing and theoretically-inspired models to explore how institutions, machines and minds construct knowledge through the Knowledge Lab at the University of Chicago, which he directs. “I consider the areas in which James works of central importance to a deeper understanding of the scientific enterprise in the 21st century,” says SFI President David Krakauer. Evans has given talks and participated in several workshops at SFI since 2015, and spent three weeks onsite working on his forthcoming book on knowledge as a complex system.

Evans is a Professor of Sociology and Director of the Computational Social Science program at the University of Chicago.


Alan Hastings follows his broad interests in mathematical and theoretical ecology to develop analytic models for ecological phenomena. His research into spatial ecological dynamics has incorporated approaches from social science and economics. “Alan is a leading light in theoretical ecology,” says External Professor Jon Machta (UMass Amherst), who has collaborated with Hastings to understand synchrony in population ecology by applying statistical physics to ecological questions.

Hastings is the founding Editor in Chief of the journal Theoretical Ecology and is a Distinguished Professor in the Department of Environmental Science and Policy at UC Davis.


Paul Hines studies energy systems and scientifically feasible ways to decarbonize those systems. “Simultaneously dealing with the consequences of cheap, high-carbon energy, while also driving the transition to low-carbon energy is one of the key complex systems challenges of our day,” he says. His research takes on two components of this challenge: resilience against natural and human-caused disasters, and designing systems flexible enough to incorporate multiple sources of renewable energy. Dr. Hines has participated in several SFI workshops and business network events.

He is a professor in the Department of Electrical and Biomedical Engineering, Energy and Complexity Group, at the University of Vermont.


Michael Kearns blends insights from a broad range of fields – machine learning, algorithmic game theory, computational social science, quantitative trading – to tackle problems of broad societal interest. Recently, he has studied the interactions and conflicts between machine learning and social norms like fairness and privacy to help design “better behaved” algorithms. He informs his academic work with practical, ongoing consulting work with technology and finance firms.

Kearns is a professor in the Department of Computer and Information Science at the University of Pennsylvania, and the Founding Director of the Warren Center for Network and Data Sciences and the Penn Program in Networked and Social Systems Engineering.


Willemien Kets, a behavioral economist with an interest in game theory, draws from sociology, psychology and anthropology to study the interplay of economic and sociocultural factors. Her work incorporates research on culture and cultural diversity into traditional economic models to tackle some of the central, enduring questions in economics: why societies that face the same environment can behave very differently, and why behaviors can change rapidly even when there are no environmental changes. She has been involved with SFI since participating in the 2005 CSSS, and later as an Omidyar Postdoctoral Fellow.

Kets is an Associate Professor in the Department of Economics at the University of Oxford.


Dana Randall creates mathematical models for phase transitions and emergent phenomena. Her approaches can be used to understand how organisms flock, how neighborhoods self-segregate, and how swarms of ants or robots can move as one. Widely recognized as an expert in theoretical computer science, she has collaborated with SFI Professor Cris Moore and participated in a 2018 SFI working group on the fundamental limits of inference-- our ability to find patterns in data.

Randall is the Co-Executive Director for the Institute for Data Engineering and Science; ADVANCE Professor of Computing; and Adjunct Professor, School of Mathematics at Georgia Institute of Technology.


Allison Stanger came to SFI in February of 2018 to give a talk about unintended consequences of the Internet revolution. Her “brief stint,” as she calls it, led to a collaboration with SFI’s Barbara Grosz, Liz Bradley, and Cris Moore to explore how complex societal problems can be approached scientifically. An author, economist, and political scientist, Stanger is planning an SFI workshop on the topic of her next book, tentatively titled Consumers v. Citizens: How the Internet Revolution is Remaking Global Security and Democracy’s Public Square.

She is the Russell J. Leng ’60 Professor of International Politics and Economics at Middlebury College.


Daniel Stein has been involved with SFI since 1987 when he worked to establish the first Complex Systems Summer School. In the years since, he has served on the SFI Science Board and Steering Committee and collaborated with SFI faculty on research grants and publications. His research interests have evolved from traditional condensed matter physics to the physics of disordered systems – specifically, spin glasses. “The basic idea is that the disorder and frustration of spin glasses can be used to model a variety of messy and complicated real-world problems.” Recently, he has worked with SFI Professor Mirta Galesic to connect statistical physics with social science to understand how beliefs spread.

Stein is a Professor of Physics and Mathematics at New York University.


Pamela Yeh explores what happens to populations when they encounter new conditions with multiple stressors. “Because I focus on evolution in urban and natural populations and higher-order interactions, my work is inherently tied to complex systems,” says Yeh. Her current lab-based research studies how bacteria respond to antibiotics, and her field studies monitor urban stressors on dark-eyed juncos and house sparrows. Yeh has already established several research collaborations with SFI resident faculty and postdoctoral fellows, and hopes to expand and further develop her research questions around urban noise and light pollution; higher-order interactions; and phenotypic plasticity.

Yeh is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at UCLA.