Research pursuits at SFI are highly exploratory, often risky expeditions into the unknown. Because we are looking for patterns and processes common to many kinds of systems – across physical, biological, social, technological realms – an insight or solution for one kind of system often snowballs into insights about other kinds of systems, perhaps across them all.
SFI scientists use mathematical and computational approaches to search for deep similarities between complex systems such as proteins in cells, people in cities, and species in ecosystems. By combining “big theory” with “big data,” they have made significant contributions to network science, scaling theory, ecological stability and resilience, genetic algorithms, agent-based modeling, physics of computation (quantum, biological, and social), mathematical epidemiology and immunology, complexity economics, and sustainable cities, among other areas.
Our scientific “kingdom” is complexity. Our “species” are individual research papers. Somewhere in the middle of this taxonomy are the “family"-level research themes and "genus"-level projects which draw together large networks of researchers in our resident and external faculty and define new frontiers in scientific understanding.
“Today the network of relationships linking the human race to itself and to the rest of the biosphere is so complex that all aspects affect all others to an extraordinary degree. Someone should be studying the whole systems, however crudely that has to be done, because no gluing together of partial studies of a complex nonlinear system can give a good idea of the behavior of the whole.” — Nobel Laureate, physicist, and pioneering complexity scientist Murray Gell-Mann on why he co-founded the Santa Fe Institute in 1984