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ASU, Santa Fe Institute launch Center for Biosocial Complex Systems

Arizona State University and Santa Fe Institute partner
January 12, 2015

Arizona State University and the Santa Fe Institute (SFI) will officially launch a research and educational collaboration to advance understanding of problems that stretch across complex biological and social systems.

The new ASU-SFI Center for Biosocial Complex Systems will help scientists and policymakers alike gain a better theoretical understanding of the interconnections between these systems, and apply that knowledge to questions such as what happens to institutions, health care and human behavior as cities grow into mega-cities.

“The synergy of two intellectual powerhouses, such as SFI and ASU, can accelerate how our community and nation tackle questions such as disease patterns and health care delivery,” ASU President Michael Crow said. “We can generate tools to better understand how decision-making systems work when scaled up, to the level of the urban megalopolis.”

The research and educational collaboration pairs researchers from ASU, a leader in sustainability research, and the Santa Fe Institute, a pioneer in the scientific study of complex adaptive systems, in seeking new insights.

“This new ASU-SFI collaborative venture has immense potential for the advancement of complexity science at both institutions,” Santa Fe Institute President Jerry Sabloff said. “It promises to be a highly successful experiment.”

The new center is the Santa Fe Institute’s first formal collaboration with a university since the institute was founded in 1984. Sabloff said he hopes it leads to additional partnerships.

Crow and Sabloff will formally establish the ASU-SFI Center for Biosocial Complex Systems during a signing ceremony Jan. 16 in Tempe.

The new complex systems center could offer ideas and solutions locally and globally. Two active areas of interest to the ASU-SFI partnership are the dynamics of innovation, and urbanization and scaling in cities, such as Phoenix. As cities grow, they face new dilemmas and challenges, especially as they strive to be more sustainable.

In Germany, for example, the populace was recently encouraged to reduce water use as a sustainability strategy. It was highly successful. The strategy, however, didn’t take into account an unintended outcome of millions of people shifting their behaviors. A direct result of less water usage was that the local water tables increased in cities like Berlin, and basements and construction sites flooded. A goal for the new ASU center is to play a leading role in finding solutions to these types of new challenges of the modern world.

ASU will provide support for faculty and postdoc hiring to support joint research and education activities at both institutions. Sponsored activities include workshops, working groups, graduate and postdoctoral fellowships, faculty appointments, faculty exchange visits, seminar series and other joint projects and proposals between ASU and SFI.

Interdisciplinary scholarship and education are fundamental to ASU’s mission and goals, as is developing solutions to real-life societal challenges. This is the latest in more than 200 new transdisciplinary schools and initiatives developed at ASU since President Crow joined ASU in 2002.

ASU President’s Professor Manfred Laubichler and Foundation Professor Sander van der Leeuw will serve as directors of the center, reporting to ASU Provost Robert E. Page, Jr. All three hold appointments as external professors at the Santa Fe Institute. The two directors, plus SFI Vice President for Science Jennifer Dunne and SFI President Sabloff, will serve as the center’s steering committee.

At ASU, Laubichler, a professor in the School of Life Sciences, also serves as director of the Center for Social Dynamics and Complexity. In addition, Laubichler and van der Leeuw, who is with ASU's School of Sustainability and School of Human Evolution and Social Change, hold leadership positions in ASU’s Complex Adaptive System Initiative.

For a full list of events and to RSVP for the Jan. 16 launch, visit