Summary for the Foundations for Complex Systems Research


In September 2008, Julio M. Ottino from chemical and biological engineering and mechanical engineering at Northwestern University and John Guckenheimer, from the mathematics department at Cornell, co-organized an NSF workshop titled "Foundations for Complex Systems Research in the Physical Sciences and Engineering." The workshop was charged with identifying barriers and gaps that impede complex systems research.

The workshop highlighted the importance of complex systems research in the study of large-scale critical infrastructure, such as transportation networks or the Internet. The panel found that there are indeed gaps in our understanding of complex systems and our ability to engineer them. Specifically, general principles for engineering and analyzing complex systems are still inadequate to design and operate the complex systems in transportation, communication and power distribution that have become part of our daily lives. They are also insufficient for the scientific understanding of complex natural systems despite our ability to simulate larger and more detailed models.

With these concerns in mind, the panel highlighted four questions for further study: What are the best models for studying complex systems? How does the structure of a complex system constrain its emergent behaviors? What are the consequences of evolution and adaptation in complex systems? How do we calibrate complex systems and predict their behavior?

Read the report