The Santa Fe Institute (SFI) is an independent, nonprofit theoretical research institute located in Santa Fe (New Mexico, United States) and dedicated to the multidisciplinary study of the fundamental principles of complex adaptive systems, including physical, computational, biological, and social systems. As of 2016, the Institute is ranked 20th among the world's "Top Science and Technology Think Tanks" and 23rd among the world's "Best Transdisciplinary Research Think Tanks" according to the Global Think Tank Report published annually by the University of Pennsylvania.
The Institute consists of a small number of resident faculty and postdoctoral researchers, a large group of external faculty whose primary appointments are at other institutions, and a number of visiting scholars. The Institute is advised by a group of eminent scholars, including several Nobel Prize–winning scientists. Although theoretical scientific research is the Institute's primary focus, it also runs several popular summer schools on complex systems, along with other educational and outreach programs aimed at students ranging from middle school up through graduate school.
The Institute's annual funding comes from a combination of private donors, grant-making foundations, government science agencies, and companies affiliated with its business network. The 2014 budget was just over $10 million. Evolutionary theorist David Krakauer became the Institute's president on August 1, 2015.
The Santa Fe Institute was founded in 1984 by scientists George Cowan, David Pines, Stirling Colgate, Murray Gell-Mann, Nick Metropolis, Herb Anderson, Peter A. Carruthers, and Richard Slansky. All but Pines and Gell-Mann were scientists with Los Alamos National Laboratory. In conceiving of the Institute, the scientists sought a forum to conduct theoretical research outside the traditional disciplinary boundaries of academic departments and government agency science budgets.
SFI's original mission was to disseminate the notion of a new interdisciplinary research area called complexity theory or simply complex systems. This new effort was intended to provide an alternative to the increasing specialization the founders observed in science by focusing on synthesis across disciplines. As the idea of interdisciplinary science increased in popularity, a number of independent institutes and departments emerged whose focus emphasized similar goals.
The Santa Fe Institute was created to be a visiting institution, with no permanent or tenured positions, a small group of resident faculty and postdoctoral researchers, a large visitors program, and a larger group of external faculty affiliated with the Institute but located at other institutions. The motivation of this structure was to encourage active turnover in ideas and people, allowing the research to remain on the cutting edge of interdisciplinary science. Today, the Santa Fe Institute continues to follow this organizational model.
The Institute is composed of several distinct groups. The resident faculty are researchers whose primary appointment is at the Institute. Along with the Omidyar Fellows, a group of postdoctoral scholars in residence, the resident faculty makes up the majority of the researchers physically present at the Institute. The external faculty is a group of roughly 100 affiliated researchers whose primary appointments are at other institutions, typically universities. These individuals form a large and distributed community of scholars who frequently visit the Institute and contribute to its overall research program. The Institute's Business Network is a group of private companies and government agencies interested in complex systems research. Members of the business network often send representatives to Institute meetings or to serve as research fellows in residence at the Institute. The Institute's Science Board is a large group of eminent scholars who advise the Institute on important strategic matters. This group includes a number of Nobel Prize winners.
The Institute is headed by a president, currently evolutionary theorist David Krakauer, and a Vice President for Science, currently network ecologist Jennifer Dunne. It is governed by a Board of Trustees, which is chaired by Michael Mauboussin of Credit Suisse.
Research at the Institute focuses on systems commonly described as complex adaptive systems or simply complex systems. Recent research has included studies of evolutionary computation, metabolic and ecological scaling laws, the fundamental properties of cities, the evolutionary diversification of viral strains, the interactions and conflicts of primate social groups, the history of languages, the structure and dynamics of species interactions including food webs, the dynamics of financial markets, and the emergence of hierarchy and cooperation in the human species, and biological and technological innovation.
Historically, researchers affiliated with the Institute played roles to varying degrees in the development and use of methods for studying complex systems, including agent-based modeling, network theory, computational immunology, the physics of financial markets, genetic algorithms, the physics of computation, and machine learning.
The Institute also studies foundational topics in the physics and mathematics of complex systems, using tools from related disciplines such as information theory, combinatorics, computational complexity theory and condensed matter physics. Recent research in this area has included studies of phase transitions in NP-hard problems.
Some of the Institute's accomplishments include:
The Santa Fe Institute runs a number of education programs aimed at introducing students as young as middle school and as old as graduate school to the core ideas of complex systems. The longest running education program is the annual Complex Systems Summer School, held annually for 30 years in Santa Fe at St. John's College. The CSSS hosts 50-60 graduate students and early postdocs, along with select Business Network fellows, for four week course on complex systems. Lectures are provided by Institute researchers, and students work on a small collaborative project on complex systems.
The Institute also awards an annual High School Prize for Scientific Excellence to a local high school student and a local teacher.
The educational programs include:
The Santa Fe Institute has also launched a series of massive open online courses on complex systems, the first of which began in early 2013, and has announced plans to offer a Master of Science in Complexity, in collaboration with ASU.
Since its inception in 1984, the Santa Fe Institute has had 6 presidents.
|George Cowan||1984 – 1991||Served 39 years at Los Alamos National Laboratory as the director of chemistry, associate director of research, and senior laboratory fellow.|
|Edward Alan Knapp||1991 – 1995||Director of the National Science Foundation from 1982 to 1985.|
|Ellen Goldberg||1996 – 2003||Chair of the Immunology Division of the American Society for Microbiology, Chair of the National Science Foundation Biological Sciences Advisory Committee.|
|Robert Eisenstein||2003 - 2004||Director of the National Science Foundation Physics Division.|
|Geoffrey West||2005 - 2009||Founder of the high energy physics group at Los Alamos National Laboratory.|
|Jerry Sabloff||2009 - 2015||Chair of the Smithsonian Science Commission.|
|David Krakauer||2015–present||Director of the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery.|