IU investing $7 million for new complexity institute

Indiana University Network Science Institute logo

Indiana University Network Science Institute logo

IU has announced the establishment of the Indiana University Network Science Institute, or IUNI. The $7 million initiative will bring together many of the university’s top minds to explore and embrace the challenge of understanding complex networks that underlie large-scale systems, including the environment, economics, technology and human health.

“Today, more than ever before, exploring the connections and relationships among our most complex networks — from the biological to the economic, political and social — is paramount to solving humankind’s most critical and challenging questions,” IU Vice President for Research Jorge José said. “Through the formation of this new interdisciplinary, university-wide institute, which will reflect all of the major sectors of scientific research and will be supported by the university’s robust technological infrastructure, Indiana University has positioned itself to become the leading global center for understanding the complicated structure and evolving dynamics of the systems that drive our society.”

Complex networks are at the core of an ever more interconnected social, economic and technological planet, and their connectivity and dynamics underpin nearly all aspects of how these systems function. Networks can be associated with topics as diverse as cancer, schizophrenia, even the spreading of rumors, innovations or social unrest.

Echoing the late IU Nobel Laureate Elinor Ostrom, who said, “When the world we are trying to explain and improve … is not well-described by a simple model, we must continue to improve our frameworks and theories so as to be able to understand complexity and not simply reject it,” José said that focusing on the interactions between huge numbers of system components — be it in the brain or the global economy — places the university at the forefront of shaping new paths for research and innovation.

Three faculty members named as founding co-directors helped lead the effort to create the institute: Distinguished Professor Bernice Pescosolido, Department of Sociology; Distinguished Professor Olaf Sporns, Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences; and Andrew Saykin, professor of radiology and imaging sciences and director of the Indiana Alzheimer Disease Center at the IU School of Medicine.

The institute will be unique in a number of ways: Affiliated researchers will represent multiple IU campuses and will come from medicine, the natural sciences, the social sciences and the humanities; in addition to being focused on networks, every project supported by the institute is required to be a collaboration, a reflection of the institute itself. Four research hubs currently form the core of IUNI — Health and Health Care, Network Neuroscience, Science of Science and Social Network Science — each with the capacity to engage and share data and other resources with one another. Outreach activities, workshops and conferences and efforts toward online network science education will add to the scope of IUNI activities.

The three-year initiative — with an opportunity to renew for another three years — will be supported by IU President Michael A. McRobbie’s office, the offices of Provost and Executive Vice President Lauren Robel and Vice President for Research José, the College of Arts and Sciences, the School of Informatics and Computing, and the School of Medicine.

“This new institute recognizes that we are all part of networks, and that these networks, ever evolving and changing, are inherently complex systems that present challenges to scientists across all fields,” Robel said. “With a contingent of over 100 scientists spanning all disciplines, the ties among network science researchers that already exist in the IU system are ripe for encouragement, with many new ones inevitable through support of IUNI.”

To date, affiliated faculty from 26 different schools, departments and centers have either participated in development of IUNI or expressed an interest in participating in collaborative research through the institute. Faculty participating in the institute represent one of the broadest and deepest cadres of researchers studying networks, including the College of Arts and Sciences departments of physics, psychological and brain sciences, statistics, sociology and geography; the School of Informatics and Computing at IU Bloomington; the School of Medicine; the School of Public Health-Bloomington; the Fairbanks School of Public Health at IUPUI; and centers already focused on different aspects of complex networks, such as the Indiana Center for Systems Biology and Personalized Medicine at IUPUI and the Digital Science Center at IU Bloomington.

The three co-directors applauded the announcement.

“IUNI will provide novel concepts, tools and training to address tomorrow’s challenges,” Saykin said. “We appreciate the university’s vision in supporting team science to elucidate the complex networks that comprise the human genome, brain interconnectivity, health care systems and society — creating a truly exciting and unprecedented opportunity.”

Pescosolido described the nature of the institute as a reflection of the very work that will be conducted there, an exercise in synergy.

“We live in a world where society and the problems we face represent a web of interconnections,” Pescosolido said. “When we think we have fixed one part of it, unforeseen complications arise elsewhere as unintended consequences. These are complex, connected interactions that demand a transdisciplinary approach that brings the expertise across the landscape of science to the table.”

Sporns added that the new institute recognizes the natural strengths already present at IU.

“By design, when it comes to our expertise in complex systems, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts,” he said. “With the new synergies that will be created through IUNI, we have the unique opportunity to break the mold and approach the many challenges we face in science and society from a fresh and broad perspective.”

 

by Steve Chaplin

Conference at IUPUI explores transdisciplinary approach to problems with earth’s river systems

Since the dawn of civilization, access to freshwater, especially in river environments, has helped determine where human populations have flourished on planet Earth.

Over the past two centuries — an age that many geologists are now calling the Anthropocene — humans have reshaped the planet’s biophysical systems, threatening the availability of freshwater and consequentially the stability of ecologies.

This situation has created one of the most important and complex problems that humans will face in the 21st century, according to an international group of researchers convening in Indianapolis this month to launch a seven-year study of how to mitigate the threat of water insecurity.

The researchers will hold the Rivers of the Anthropocene Conference on Jan. 23 and 24 in the Klipsch Theater, on the lower level of the Campus Center at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis in downtown Indianapolis.

The conference, which brings together 25 scientists, humanists, social scientists, artists, policy makers and community organizers from five countries, is open to the public and is the kickoff event for The Rivers of the Anthropocene Project, a long-range research effort. Leaders say the project will take a transdisciplinary approach to help us better understand the complex dynamics between humans and their river environments. Faculty from IUPUI are partnering with faculty from Newcastle University in the United Kingdom as project leaders. The IUPUI Arts and Humanities Institute is organizing the event.

“The majority of the world’s population is threatened by water insecurity and biodiversity loss,” said Jason M. Kelly, IUPUI Arts and Humanities Institute director and a Rivers of the Anthropocene Project director. “Even here in Indianapolis, we face potential water shortages in the next decades. We can solve these problems, but the solutions are not simply technological; they are cultural, social and political. They require experts from across the disciplines working hand-in-hand with communities and policy makers.”

By mapping the ecological, geographical, cultural, social, political and scientific histories of river systems, the Rivers of the Anthropocene Project will provide insight on issues of relevance to public policy, environmental conservation and heritage management.

For the January 2014 conference, presenters will offer case studies from around the globe, with particular emphasis on the Ohio and Tyne rivers. Topics for discussion and papers presented at the conference include human geography and river environments; the challenge of Anthropocene rivers; rivers on a human scale; earth systems; and the relationship between human systems and river systems.

Speakers include Bill Werkheiser, acting deputy director of the U.S. Geological Survey; and environmental artist Mary Miss.

Support for the conference comes from Keramida Inc., the IUPUI Arts and Humanities Institute, Indiana Humanities, IUPUI School of Science, IU School of Liberal Arts at IUPUI, the Center for Earth and Environmental Science at IUPUI, the Center for Urban Ecology at Butler University, the IUPUI Center for Urban Health, Newcastle University, the Newcastle Institute for Research on Sustainability, IU Office of the Vice President for Research, IUPUI Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and IUPUI Office of the Chancellor.

Admission is $45. Registrants may purchase lunch. Discounted parking will be available on the ground level of the adjacent Vermont Street Garage.