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Complex Systems Grants
On May 7, 2009, the National Academies Keck Futures Initiative announced the recipients of its 2008 Futures Grants, each awarded to support interdisciplinary research on complex system such as ecosystems, financial markets, communication networks, and biology.  The 23 projects chosen represent a wide range of approaches to such research, which was the subject of the sixth annual Futures Conference. 

"We have selected many bold and innovative proposals and believe these collaborations will result in promising findings," said H. Eugene Stanley Ph.D., director, Center for Polymer Studies, Boston University, and the 2008 conference chair.

These competitive seed grants aim to fill a critical gap for research on new ideas.  Major federal funding programs do not typically provide support in areas that are considered risky or unusual.  The Futures Grants allow researchers to start recruiting students and postdoctoral fellows, purchasing equipment, and acquiring preliminary data all of which can position the researchers to compete for larger awards from other public and private sources. 

The award recipients and their grant research topics are (names and affiliations at the time the grants were awarded):

JOHN M. BEGGS, THOMAS BUSEY, and JEAN-PHILIPPE THIVIERGE, Indiana University, Bloomington
CHRISTOPHER KELLO, University of California, Merced

Power Law Distributions and Fluctuations in Neural and Behavioral Activity -  $50,000

These researchers aim to bridge these distinct but related levels of analysis. Neurons must coordinate the flow of information between various brain areas and structures. The brain and body must coordinate to effect purposeful behavior. Distinct sources of evidence are converging on common principles to explain coordinated neural and behavioral activities. 

SALLY BLOWER, BRADLEY WAGNER, and JUSTIN OKANO, Semel Institute for Neuroscience, David Geffen School of Medicine, University of California, Los Angeles
ALESSANDRO VESPIGNANI and BRUNO GONÇALVES, Indiana University, Bloomington
RAFFAELE VARDAVAS, RAND Corporation, Santa Monica, Calif.
Designing an Effective HIV Prevention Plan for Botswana by Coupling an  Information Network Model with a Meta-population Transmission Model -  $75,000
These researchers will use an information network model linked with a transmission model to assess the impact of using antiretrovirals to prevent HIV in Botswana.
 
STEPHEN J. BONASERA, University of Nebraska Medical Center, Omaha
I.S. MIAN, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Berkeley, Calif.
CHRISTOPHER ROSE, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
Agent-based Modeling of Functional Behavior Selection in the Mouse - $50,000
A key function of the central nervous system (CNS) is maintaining organism homeostasis, a process that itself involves “action selection” or choosing behaviors in real time from a broad palette of repertoires according to ongoing internal and external sensory inputs.  These researchers will develop a model of how the mouse brain chooses to perform given current internal and external conditions such as hunger, thirst, need for rest, and environment, in order to improve our understanding of this important yet poorly understood problem.
 
JAMES P. CRUTCHFIELD, University of California, Davis
ANA V. DIEZ ROUX and GEORGE A. KAPLAN, University of Michigan
GRANT S. MCCALL, Tulane University, New Orleans
JAMES N. GARDNER, Gardner & Gardner Attorneys, PC, Portland, Ore.
NIGEL GOLDENFELD, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
MURRAY GELL-MANN, Santa Fe Institute, Santa Fe, N.M.
JESSICA J. HELLMAN, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, Ind.
PAUL HUMPHREYS, University of Virginia, Charlottesville
JOHN H. MILLER, Carnegie Mellon University, Santa Fe Institute
JESSIKA TRANCIK, Santa Fe Institute and Earth Institute, Columbia University

Is Sustainability Possible? Frontiers in Collective Modeling via Scientific Open Source - $50,000

These researchers will adapt modern complex systems methods, both theoretical and computational, to the problem of global sustainability. The principle challenges of multiscale and multidomain modeling will be pursued on scientific and technological tracks: analyzing insect-driven deforestation and climate change and designing a network environment (SOSWorld) for collective modeling by interdisciplinary teams.

RAISSA M. D'SOUZA, University of California, Davis
TONY H. GRUBESIC, Indiana University, Bloomington
Design Principles for Resilient Critical Infrastructure - $50,000
These researchers will develop a mathematical framework for modeling interacting networks, focused on enhancing resilience of critical infrastructure (e.g., transportation networks, electrical grids, water distribution systems and the Internet).
 
JENNIFER A. DUNNE, Santa Fe Institute, Santa Fe, N.M.
ROSS HAMMOND, The Brookings Institution, Washington, D.C.
Humans as Explicit Players in Ecosystems: Using Bioenergetic Food-Web  Dynamics and Agent-Based Modeling Approaches to Explore Persistence and  Stability in Complex Ecological Networks - $25,000
Ecological networks called “food webs” characterize the feeding interactions of species that co-occur in particular habitats. These researchers will try new approaches for modeling population and individual-level dynamics to assess the impacts of humans on the stability of ecosystems through their roles as predators and prey in complex socio-ecological systems.

THIERRY EMONET, Yale University, New Haven, Conn.
DOUGLAS B. WEIBEL, University of Wisconsin, Madison
Phenotypic Heterogeneity as a Source of Robustness in Bacterial Sensing - $50,000
Using bacterial sensing as a model system, these researchers will examine how the resulting cell-to-cell variability confers functional robustness to a community of cells.  Since bacterial chemotaxis can be viewed as a strategy for searching and acquiring information, this investigation into how the distribution of searching capabilities of individuals can optimize the behavior of the population will be of great interest to many diverse fields, including ecology, traffic control, distributed power, financial markets, and load balancing in supercomputers.

JAMES A. GLAZIER and JOHN S. GENS, Indiana University, Bloomington
HERBERT M. SAURO, University of Washington, Seattle
Towards the Artificial Egg — First Steps towards Custom Creatures - $37,500
These researchers will use complexity-based software tools and modern genetic  engineering to create lines of living mammalian cells which will interact to generate simple, controllable, emergent structures resembling those in animal tissues, the first step towards building an Artificial Egg.

MARTA C. GONZÁLEZ, Center for Complex Network Research, Northeastern University
NATHAN EAGLE, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Santa Fe Institute
The Search for Universal Laws of Human Movement: A Cross-Cultural Study -  $62,500
The understanding of cultural differences and economic interdependencies underlying human motion has deep implications in fields ranging from urban planning to computational epidemiology. Using mobile phone records, these researchers will quantify the fundamental similarities and differences in the statistics of motion of people among two industrialized and three developing countries, involving approximately 30 million individuals.

SARAH C. HEILSHORN, Stanford University, Stanford, Calif.
AMY L. BAUER, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos, N.M.
Theoretical and Experimental Approaches to Engineering Complex Vascular  Networks - $50,000
The development of complex vascular networks is a critical process during embryonic development, adult tissue remodeling, cancer progression, and in potential regenerative medicine therapies. This project is to develop theoretical computational models and experimental laboratory models to predict the fundamental biophysics and biochemistry regulating vascular networks.

PRADEEP KUMAR, Rockefeller University, New York City
Interaction of Complex Biomolecules with a Complex Liquid: Role of Water in  Biology - $25,000
These researchers aim to improve our knowledge of possible mechanisms for physical and biological phenomena arising from interactions of biomolecules such as protein, DNA, RNA and water. Progress in this field will contribute towards our understanding of the role of water in many biological processes.

DAVID LAZER and JUNKKA-PEKKA ONNELA, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.
NATHAN EAGLE, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Santa Fe Institute
Behavioral Network Analysis - $37,500
This project aims to link behavior-based ways of measuring relationships (such as a phone call between two people) and more traditional ways of measuring relationships (such as asking who someone’s friends are) to examine whether particular types of relationships are associated with particular types of behaviors.

NATHAN S. LEWIS, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena
TUAN A. DUONG, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
Use of an Electronic Nose for Breath-Based Detection of Lung-Cancer - $50,000
These researchers will evaluate whether mixtures of volatile organic breath based biomarkers that have been implicated as diagnostic signatures suitable for a screen for early stage lung cancer can be detected and identified by a low-power, portable, “electronic nose” array of vapor sensors.

YING-CHENG LAI, Arizona State University, Tempe
FREDERICK I. MOXLEY, Network Science Center, United States Military Academy
JUAN M. OCAMPO, Trajectory Asset Management, New York City
MICHAEL J. NORTH, University of Chicago, Argonne National Laboratory

Financial Liquidity and Network Theory - $50,000

Financial markets are highly complex networks of institutions and transactions through which liquidity, i.e., the flow of credit, enhances economic activity.  These researchers will models these networks to provide understanding, prediction, and some degree of control of this important economic factor.

CATERINA SCOGLIO, Kansas State University, Manhattan
MICHAEL L. PARCHMAN, University of Texas Health Science Center, San Antonio
Quality of Care and Network Properties of Outpatient Health Care Delivery in the Veterans Health Administration - $25,000
These researchers will describe the network comprised of physicians (nodes) and patients (links) with a large health care system and its relationship with quality of care measures across three domains: access, clinical, and satisfaction.

JOSHUA B. PLOTKIN, ANTHONY KROCH and ROBIN CLARK, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia
The Population Dynamics of Language Evolution - $25,000
Languages evolve over time. Words that were once common later become rare, or go extinct.  These researchers will investigate whether language change is driven by
deterministic Darwinian forces, or by random stochastic events.  Their analysis will use a database of 23,000 digitized English texts, ranging from Beowulf to Britney Spears.

SUZANNE SCARLATA, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, N.Y.
AMY E. HERR, University of California, Berkeley
Unraveling Complexity in Cell Signaling:  Mapping Molecular Markers of Directed  Differentiation of Nerve Cells - $50,000
Amazingly, stem cells differentiate into approximately 250 cell types in the human body. Cell signaling comprises complex interactions and feedback with dependence on time and location. These researchers will employ micro/nanotechnology to characterize cell signaling of neuronal differentiation to try
to identify key signaling nodes relevant to neuronal regeneration.

STEVEN J. SCHIFF, Penn State University, University Park
BRIAN LITT, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia
DANIEL P. LATHROP, University of Maryland, College Park
Model-based Forecasting of Epileptic Seizures- $50,000
Epileptic seizures have similarities to brain storms, yet we
have no systematic way that reliably detects impending seizures. This project aims to blend models based from engineering control theory, and the physics of nonlinear dynamics of the atmosphere, to test whether a novel synergistic approach to detecting epileptic seizures can be developed.

H. EUGENE STANLEY, Center for Polymer Studies, Boston University, Boston
Interdisciplinary Approach to Understanding the Causes of Large Economic Fluctuations - $50,000
Can concepts from statistical physics of phase transitions provide insights into understanding "financial tsunamis”? This research plan will involve comprehensive datasets covering the recent financial crisis, to answer this question.  The statistics of correlations will be used to conduct an analysis of the response of price fluctuations to market participant's demand and collective behavior.

JEFFREY A. TORETSKY, Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.
LAJOS P. BALOGH, Roswell Park Cancer Institute, Buffalo, N.Y.
PETER SLOOT, University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, Netherlands
MARTIN GRUEBELE, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
RIGOBERTO HERNANDEZ, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta
PETER T. CUMMINGS, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tenn.
MAIA MARTCHEVA, University of Florida, Gainesville
MUHAMMAD HAMID ZAMAN, University of Texas, Austin
I.S. MIAN, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Berkeley, Calif.
AMY L. BAUER, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos, N.M.
Dynamic Network Models of HIV Transmission and Cancer Metastasis - $25,000
These researchers will meet to develop “pre-modeling” concepts of transport in complex  systems involving networked structures in general and dynamic network models of HIV  transmission and cancer metastasis in particular to slow or stop progression of these  diseases.

JOHN P. WIKSWO, TODD R. GRAHAM, and PETER A. WEIL, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tenn.
AMY L. BAUER and ILYA NEMENMAN, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos, N.M.
WOLFGANG LOSERT, University of Maryland, College Park
MINGJUN ZHANG, University of Tennessee, Knoxville
Biology on Demand: External Control of a Complex Cellular System, S. cerevisiae - $50,000
These researchers will demonstrate external, multivariable control of the budding yeast, a relatively well-characterized complex system. Their experimental studies  will integrate both feedback and feed-forward control of highly instrumented, computer-controlled microfabricated
bioreactor, and enable on-demand selection of metabolic and signaling pathways and hence control of cell fate.

LARRY YAEGER and OLAF SPORNS, Indiana University, Bloomington
How Network Structure Gives Rise to Dynamical Complexity - $50,000
Developing formal methods of quantitatively assessing complexity and using them to understand the origins and mechanisms of that complexity are great challenges.  These researchers seek to understand how a network's structural characteristics relate to dynamical patterns of activity in that network--how function follows from form. 

MUHAMMAD H. ZAMAN, University of Texas, Austin
DAVID K. CAMPBELL and ADIL NAJAM, Boston University, Boston
Complexity of Higher Education Systems in Developing Countries - $12,500
Secondary and higher education in the developing countries represents a highly dynamic and complex problem socially, politically, financially and academically. Institutions of higher learning in the developing world are often created, but seldom successful. These researchers will convene a meeting of experts to create a roadmap for a quantitative model of education in developing countries.