Though separated onto different floors in the Library Tower, many academic fields relate more than meets the eye. And researchers at Binghamton University’s Center for Collective Dynamics of Complex Systems (CoCo) are looking to expose these interdisciplinary connections.
The group consists of 34 BU faculty and graduate students who conduct collaborative research projects on complex systems, which CoCo director Hiroki Sayama describes as research looking for connections between phenomena and disciplines that are not obvious at first glance.
This research is aimed at better understanding the world and providing cross-disciplinary insight and applications in fields with interacting components such as physiological systems, food webs and stock markets. These problems can be difficult to understand because the causes and effects are not always noticeably connected, Sayama said.
“Complex systems science provides a highly interdisciplinary framework and methodologies to study various subjects using the ‘systems’ thinking and quantitative tools (e.g., mathematical/computational models),” Sayama explained in an email. “The CoCo Center has been offering a venue for such interdisciplinary collaborations, intellectual stimulation and professional development for anyone who is interested in complex systems.”
CoCo was established in 2007 as a research group, but was chosen last July by BU’s Division of Research as the newest Organized Research Center (ORC), which are units established to foster interdisciplinary research. A new ORC is established annually, based on a proposal process. Other ORCs at BU include the Center for Development and Behavioral Neuroscience and the Center for the Historical Study of Women and Gender. Sayama said being established provides more opportunities for funding, supplies and administrative assistance, as well as increasing their visibility as researchers.
CoCo covers various interdisciplinary subjects which faculty and students collaborate on to research. One such study is being conducted by anthropology professor Carl Lipo, who is analyzing the cultural changes of human populations through archaeology and anthropology.
Lipo said that the group allows for collaboration of research on complex phenomena that draw from multiple components.
“Complex phenomena are all around us: weather, stock markets, communities, disease outbreaks, Twitter memes and so on,” Lipo wrote in an email. “It is inherently a transdisciplinary topic that involves individuals working in computer science, economics, anthropology, archaeology, geology, engineering, geography, public administration and so on.”
Besides conducting collaborative research projects, CoCo also hosts seminars in which faculty from BU and other schools discuss their research findings. One seminar took place this fall by guest speaker Yaneer Bar-Yam, the Director of the New England Complex Systems Institute, which Lipo said exemplified the kind of research CoCo is doing.
“His talk ranged from examples of complexity in resource trading to stock market panic to the spread of Ebola,” Lipo wrote.”He demonstrated how these tools have tremendous power for explaining the changing world around us.”
One of the student researchers is Hyobin Kim, a Ph.D candidate studying systems science and industrial engineering. Kim is currently working on implementing a gene regulatory network-based morphogenetic systems.
“The field of Complex Systems has become an irresistible stream in the 21st century,” Kim said. “According to such trend, I think that we need to study complex systems. The CoCo can provide students with an opportunity to certainly build up the background on Complex Systems.”