research lines

The research at the Institute is structured along four major pillars. Together, they combine the exploration of new concepts in the field of Complex Systems and their application in different scientific and social disciplines.

Foundations

An important number of the Institute’s researchers are carrying out their own research on the identification and description of the general principles and key mechanisms that govern complex systems. This includes, on the one hand, the study of theoretical aspects within the framework of network science and the modeling of the basic agents that make up a system and the study of emerging behaviors through their interactions. On the other hand, the analysis of many complex systems often involves processing a large amount of information, which requires the continuous development of tools in the context of so-called "Big Data", with clear applications in the context of the Institute. Finally, a large number of complex systems are intrinsically dynamic , that is, they evolve over time. Problems ranging from fluid dynamics and plasticity in neural networks and metabolic networks to the dynamics of social networks, all require the development of common tools. This is a fundamental aspect that focuses the research activities carried out by the members of the Institute. Not to mention the field of Statistical Physics, from which most of the physics researchers at the Institute come, which still has fundamental problems to be solved.


Foundations

Statistical Physics

Statistical Physics techniques are at the basis of our approach to the study of complex systems. Statistical Physics uses the methods of probability theory and statistics to bridge the gap between the microscopic properties of individual atoms and molecules and the macroscopic or bulk properties of materials.

 

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Networks

Network Science focuses on the study of interactions as graph representations of complex systems. Complex networks display patterns of connection that are neither purely regular nor totally random, and are common to many real systems in differents domains. These non-trivial topological features explain many of the emergent phenomena observed in complex systems.

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Dynamical systems

Complex systems are inherently dynamic and both properties and processes change over time. Dynamical systems theory provides a mathematical framework for treating time dependence in complex systems, typically involving continuous time and stochastic or random events.

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Data science

The study of real complex systems requires the curation, structuring, filtering, analysis, and visualization of large amounts of empirical and experimental data. The main goal is to extract knowledge from data by combining a data-driven approach, based on different statistical, data mining, and machine learning techniques, with analytic and computational methodologies.

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Science of Matter

Condensed matter systems exhibiting phase transitions and criticality are probably the very first examples of complex systems. In such situations, the system’s response to external changes is not a simple superposition of the response of its constituents but rather an emerging collective property. Understanding it through the use of techniques from the fields of statistical and nonlinear physics increases its predictability and allows for the design of new and useful tailored materials. Indeed, a broad variety of physical and chemical systems and processes can be described as complex systems, and their degree of complexity demands the adaptation or the extension of currently existing tools to new situations.


An important field of research within the science of complex matter focuses on soft matter materials, which include colloids, polymers and gels, complex fluids, and biological materials. What these systems have in common is that they are easily deformed by external forces and that their behavior is governed by weak interactions at energy scales comparable to thermal energy. While research on soft matter has traditionally been focused on synthetic materials, rapid developments in molecular biology have provided evidence that soft interactions and fluctuation phenomena also play a vital role in biology. Soft materials display complex spatiotemporal responses and special physical properties, including high deformability and complex rheology, which makes them very attractive for technological applications, in particular, in the food and cosmetics industries. Regarding complex materials, it is also worth emphasizing the interest of the research community in developing intelligent materials, i.e. materials that are able to adapt their properties or structure according to specific needs or to environmental changes (in some cases mimicking natural materials and processes), and thus have a huge technological and industrial impact.


Science of Matter

Soft Matter

Among the extensive variety of soft matter materials, colloidal systems, i.e. fluid suspensions of micron-sized polymer spheres, are particularly interesting, not only for their ubiquitous nature (colloids are present in creams, foams, smoke, paints, etc..), but also because they provide a rich playground for basic Condensed Matter Physics.

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Complex Flows and Complex Fluids

Complex fluids are seemingly homogeneous at macroscopic scale, but they are disordered at the microscopic scale and possess structure at intermediate scales. As a result their deformation and flow response to external solicitations is usually very different from that of conventional liquids and solids.

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Active Matter

Condensed matter systems composed of self-propelled units operating far from thermodynamic equilibrium belong to the realm of active matter. Such active “particles” possess internal degrees of freedom that allow them to self propel by extracting energy from their environment and dissipating it to move in a preferred direction.

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Smart materials

The design of new useful tailored materials benefits from its fundamental understanding using techniques from statistical and nonlinear physics. In many cases an efficient design implies the control of the amount of disorder as well as the use of multiscale modelling approaches  from the nanoscale to large thermodynamic scales.

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Life Sciences

Biological systems, both for their intrinsic wealth and because of their importance, have received special attention from the complex systems viewpoint. Much of the Institute's research activity is geared towards solving a large variety of problems in the biological context, and at diverse spatial and temporal scales. Investigations cover experimental, computational and theoretical approaches. Research areas include the study of fundamental molecular mechanisms, genomics and proteomics, the generation of forces and the mechanics of cells and tissues, morphogenesis and development, systems biology at the cellular level, and neuroscience. For the latter, the Institute houses its own laboratories. Additionally, the associated studies carried out at the level of microorganisms and tissues exhibit, thanks to their fundamental perspective, a clear connection with the research conducted in active matter, an area that is also central to the Institute.


Life Sciences

Molecular Biophysics

The advent of nanotechnologies in recent decades has made it possible to probe and measure biological systems down to the molecular scale. This has given rise to a more physical approach to traditional molecular biology, and, in particular, to attempts to solve the longstanding puzzles of biological building blocks and their behavior.

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Cell and Multicellular Biology

The biological cell is the basic unit of life, and constitutes in itself a remarkably complex system that combines thousands of chemical reactions by thousands of molecular species, all happening at the same time with fascinating harmony within an extremely crowded and noisy environment.

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Systems Biology

Systems Biology is a growing research field that aims at characterizing and understanding living organisms from the interaction among their building blocks, for instance the gene-gene interactions that dictate the animal body plan.

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Neuroscience

Living neuronal networks, in particular the human brain, are considered to be among the most complex systems in nature. The quest to understand them has caught the attention of different research groups at the Institute, who are exploring them through a rich repertoire of experimental, computational and theoretical tools.

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Social Sciences

Applications in the social sciences range from aspects at the individual level to the study of large scale sociopolitical and economic structures, including those of the past. One of the applications that we can already consider as traditional in complex system science is economy and finance. But the activities of the institute aim to open up other fields of applicability. For example, concepts such as coordination dynamics and other characteristics of networks are being applied to the study of behaviors related to sports, both individually and at team level. Similarly, we are also working on issues related to the biological nature of human language ability, its development at the individual level, its emergence in species, and its implementation at the brain level. In the same way, the complex perspectives we are adopting illuminate more thoroughly the dynamics of the sociocomunicative and sociopolitical factors influencing language use, evolutionary change and maintenance and replacement phenomena.


Social Sciences

Psychology and Behavior

Social dilemmas and game theory provide tools and strategies for measuring and quantifying an individual's social traits based on their actions when these individuals confront their own benefit with another's interest or with the collective interest. These dilemmas therefore make it possible to analyze, for example, the levels of cooperation, trust, reciprocity,...

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Economy and Finance

Stock markets exhibit several universal statistical stylized facts and patterns that can be studied and modelled thanks to the large data sets available. Relevant issues can therefore be studied to obtain a better understanding of stock price movements and a better description of risk.

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Linguistics

Linguistics is a diverse field of research, and several different disciplines within it relate to the notion of complex systems. The study of language can be used to access information about human behaviour, the human brain and its processes, and about social and cultural structures on a larger scale.

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History

The trade system of the Roman Empire is one of the first recognized networks of interaction and interdependence between the Mediterranean basin and northern Europe and is considered to be the first complex European trade network. In the last fifty years, many theories about the organization of the Roman Empire trade system have been proposed but these theories continue to be speculative.

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