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NTU to establish Singapore as Asian hub in complexity science research

Asia will receive a boost in the field of complexity science through a dedicated programme by Nanyang Technological University (NTU).

NTU's Complexity Programme aims to concentrate talent and resources in Singapore to become the Asian hub in the global network of scientific institutes that focus on complexity science and its applications through genuine interdisciplinary collaboration.

Complexity science refers to the scientific study of complex systems systems with many parts that interact to produce global behaviour that cannot be explained in terms of interactions between the individual constituent elements. It is inherently interdisciplinary and it involves and affects all scientific disciplines. Complex systems include ecosystems, cities, brains, the internet, and many more.

The knowledge and its applications, that complexity science is expected to deliver is crucial to providing solutions to the grand challenges confronting humanity, such as urbanisation, sustainability, poverty, energy, water, health, climate, security, innovation and the impact of technology.

The programme, a culmination of the university's on-going efforts in interdisciplinary research in complexity science, is now seeing its first major conference, titled, 'More is Different', with 350 local and international participants attending.

The three-day conference, held from 27 to 29 Feb 2012 at the Nanyang Executive Centre, NTU, will see various speakers touching on topics such as the rise and evolution of economics; the organisation of biological systems without a centralised command structure; understanding brain functions; and geodesy changes in the Earth's shape and gravity field.

Professor Bertil Andersson, NTU President, said NTU is already addressing the world's grand challenges in its five peaks of excellence: Sustainable Earth the 'Mount Everest' of peaks, followed by Future Healthcare, New Media, New Silk Road, and Innovation Asia.

"NTU's Complexity Programme will add further scientific depth to these efforts, while using some of its problems to provide focus for its research. It will provide new insights in ways governance can adapt itself to the ever-changing ways in which our complex world creates new challenges."

The Complexity Programme at NTU seeks to focus on themes such as governance, cities, neuroscience (human brain), innovation, and ecosystem change and society.

Director of the Complexity Programme, Mr Jan Vasbinder, said: "It is my strong conviction that a new and undefined science like complexity can only make real steps forward if scientists, who generate new, risky ideas and concepts, get opportunities to explore them. There is a definite role for government and industry to support the ideas that show the most promise of leading to applications that are relevant to them."

The three-day conference will see a distinguished list of speakers. They include:

  • Professor Brian Arthur, one of the founders of the Santa Fe Institute, a top research institute for complexity studies in the world
  • Professor Sydney Brenner, the 2002 Nobel Laureate in Physiology/Medicine
  • Professor Yehuda Cohen, renowned microbiologist from NTU's Singapore Centre on Environmental Life Sciences Engineering (SCELSE)
  • Professor Stephen Lansing, famed anthropologist from the University of Arizona
  • Professor Will Steffen, climate change expert from the Australian National University
  • Professor Atsushi Iriki, neuroscientist from the Riken Brain Science Institute, Japan
  • Geoffrey West, world famous for his work on scaling in biology and is the past president of the Santa Fe Institute

NTU's involvement in complexity studies dates back to 2008, when it first held an Advanced Workshop on Complexity to celebrate the 80th Birthday of Professor John Holland (University of Michigan), a pioneer in complex systems and nonlinear science and the 'father' of genetic algorithms. This was soon followed by more complexity workshops held regularly at NTU.

NTU's Complexity Programme picked up steam in August 2011, leading to the formation of a small but active complexity community of talented and bright faculty from the various schools and research institutes, including the Earth Observatory of Singapore (EOS), Singapore Centre on Environmental Life Sciences Engineering (SCELSE), Institute of Catastrophe Risk Management (ICRM) and S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS).

As part of this complexity conference, four separate seminars will also be given by invited speakers that same week, targeted at researchers, academics and students in Singapore who specialise in the related areas.


Contact: Lester Kok
Nanyang Technological University

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