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Media Advisory 07-017

Research Without Borders: Head of Santa Fe Institute to Address NSF

Geoffrey West to speak June 12 and 13 as part of Distinguished Lecture Series

June 11, 2007

This material is available primarily for archival purposes. Telephone numbers or other contact information may be out of date; please see current contact information at media contacts.

Geoffrey West, president of the Santa Fe Institute, will speak as a National Science Foundation (NSF) Distinguished Lecturer on June 12-13, 2007, giving two lectures.

Topic: Santa Fe Institute: An Experiment in Transformational, Transdisciplinary Science

When: Tuesday June 12, 2007, at 4 p.m.

Who: Geoffrey West, president of Santa Fe Institute

What: NSF Distinguished Lecture Series

Where: National Science Foundation
4201 Wilson Boulevard
Arlington, Va.
Room 1235


Many of the most challenging, exciting and profound questions facing science and society lie at the boundaries between traditional disciplines. Among these are the dynamics, growth, evolution and robustness of complex adaptive systems whether organisms, ecosystems, or societies; network dynamics from quantum field theory to social organizations; the physical-chemical origins of life; biologically-inspired paradigms in computation from viruses to vaccines; the inter-relationship between information processing, energy, and dynamics in biology and society; integrated theories of growth, innovation and sustainability; origins of cooperation; evolution of human languages; dynamics of financial markets; conflicts and patterns of political violence, etc.

The academic landscape needs places where research on fundamental problems such as these, which require creative, transdisciplinary collaborations, is strongly encouraged and supported. Unfortunately, this has often proven to be problematic within the traditional departmental structure of universities.

Bringing together highly diverse minds prepared to engage in substantive, in-depth collaboration in the search for underlying principles, commonalities, simplicity and order in highly complex phenomena is a major challenge. To address some of our major problems requires a long-term commitment to high-risk, high-quality science in an environment where speculation is encouraged and a broader, more quantitative, vision for understanding emergent behavior and multiscale phenomena in complex systems beyond the confines of the canonical disciplines is the norm.

The Santa Fe Institute was founded to meet this set of challenges by providing a unique environment that transcends disciplines, breaks traditional academic molds and draws together an international network of creative researchers.

Topic: On the Scale and Unity of Life from Cells to Cities: Towards a Unified Quantitative Theory of Biological and Social Structure and Organization

When: Wednesday June 13, 2007, at 12 p.m.

Who: Geoffrey West, president of Santa Fe Institute

What: NSF Distinguished Lecture Series

Where: National Science Foundation
4201 Wilson Boulevard
Arlington, Va.
Room 374


Life is the most complex phenomenon in the Universe manifesting an extraordinary diversity of form and function over an enormous range.

Yet, many of its most fundamental and complex attributes scale with size in a surprisingly simple fashion. For example, metabolic rate scales as approximately the 3/4-power of mass over 27 orders of magnitude from molecular levels up to the largest multicellular organisms. Similarly, time-scales, such as lifespans and growth-rates, increase with exponents which are typically simple powers of 1/4.

It will be shown how these scaling laws follow from fundamental generic principles embedded in the dynamical and geometrical structure of underlying networks, leading to a general quantitative theory that captures essential features of many diverse biological systems.

Examples will include animal and plant vascular systems, growth, cancer, aging and mortality, sleep, DNA nucleotide substitution rates and community population structure. These ideas will be extended to discuss urban systems: to what extent are cities an extension of biology? Analogues to metabolic rate and behavioral times in cities scale counter to their behaviour in biology.

Driven by innovation and the creation of wealth this has dramatic implications for their growth, development, sustainability and pace of life which, left unchecked, potentially sow the seeds for their collapse.

The NSF Distinguished Lecture Series is sponsored by the biological sciences, engineering, mathematical & physical sciences, and social, behavioral & economic sciences directorates.


Media Contacts
Dana Topousis, National Science Foundation, (703) 292-7750,

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. In fiscal year (FY) 2017, its budget is $7.5 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and other institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 48,000 competitive proposals for funding and makes about 12,000 new funding awards.

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