Physical, geophysical, chemical, living and man-made systems often show behaviors that cannot be understood by studying their building blocks or constituents to ever finer detail but that are emergent. The concept of emergence can be summarized by the statement that there exists an entity (e.g. an organism) which is more than the sum of its parts. This is often used as the defining property of a complex system. Prominent examples of such complex systems include the brain, the heart as well as the climate system, space weather and seismicity. Understanding emergent properties, their stability and the self-organization processes leading to them in non-equilibrium systems is one of the central quests of modern physics and beyond. My research aims to tackle this challenge.
From interacting populations of earthquake faults to the nerve cells in the brain, many systems far from equilibrium can be represented as a collection of dynamical units coupled via complex architectures. Complex network theory, a marriage of ideas and methods from statistical physics and phase transitions, nonlinear dynamics as well as graph theory, has become one of the most successful frameworks for studying this type of complex systems and has led to major advances in our understanding of these systems and their emergent properties recently.
Yet, there remain many challenges for a general understanding of complex systems and their emergent properties, often with direct importance for society. For example, recent catastrophic earthquakes in Japan, Haiti, Italy and Indonesia (loss of life > 550,000, economical damage > $US 200 billion) and ever-increasing population density in large metropolitan areas near major active faults (e.g., Tokyo, Istanbul, San Francisco bay area) highlight the great societal importance of predicting and forecasting naturally occurring earthquakes. This is also true for earthquakes unintendedly induced by geoengineering activities, such as hydraulic fracturing — a key enabling technology for unconventional resource development. Another example is the brain. Understanding the relationship between structure, dynamics and function in the brain is a crucial step towards innovative solutions for brain-related diseases and the goal of large-scale research projects such as the CAD $1.6 billion Human Brain Project.
For specific details on our research, see the press releases, individual research projects and publications. You will find that our diverse and multidisciplinary approaches can be used to address a wide variety of fundamental issues including those worth of the Nobel prize.
My research is supported by NSERC (including the Discovery Accelerator Supplements program), MITACS (now mprime), The Alberta Ingenuity Fund (now Alberta Innovates - Technology Futures), the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) and the Eyes High Initiative at the University of Calgary.
Note: Don't hesitate to contact me if you are interested in joining my group as a new student or postdoc. My contact details are given here.