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The Santa Fe Institute is an institution that draws renowned scientists and researchers from institutions, government agencies, research institutes, and private industry. The Institute’s research is integrative and there are no formal programs or departments. The two dominant characteristics of the SFI research style are commitment to a multidisciplinary approach and an emphasis on the study of problems that involve complex interactions among their constituent parts.

SFI is dedicated to basic research. The Institute is not engaged in directed or applied research, and does not perform research for hire. For those projects requiring massive computer processing power, the Institute has relationships with both Los Alamos National Laboratory and the University of New Mexico. In addition, SFI has a parallel processing machine powered with 64 Intel microprocessors on site.

As many as 50 scientists and researchers can be accommodated at SFI for visits of varying intervals of time. While there are no permanent faculty, there is a mix of residential research professors (up to six-year appointments), postdoctoral fellows, graduate students, visitors, and external faculty members. SFI considers itself an "institute without walls." This means that although people come to visit, attend workshops, and collaborate, they return to their home institutions, and research continues in a distributed fashion among scholars in different places.

Although we note several current research themes, any "snapshot" of Santa Fe Institute researchers and activities is by definition fuzzy. Topics frequently overlap, making a project’s assignment to a single theme area more or less arbitrary. As part of SFI’s metabolism, loosely organized researcher groups are constantly forming and reforming as topics mature. Further, individuals are often involved in multiple projects. Finally, although the SFI campus plays a central role in the life of its far-flung community, much work also takes place off-site as collaborators participate from their home institutions. The projects and researchers noted on these pages can, at best, be considered a representative sample.

Cognitive Neuroscience - Through advances in neuroscience, and particularly developmental neurobiology and developmental cognitive psychology, the means exist now, for the first time ever, to provide those insights and measurement tools that are missing in the study of intellectual development and human capacity for cognition, memory, language, and many other components of human behavior, including emotional and social development.

Computation in Physical and Biological Systems - Extrapolating current technology trends 10 to 20 years ahead suggests perhaps insurmountable limits on computing speed and device density. What new forms of information processing will be available to continue the advance of computing technology? One approach is to rethink what it means to compute and to ask what other systems in nature could be substrates for information processing.

Economic and Social Interactions - Cognition and economics continues to be a major research theme at SFI. Areas of interest include the evolution of social norms, state and market formation, persistent inequalities, and market efficiency. Related to work on social interactions is research on evolutionary game theory and population games. The goal is to understand the evolution of strategic interaction in populations of players with a variety of structures of interaction, including both global random matching and local interaction.

Evolutionary Dynamics - SFI's approach emphasizes the interplay between dynamics and organization in the evolution of natural and social phenomena. How do entities with complex organizational structures and functions arise and develop, and what organizations are attainable given specific kinds of lower-level constituent entities? And what are the dynamical features characteristic of populations of mutating entities capable of replication and subject to selection?

Network Dynamics - The ubiquity of networks in the social, biological and physical sciences and in technology leads naturally to a set of common problems. How do social networks mediate the transmission of a disease or the emergence of a new political order? How do cascading failures propagate throughout a large power transmission grid or a global financial network? What is the most efficient and robust architecture for an organization in an uncertain environment or for a distributed computer?

Robustness - The recovery of ecosystems from natural disasters, the ability of cells to tolerate insult, the ability of a computer to compute reliably in the presence of noise or defective components, the viability of an economic organization—in all these processes, it is robustness that plays the central role. This work builds on previous SFI research including the dynamics of networks of adaptive agents; the dynamics of coevolutionary systems; the computational capabilities of systems subject to selective pressures; and the emergence of stable cooperative strategies.