Physical, geophysical, chemical, living and human-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. The research of my group 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.
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 New Zealand, Japan, Haiti, and China (loss of life > 400,000, economical damage > $US 400 billion) and ever-increasing population density in large metropolitan areas near major active faults (e.g., Vancouver, 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 engineering activities, such as in enhanced geothermal systems — an innovative source of alternative energy with a low carbon footprint — or hydraulic fracturing — a key enabling technology for unconventional resource development, which has led to a recent explosion in productivity around the globe. In Western Canada, hydraulic fracturing has generated earthquakes up to magnitude 4.5, while hydraulic stimulation of geothermal fields has induced a magnitude 5.5 earthquake in Pohang (South Korea) in 2017 at a total economic cost of over $US 300 billion.
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 one of the goals of large-scale international research projects such as the BRAIN Initiative and BRAIN 2025 (USA), the $US 1.0 billion Human Brain Project (EU), and Brain Canada.
For specific details on our research, see recent press releases on our research program, prestigious awards and a new collaboration, as well as our list of individual research projects and publications (see also Google Scholar and Research Gate). 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.
The research of my group is supported by the New Frontiers in Research Fund, NSERC (including the Discovery Accelerator Supplements program), MITACS, The Alberta Ingenuity Fund (now Alberta Innovates - Technology Futures), the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), the National Research Foundation of Korea, Campus Alberta Neuroscience, the Microseismic Industry Consortium and the Eyes High Initiative at the University of Calgary. I am a member of the Complexity Science Group, the Hotchkiss Brain Institute and a Humboldt Research Fellow at the GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences in Potsdam, Germany.