Santa Fe Institute

Frequently Asked Questions

What exactly is the Santa Fe Institute?

The Santa Fe Institute is a private, non-profit research institute. Since its founding in 1984, its researchers have defined the science of complex adaptive systems and pioneered its methods.

What is complex systems research?

Complex systems research attempts to uncover and understand the deep commonalities that link artificial, human, and natural systems. By their very nature, these problems transcend any particular field; for example, if we understand the fundamental principles of organization, we will gain insight into the functioning of such systems as cells in biology, markets and firms in economics, and phase transitions in physics and human social systems. This research relies on theories and tools from across the sciences.

How large is the Santa Fe Institute?

SFI has a steady state of about 30 researchers on site at any one time, with many more in residence during the summer months. SFI is an institute without walls, and we host around two dozen workshops and working groups per year, annual summer schools with a total of 150 students, and numerous other research and education activities. Thus, our actual scientific impact goes well beyond the usual measures. An administrative staff of about 30 people supports the activities of SFI both in Santa Fe and other locations.

What makes SFI work?

SFI researchers, while well-trained in traditional fields, have a demonstrated ability to transcend the usual disciplinary boundaries in pursuit of the interesting questions. Over its history, the culture of SFI has evolved such that these types of "hybrid minds" can easily and productively collaborate with one another.

How was SFI founded?

George Cowan, at the time a senior fellow at Los Alamos Laboratory, used to get together with other laboratory senior fellows for lunch every now and then. During these lunches, the idea of starting an institute where scientists could pursue problem-driven science (versus the usual imperatives of paradigm- or funding-driven science) directed at the "hard" problems was hatched.

How can I learn more about SFI research?

For an overview of the Institute, read the most recent SFI Annual Report, accessible from the SFI homepage. For the more technically inclined, SFI has a working paper series, a book series, and a variety of other materials, also accessible from the homepage. SFI's news page contains highlights and summaries of recent SFI research. You can also read the "SFI Update" newsletter or the "SFI Bulletin," publications that both contain widely accessible articles about SFI's research. The Institute also sponsors community lectures in Santa Fe every month or so. For students, we have summer schools, internships, and an international program.

Does SFI's research have any real-world impact?

SFI tends to pursue basic research on important questions. As such, we often find that research results are either directly or indirectly applicable to real-world problems. For example, SFI research has been used to design new HIV therapies, influence sustainable agricultural policies in Indonesia, and influence business policy in the age of information.

How can I participate in SFI's research initiatives?

For students we have a variety of educational opportunities. We also have an active postdoctoral program and can host researcher visits.

Can SFI's research be applied to my business?

We have over fifty businesses and non-profit organizations that access SFI's latest research ideas through our Business Network.

How is SFI funded?

About 40 percent of our activities are funded through the generosity of individuals and family foundations; 30 percent are supported by government funding agencies; 10 percent are funded through the corporate affiliates program, the Business Network; and 10 percent are supported by philanthropic foundations. We do have a small amount of endowed funds, and would warmly welcome anyone wishing to make that a larger amount. We also welcome smaller private donations. Ultimately, we want to define and understand questions at the frontiers of science, and the very nature of such a quest often requires us to rely on non-traditional funding sources.