Date: May 7, 2009

Maureen O'Leary, Director of Public Information, 202-334-2138; e-mail

Kimberly Suda-Blake, Program Director, at 949-721-2270; email


Keck Futures Initiative Awards $1 Million for 23 Research Projects


Research will explore topics ranging from developing artificial eggs to understanding financial tsunamis

WASHINGTON -- The National Academies Keck Futures Initiative announced today the recipients of its 2008 Futures grants, each awarded to support interdisciplinary research on complex system
such as ecosystems, financial markets, communication networks, and biology.  The 23 projects chosen represent a wide range of approaches to such research, which was the subject of the sixth annual Futures conference.  A summary of the conference, "Complex Systems," is available online at


"We have selected many bold and innovative proposals and believe these collaborations will result in promising findings," said H. Eugene Stanley Ph.D., director, Center for Polymer Studies, Boston University, and the 2008 conference chair.


These competitive seed grants aim to fill a critical gap for research on new ideas.  Major federal funding programs do not typically provide support in areas that are considered risky or unusual.  The Futures grants allow researchers to start recruiting students and postdoctoral fellows, purchasing equipment, and acquiring preliminary data – all of which can position the researchers to compete for larger awards from other public and private sources.

Established through a $40 million grant from the W.M. Keck Foundation in 2003, the National Academies Keck Futures Initiative is a 15-year effort to enhance communication among researchers, funding agencies, universities, and the general public – with the objective of stimulating interdisciplinary research at the most exciting frontiers.  The National Academies and the W.M. Keck Foundation believe considerable scientific progress and social benefit will be achieved by providing a counterbalance to the tendency to isolate research within academic fields.  The Futures Initiative is designed to enable researchers from different disciplines to focus on new questions and entirely new research, and to encourage better communication among scientists as well as between the scientific community and the public.

The award recipients and their grant research topics are:


JOHN M. BEGGS, THOMAS BUSEY, and Jean-Philippe Thivierge, Indiana University, Bloomington

CHRISTOPHER KELLO, University of California, Merced 

Power Law Distributions and Fluctuations in Neural and Behavioral Activity -   $50,000

These researchers aim to bridge these distinct but related levels of analysis. Neurons must coordinate the flow of information between various brain areas and structures. The brain and body must coordinate to effect purposeful behavior. Distinct sources of evidence are converging on common principles to explain coordinated neural and behavioral activities.


SALLY BLOWER, Bradley Wagner, and Justin Okano, Semel Institute for Neuroscience, David Geffen School of Medicine, University of California, Los Angeles

Alessandro Vespignani and Bruno Gonçalves, Indiana University, Bloomington

Raffaele Vardavas, RAND Corporation, Santa Monica, Calif.

Designing an Effective HIV Prevention Plan for Botswana by Coupling an   Information Network Model with a Meta-population Transmission Model -   $75,000

These researchers will use an information network model linked with a transmission model to assess the impact of using antiretrovirals to prevent HIV in Botswana.


STEPHEN J. Bonasera, University of Nebraska Medical Center, Omaha

I.S. Mian, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Berkeley, Calif.

Christopher Rose, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

Agent-based Modeling of Functional Behavior Selection in the Mouse - $50,000

A key function of the central nervous system (CNS) is maintaining organism homeostasis, a process that itself involves “action selection” or choosing behaviors in real time from a broad palette of repertoires according to ongoing internal and external sensory inputs.  These researchers will develop a model of how the mouse brain chooses to perform given current internal and external conditions such as hunger, thirst, need for rest, and environment, in order to improve our understanding of this important yet poorly understood problem.


JAMES P. CRUTCHFIELD, University of California, Davis

Ana V. Diez Roux and George A. Kaplan, University of Michigan

Grant S. McCall, Tulane University, New Orleans

James N. Gardner, Gardner & Gardner Attorneys, PC, Portland, Ore.

NIGEL GOLDENFELD, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

Murray Gell-Mann, Santa Fe Institute, Santa Fe, N.M.

Jessica J. Hellman, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, Ind.

Paul Humphreys, University of Virginia, Charlottesville

John H. Miller, Carnegie Mellon University, Santa Fe Institute

Jessika Trancik, Santa Fe Institute and Earth Institute, Columbia University

Is Sustainability Possible? Frontiers in Collective Modeling via Scientific Open   Source - $50,000

These researchers will adapt modern complex systems methods, both theoretical and computational, to the problem of global sustainability. The principle challenges of multiscale and multidomain modeling will be pursued on scientific and technological tracks: analyzing insect-driven deforestation and climate change and designing a network environment (SOSWorld) for collective modeling by interdisciplinary teams.


RAISSA M. D'SOUZA, University of California, Davis

Tony H. Grubesic, Indiana University, Bloomington

Design Principles for Resilient Critical Infrastructure - $50,000

These researchers will develop a mathematical framework for modeling interacting networks, focused on enhancing resilience of critical infrastructure (e.g., transportation networks, electrical grids, water distribution systems and the Internet).


jennifer A. dunne, Santa Fe Institute, Santa Fe, N.M.

ross hammond, The Brookings Institution, Washington, D.C.

Humans as Explicit Players in Ecosystems: Using Bioenergetic Food-Web   Dynamics and Agent-Based Modeling Approaches to Explore Persistence and   Stability in Complex Ecological Networks - $25,000

Ecological networks called “food webs” characterize the feeding interactions of species that co-occur in particular habitats. These researchers will try new approaches for modeling population and individual-level dynamics to assess the impacts of humans on the stability of ecosystems through their roles as predators and prey in complex socio-ecological systems.


THIERRY EMONET, Yale University, New Haven, Conn.

DOUGLAS B. WEIBEL, University of Wisconsin, Madison

Phenotypic Heterogeneity as a Source of Robustness in Bacterial Sensing - $50,000

Using bacterial sensing as a model system, these researchers will examine how the resulting cell-to-cell variability confers functional robustness to a community of cells.  Since bacterial chemotaxis can be viewed as a strategy for searching and acquiring information, this investigation into how the distribution of searching capabilities of individuals can optimize the behavior of the population will be of great interest to many diverse fields, including ecology, traffic control, distributed power, financial markets, and load balancing in supercomputers.


JAMES A. GLAZIER and JOHN S. GENS, Indiana University, Bloomington

HERBERT M. SAURO, University of Washington, Seattle

   Towards the Artificial Egg -- First Steps towards Custom Creatures - $37,500

These researchers will use complexity-based software tools and modern genetic   engineering to create lines of living mammalian cells which will interact to generate   simple, controllable, emergent structures resembling those in animal tissues, the first step   towards building an Artificial Egg.


Marta C. González, Center for Complex Network Research, Northeastern University

Nathan Eagle, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Santa Fe Institute 

The Search for Universal Laws of Human Movement: A Cross-Cultural Study -   $62,500

The understanding of cultural differences and economic interdependencies underlying human motion has deep implications in fields ranging from urban planning to computational epidemiology. Using mobile phone records, these researchers will quantify the fundamental similarities and differences in the statistics of motion of people among two industrialized and three developing countries, involving approximately 30 million individuals.


Sarah C. heilshorn, Stanford University, Stanford, Calif.

amy l. bauer, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos, N.M.

Theoretical and Experimental Approaches to Engineering Complex Vascular   Networks - $50,000

The development of complex vascular networks is a critical process during embryonic development, adult tissue remodeling, cancer progression, and in potential regenerative medicine therapies. This project is to develop theoretical computational models and experimental laboratory models to predict the fundamental biophysics and biochemistry regulating vascular networks.


pradeep kumar, Rockefeller University, New York City

Interaction of Complex Biomolecules with a Complex Liquid: Role of Water in   Biology - $25,000

These researchers aim to improve our knowledge of possible mechanisms for physical and biological phenomena arising from interactions of biomolecules such as protein, DNA, RNA and water. Progress in this field will contribute towards our understanding of the role of water in many biological processes.


david lazer and Junkka-Pekka Onnela, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.

Nathan Eagle, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Santa Fe Institute 

Behavioral Network Analysis - $37,500

This project aims to link behavior-based ways of measuring relationships (such as a phone call between two people) and more traditional ways of measuring relationships (such as asking who someone’s friends are) to examine whether particular types of relationships are associated with particular types of behaviors.


nathan S. lewis, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena

Tuan A. Duong, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

Use of an Electronic Nose for Breath-Based Detection of Lung-Cancer - $50,000

These researchers will evaluate whether mixtures of volatile organic breath based biomarkers that   have been implicated as diagnostic signatures suitable for a screen for early stage lung cancer can be detected and identified by a low-power, portable, “electronic nose” array of vapor sensors.


frederick I. moxley, Network Science Center, United States Military Academy

Juan M. Ocampo, Trajectory Asset Management, New York City

Michael J. North, University of Chicago, Argonne National Laboratory

Ying-Cheng Lai, Arizona State University, Tempe 

Financial Liquidity and Network Theory - $50,000

.Financial markets are highly complex networks of institutions and transactions through which liquidity, i.e., the flow of credit, enhances economic activity.  These researchers will models these networks to provide understanding, prediction, and some degree of control of this important economic factor.


Caterina Scoglio, Kansas State University, Manhattan

michael L. parchman, University of Texas Health Science Center, San Antonio

Quality of Care and Network Properties of Outpatient Health Care Delivery in the Veterans Health Administration - $25,000

These researchers will describe the network comprised of physicians (nodes) and patients (links) with a large health care system and its relationship with quality of care measures across three domains: access, clinical, and satisfaction.


joshua B. plotkin, Anthony Kroch and Robin Clark, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia

The Population Dynamics of Language Evolution - $25,000

Languages evolve over time. Words that were once common later become rare, or go extinct.  These researchers will investigate whether language change is driven by deterministic Darwinian forces, or by random stochastic events.  Their analysis will use a database of 23,000 digitized English texts, ranging from Beowulf to Britney Spears.


suzanne scarlata, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, N.Y.

Amy E. Herr, University of California, Berkeley

Unraveling Complexity in Cell Signaling:  Mapping Molecular Markers of Directed   Differentiation of Nerve Cells - $50,000

Amazingly, stem cells differentiate into approximately 250 cell types in the human body. Cell signaling comprises complex interactions and feedback – with dependence on time and location. These researchers will employ micro/nanotechnology to characterize cell signaling of neuronal differentiation to try to identify key signaling nodes relevant to neuronal regeneration.


Steven J. schiff, Penn State University, University Park

Brian Litt, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia

Daniel P. Lathrop, University of Maryland, College Park

Model-based Forecasting of Epileptic Seizures- $50,000

Epileptic seizures have similarities to brain storms, yet we have no systematic way that reliably detects impending seizures. This project aims to blend models based from engineering control theory, and the physics of nonlinear dynamics of the atmosphere, to test whether a novel synergistic approach to detecting epileptic seizures can be developed.


H. Eugene stanley, Center for Polymer Studies, Boston University, Boston

Interdisciplinary Approach to Understanding the Causes of Large Economic   Fluctuations - $50,000

Can concepts from statistical physics of phase transitions provide insights into understanding "financial tsunamis”? This research plan will involve comprehensive datasets covering the recent financial crisis, to answer this question.  The statistics of correlations will be used to conduct an analysis of the response of price fluctuations to market participant's demand and collective behavior.


jeffrey A. toretsky, Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.

Lajos P. Balogh, Roswell Park Cancer Institute, Buffalo, N.Y.

Peter Sloot, University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Martin Gruebele, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

Rigoberto Hernandez, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta

Peter T. Cummings, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tenn.

Maia Martcheva, University of Florida, Gainesville

Muhammad Hamid Zaman, University of Texas, Austin

I.S. Mian, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Berkeley, Calif.

Amy L. Bauer, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos, N.M.

Dynamic Network Models of HIV Transmission and Cancer Metastasis - $25,000

These researchers will meet to develop “pre-modeling” concepts of transport in complex   systems involving networked structures in general and dynamic network models of HIV   transmission and cancer metastasis in particular to slow or stop progression of these   diseases.


john p. wikswo, Todd R. Graham, and Peter A. Weil, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tenn.

Amy L. Bauer and Ilya Nemenman, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos, N.M.

Wolfgang Losert, University of Maryland, College Park

Mingjun Zhang, University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Biology on Demand: External Control of a Complex Cellular System, S. cerevisiae - $50,000

These researchers will demonstrate external, multivariable control of the budding yeast, a relatively well-characterized complex system. Their experimental studies   will integrate both feedback and feed-forward control of highly instrumented, computer-controlled microfabricated bioreactor, and enable on-demand selection of metabolic and signaling pathways and hence control of cell fate.


larry yaeger and Olaf Sporns, Indiana University, Bloomington

How Network Structure Gives Rise to Dynamical Complexity - $50,000

Developing formal methods of quantitatively assessing complexity and using them to understand the origins and mechanisms of that complexity are great challenges.  These researchers seek to understand how a network's structural characteristics relate to dynamical patterns of activity in that network--how function follows from form. 


muhammad H. zaman, University of Texas, Austin

David K. Campbell and Adil Najam, Boston University, Boston

Complexity of Higher Education Systems in Developing Countries - $12,500

Secondary and higher education in the developing countries represents a highly dynamic and complex problem – socially, politically, financially and academically. Institutions of higher learning in the developing world are often created, but seldom successful. These researchers will convene a meeting of experts to create a roadmap for a quantitative model of education in developing countries.


For more information, visit <> or contact Kimberly Suda-Blake, program director, at 949-721-2270.


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