How do we harness emergence of complex behaviour?

CIFAR's Global Call for Ideas invited applicants from all over the world to propose an important research question they want to address. We chose 12 finalists, and will announce the final selection in May. Find out more about this finalist.

The phenomenon of emergence – interactions among simpler entities which leads to new properties or behaviour – cuts across numerous complex systems in physics, economics, ecology, sociology etc. The Emergence in Living and Non-Living Systems program will explore the phenomenon from a developmental biology perspective, examining how the collective behaviour of individual cells leads to the emergence of complex systems.

It will link these principles to advanced non-living machines that can adapt and evolve. Imagine machines composed of “programmable matter” that can form dynamically-changing physical structures, buildings which adjust their structure in response to the geometry of their location, or re-configurable robots which can self-direct themselves to adapt their shape and configuration for different tasks.


  •   Peter Zandstra is l’Anson Professor of Tissue Engineering and Canada Research Chair in Stem Cell Bioengineering at the University of Toronto.
  •   Hiroaki Kitano is head of the Systems Biology Institute and a professor at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology.

Find out more about the other short-listed Global Call proposals