In a world of rapid change, increasing attention is being paid to the concept of resilience—the ability of complex systems to rebound and even thrive after perturbation, stress or collapse. Solutions to pressing global issues that tap such resilience processes require complex systems analyses that draw on data from disparate sources to transform knowledge into understanding and beneficial solutions. To address the growing need for research, education and outreach in this area, Penn State’s interdisciplinary institutes plan to partner with faculty, colleges and campuses to support a new initiative focused on Resilience in Complex Systems.  We envision a scholarly community that draws on a range of innovative research methods such as life cycle analysis that identify conditions that lead to collapse of complex systems—and those that lead to robust resilience behaviors and outcomes. This will require development of innovative research methods that identify convergence and dynamic equilibria. The goal of this initiative is to bring together such a community of world-class scholars, drawing from our current faculty and through strategic co-hires, with expertise in resilience of complex systems. This group of interdisciplinary faculty will collaborate to translate data about complex systems processes into impacts in the form of evidence-based policies, products, programs and practices.

Penn State has the potential to lead in the intellectual domain of resilience analysis by promoting a new paradigm. This initiative will embrace complex systems thinking and focus on integrating existing tools and developing new analytic tools. The products of this work will be in domains ranging from materials, to human health and the built and natural environments, all areas of national and international significance and ones of prominence at the University. In pursuing this vision, Penn State has the potential to provide a radical new approach to academic research, one with implications in domains ranging from education, business, and government to health and human services. By building on the University’s enduring culture of interdisciplinarity this strategic investment is aimed at changing the face of academia toward a sustainable future.

 Example topic areas that we hope to encourage include:

  • System resilience as sustainability in chemical composition design of material systems via life cycle analysis from extraction, to manufacturing, use, and ultimately disposal.
  • Resilience in medicine, including use and misuse of drugs that result in metabolism breakdown.
  • Human resilience in recovery from addiction and trauma.
  • Community resilience, including in response to natural disasters and upheavals in physical, economic and social environments.
  • Cyber security resilience to rogue machine learning threats, and to protect complex operational systems.
  • Resilience of built infrastructure including transportation, utilities, and supply chains to rapid economic, social and environmental change
  • Resilience of natural systems, including adaptation of agriculture, ecosystems and hydrologic cycles to human activities including land conversion, toxins, and climate change.
  • Integration of diverse data streams to describe and simulate complex systems, their evolutionary tipping points, and their uncertainties
  • Resilience in history, culture and the arts – as a human trait, a virtue, and a practice
  • Penn State purchasing practices – investing in resilience with regard to a sustainable world.

For more information about this initiative please contact: