ICTP/SISSA introduce state-of-the-art courses in complex systems modeling

19 March 2001 - The Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) and the International School for Advanced Studies (SISSA) in Trieste (Italy) are launching a two-year Master's Degree Programme on Modeling and Simulation of Complex Realities.

Open to graduate students with backgrounds in mathematics, engineering and physics, the programme will explore the growing number of ways in which applied mathematics and statistical physics are being used to address real-world problems related to complexity and uncertainty.

‘Decades of experience show’, explains Prof. Virasoro, Director of the ICTP, ‘that many of our alumni who play important roles in high-level decision-making in their countries have to deal with imprecise data and a lack of knowledge of all the variables that parameterize a given problem. In tackling such real-world problems, a key difficulty lies in their reformulation in terms that are amenable to rigorous and quantitative scientific treatment’.

Prof. Virasoro is the first to admit that the vast range of subjects to be covered precludes an encyclopaedic education in all. To start with, he plans to organize a general course that will provide an overview of mathematical methods, plus a few more specific courses on selected themes. Topics to be examined include probability theory and stochastic processess, information theory and time series analysis, game theory and financial mathematics, and fluid dynamics and geophysical modeling.

The programme includes a research component because training without research becomes sterile and drab. Coursework will be followed by internships in governmental agencies and industrial firms to expose students to 'real-world' problem-solving. A major aim of the programme is to enable participants to utilize indigenous tools to solve practical problems in their own environments. As part of the research component, ICTP and SISSA plan to create a 'Santa Barbara-like structure' that will bring groups of researchers to the ICTP for extended periods. Such a structure will broaden student exposure to a variety of disciplines in energy research, economics and ecology.

The ICTP would like to launch the programme simultaneously in Trieste and at some affiliated centres in developing countries, but this will depend on funding levels. At the very least, ICTP plans to help its Affiliated Centres in the developing world to build similar programmes.

This new programme to train young scientists in modern mathematical strategies for practical problem-solving adheres to principles articulated in the World Conference on Science. Paragraph 7 of the Science Agenda recommends, for instance, that ‘each country aim at having high-quality scientific institutions capable of providing research and training facilities in areas of specific interest. In those cases where countries are unable to create such institutions, the necessary support should be granted by the international community, through partnership and cooperation’.

The ICTP operates under the aegis of UNESCO and IAEA, and is regularized by a seat agreement with the Italian government that provides most of the Centre's funding. One of the main aims of the ICTP is to foster the growth of advanced studies and research in the developing countries.

Source: ICTP; for further information, write to: mastercr@ictp.trieste.it.