Dynamics of Complex Systems

Our research is focused on emergent dynamical properties of Complex Systems at the convergence of physics, materials science, and biology.

A special focus is on applications to cancer biology. Complex systems, i.e. systems with many dynamically interacting units, often display emergent behavior that cannot be anticipated from studies of individual units. Some examples of generic characteristics that are unique to complex systems are spiral patterns, dynamical phase transitions, and spatio-temporal chaos. Our research is focused on complex systems in materials science and biology.

Granular Dynamics: In applications to materials science, we investigate the motion of granular materials, such as sand, by developing an innovative technique to imaging the interior of a granular material, and applying network theory approaches in novel ways. Our goal is to characterize how interactions between particles in granular flows can lead to strikingly robust collective behavior such as memory of prior excitation, and segregation of particles by size. We developed a novel 3D laser scanning tomography approach that allows for direct imaging of the inside of granular flows. This is allowing us to directly observe individual and collective behavior of particles in flows. Our current analysis in collaboration with the Girvan group (UMD) focuses is on the use of network theory to assess the breaking and reforming of contact networks in granular flows. Funded by DTRA.

Biodynamics: At the convergence with biology, my group is motivated both by the desire to gain fundamental insights into the behavior of living systems and by the drive to contribute to the pressing challenges associated with the explosion of quantitative information in medical research. Our analysis of shape dynamics of migrating cells has led us to discover mechanical waves as a ubiquitous underlying motor in many fast-migrating cells. Our recent work indicates that the motor for fast migrating cells is based on reaction-diffusion waves start at the leading edge and propagate down alternating sides of the cell. Our goal is to elucidate how surface chemistry and topography affects this migratory machinery, and how internal waves may be harnessed to control cell behavior. To control surface topography we use nanofabrication approaches pioneered by our collaborator J. Fourkas (Chemistry). We also develop new tools to control the arrangement and dynamics of cell groups via holographic laser tweezers (in collaboration with SK Gupta, UMD). Funded by NIGMS, NSF and NIST.

Cancer Dynamics: In a project funded by a DOD Era of Hope Scholar Award to Dr Stuart Martin, we investigate the mechanical properties of models of circulating tumor cells. We also apply Complex Systems approaches to investigate cancer related biological processes as part of a Cancer Technology interaction between the University of Maryland and the National Cancer Institute that was formalized in 2010. Work supported by DOD and NIH.


We are now accepting applications for the 2015 MATLAB Boot Camp. Read more on the Boot Camp's website.

Kerstin Nordstrom was quoted in PNAS's Inner Workings about her postdoctoral work on RoboClam.

UMD and NIH Researchers Receive $1.7M BRAIN Grant to Investigate How Crowds of Neurons Process Sensory Information

Wolfgang Losert will serve as Interim Associate Dean for Research in the College of Computer, Mathematical and Natural Sciences (CMNS). Additional details are available in the Physics Department's News from the Chair.

Can Guven recently defended his PhD thesis. Congratulations Dr. Guven!

Graduate student Rachel Lee was profiled by LabTV as part of project to interest high school students in science. Kai Keefe, the University of Maryland undergraduate student who produced the video, was honored at the Tribeca Film Festival for his work!

Postdoctoral researcher Kerstin Nordstrom's work on granular flows near an undersea digging robot, RoboClam, was featured in the Los Angeles Times, in Science News, in the Physics Central Buzz Blog, an in the BBC News (Radio Version).

Recent Publications

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University of Maryland


Please contact rmlee @ umd.edu for updates to this page and wlosert @ umd.edu for questions about the Dynamics of Complex Systems lab.
Thank you to Deborah Hemingway for taking our group photo!