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Guided Self-Organisation and Swarm Engineering


Funding is available for applicants interested in carrying out fundamental and applied research in the field of complex systems. The research will involve theoretical work as well as computer simulations. It will aim to discover innovative approaches to guided self-organisation and swarm engineering, while investigating nonlinear critical phenomena, with particular focus on information cascades and phase transitions within swarm systems.    The PhD will be supervised by Prof. Mikhail Prokopenko. The applicant will join the Complex Systems Research Group (CSRG) at The School of Civil Engineering – The University of Sydney. The CSRG group comprises ten academics, and has wide collaborations across the University, Australia, and internationally. It is a vibrant, world-leading group in the fields of guided self-organisation and critical phenomena forecasting.


Professor Mikhail Prokopenko .

Research location

Research Cluster on Complex Systems

Program type



Examples of self-organising systems can be found practically everywhere: a heated fluid forms regular convection patterns of Bénard cells, neuronal ensembles self-organise into complex spike patterns, a swarm changes its shape in response to an approaching predator, ecosystems develop spatial structures in order to deal with diminishing resources, and so on.  Typically, self-organisation (SO) is defined as the evolution of a system into an organised form in the absence of explicit external pressures.   Guided Self-Organisation (GSO) attempts to reconcile two seemingly opposing forces: one is implicitly guiding a self-organising system into a better structured shape and/or functionality, while the other is diversifying the options in an entropic exploration within the available search space. In doing so, one puts in place some constraints on the system dynamics to mediate behaviours and interactions, rather than trying to precisely control a transition towards the desirable outcomes.      Many animals dynamically self-organise within spatial aggregated groups (schools of fish, swarms of locusts, herds of wildebeest, and flocks of birds). Based on perception of local conditions, complex large-scale patterns and structures emerge within a swarm through individual decisions, and further propagate in information cascades.  This PhD study will be focussed on several specific challenges: (i) how to identify phase transitions in collective swarm behaviour through dynamics of information cascades; (ii) how to quantify information flows and physical fluxes between the swarm and its environment;  and (iii) how to optimally guide swarm behaviour to desirable outcomes by placing broad-spectrum constraints. 

Additional information

Applicants need to satisfy the eligibility criteria for PhD enrolment at The University of Sydney.  Backgrounds in applied mathematics, physics, computer science, and specifically in information theory and statistical mechanics will be beneficial.   The successful applicant will demonstrate a strong commitment to academic research in the proposed field. He/she will have excellent written and oral communication skills, as well as demonstrated ability to program in MATLAB, Java, or C++, and will be willing to create and develop original approaches to tackle open questions.   The School of Civil Engineering offers a  full-time scholarship for exceptional local or international students from world leading research institutions wishing to undertake a research doctorate degree in the School. These Scholarship is awarded to local or international students with a degree equivalent to an Australian Bachelor’s Degree with 1st Class Honours in Engineering or Science which includes an independent research project and who ranked in the top 10% of the cohort.   Funding is valued at the APA rate ($25,392 in 2014 per annum, tax exempt), up to three years, subject to satisfactory progress.    For an international student, funding is valued at the APA rate ($25,392 in 2014 per annum), which is paid as a living allowance. The scholarship also includes covering the fees payable by international students.   A top-up of $5,000 per annum may be available based on merit. There is a potential for the applicants to earn an extra $5,000 per annum through assistance in undergraduate teaching.   Applications should be sent by email to Prof. Mikhail Prokopenko:   They should include a Resume and a Cover Letter. In their Cover Letter, applicants are invited to include a short (about 250 words) research statement explaining how they understand the issues related to the topic of research.

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Opportunity ID

The opportunity ID for this research opportunity is 1945

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