Thematic Einstein Semester

Opening Day

April 25, 2022

To kick off the TES, the opening day will introduce a spectrum of approaches to mathematical analysis of past and present social systems. Also, it will present a few characteristic data sets that shall be objects of study in the TES. We invite interested students to participate and investigate these data sets throughout the semester in small interdisciplinary groups.


The Opening Day is part of the Thematic Einstein Semester “The Mathematics of Complex Social Systems: Past, Present, and Future”.

Invited Speakers

Karoline Wiesner (University of Potsdam)

Alessandro Vespignani (Northeastern University, Boston)

Naomi E. Leonard (Princeton University)

Manfred Laubichler (Arizona State University)


Karoline Wiesner (University of Potsdam): Stability of democracies: a complexity science perspective


Political scientists have conventionally assumed that achieving democracy is a one-way ratchet. Only very recently has the question of “democratic backsliding” attracted the attention of scientists. Complexity science offers a range of tools to analyse the stability of social institutions in general, and democracy in particular. What makes a democracy stable? And which processes potentially lead to instability of a democratic system? We will discuss the concepts of complexity science and their relevance in the context of democracy. Furthermore, we will present a novel approach to quantitative analysis of democracy data using complexity science tools. The preliminary results indicate that a close collaboration between social and complexity scientists leads to novel insights into the dynamics of democracies. We will end this talks with offering several policy recommendations to help (re)stabilize current systems of representative democracy.


Alessandro Vespignani (Northeastern University, Boston): Computational Epidemiology at the time of COVID-19


The data science revolution is finally enabling the development of large-scale data-driven models that provide real- or near-real-time forecasts and risk analysis for infectious disease threats. These models also provide rationales and quantitative analysis to support policy-making decisions and intervention plans. At the same time, the non-incremental advance of the field presents a broad range of challenges: algorithmic (multiscale constitutive equations, scalability, parallelization), real-time integration of novel digital data streams (social networks, participatory platform, human mobility etc.). I will review and discuss recent results and challenges in the area, and focus on ongoing work aimed at responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.


Naomi E. Leonard (Princeton University): Nonlinear Opinion Dynamics on Networks: Agreeing, Disagreeing, and Avoiding Indecision


I will present continuous-time multi-option nonlinear opinion dynamics for a group of agents that observe or communicate opinions over a network. Nonlinearity is introduced by saturating opinion exchanges: this enables a wide range of analytically tractable opinion-forming behaviors, including multi-stable agreement and disagreement, deadlock breaking, tunable sensitivity to input, robustness to disturbance, flexible transition between patterns of opinions, and opinion cascades. I will discuss how network-dependent tuning rules can robustly control the system behavior and how state-feedback dynamics for model parameters make the behavior adaptive to changing external conditions. The model provides new means for systematic study of dynamics on natural and engineered networks, from information spread and political polarization to collective decision making and dynamic task allocation.


Manfred Laubichler (Arizona State University): Co-evolutionary dynamics from the origin of life to the Anthropocene


Running projects and hackathon on benchmark data sets

Groups of students are invited to investigate the TES’ characteristic data sets projects running throughout the semester, following the three disciplines of modeling, simulation, and analysis. Experts from the field will offer their support regarding mathematical methods and data analysis. Among projects that present their findings at the final conference an award winner will be chosen.

Organizational detail

The Opening Day takes place as a hybrid event, where the on-site part will be at Zuse Institute Berlin in Berlin-Dahlem.


9:00-9:30 Introduction (Christof Schütte + Friederike Fless)
9:30-10:30 Karoline Wiesner – Stability of democracies: a complexity science perspective
10:30-11:00 Coffee break
11:00-11:45 Data sets I – Social Systems in the Past (Nataša Djurdjevac Conrad + Benjamin Ducke)
11:45-12:30 Data sets II – Social Systems in the Present (Sarah Wolf + Jan-Hendrik Niemann)
12:30-14:00 Lunch break
14:00-15:00 Alessandro Vespignani – Computational Epidemiology at the time of COVID-19
15:00-16:00 Naomi E. Leonard – Nonlinear Opinion Dynamics on Networks: Agreeing, Disagreeing, and Avoiding Indecision
16:00-16:30 Coffee break
16:30-17:30 Manfred Laubichler – Co-evolutionary dynamics from the origin of life to the Anthropocene


Registration is free of charge. To register for this workshop please use the link:

Deadline for registration: April 15, 2022