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It is generally acknowledged that many of the key challenges and opportunities in the study of matter involve understanding complex and collective phenomena. Because these challenges frequently fall at the boundaries between conventional scientific disciplines, there is an urgent need to create new kinds of thinking and institutions capable of exploiting these opportunities. At the core of this new enterprise in the study of matter is the search for an understanding of emergent behavior – phenomena whose ultimate cause involves interactions between many simple units but which cannot be easily predicted from knowledge of the component parts alone. Our shorthand designation for soft, hard, and living matter exhibiting emergent phenomena is complex adaptive matter.

Because the collective phenomena of assembled systems are rarely a simple function of the well-understood properties of the pieces (understanding atoms well does not give you a theory of proteins!), the goal is shifted to finding the organizing principles that drive emergent behavior at given length and time scales.  Not only does this emerging science transcend traditional disciplinary boundaries, but its rapid scale of change makes it desirable to approach their study with a dynamic institution capable of adapting quickly as new ideas and opportunities arise, a task that has proved difficult for traditional agencies and institutions.

It is this primary scientific strategy and philosophy that underlies the Institute for Complex Adaptive Matter, an open distributed experiment-based dynamic multi-institutional partnership whose purpose is to identify major new research themes in complex adaptive matter and to nucleate and conduct collaborative research and scientific training that links together scientists in different fields and different institutions. In so doing, ICAM draws from the chemical, physical and biological viewpoints on its research themes.

Established in March 1999, ICAM became, in April 2002, a Multidisciplinary Research Program of the University of California, with nine founding branches. In July, 2004, it received an award by NSF to establish the International Institute for Complex Adaptive Matter (I2CAM) as an integral part of ICAM to continue and expand ICAM’s international scientific and educational activities. Since then ICAM-I2CAM has grown rapidly to its present constellation of 72 branches: 35 in the US, 17 in Europe, 14 in Asia, 1 in Canada, 1 in Australia, 2 in the Middle East, 2 in South America; and 4 partner institutions. Altogether, ICAM links 112 leading centers of complex materials research worldwide.

ICAM’s integrated scientific and educational program includes exploratory workshops, symposia, fellowships, and research and educational networks. It has a well-developed communication, governance and advisory structure. Moreover, at each branch there is in turn an interdisciplinary grouping at the local level – from materials science, physics, chemistry, and biology, from theory and experiment. ICAM received early support from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the David and Lucille Packard Foundation, the University of California Office of the President, Los Alamos National Laboratory, and the Richard Lounsbery Foundation. Its current activities are supported by the National Science Foundation and cost sharing contributions from its branch members.

ICAM Beginnings

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