Applied Math for the Life and Social Sciences (Complex Adaptive Sys Science), PhD

Students in the applied mathematics for the life and social sciences program may select a concentration in complex adaptive systems (CAS) science.

CAS science is the study of highly interactive and dynamic systems that change over individual and evolutionary time scales. The spread of epidemics, society-biology interactions of obesity, impacts of agriculture on land degradation, ecological impacts of urban growth and social responses to natural disasters all involve CAS.

Human societies have made the modern world more complex than ever before, with over 6 billion individuals living in urban centers of millions of inhabitants, divided into innumerable social and economic roles and organized into hierarchies many levels deep. As a result, the simple cause-and-effect thinking that has served our species well for so long may no longer offer reliable predictions of the outcomes of social action – even when systematized in the careful trial and error learning that has made Western science so successful.

Arizona State University’s School of Human Evolution and Social Change, School of Life Sciences and School of Sustainability offer a concentration in complex adaptive systems that provides doctoral students with a solid, transdisciplinary foundation in this field.

The complex adaptive systems science concentration is also available in the following degree programs:


The recent recognition of the value of CAS approaches is leading to a growing demand for researchers who are able to apply the concepts and methods of complex systems approaches to the study of dynamic socio-natural systems, as well as relevant policy decisions – demand that will grow in coming decades. Moreover, most of the few graduate programs that offer training in complex systems approaches are aimed at computation and computer science, physical systems or engineering rather than the self-organized, dynamic CAS that characterize living organisms, ecosystems and human societies.  

Students' career opportunities will be enhanced by combining fluency in the common language of complexity with a solid foundation in the domain knowledge of existing academic disciplines. There is a clear and growing need for young scientists to be able to work and collaborate in an increasingly interdisciplinary context.

Academic units that students might engage with in order to fulfill the requirements of the complexity concentration include:


See the applied mathematics for the life and social sciences PhD page for further information on the degree program.

Learn more about the complex adaptive systems science concentration at ASU.

Students applying to a participating graduate program

Applicants interested in the CASS concentration must submit the ASU Graduate College online application according to the deadlines and including any application materials required by the academic unit offering the participating degree. Additionally, applicants must submit two personal statements; the first addressing their fit with the participating degree program and the second addressing their fit with the CASS concentration. To ensure that admitted students have the appropriate disciplinary knowledge, CASS faculty only review applications that have been recommended for admission to doctoral programs offering the concentration.

Students already in a participating graduate program

 Students already in a participating ASU graduate degree program who wish to be considered for the concentration should submit the following to C. Michael Barton, director, Center for Social Dynamics & Complexity:
  • a statement of interest
  • a letter from their doctoral supervisor or other advisory faculty member
  • a current transcript

For the concentration in complex adaptive systems science, 12 credit hours will be selected from an approved list of applicable courses related to complexity. These courses are: 

  • ASM 570 Fundamentals of Complex Adaptive Systems Science (3)
  • One of the following mathematics of CAS courses (3):
    • AML 610 Topics in Applied Mathematics for the Life and Social Sciences
    • AML 591 Probability Theory
    • ASM 591 Dynamic Modeling in Social and Ecological Systems
  • One of the following modeling CAS courses (3):
    • AML 612 Applied Mathematics for the Life and Social Sciences Modeling Seminar
    • AML 591 Agent Based Modeling
    • ASM 591 Dynamic Modeling in Social and Ecological Systems
    • PUP 598 Modeling and Simulating Urban Environments
    • CES 561 Modeling and Simulation Theory & Application
    • PAF 591 Introduction to Policy Informatics
  • One of the following application of CAS courses (3):
    • ASM 591/BIO591 Readings in Complexity
    • PAF 591 Complexity in Public Policy & Management
    • SOS 598 Social Network Analysis
    • PSY 576 Dynamics in Psychology
    • PSY 598 Dynamics in Perception, Action and Cognition
    • ANB 602 Current Issues in Animal Behavior
    • BIO 591 Topics in Mathematics for Life and Sustainability Science
    • BIO 522 Populations: Evolutionary Ecology
    • BIO 545 Populations: Evolutionary Genetics 

An additional 3 credit hours of CAS-related research credit will also be required. At least one member of the student's doctoral supervisory committee must be a CAS faculty member, and the dissertation must include CAS approaches.

Students without a master's degree apply to phase I of the program, where they will receive a master's-in-passing.

Students with a master's degree in a related field begin in phase II of the doctoral program, where they receive training to become expert scholars able to contribute not only to their chosen field, but to finding solutions to humankind's greatest challenges. 

For more information, please contact or 480-965-6215.

Degree Offered

Applied Math for the Life and Social Sciences (Complex Adaptive Sys Science), PhD
Liberal Arts & Sciences, College of


Plan of Study

The Plan of Study is the required curriculum to complete the program.

View Plan of Study