Systems Science Seminar Series


The Systems Science Seminar Series covers a wide range of topics, providing an opportunity for presenters to share and attendees to become exposed to the latest research from different fields and disciplines. Agent-based simulation, artificial intelligence, artificial life, genetic algorithms, machine learning, neural networks, signal processing, social networks, system dynamics, and science itself are just a few of the many diverse topics that have been presented, all in an informal environment where questions and discussion are encouraged.

Unless otherwise specified, SySc Seminars are held on Fridays from 12-1PM, in Harder House Room 104, throughout Fall and Winter terms. For those taking the seminar for credit, grading is based on attendance, either in-person or remote.

CONTACT US: If you have questions, comments, or topic/speaker suggestions, or if you would like to present a seminar, please email Joe Fusion at

SEMINAR ANNOUNCEMENT LISTSERVE: To receive seminar announcements, you can join our mailing list. If that doesn't work, please email Joe Fusion at

A list of previous seminar announcements and recordings can be found on our Seminar Archive page.


Winter 2019 Seminar Schedule

01/11/2019 — Jasper Alt, "Mobile Geometric Graphs as Null Models for Homophily" [announcement] [recording] [slides]
01/18/2019 — Hector Dominguez, "The Complexities of Open Data" [announcement] [recording] [slides]
01/25/2019 — no seminar
02/01/2019 — Gary Langford, "What if our beliefs about a system are not wholly accurate? What if?" [announcement] [recording] [slides]
02/08/2019 — Martin Zwick, "Diachronics of Redemption: A Systems-Theoretic Exploration of Rosenzweig's Star" [announcement] [no recording]
02/15/2019 — Rajesh Venkatachalapathy, "Performativity of Models" [announcement] [recording]
02/22/2019 — John Blyler, topic TBA
03/01/2019 — Elizabeth Reed, topic TBA
03/08/2019 — speaker TBA
03/15/2019 — speaker TBA


Winter 2019 Seminar Announcements

February 15, 2019
"Performativity of Models"
presented by Rajesh Venkatachalapathy

Inspired by Latour's work in social studies of science and technology, Callon, MacKenzie and others developed a performativity critique of economics. Building on this, Healy (2015) recently discussed the performativity of network models. While useful, I move away from French continental philosophy to avoid unavoidable comparisons with Foucauldian conceptions of performativity. Instead, I use ideas from vanilla historical sociology of science and technology and cognitive science to understand performativity. 

I first discuss Healy's critique of network models. Keeping with the worst traditions in systems science, I greedily apply this concept to all models in science and engineering by first critiquing  my own dissertation and then present several other examples, ending with a performativity critique of performativity.

Speaker Bio
Rajesh is about to complete a long overdue dissertation in system science. His doctoral work is at the interface of cognitive science, sociology and animal behavior. In Spring 2019, he will teach SYSC 440/540 Introduction to Network Science.


February 8, 2019
"Diachronics of Redemption: A Systems-Theoretic Exploration of Rosenzweig's Star"
presented by Martin Zwick

This presentation offers an interpretation of the conceptual structures of Franz Rosenzweig’s book, The Star of Redemption. These structures, which join three fundamental relations – Creation, Revelation, and Redemption – with three fundamental elements – God, World, and Human – are examined from a systems-theoretic perspective. Moses, Pollock, and others have noted the systematic character of the Star. While “systematic” doesn’t necessarily mean systems-theoretic, the philosophical theology of the Star and its core hexad of elements and relations exemplify ideas salient in the systems theory literature. The hexadic star itself fits the classic definition of “system,” and the Yes and No of Rosenzweig’s elements and their reversals illustrate the bridging, in this definition, of element and relation with the third category of attribute. Rosenzweig’s thought resonates with the opposing ontological and epistemological notions of “system,” the constitutiveness of function as well as structure, and the diachronics of system formation, all of which are fundamental to systems thought.

Speaker Bio
Martin Zwick was awarded his Ph.D. in Biophysics at MIT in 1968, and joined the Biophysics Department faculty of the University of Chicago in 1969. Since 1976 he has been teaching and doing research in the Systems Science Program at Portland State University; during the years 1984-1989 he was head of the program. His main research areas are information theoretic modeling, theoretical biology, and systems theory and philosophy. Scientifically, his focus is on applying systems methods to the natural and social sciences, most recently to biomedical data analysis. Philosophically, his focus is on how systems ideas relate to old and new currents in philosophy, how they might facilitate dialog between science and religion, and how they help us understand societal problems.


February 1, 2019
"What if our beliefs about a system are not wholly accurate? What if?"
presented by Gary Langford

For most people, a system is a construct with vexing complexities, many many parts, and perhaps wrapped with a goal or intention. Add to that simple construct a set of terminologies that are commonly applied when speaking of “systems” and we just might have veered away from discoveries of imminent importance. Ask yourself, “You said it was a system, but how did that statement help you solve your problem? How far off would we have to be in our perception of systemsness for us to make mistakes of consequence? One Hundred Billion are lost annually in software projects that failed – Why?”
Of some great mysteries we look to the frontiers of research in astrophysics and attempt to explain the fabric of space; the utility of process models used to achieve our engineering goals; the fundamentals of risk and economic forecasting; and even the future of artificial intelligent systems. Are systems involved in these quests; and if so how?
My research focuses on modeling the internal structures and actions of systems. I have discovered that systems are omnipresent, radically distinctive and without equal, and misunderstood.

Speaker Bio
Gary Langford is a serial entrepreneur founding five companies, taking one public on Nasdaq; was executive vice president of a merchant bank; a NASA Ames research fellow with 2 space missions to Mars; a systems engineer working for multiple aerospace companies; and for 19 years, teaching systems engineering at Portland State University, Naval Postgraduate School, and Stanford University. He has an A.B. in Astronomy (UC Berkeley), M.S. in Physics (Cal State University, Hayward), and Ph.D. in Electronics and Engineering (University of South Australia).


January 18, 2019
"The Complexities of Open Data"
presented by Hector Dominguez

Hector Dominguez is the current Open Data Coordinator at the City of Portland, and there are several lessons learned and strategies developed in the several months of work in this position. Hector will share some challenges on creating trusted and reliable data and information services, as well as the opportunities to work with Urban Data to resolve city challenges and to support achieving the City's goals in the coming years.

In this talk, Hector will share how modeling and defining the right metrics are not the only factors to implementing a citywide program, but rather, how ethics, communications and strategy play fundamental roles.


Speaker Bio
Hector comes from a mixed background of entrepreneurship, research and non-profit organizations, with expertise on Internet of things, advanced analytics, robotics and automation and Artificial Intelligence. Hector has developed sensor networks for agriculture, food production, forest monitoring and the oil industry. Hector has a PhD in Mechanical Engineering with a focus on manufacturing solar concentrators and sustainable manufacturing.


January 11, 2019
"Mobile Geometric Graphs as Null Models for Homophily"
presented by Jasper Alt

In many contexts we may expect the structure of networks to be derived from some kind of abstract distance between actors. We refer to this phenomenon as homophily: like nodes connect to like. For example, people with similar beliefs may be more likely to form social relations. 
We formalize this notion by positioning the nodes in a latent space representing the possible values of the homophilous attributes. Realistically, we should expect latent attributes like beliefs to change over time in some nontrivial way, and the structures of temporal networks to evolve accordingly. We introduce a model of latent space dynamics where node positions evolve according to Brownian motion. While not a realistic model for social behavior, we expect this will be a useful null model for exploring the range of possible latent space dynamics.

Speaker Bio
Jasper Alt is a master's candidate in computer science at Portland State University. He is interested in networks, natural computation, and environmental prediction.



Fall 2018 Seminar Schedule

9/28/2018 — School year kick-off party, with refreshments. (No speaker; attendance not required.)
10/5/2018 — Terry Bristol, "Systems Philosophy and Engineering Thermodynamics" [announcement] [recording] [speaker video] [slides]
10/12/2018 — Dale Frakes, "Modeling Public Susceptibility to Fake News" [announcement] [recording]
10/19/2018 — John Driscoll, "A New Paradigm of Design Science That Applies Rigor and Analysis to the Creation of Form" [announcement] [recording]
10/26/2018 — Peter Roolf, "High Energy Metaphysics: A Firsthand Account of Chaos, Transformation, and Innovation at ISSS2018" [announcement] [no recording]
11/2/2018 — Max Grad, "What is Learning?" [announcement] [recording (first few minutes missed)]
11/9/2018 — Martin Zwick, "Reconstructability and Dynamics of Elementary Cellular Automata" [announcement] [recording]
11/16/2018 — John Vodonick, "The Key to Organizational Sustainability: Nurturing a Culture of Change" [announcement] [recording]
11/23/2018 — Thanksgiving Break, no seminar.
11/30/2018 — Miles Schneider, "The Biocybernetics of Sleep: borrowing socio-industrial and agricultural design tools to examine the strange phenomenon of lucid dreaming" [announcement] [slides] [no recording]


Fall 2018 Seminar Announcements

November 30, 2018
"The Biocybernetics of Sleep: borrowing socio-industrial and agricultural design tools to examine the strange phenomenon of lucid dreaming"
presented by Miles Schneider

"The Eight Principles of Biocybernetic Design" are a set of principles first described by Frederic Vester (and further developed by his student, Gabriele Harrer-Puchner) as a method of preserving and strengthening a relationship with nature in the course of designing social and industrial systems. These principles borrow inspiration from processes observed in nature, with the goal of putting these successful natural problem-solving strategies to work in artificial complex systems. Unsurprisingly, then, biocybernetic design principles overlap with similar principles used in the design of permaculture systems. In this talk, I will use both of these sets of design principles to examine the phenomenon of lucid dreaming—the ability to maintain awareness and control while in a dreaming state. While a minority of people find that lucid dreaming comes naturally, frequently, and easily, most do not. However, it is a skill that can be learned with practice. Applying the biocybernetic and permaculture design perspectives to the practice of lucid dreaming reveals leverage points which can be used to improve the learning process, as well as unexpected benefits in tangential aspects of life.

Speaker Bio
Miles Schneider holds a BA in Neuroscience from the College of Wooster, with a minor in Music. As a soon-to-be graduate of the Systems Science Master's Degree program at Portland State University, his interests include refugee migration and resettlement, human cognition, and evolutionary approaches to art and creative design using genetic algorithms. Additionally, Miles holds a Permaculture Design Certificate from the Ka'Way Monti School of Sustainability, earned while working at an off-the-grid eco-hostel in the Peruvian Andes. He is a runner and a violinist, and has a passion for building and riding bicycles.


November 16, 2018
"The Key to Organizational Sustainability: Nurturing a Culture of Change"
presented by John Vodonick

Unless they are constructed for purely theoretical purposes, all human organizations exist in their own particular environments. Those environments are subject to change. Unless the organization accommodates the changing environment. The chances of it continuing to serve the needs of its stakeholders will diminish. At a certain point as the needs of the stakeholders of the organization will cease to be served and the organization will no longer be sustainable. When the organization ceases to be sustainable it will cease to exits in its present form. The problem of organizational sustainability has been intensively studied. The issue of organizational resistance to change has been historically approached from the perspective of militating organizational resistance to a particular change initiative. In this paper, the social and historical roots of resistance to change are explored, and a new strategy to accommodate organizational change is developed. That new strategy is to adopt and nurture a culture of change. The first step in creating an organizational culture of change is to make change an everyday expectation by adjusting the organizational structure to encourage the assumption of power, authority and creativity throughout the organization. The basic four structures of organization are surveyed, and the type of structure that has been found to be most accepting and supporting of change is the type that has come to be known as an adhocracy.

Speaker Bio
John Vodonick did his undergraduate work in business systems at California State University, Fullerton, the Mihaylo College of Business and Economics. He graduated from the Pepperdine School of Law cum laude, and did his master's work in ethics and social theory at the Graduate Theological Union at Berkeley and his Ph.D. at Saybrook University in Organizational Systems. John teaches in the areas of organizational design and change management. He consults in the areas of Organizational Structure, Change Management and Organizational research. John is affiliated with Two Ravens Consulting Group.


November 9, 2018
"Reconstructability and Dynamics of Elementary Cellular Automata"
presented by Martin Zwick

Reconstructability analysis (RA) is a probabilistic graphical modeling (machine learning) method which determines whether a multivariate relation is decomposable with or without loss into lower ordinality relations. In this study RA is applied to predict the presence or absence of chaos in the dynamics of elementary cellular automata (ECA). Set-theoretic analysis (SRA) is first used to characterize the ECA mappings. Non-decomposable mappings tend to produce chaos, and the decomposition without loss that is possible for each mapping is more effective than λ (Walker & Ashby, Langton) as a predictor of chaos. SRA yields not only the simplest lossless structure but also a vector of losses for all structures indexed by parameter t. The vector subsumes λ, Wuensche’s Z, and versions of Walker & Ashby’s fluency, memory, and hesitancy within a single framework, and is a strong but still imperfect predictor of the dynamics. Information-theoretic analysis (IRA) captures the same information as SRA, and provides a clear interpretation of the Walker-Ashby measures. Of the parameters tested, fluency is the best scalar predictor of chaos.

Speaker Bio
Martin Zwick has been teaching and doing research in the Systems Science Program since 1976. His main research areas are described at the three web pages below. Scientifically, his focus is applying systems theory and methodology to the natural and social sciences, especially to biomedical data analysis, the evolution of cooperation, and sustainability. Philosophically, his focus is on how systems ideas relate to classical and contemporary philosophy, including the philosophies of science and of religion, and how they help us understand societal problems.


November 2, 2018
"What is Learning?"
presented by Max Grad

In our quest to create models of cognition, it is necessary that we re-examine the very question of 'what does it mean to learn'? This talk will include a heavy participation component, as the participants work together to contemplate what can be learned, and what is the manifestation of that learning? Using Control Theory as a jumping off point, we'll consider what it means for a system to come into contact with new stimuli, to undergo a learning process, and to come out of that process having integrated that stimuli into its range of 'expected' possible stimuli, with a practiced response. The systems we'll be contemplating will be the individual, the group, and the formal organization.

A scenario to contemplate in advance: 

A flyer is posted on PSU campus advertising for incoming freshmen who have never ridden a bicycle. They are invited to come to the park blocks on a Saturday where a variety of bicycles are provided. They are welcome to get tutoring, have a friend to help, or go their own way. 

  • When would you say that a student could 'ride a bike'? 
  • What does the student know before beginning? 
  • What is a waypoint between ignorance and mastery? 

Speaker Bio
Max Grad has a Master's in Teaching from Seattle University and a Master's in Science from PSU's Systems Science department. His main focus is on shared displays of discrete semantic content in associational networks, an attempt to improve the learning process by helping students make sense of what they know. 


October 26, 2018
"High Energy Metaphysics: A Firsthand Account of Chaos, Transformation, and Innovation at the International Society for the Systems Sciences 2018 Conference"
presented by Peter Roolf

The primary focus of modern science is on the observation of phenomena, collection of data, and rigorous logical and mathematical analysis in order to formulate or refine rules of nature. However, underlying and supporting these processes are deep personal motivations, mental frameworks and biases, decisions informed by intuition, and the social exchange of ideas with other scientists, all of which contribute to how we understand the world. These subjective, metaphysical features and experiences are both an essential part of directing scientific inquiry and a key to learning how to view the world through a systems scientific lens.

This presentation will highlight some of these themes via a first-person narrative of the presenter’s experiences at the 2018 International Society for the Systems Sciences' annual conference. Additionally, the presenter will convey his broad interpretation of the state of the art in the systems science field, as well as provide room for reflection and discussion from other Portland State University faculty and students who attended the conference.

Speaker Bio
Peter is a systems science PhD student at Portland State University, where he currently studies general systems theory, complexity, and computer modeling and simulation. He earned his Bachelor's degree in Emergency Medicine from the University of Pittsburgh. His current interests include: resilience, transformation, and management of social-ecological systems, systems dynamics, reconstructability analysis, networks, ethics and value systems, community infrastructure development, and economics.


October 19, 2018
"A New Paradigm of Design Science That Applies Rigor and Analysis to the Creation of Form"
presented by John Driscoll

Solutions to the global challenges we face undoubtedly require a wholistic approach that looks at the problem from multiple perspectives. One important and powerful perspective is that of the designer. Fuller offers an analogy to a ship in terms of the trim tab on the rudder (Fuller, 2008). The trim tab has seemingly little to do with the overall working of the ship yet it has in fact a powerful influence on the overall heading even though it is a small and relatively innocuous component. Design and architectural design specifically represent such a leverage point. 

Architecture has traditionally been the space of designers trained in architecture but not necessarily in computer science, yet the tools of the architect are becoming increasingly computer-based. Conversely, computer scientists are often not trained in design and yet their work is having a large effect on how buildings are designed and built, and consequently on our built and natural environments. 

Many tools are now available for the architect which not only have redefined how architects design and represent buildings but also suggest a new paradigm of design science that applies rigor and analysis to the creation of form. The field of design science anticipated by Fuller and others is still in its infancy and much remains to be done to bridge the gap between science and design. Machine learning, for instance, remains largely a black box to the architect/designer. The proposed research will develop and test a design process integrating fractal geometry as an objective function within a genetic algorithm as a means to produce higher quality designs.

Speaker Bio
I am primarily interested in holistic architecture and the rationalization of city planning. From the perspective of an architect and scientist, I am researching the processes by which urban spatio-temporal structures behave as multi-scale complex adaptive systems within ecosystems. My goal is to apply theory and methods from systems science to create collaborative human / machine design processes. Cities are simultaneously the physical manifestation of buildings and infrastructure or hardware as well as the software and wetware of socio-economic systems and biological-ecological systems. Fractal cartography, cellular automata simulation, genetic algorithms, and statistical physics are some of the theoretical components underlying the framework I have developed and applied in a number of projects to date.


October 12, 2018
"Modeling Public Susceptibility to Fake News"
presented by Dale Frakes

This session will present on-going research in using Agent Based Modeling to study applying Inoculation Theory to mitigating the spread of false-news. Inoculation Theory ( comes from the psychology domain and aims to explain how attitudes and beliefs change, and how they can be maintained against attempts to change them. In this modeling effort we (a team headed by researchers from Decision Research: are attempting to combine existing models of how opinions can change through interactions between agents with ideas from inoculation theory. Our goal is to develop a model that can demonstrate the effectiveness of using inoculation theory to fight against “false news” and to help guide research on human subjects that may eventually result in useful policies.

In this talk I will focus primarily on the agent-based modeling effort, including our efforts to replicate previous simulation studies, the various problems we faced and how we chose to solve them, and finally looking at the challenges we face in completing the project.

Speaker Bio
Dale Frakes is a Ph.D. student in the Systems Science program with a focus on computer modeling & simulation. He has a diverse professional history including 10 years in supply chain and analytics at Nike, 4 years in IT at University of Portland's School of Engineering, and 4 years in the US Army as a paratrooper and Arabic linguist. He has a BA in International Studies/Middle East from Portland State, and an MBA with a concentration in Global Business from the University of Portland. He currently teaches courses in computer modeling & simulation for the Systems Science department as well as working as a research consultant.


October 5, 2018
"Systems Philosophy and Engineering Thermodynamics"
presented by Terry Bristol

Despite impressive contributions, the philosophical foundations of systems theory remain in flux. In the practical context, the proper understanding of the relation of the systemsframework to classical mechanics and quantum theory remains unresolved.
I argue our understanding of systems theory is advanced by recognizing the crucial link to engineering and thermodynamics. Engineering thermodynamics is more general than the historically dominant ‘rational mechanical’ thermodynamics of Clausius, Boltzmann, the Entropy Cult (viz. Jaynes’s MEP) and the recent information theory.
That systems theory’s philosophical foundations are in a philosophy of engineering and an engineering worldview should be no surprise, given the modern origins in cybernetics and operations research. The natural extension of systems to ecology, from Odum to Ulanowicz, support the thesis. More recently, Paul Romer’s New Growth Economics moved us from the old scientific economics to an inherently developmental engineering systems framework.
The Systems Engineering Thermodynamics Paradigm (SETP), is more general than all possible scientific, mechanical frameworks, formally subsuming and superseding. To subsume means to be able to explain all the successes of the prior scientific paradigms as idealizing special cases. To supersede is more subtle. It means that SETP understands the limited scientific paradigms in a new way, within its more comprehensive conceptual framework.

Speaker Bio
President, Institute for Science, Engineering and Public Policy. Affiliated with Portland State University. Education: Berkeley and London. History and Philosophy of Science (Feyerabend, Kuhn, Lakatos, Popper). Morphed in History and Philosophy of (Systems) Engineering. Taught 8 years at Linfield College, intermittently over 20 years at PSU, PCC, Marylhurst. Organizes Linus Pauling Memorial Lecture Series,


Summer 2018 — Special Seminar

  • 7/20/18 — Joseph Lizer, “What information dynamics can tell us about ... brains”

The space-time dynamics of interactions in neural systems are often described using terminology of information processing, or computation, in particular with reference to information being stored, transferred and modified in these systems. In this talk, we describe an information-theoretic framework — information dynamics — that we have used to quantify each of these operations on information, and their dynamics in space and time. Not only does this framework quantitatively align with natural qualitative descriptions of neural information processing, it provides multiple complementary perspectives on how, where and why a system is exhibiting complexity. We will review the application of this framework in computational neuroscience in particular, describing what it can and indeed has revealed in this domain. First, we discuss examples of characterising behavioural regimes and responses in terms of information processing, including under different neural conditions and around critical states. Next, we show how the space-time dynamics of information storage, transfer and modification directly reveal how distributed computation is implemented in a system, highlighting information processing hot-spots and emergent computational structures, and providing evidence for conjectures on neural information processing such as predictive coding theory. Finally, via applications to several models of dynamical networks and human brain images, we demonstrate how information dynamics relates the structure of complex networks to their function, and how it can invert such analysis to infer structure from dynamics.

Speaker Bio
Dr. Joseph Lizier is an Australian Research Council DECRA fellow and Senior Lecturer in Complex Systems, in the Faculty of Engineering and IT at The University of Sydney (since 2015) where he teaches into the University's new Master of Complex Systems degree. His research focusses on studying the dynamics of information processing in biological and bio-inspired complex systems and networks, in particular for neural systems. He is a founding developer of the open source JIDT toolbox for measuring the dynamics of complex systems using information theory, and the related IDTxl toolbox for inferring effective network structure in neural data. He is an editorial board member at Entropy, Complex Systems, and Frontiers in Robotics and AI, and has recently chaired conferences including IEEE ALife and the CNS workshop on Methods of Information Theory in Computational Neuroscience. Before joining The University of Sydney, Dr. Lizier was a Research Scientist and Postdoctoral Fellow at CSIRO ICT Centre (Sydney, 2012-14), and a Postdoctoral Researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Mathematics in the Sciences (Leipzig, 2010-12). He has also worked as a Research Engineer in the telecommunications industry for 10 years, including at Seeker Wireless (2006-2010) and Telstra Research Laboratories (2001-2006). He obtained a PhD in Computer Science (2010), and Bachelor degrees in Electrical Engineering (2001) and Science (1999), from The University of Sydney.

Note: We weren't able to record Dr. Lizier's talk due to technical difficulties, but a recording of the same talk given at MIT the next week is available.


Spring 2018 — Special Seminar Series on Computational and Data Science

This series of special seminars will meet at 12:30 in CH 418, with one exception. See website link above for complete details.


Winter 2018 Schedule


TITLE: Climate Science
DATE: Friday, March 16th, 2018, 12:00 - 1:00PM
PRESENTOR: Dr. Aslam Khalil

SUMMARY: Dr. Khalil will present a simplified climate science model and discuss some of the key challenges associated with climate change.

BIO: Dr. Khalil is a professor of physics at PSU.  He received his Ph.D. in theoretical physics from the Center for Particle Theory at the University of Texas at Austin. He is a theoretician with diverse research interests and the 2004 winner of the Outstanding Scientist Award from the Oregon Academy of Sciences. His areas of expertise include man-made global warming, natural climate variability, effects of climate change on human life, reducing climate change: science and policy, ozone depletion and its consequences, how human activities change atmospheric composition, global cycles of greenhouse gases, non-CO2 greenhouse gases, connections between climate change and human health, and interaction of population increases and global warming.


TITLE: "Dimension" in Synergetics
DATE: Friday, March 9, 2018, 12:00 - 1:00 PM
PRESENTER: Kirby Urner

SUMMARY:  At the turn of the last century, at the beginning of the 1900s, there was much ferment over the concept of "dimension" and what we might mean by a "fourth dimension".  Edwin Abbott's Flatland had proved influential. Many people got in on this conversation, in the arts as well as the sciences. Buckminster Fuller ​(1895 – 1983), in taking "4D" for a kind of logo or brand, was clearly interested in joining this conversation, but exactly what was his contribution and how might it be remembered and/or integrated into 21st Century scholarship, going forward?
BIO: Kirby Urner was born in Chicago into a city planning family, his dad's first client being Greater Portland in the 1960s. The family then moved to Italy when the government of Libya became his dad's next client. After high school in the Philippines, Kirby went to Princeton, focusing on philosophy and computer programming (Richard Rorty a thesis adviser).  After some years on the east coast, he moved back to Portland in the 1980s and raised a family, working as a software developer.  Nowadays he teaches Python to professionals and middle schoolers.  He first connected with Fuller's work around 1980 and has approached it as a philosophy worthy of further investigation ever since.​  He is the primary author behind the Synergetics page on Wikipedia.​


TITLE: One Government’s Use of LCA – An Introduction
DATE: Friday, March 2, 2018, 12:00 - 1:00 PM
PRESENTER: Peter Canepa

SUMMARY:  The scale and extent of humanity’s global demand, in terms of total material output from the technosphere, has been estimated at 30 trillion metric tons and rising.  Extracting, manufacturing, transporting, selling, using, and disposing of these materials and products has led to vast environmental impacts.  This trend and its impacts are no different in Oregon.

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is tasked with protecting the quality of Oregon’s environment.  And so in December 2012, to address the rising demand for and impacts of materials, Oregon’s Environmental Quality Commission adopted Materials Management in Oregon: 2050 Vision and Framework for Action.  The 2050 Vision imagines a future where Oregonians “produce and use materials responsibly: conserving resources, protecting the environment, [and] living well.”  It was informed and inspired by DEQ’s prior experience with life cycle assessment (LCA), and life cycle thinking is at the core of this Vision which “seeks to reduce environmental impacts by managing materials throughout all stages of their life cycle.” 

To achieve the 2050 Vision, an array of new projects that employ LCA are now underway.  This presentation will begin with an introduction to the concepts and methodologies of LCA and highlight a current project where Oregon DEQ is using LCA to reduce impacts of an essential building material, Concrete. 

BIO:  Peter Canepa joined the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality in January 2017, providing Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) expertise to Oregon’s Materials Management program.  Peter’s primary role is to support projects, primarily through the application of LCA, that advance Oregon towards achieving its 2050 vision for sustainable materials management.  Prior to this role, Peter spent 8.5 years with Thinkstep.  Peter holds a Master’s degree in Environmental Science and Management and a Bachelor's degree in Environmental Studies.

TITLE: Cybernetics of Contentious Politics
DATE: Friday, February 23, 2018, 12:00 - 1:00 PM
PRESENTER: Rajesh Venkatachalapathy

SUMMARY: This talk is primarily a book review of Zeynep Tufekci's Twitter and Tear Gas: The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest. I discuss its core thesis and highlight salient arguments with several illustrative examples. I argue how we can enrich our understanding of both this book and contentious politics in general by using concepts from systems theories.

BIO: Rajesh is a graduate student at the Systems Science Graduate Program. His dissertation work develops models of behavior for use as models in sociology, psychology and animal behavior.

TITLE: How are Data Science and Systems Science Connected?
DATE: Friday, February 16, 2018, 12:00 - 1:00 PM
PRESENTER: Ted Laderas
SUMMARY: Data Science is a relatively new interdisciplinary field, taking concepts from statistics and machine learning to produce predictive models. However, Systems Science concepts (such as feature-feature interactions and dynamics) have been largely underutilized in Data Science. In this talk, I'd like to start a discussion of specific ways that Systems Science can inform Data Science. I will start with examples of network analysis in my research that have led to better predictive models, and end with a discussion about the interpretability of black box predictors such as neural networks. I believe that Systems Science approaches can enhance Data Science by providing a deeper understanding of interactions between features and interpretability. 
BIO: I am an Assistant Professor in the Division of Bioinformatics and Computational Biology in the Department of Medical Informatics and Clinical Epidemiology at OHSU (BCB/DMICE). My research focus is on the Systems Biology of Complex Diseases, especially within cancer. I use integrative modeling approaches (such as network analysis and graphical models) across OMICs types to achieve this. I am also an active participant in the Portland Data Science community, especially the R programming community. More information at


TITLE: Smart Cities Initiatives in the Portland Region 
SPEAKER: Dr. Kristin Tufte
WHEN: Friday, February 9, 2016, 12:00 - 1:00 PM

SUMMARY: This talk will describe work in Smart Cities in the Portland region. We’ll begin with the framework and motivation for the Smart Cities work and the question What is a Smart City? We’ll discuss Portland’s approach to Smart Cities, provide some historical context and then give an overview of ongoing Smart Cities projects including work on AV policy, the Portland Urban Data Lake, new sensors and earthquake resilience. The goal of the talk is to give the audience an overview of the work being done in Portland to bring a human face to data and technology and to inspire question and discussion.

BIO: Dr. Tufte is actively involved in Portland’s Smart Cities work and was the data lead on the City of Portland’s Smart Cities proposal. Dr. Tufte has collaborated closely with transportation agencies in the Portland-Vancouver area for the past ten years and directs PORTAL — the regional transportation data archive. Dr. Tufte is a member of the Transportation Research Board’s Urban Data Committee, co-chairing its Urban Big Data subcommittee and Portland Global Cities Team Challenge Action Cluster. Dr. Tufte has a PhD in Database Management from the University of Wisconsin - Madison. Dr. Tufte’s passion is using data and technology to change people’s lives, especially those in traditionally underserved communities.


TITLE: Natural Selection, Mental Action, and the Sciences
PRESENTER: Steve Staloff
DATE: Friday, Feb 2, 2018, 12:00 - 1:00 PM

SUMMARY: Although overlooked by contemporary evolutionary biology, mental action -- recognized through learning and decision-making -- is present in every living organism. In this presentation I explain how, starting from shortly after natural selection begins, bodies and mental action co-evolve. Mental action provides direction and coordination – the decision-making services bodies would otherwise lack. Evolution develops over the ages forming a timeline through a series of discoveries and new behaviors, each of which redefines competitiveness. Using the timeline, I am able to show (1) where gaps are found in scientific and philosophical understandings by overlooking the evolutionary role of mental action, and (2) where some areas of study, akthough not usually associated with evolution, have evolutionary roots.

SPEAKER BIO: Steve Staloff received his PhD from the University of Oregon in Economics. He taught at the University of Maine and Portland State University, and did theoretical and statistical research at Resources for the Future and Pacific Northwest Laboratories in resource, solar and conservation issues. A research question aimed elsewhere led to his current line of research when his model exposed a possible connection between a modern act of human thinking and a simple molecular invention of a sort likely to occur early in an evolutionary sequence. The effect on Staloff upon recognizing the potential connection was like a gateway drug grabbing a soul. Never before had he given thought to the source of mental action. Staloff became a generalist as he examined the nooks and crannies where this research led, in the process discovering where and how this research relates to existing studies.


TITLE: Portland Institute for Computational Science (PICS): an introduction
DATE: Friday, Jan 26, 2018, 12:00 - 1:00 PM

SUMMARY: We will introduce PICS and give a brief outline of the research directions and interests of its founding members - J. Gopalakrishnan, B. Jedynak, J. Ovall, and P. Vassilevski all from the Fariborz Maseeh Department of Mathematics and Statistics.

Short bios of the speakers: 

Bruno M. Jedynak received his doctorate in Applied Mathematics and Statistics from the Université Paris Sud in January 1995. He spent a year as post-doc in the Department of Statistics at the University of Chicago. He was then appointed as assistant professor at the Université des Sciences et Technologies de Lille. From 2003 to 2015, he was a faculty member of the Department of Applied Mathematics and Statistics at the Johns Hopkins University. In 2015, he moved to the Fariborz Maseeh Department of Mathematics and Statistics at Portland State University in Oregon where he is currently appointed as Maseeh Professor in Mathematical Sciences.

Email: or
Web page: 

Jay Gopalakrishnan received his Ph.D. in computational mathematics from Texas A&M University, in 1999. He was industrial postdoc associate at IMA as joint appointment at University of Minnesota and Medtronic Inc., Cardiac Surgery Division, Minneapolis. During the period 2001-2012 he was at University of Florida as assistant (2001-2006), associate (2006-2010) and full professor (2010-2012). In 2012, he became the Maseeh Distinguished Chair & Professor at Portland State University. His research spans broad area of computational mathematics, with contributions to the theory of geometric multigrid and domain decomposition and their application to electromagnetics with over 70 publications. Currently, he is pursuing innovative strategies for space-time problems, including application of DPG (discontinuous Petrov-Galerkin) and least-squares finite element technologies. He is the co-founder of PICS and led a 5-year recruitment effort that hired several mid-career professors and built a recognized computational group from the ground up.

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Jeffrey S. Ovall received his Ph.D. in Mathematics from the University of California, San Diego, in 2004.  After postdoctoral appointments at the Max Planck Institute for Mathematics in the Sciences and the California Institute of Technology, he joined the mathematics faculty at the University of Kentucky in 2009.  In 2013, he moved to the Fariborz Maseeh Department of Mathematics and Statistics at Portland State University, where he is currently a Maseeh Professor and one of the founding members of the Portland Institute for Computational Science. His area of specialty is Numerical Analysis and Scientific Computation for Partial Differential Equations.

Web page:

Dr. Vassilevski is a computational mathematician at CASC/LLNL (Center for Applied Scientific Computing, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory) as of March 1998.  Since 9-16-2014 he is also a professor of mathematics at Portland State University ( ). Since then, he holds joint positions with LLNL and PSU. Prior to 1998 he held various visiting positions, including at UCLA (1991-1993), Texas A &M (1996) and UCSD (winter term, 1998). He earned his PhD from the University of Sofia, Sofia, Bulgaria in 1984 and began his career at the Academy of Sciences, Sofia, Bulgaria where he was till 1997. He has a long-term research experience in numerical methods for partial differential equations (PDEs), both discretization and solvers, with most of his early accomplishments found in his 2008 monograph. More recently, he has been involved in research on multilevel methods for finite element upscaling, Monte Carlo and Markov Chain Monte Carlo methods, as well as on multilevel algorithms for discrete mathematics (graphs), all ranging from theory to scalable algorithms with contributions to some of the main software libraries (Hypre and MFEM) developed at CASC/LLNL.  At PSU, he is the founding co-director of the newly established Portland Institute for Computational Science (PICS, ). His research has been funded continuously by DOE ASCR, and after he joined Portland State, by the ARO and NSF. He has been mentoring postdocs and graduate students, and for many (about 20) years he has been actively involved with the LLNL Ph.D. internship program.

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DATE: Friday, Jan 19, 2018, 12:00 - 1:00 PM
PRESENTER: Alexis Dinno
TITLE: An Introduction to the Loop Analysis of Qualitatively Specified Complex Causal Systems

SUMMARY: Dr. Dinno will introduce and motivate Richard Levins' loop analysis, which is a body of methods for understanding the nature of system behavior in complex systems defined by causal feedback where every variable is directly or indirectly affected by every other variable. Originally devised by Richard Levins as a means of creating testable hypotheses about the behavior of dynamic systems in population biology, loop analysis has a very general application in sciences concerned with modeling causal feedback, and accommodates posing, answering and empirically validating a variety of questions regarding system responses to perturbations at one or more variables.

BIO: Alexis Dinno is trained as a social epidemiologist and teaches much of the core Master of Public Health curriculum at the OHSU-PSU School of Public Health. Dr. Dinno's research subjects are varied, ranging from urban air pollution exposure modeling, to time series analysis of the effects of state same sex marriage laws on state rates of opposite sex marriage, to passenger exposure to noise on public transit, to vulnerabilities analyses in tobacco control policy. Her work consistently tries to set the bar higher for analytic methodology in her domains of research. She also touches on applied statistical methods and develops statistical software for Stata and R.


DATE: Friday, Jan 12, 2018, 12:00 - 1:00 PM
PRESENTER: Holly Brewster
PRESENTATION TITLE: Teaching for Risk Tolerance:  Intellectual Virtue in Mathematics Education

An important aspect of navigating the world as an adult is the appropriate response to risk, including processing and evaluating information related to likelihood of occurrences and impact of consequences.  We might reasonably expect that children learn these capacities in school.  However, in the U.S. and many other Western Nations, the dominant paradigm in schooling is characterized by a skills model of learning  that is insufficient for educating students to handle these epistemic demands.  In particular, it undermines the development of open-mindedness, intellectual courage, and capacity for uncertainty.  I will focus on math education in particular as the discipline seemingly most committed to the skills paradigm, and seemingly most naturally suited to it as well.  
I will argue that the skills paradigm in mathematics education derives from an impoverished and incorrect
understanding of the nature of the discipline.  Drawing from Naturalist philosophies of mathematics, which are
precursors to today’s Systems-Oriented Social Epistemology, I will offer an alternative conception of the growth of mathematical knowledge and show that contrary to public conception, mathematics is uniquely well-suited for
exercising and developing the intellectual virtues we seek.  

BIO: Holly Brewster is a philosopher of education and a mathematics teacher by training, and has worked as a
classroom teacher, a professor of education, and a teacher educator.  She completed her M.Ed. at the University of Washington and her Ph.D. at Columbia University.  Her research is interdisciplinary, drawing from philosophy of mathematics, critical race theory and whiteness studies, feminist theory, and virtue ethics.  She currently teaches in the Transitional Studies department at Clark College where she works with adult students from marginalized populations to prepare for vocational training and higher education.  In addition Holly is a MS student in Mathematics at PSU.