Joining NICO and PLoS Computational Biology

With the new year, I’ve been invited to join the Northwestern Institute on Complex Systems as an External Faculty, and the Editorial Board of PLoS Computational Biology.

nico-logoNICO is an institute dedicated to the study of complex systems, and is part of Northwestern University, in Evanston (a short train ride from Chicago). It is directed by Luis Amaral and Brian Uzzi, two of the best researchers working at the interface of networks and complex systems. I am very much looking forward to work with the faculty there, and I am very interested in the courses and conferences organized by the Center.

ploscb-logoPLoS Computational Biology is one of my favorite journals. I’ve published seven papers in the journal so far (three last year: 1, 2, 3), and I often reviewed and guest-edited for the journal. I am very happy to join the board as an Associate Editor, and I hope this will help increase the number of submissions from ecologists, as well as foster a dialogue between quantitative ecologists and other biologists interested in the computational, statistical, and mathematical aspects of the discipline.

Richard Levins 1930-2016

Sad news for theoretical ecology: on Jan 19th, Richard Levins died in Cambridge, MA. He was 85 years old.

His work has always been my main source of inspiration. I got to read some of his articles in college, when Antonio Bodini—who was then to become my PhD avisor—introduced Loop Analysis in a class on Environmental Impact Assessment. I immediately loved the simplicity, elegance, and power of this method, and I worked on it for my honors thesis (with Alessandro Zaccagnini and Antonio Bodini).

During my PhD years, I’ve read more of his work, including the wonderful (yet almost impossible to find) book with Charles Puccia, and the celebrated articles “The strategy of model building in population biology” and “Evolution in communities near equilibrium”.

All my work on stability, random matrices, and population dynamics has been inspired by Loop Analysis, and even today when I see a matrix, I actually see a composition of loops and paths.

Even the fact I am now in Chicago is somewhat influenced by Levins: he and Lewontin were professors here in the 1970s, and that’s why when I saw the ad for the position in Ecology & Evolution, I immediately felt I had to apply—this is my kind of Department!

There’s a nice picture of Levins in the Lillie Room downstairs: you can see him in his prime, explaining Loop Analysis on the board. That’s the way I want to remember him.

Levins

Beautiful places

Traveling is quite disruptive, especially when you have a family at home, and a lab to run. However, having to travel to incredibly beautiful destinations to meet old friends makes the whole ordeal much more pleasant.

I have just returned to Chicago after a week in Monterey, CA, where I taught a short course on computing at the Hopkins Marine Station of Stanford University. The class was great, and the organizer was my friend Giulio De Leo. I got to spend some time with Giulio and Fiorenza, as well as to interact with an incredibly motivated group of students. I also gave a talk at Hopkins and one at the main campus in Palo Alto. This is what I would see when I went for a run:

Monterey at 6:30AM
Monterey at 6:30AM

Just before heading to Stanford, I have been in Venezia, Italy, for a school on complex systems, organized by Antonio Trovato, Samir Suweis and our very own Jacopo Grilli. Again, the school was great, and the location—in San Servolo island—unbeatable:

Sunset in Venezia seen from San Servolo
Sunset in Venezia seen from San Servolo

These trips energized me a lot, but I am really happy to be home for a good stretch of time!