Introduction to Complex Systems

In this course, we combine examples across physics, the life sciences, socio-economic sciences and humanities with an introduction to basic mathematical tools to learn a complex systems way of thinking. The main aim is to show students how complex systems science is applied by Utrecht University researchers to challenging societal problems.



Course Level
Advanced Bachelor
ECTS credits
1.5 ECTS
Course location(s)
Utrecht, The Netherlands


Our world has an abundance of so-called complex systems. These are typically large collections of connected elements that influence each other. In recent decades, the science of studying complex systems has started to evolve and mature. It has become clear that a new, more integrated way of thinking is essential for understanding many of the complex challenges that humanity faces. The aim is to derive rules on how the dynamical behaviour of a complex system depends on the combined properties of individual elements, the nature of the interactions between elements, as well as the topology of interactions between elements, in order to understand and predict these systems and control them to have desirable properties. As an example, insight into which features of complex systems generate resilience against perturbations versus which properties enhance the sensitivity of the system and allow it to transition to a different equilibrium state is important for a broad range of questions on, for instance, climate change, social-political change, disruptive innovations, infectious disease emergence and ecosystem collapse.

The course will take place from Monday 19 August 2024 to Friday 23 August 2024 at the Utrecht Science Park. It consists of tutorial lectures and guest lectures from the broadest possible range of topics/fields/problems in which complex systems play a role, as well as hands-on computer practice working on projects in the afternoons. A more detailed programme will be added once it has been finalised.

Participants will be divided into groups to do all the projects. On the last day each group will present the results of one project. Only the ones who present the final projects can get the certificates and credits.

This course is offered by the Centre for Complex Systems Studies (CCCS). Please check out the video to get an impression of the centre!

Target audience

No specific knowledge is required. Basic mathematical and programming skills will help, but are not required.

Aim of the course

The aim of the course is:

  • i) to recognise complex systems related to societal, environmental, engineering and scientific problems and to learn their basic features;
  • ii) to introduce a complex systems way of thinking and analysis;
  • iii) to learn basic mathematical concepts and methods needed for complex system analysis, for example from dynamical systems theory and the theory of networks;
  • iv) to get hands-on experience in studying complex systems.


  • Course fee: €250.00
  • Included: Course + course materials + mealplan
  • Housing fee: €250
  • Housing provider: Utrecht Summer School

The fee covers the course costs, as well as all lunches, one social activity including dinner, and drinks plus treats during breaks.

Additional information

The housing costs include housing, plus a Utrecht Summer School sleeping bag, for you to keep. This sleeping bag also includes an inflatable pillow and matrass cover. If you wish to bring your own bedding, please contact us, so we can give you a € 50 discount on the housing fee. Please note that you cannot buy individual bedding items.


Please also upload an additional file/application form in which you indicate why you choose this summer school and what you expect to gain from this course (max 150 words in Word or pdf).

For this course you are required to upload the following documents when applying:

  • C.V.
  • Additional Application Form