Introduction to Complex Systems

Course code
Course fee (excl. housing)
Course Level
Advanced Bachelor
This course is closed and you can't apply anymore. Please check our other courses.

Our world has an abundance of so-called complex systems. These are typically large collections of connected elements that influence each other. In this hybrid 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.

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 15 August 2022 to Friday 19 August 2022. The scientific part can be followed either on-campus or online (limited place available for the on-campus variant).

Tentative schedule for the summer school (all times in CEST)

The first four days of the summer school will spotlight a different complexity science theme. This theme will be covered in an two hour introduction lecture, a one hour specialist research lecture, and a smaller numerical project related to the day's themes.

Day 1 (Monday 15 August)
Theme: Tipping points and collective behaviour

09:00-09:30 Welcome, Introductions to summer school and programme
09:30-11:45 Lecture by prof. dr. ir. Henk Dijkstra
11:45-12:15 Introduction of Project #1
12:15-13:30 ~ Lunch Break ~
13:30-14:30 Specialist Lecture on Simulating Human Navigation and Crowds by dr. Roland Geraerts
14:30-17:00 Work on Project #1

Day 2 (Tuesday 16 August)
Theme: Feedback processes and emergence

09:00-09:15 Welcome
09:15-11:30 Lecture by prof. dr. ir. Max Rietkerk
11:30-12:00 Introduction of Project #2
12:00-13:30 ~ Lunch Break ~
13:30-14:30 Specialist Lecture on Development Biology by prof. dr. Kirsten ten Tusscher
14:30-17:00 Work on Project #2

Day 3 (Wednesday 17 August)
Theme: Theory of Networks

09:00-09:15 Welcome
09:15-11:30 Lecture by dr. Deb Panja
11:30-12:00 Introduction of Project #3
12:00-13:30 ~ Lunch Break ~
13:30-14:30 Specialist Lecture Lecture on Complex Systems Thinking in Sociology by dr. Rense Corten
14:30-17:00 Work on Project #3

Day 4 (Thursday 18 August)
Theme: Adaptive and evolutionary systems

09:00-09:15 Welcome
09:15-11:30 Lecture by prof dr. Rob de Boer
11:30-12:00 Introduction of Project #4
12:00-13:30 ~ Lunch Break ~
13:30-14:30 Specialist Lecture on Ocean Circulation and Marine Connectivity by prof. dr. Erik van Sebille
14:30-17:00 Work on Project #4

Day 5 (Friday 19 August)
Student presentations: participants will present their results on the project work from previous days. Presentations should be finished by lunch.


Participants will be divided into groups to do all projects. On the last day, there will be no specialist lecture, but 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 their video of previous summer schools!

Day-to-day programme (PDF)
Course director
Dr. Robbin Bastiaansen


Associate Members of the Centre for Complex Systems Studies (from all faculties of Utrecht University), scientists from their groups and possibly external guest lecturers.

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.

Study load

The course consists of tutorial lectures and guest lectures from the broadest possible range of topics/fields/problems where complex systems play a role, as well as hands-on computer practice in the afternoons.


Course fee:
Fee covers
Course + course materials + mealplan
Housing fee:
Housing cost
Housing provider:
Utrecht Summer School
Extra information about the fee

The fee varies between on-campus and online variants. 

On-campus: €200 - The on-campus fee covers the course costs, as well as all lunches, one dinner, and drinks plus treats during breaks.

Online: €100 - The online fee covers only the course costs.

The correct fee will be applied after acceptance to the summer school.


Extra application information

Please also upload an additional file in which you indicate the following:

  1. Whether you want to participate on-campus or online.
  2. Why you choose this summer school and what you expect to gain from this course (max 150 words)

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

Additional Application Form

More information


Application deadline: 
Registration deadline
18 July 2022