MVSem: Modeling and Simulating Interacting Complex and Evolving Systems

  • MVSem Environmental Physics (6 CP, 180 h workload)
  • Tue, 16-18
    • initial meeting April 21
    • Utopia tutorial April 28
  • meeting room: heiCONF (the seminar will be online only)


COVID-19, sad and frightening as it is, also provides powerful and unequivocal spots on the functioning of our world, from the anthropogenic impact on air quality to the operation of contact processes and of population dynamics in heterogeneous and large-scale structured environments and all the way to cultural dynamics including the formation of opinions between dreams and reality. While the whole order is way too tall, obviously, it contains numerous essential aspects from complex systems, eventually also of evolution, that are worth exploring.

This seminar

We focus on rather abstract representations of aspects of contact processes like contagious diseases, population dynamics, and evolution in environments that may be continuous or networks, both either uniform or heterogeneous. The populations may consist of several species with s- (predator-prey) or p- (competition) interactions, including host-pathogen systems. The species may adapt and evolve due to these interactions as well as due to possible changes in the environment, e.g., climate change or use of antimicrobials.

We use cellular automata (CA) and agent-based models (ABM) as highly flexible model representations. The operational basis is provided by the simulation framework Utopia that was developed by the CCEES group in the Institute of Environmental Physics.

The seminar will start on April 28 with an introduction to Utopia. In the following two slots, a short recap of the underlying concepts from the lecture Chaotic, Complex, and Evolving Environmental Systems will be given. The corresponding lecture notes will be available.

Each contribution to the seminar consists of (i) working out, implementing, and analyzing a small study for a specific case, (ii) presenting and discussing the envisaged system, the implemented model, and the simulation results, and (iii) creating a web page, which goes as the seminar report. Participants are encouraged to form small groups of 3…4 members, ideally with different strengths, but may also choose to work alone.


This seminar has three, individually graded aspects: (i) presentation and discussion (40%), (ii) participation in discussions (20%), and (iii) report as a web page (40%).


Tue 16:15–17:45, beginning April 21, 2020, with the general introduction and organization of topics and teams. Regular attendance is mandatory.


Some operational familiarity with C++ and Python is mandatory. The course Chaotic, Complex, and Evolving Environmental Systems (CCEES) is beneficial, but not strictly required.

Access to a reasonably fast computer is required to run the simulations. Utopia can be used via a docker image, which runs on a wide range of systems (basically all except Windows Home Editions), or it can be installed from source on Mac- or Linux-systems.

As this seminar is online only, both a microphone and a webcam are required. Test them before you join.

Student Project Pages

The following student project page resulted from the seminar: