Geoffrey West

Santa Fe, NM, United States

About Geoffrey


Geoffrey West is Distinguished Professor and former President of the Santa Fe Institute (SFI). He is also an Associate Fellow of the Said Business School, Oxford University and a visiting Professor of Mathematics at Imperial College, London. Prior to joining SFI in 2003, he was leader and founder of the high energy physics group at Los Alamos National Laboratory, where he is presently one of only about a dozen Senior Fellows. He received his BA from Cambridge University in 1961 (Gonville & Caius College) and his PhD in physics from Stanford University in 1966. After spells at Cornell and Harvard Universities, he returned to Stanford in 1970 to join the faculty. He was President of SFI from 2005 - 2009.

West is a theoretical physicist whose primary interests have been in fundamental questions in physics and biology, ranging from the elementary particles (quarks, gluons, strings, etc), their interactions and cosmological implications to the origins of universal scaling laws and a unifying quantitative framework for addressing diverse questions in biology. His research areas in biology have included metabolic rate, growth, aging & death, sleep, cancer, and ecosystem structure and dynamics.

West’s present work is motivated by the search for “simplicity underlying complexity” and the unifying principles that can lead to a quantitative, predictive, integrated, mathematisable conceptual framework for understanding complex adaptive systems ranging from cells and ecosystems to cities, social networks and the challenges of sustainability.

His recent work has focused on developing an underlying quantitative "universal" theory for the structure and dynamics of cities, companies and long-term global sustainability. Questions addressed include: are there hidden quantifiable principles governing their "coarse grained" behaviour? Are cities "just" large organisms, and why do they persist, whereas all companies die? Can we predict the lifespan of companies? Why does the pace of socio-economic life inextricably accelerate and how is this driven by growth, innovation and wealth creation?

He has given many colloquia and public lectures at high profile events across the globe. Among recent awards are the Mercer Prize from the Ecological Society of America, the Weldon Prize for Mathematical Biology and the Glenn Award for Aging research. He is the author of several books and a Fellow of the American Physical Society. He has been featured in many publications world-wide including The New York Times, Nature, Science, The Financial Times, Wired and Scientific American and has participated in television productions including Nova, the National Geographic and the BBC. His work on cities and companies was selected as a breakthrough idea of 2007 by Harvard Business Review and, in 2006, he was selected for Time magazine's list of "100 Most Influential People in the World".

TED Conference

TEDGlobal 2011

An idea worth spreading

The planet is urbanizing at an exponential rate. Over the next 50 years more than a million people will be added each week to the planet’s urban population! China alone will build several hundred new cities. Clearly, the future of humanity and long-term sustainability are inextricably linked to the fate of our cities. Although they are the hubs of innovation, engines of wealth creation and centers of power, magnets that attract creative individuals, stimulants for ideas, growth, and innovation, they are also the prime locus of crime, pollution, poverty, disease and the consumption of energy and resources. Rapid urbanization has generated global challenges from climate change and its environmental impacts to incipient crises in food, energy, water, health, financial markets and the global economy. There is therefore a critical and urgent need to develop a quantitative, integrated, predictive “science of cities” and, beyond that, a “grand unified theory of sustainability”.