Abigail Jacobs

From Santa Fe Institute Events Wiki

General Bio

I'm a rising senior at Northwestern University, pursuing a double major in math and Mathematical Methods in the Social Sciences, where I've been fortunate to be exposed to and engaged in the complex systems community there.

I'm from the Boston area, about which I'm very proud. I enjoy mountains, coffee, cafes, data visualization, mornings, and short fiction. I am also known to champion both computation and the interdisciplinary. After graduation, I'd like to go to graduate school to pursue a doctorate in complex systems; I've been fostering a growing interest in computer science, so I may tend to similar directions.  

At Northwestern, I've been involved with research for several years primarily under Uri Wilensky, doing work mostly related to agent-based modeling. From there, I've become interested more generally in networks and complex systems, and in addition, have been pursuing classes and small projects in that direction---including classes on social networks; words and information in networks, and symbolic dynamics; dynamical processes on networks; graph theory; and data structures, all across several disciplines. Meanwhile, I've been working on projects related to social and mobility networks, and looking at communication in and between communities in networks.

Overall, I care about problems of (relatively) large data; design; and applications to information, human and social systems.

I get excited about networks and other interesting systems of representation, but also finding problems with the way we use and measure with them, and meaningful ways to combine them; I'm generally curious about methods and tools for the representation and analysis of large data sets, especially with applications to human and social dynamics. I don't have a particular project in mind yet; however, I'm interested in actively developing one, and I'd like to levy my mathematical background and interest in computer science to take on a socially meaningful project. I'm looking forward to being a member of the community of the Santa Fe Institute and experiencing full-time immersion in my work, surrounded by creative, intelligent people.

Old bio, for storytelling's sake, and a living history of how my bio has developed...

Hello! Jumping on the bandwagon...

I'm currently finishing my junior year at Northwestern University, double majoring in math and Mathematical Methods in the Social Sciences.^

I'm from the Boston area (go Red Sox), and as such, I have a very good sense of direction unless we use any of the terms: North, South, East, or West. I like Chicago, but the streets cross at right angles and it's oppressively flat here. Santa Fe appears to be quite the opposite; I am very pleased with this development.

I take coffee and desserts very seriously. I like hiking, short fiction, farmer's markets, and mornings. I'll be rooting for Argentina and Spain in the World Cup. I usually go by Abbie.


I found my way to complex systems around the end of my freshman year - through my dorm, coincidentally - and when I came here I didn't know what complex systems were, much less that we had a center of those people here. I've been working with Uri Wilensky and his group (which is also to say, among other things, the nice people who bring you NetLogo) since then.

I had also been discovering that the methods in my program (game theory, econometrics) were interesting, but didn't seem like enough; I've since realized the notable lack of the word 'computation' was my main disappointment. My senior thesis will be something computation related, likely done jointly through math and computational linguistics.

I've been drifting at a nice pace towards computer science, and I'm looking to go more in directions like that for grad school.


I care about problems of big data. As a result, I get excited about networks and other interesting systems of representation, but also finding problems with the way we use and measure with them, and meaningful ways to combine them.

I'm most interested in applications to information, human and social systems.

I'm also interested in design - from one direction, I did many years, including into college, in yearbook - including representation and visualization. I like reading about data visualization.


I like to call myself a "math person who is interested in complex systems." (Alternatively, a cheerleader for the interdisciplinary.) When I grow up, I think I want to be a complex systems person who likes math.

My lab is technically a joint group across the learning sciences and computer science. This is the cause of many identity issues.

^ Technically this requires also majoring in something in the social sciences. Instead, the official, technical administrative term for how I am meeting that requirement is "something vaguely cohesive relating to computer science, cognitive science, and complex systems." While I'm still waiting for the paperwork to go through, I have been assured that this will All Work Out.

Research Abstract

Mentor: Aaron Clauset

Existing population density measures generally indicate 'nighttime' density, e.g., in the census, location indicates residence where people live at night, failing to capture the significant amounts of time they spend at work, at third places, commuting, and traveling. Furthermore, other indicators from traffic, mobility, and land use models only provide a coarse-grained picture of where people are distributed. In this work, I seek to model population density in urban areas at a higher resolution in both space and time. I plan to bring together spatiotemporal models from different urban areas: for comparison, I will investigate the effectiveness of cell phone data in Nairobi as an indicator of density, in conjunction with population and land use data. In addition, I will apply nonparametric statistical methods to investigate potential population indicators in the United States, focusing on commercial (such as ATMs or Starbucks), social (media, such as Gowalla), and technological (i.e., given by IP addresses) distributions in time and space. The detection of high density and high flux regions at a finer resolution has important implications for their roles as hubs, particularly for their general role in the spread of disease and as potential high-risk targets for attack or system disruption; from this, I wish to contribute to better understanding for policy and urban planning, emergency preparedness and safety, and epidemiology.