Amalie McKee

From Santa Fe Institute Events Wiki

When I'm not rambling on about something that interests me, I'm an easily distracted, overly-curious person who can be baited into doing almost anything with coffee.

I grew up in New Jersey, which makes most people say "I'm sorry" until they see where I live. It's the town where Washington crossed the Delaware - just outside of Princeton, mostly rural, with plenty of urban areas a stone's throw away. Hence my favorite summer pastime, which is long walks in the woods and gelato afterwards.

I was born in Albuquerque, however, which honestly makes most people outside of the southwest go "are you even a US citizen?" which prompts a lot of frustration and talking on my part. Although I moved away before I was really old enough to remember it, I spent many summers there as a teenager. During those summers, I got to do a lot of things which I've never forgotten, including learn how to spin and weave with a Navajo master weaver, spend a lot of time on the reservation, do a lot of trail work, take data for various ecological studies on the state of some grazing lands, build a rain garden and meet a lot of new people. I also spent a lot of those summers backpacking in the surrounding area, which I definitely miss.

But I digress.


Early on I realized I liked solving problems. Whether this was because my parents enjoyed giving them to me so I could entertain myself during the long car rides we'd take when I was young or some other inclination, I have no idea. I soon realized that understanding problems meant more than knowing surface details, it meant knowing related problems and sometimes completely unrelated facts.

In college I felt like I should study physics, because high school physics had been all about solving problems. But the professors who were willing to talk to me, let me wander through their office and babble about whether there was a fourth dimensional equivalent of the cross product we hadn't learned yet, or what the derivative of the factorial operator looked like, were the math professors. I quickly realized that what I thought I liked about physics was really the math.

This is probably when the Systems Biology people found me, reminded me that I had liked physics, and assured me that I'd like their kind of Biology just as much. Several months later, when I wouldn't stop sitting on people so I could show them the mathematica model I'd created demonstrating competitive species coexistence, I decided they were right.

As of now I've just finished my third year as an Applied Math and Systems Biology major at Case Western Reserve University, and am having the time of my life.

Elusive Spare Time

When I'm not obsessing over my latest problem, I wander through farmers markets and talk to bee keepers about invasive species and the benefits of organic cow's milk, or go on walks along trails that haven't been used in far too long. I learn guitar, try to remember piano, and read any novels that allow me to take a break from actually thinking and caring about problems.

When I get tired of that I doodle mini-theorems on Fibonacci sequences mod n and talk to random people about their feelings on Structuralism. I ask horror fantasy illustrators if math is invented or discovered.

I get a lot of weird looks.

Why SFI?

I visited SFI last summer and sat through a talk on predicting behavior patterns based on cell phone history. I found it fascinating. It wasn't the kind of research I'd ever been attracted to doing, but it was the kind of research I love hearing about (I go to a decent number of Cognitive Science talks at my university). Just as much as I wanted to be, the speaker was using math to solve problems and no one was looking at his work saying "yes, but WHY?".

The idea of Complex Systems made sense to me. I thought about the work I'd been doing and the work that I wanted to be doing. They were, without a doubt, complex systems.

Research Abstract

Project Mentors: Jeremy van Cleve and Jennifer Dunne

I will examine pollinator dynamics in ecosystems, using hive dynamics and the dynamics of the interactions between the pollinator species and the plants they pollinate. I will do so in both discrete and continuous time, attempting to find a model that will explain pollinator catastrophes like colony collapse disorder, potentially including such death factors as parasites and pesticides. I will begin communication with beekeepers, attempting to get a collection of data indicating the health of their hives and the plants they pollinate over a period of time to support the model.