Global Speaker Series: Naomi Leonard, PhD – Princeton University

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The Medicine by Design Global Speaker Series invites established and emerging international leaders in regenerative medicine to engage with our extraordinary community of researchers and clinicians.

Head shot of Naomi LeonardMedicine by Design, in partnership with the McEwen Stem Cell Institute and the Ontario Institute for Regenerative Medicine, is pleased to welcome Naomi Leonard, PhD, Edwin S. Wilsey Professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Princeton University. She will deliver a talk titled “Resilience and the Dynamics of Spreading Processes“.


Talk Abstract

Spreading processes impact biological, social, and technological systems. To systematically derive testable predictions and the means to manage spreading, models are needed that predict spreading dynamics in terms of a few parameters. We study a spreading model in which interacting agents can adjust their susceptibility to the spreading process after first exposure. The model is motivated by an investigation of regulation of foraging by desert harvester ants. Using an analytically tractable model that predicts behaviors exhibited in field data, we show how resilience of colony foraging rates to changing temperature and humidity can be explained by ants modifying their susceptibility to the spread of foraging, once exposed to outside conditions. To generalize these results, we propose and analyze a network contagion model with adjustable susceptibility and agent heterogeneity. We show how four dynamic regimes are distinguished by four numbers that depend on network structure and heterogeneity. In the bi-stable regime, not captured in traditional models, there can be a rapid cascade after a long period of quiescence. We show further how our results allow for systematic design of control strategies to suppress or promote spreading.

This is joint work with Renato Pagliara and (for the ant foraging study) Deborah Gordon.


Naomi Ehrich Leonard is Edwin S. Wilsey Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and associated faculty in Applied and Computational Mathematics at Princeton University.  She is affiliated with the Program in Quantitative and Computational Biology and the Princeton Neuroscience Institute.  Naomi is a control theorist whose work involves analysis and design of feedback and interconnection in complex, dynamical systems.  She uses mathematical models to study mechanisms of collective motion and collective decision-making for multi-agent systems in biology and in engineering.  She has applied her work to animal group at many scales as well as to rule-based improvisational dance.  She led a multidisciplinary ocean sensing project with a month-long deployment of an automated, adaptive network of underwater robotic vehicles in Monterey Bay, CA.  She received her BSE in Mechanical Engineering from Princeton University and her PhD in Electrical Engineering from the University of Maryland.  She is a MacArthur Fellow, and Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, SIAM, IEEE, IFAC, and ASME.

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