SFI External Professor and former Omidyar Fellow Daniel Larremore (CU Boulder) presenting at the fall 2023 Postdocs in Complexity conference. Recent gifts from the McKinnon Family Foundation and the Darla Moore Foundation support the continuation of SFI's education and postdoctoral programs. (Image: Scott Wagner/SFI)

In the first major gifts of 2024, and as part of SFI’s 40th Anniversary, the McKinnon Family Foundation and the Darla Moore Foundation have collectively pledged $750K each year for the next five years to support SFI’s education and early-career researcher programs. The gifts will ensure the financial stability of SFI’s Omidyar Fellowship, summer Undergraduate Complexity Research program, and flagship Complex Systems Summer School. 

Throughout its history, SFI has hosted more than 150 postdoctoral fellows. These early-career researchers are selected from around the world and across science for their intellectual curiosity, quantitative rigor, and multidisciplinary creativity. SFI’s Complexity Fellows, supported by various private grants, have wide academic freedom to follow independent research questions. 

“A Complexity Postdoc at SFI is a highly sought-after position. It comes with tremendous freedoms, and an expectation of pursuing important ideas — dare I say risky ideas — at an early stage in a career,” says SFI President David Krakauer. “This is the time when the mind is best prepared for exploration but also the time when our institutions are most conservative. This gift from the McKinnon Family Foundation and the Darla Moore Foundation empowers the pursuit of fundamental science, by extraordinary minds, at a time when they might challenge all that we believe. It is an incredible and important opportunity.”

Each year, four new Complexity Postdoctoral Fellows join SFI as Omidyar Fellows. Since 2009, a generous gift from Pierre and Pam Omidyar has covered half the cost for each Omidyar Fellow, while the remaining expenses have been covered by grants and gifts secured each year. Now, a portion of the McKinnon and Moore gifts will be dedicated to covering those remaining monies, offering SFI significant financial relief and reducing the annual hiring volatility into the future. 

Darla Moore
SFI Trustee 
Ian McKinnon
Ian McKinnon
SFI Trustee and Board Vice-Chair 


“We are pleased and excited to support SFI’s Postdoctoral Fellows Program,” says Darla Moore. “The Fellows represent backgrounds and disciplines that are representative of the wide-ranging, creative exploration of ideas that happens at SFI. We believe in preparing the next generation of scientific minds in understanding complex systems in the hope their continued study will contribute to solving the increasing challenges of our world.”

The new gifts will also cover the full cost of SFI’s Undergraduate Complexity Research program, which brings nine students to Santa Fe each summer for a 10-week immersive experience beside SFI mentors. Many UCR participants have gone on to pursue graduate degrees in areas they were introduced to at SFI, and often maintain research collaborations with other students and their SFI mentors. 

Additionally, the gifts will supplement scholarships for many students enrolled in Complex Systems Summer School. The four-week program offers some 50 graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and professionals the chance to transcend disciplinary boundaries, take intellectual risks, and ask big questions about complex systems. 

“The McKinnon Family Foundation embeds a long-standing focus on education and New Mexico, so this gift to the Santa Fe Institute for complex-systems education and early-career research opportunities fits particularly well with that mission,” says Ian McKinnon. “One of the aspects of SFI which has always stood out to me is the way analytical rigor in its research approach is coupled with an appreciation for, and embrace of, the ineffable beauty of the complex adaptive systems which surround us. To the extent that this gift is targeted toward education and early career research, our hope is that we will help to empower new generations of complexity scholars who will apply that rigor and sense of beauty across a broad range of dimensions.” 

The challenges that society faces today, from the future of work, to responding to novel pandemics, growing social and political polarization, and rapidly developing “intelligent” technologies are all rooted in complex adaptive networks. “Given that addressing some of the most thorny global challenges requires an approach rooted in complex systems science.” says McKinnon “We believe programs like the ones we are helping to fund will yield great returns for society in ways we can now only imagine.”