PhD Position at the Frontier of Statistical Physics, Information Theory and Mathematics

PhD Position at the Frontier of Statistical Physics, Information Theory and Mathematics

Published Deadline Location
17 May 18 Jun Amsterdam

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Job description

Towards an Information Topological Theory of Emergence

We are seeking a highly motivated and ambitious PhD candidate to carry out interdisciplinary theoretical research on the development of a fundamental theory of emergence from an information theoretic perspective.

If successful, you will work on a new mathematical framework to identify and characterize emergent information structures in multivariate data. The theory will build upon ideas from information topology, information geometry, and statistical modeling. We will aim to address the question: "How can one detect and characterize emergent properties of real systems in a model-independent way?"

You will work at the University of Amsterdam starting in the Fall of 2023, where you will enjoy a stimulating multi-disciplinary research environment. You will be part of the research program"Foundations and Applications of Emergence" (FAEME) of theDutch Institute for Emergent Phenomena (DIEP), and will work under the supervision of an interdisciplinary team of researchers: Dr. Clélia de Mulatier at the Institute for Theoretical Physics, Prof. Jo Ellis-Monaghan at the Korteweg-de Vries Institute for Mathematics, and Dr. Patrick Forré at the Informatics Institute. Depending on the evolution of the project, there will also be opportunities for international collaborations.

More details about the project:

The main challenge in developing a general theory of emergence is to understand how the complex behaviors of many interacting units can give rise to a simpler macroscopic behaviour while abstracting away the mechanistic details of the complex interactions. Over the past century, the research on complex systems has focused on identifying the microscopic interactions that may lead to such emergent behavior, and emergence has been mainly studied on a case-by-case basis. However, the last decades have seen fast development in experimental techniques that have enabled recording data from complex systems at both large scales and high resolutions. This opens up the possibility to understand emergent phenomena in real systems through the lens of data analysis, instead of systems modeling.
During this PhD, you will explore a new approach to a theory of emergence, by studying the structure of information in data from a topological perspective and tackling the question of how simpler information structures emerge. The project will build upon recent developments in two different lines of research: on the topological structure of information and statistical models on one hand, and on the information-theoretic characterisation of what simplicity means on the other hand. We will study in more detail the case of binary data, for which there exists a well-understood complete family of statistical models (the physics-inspired spin models with high-order interactions). To illustrate our approach, we finally aim to apply it to artificial and real-world datasets.

What are you going to do?
You are expected to conduct original and fundamental research at the intersection of information theory, statistical physics, and mathematics.

You will:
  • develop a new fundamental framework for a data-driven approach to Emergence;
  • test possible applications of your approach on artificial and real data;
  • publish your work in peer-reviewed international journals;
  • present your work in seminars, and at international workshops and conferences;
  • attend the weekly seminars and discussion days at the Dutch Institute for Emergent Phenomena (DIEP);
  • Actively participate in the activities of the FAEME research program (including workshops and annual sandpits), and help with its organization;
  • take part in the teaching (in particular for the courses hosted by DIEP), and assist with the supervision of interdisciplinary research projects for Bachelor and Master students;


University of Amsterdam (UvA)


You have:
  • a Master's degree in fundamental physics (e.g., theoretical physics, physics of complex systems), or in mathematics, or in theoretical computer science;
  • a good knowledge of basic probability theory and linear algebra;
  • some knowledge in advanced statistical physics, information theory, and topology
  • strong interest and aptitude for theoretical work;
  • a curious nature and a strong interest in interdisciplinary research;
  • some affinity for data-driven and computational research;
  • a motivated, passionate, and creative attitude;
  • a collaborative spirit and the capability of working with other team members;
  • excellent written and oral communication skills in English;

Other skills and experiences that would benefit your application:
  • Some knowledge in differential/information geometry, or in Bayesian modeling is a plus;
  • Some experience in programming (e.g., python, C/C++) is a plus;
  • Some experience in performing interdisciplinary theoretical research (during your bachelor or master project for instance);

Conditions of employment

A temporary contract for 38 hours per week for the duration of 4 years (the initial contract will be for a period of 18 months and after satisfactory evaluation it will be extended for a total duration of 4 years). The preferred starting date is September 2023. This should lead to a dissertation (PhD thesis). We will draft an educational plan that includes attendance of courses and (international) meetings. We also expect you to assist in teaching undergraduates and master students.

The gross monthly salary, based on 38 hours per week and dependent on relevant experience, ranges between € 2,541 to € 3,247 (scale P). This does not include 8% holiday allowance and 8,3% year-end allowance. A favourable tax agreement, the '30% ruling', may apply to non-Dutch applicants. The Collective Labour Agreement of Universities of the Netherlands is applicable.

Besides the salary and a vibrant and challenging environment at Science Park we offer you multiple fringe benefits:
  • 232 holiday hours per year (based on fulltime) and extra holidays between Christmas and 1 January;
  • multiple courses to follow from our Teaching and Learning Centre;
  • a complete educational program for PhD students;
  • multiple courses on topics such as leadership for academic staff;
  • multiple courses on topics such as time management, handling stress and an online learning platform with 100+ different courses;
  • 7 weeks birth leave (partner leave) with 100% salary;
  • partly paid parental leave;
  • the possibility to set up a workplace at home;
  • a pension at ABP for which UvA pays two third part of the contribution;
  • the possibility to follow courses to learn Dutch;
  • help with housing for a studio or small apartment when you're moving from abroad.

Are you curious to read more about our extensive package of secondary employment benefits, take a look here.


Faculty of Science

The University of Amsterdam is the Netherlands' largest university, offering the widest range of academic programmes. At the UvA, 30,000 students, 6,000 staff members and 3,000 PhD candidates study and work in a diverse range of fields, connected by a culture of curiosity.

The Faculty of Science has a student body of around 8,000, as well as 1,800 members of staff working in education, research or support services. Researchers and students at the Faculty of Science are fascinated by every aspect of how the world works, be it elementary particles, the birth of the universe or the functioning of the brain.

This PhD project will be carried out within the Foundations and Applications of Emergence (FAEME) research program of the Dutch Institute for Emergent Phenomena, benefiting from an exceptional scientific environment of an interdisciplinary team of collaborators from the Institute of Physics, the Korteweg-de Vries Institute for Mathematics, and the Informatics Institute.

Want to know more about our organisation? Read more about working at the University of Amsterdam.


  • PhD
  • Natural sciences
  • max. 38 hours per week
  • max. €2541 per month
  • University graduate
  • 11628


University of Amsterdam (UvA)

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Science Park 904, 1098XH, Amsterdam

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