PhD position Interacting Particle Models for Social Organisms

Updated: 2 months ago
Deadline: 24 Mar 2024

Interacting particle models for social dynamics.

Interacting particle models, also called agent-based models, individual-based models, active particle models, or cellular automata, are generally used to simulate the spatial dynamics of large groups of interacting entities.  Originally developed for physical and chemical systems, they are also increasingly applied to simulate biological systems, such as bacteria, insects, fish, and people. These models can be classified as either lattice-based, where the agents move on a grid and generally interact with those agents at the neighbouring grid points, or off-lattice, with agents moving in two- or three-dimensional space and interacting with nearby neighbours and/or the environment via convolution kernels.  In our lab, we work develop and work with both lattice-based and off-lattice models, generally for socially interacting organisms.

One of the strengths of individual-based modelling is that the models are straight-forward to understand for non-mathematicians, making them an attractive option in the context of interdisciplinary projects.  Experts in the system being modelled can give valuable insight into how agents should move and interact, and this can be incorporated directly into the update rules of the model.  This allows the team to see the effects that different local interactions have on a macroscopic scale, often giving important insight into collective dynamics and the real-world system as a whole.  This is very important in our lab, where we regularly work with other researchers in fields as diverse as fishery science, engineering, and social psychology.

Many mathematical challenges arise from such systems.  When working in the context of an application, the foremost challenge is model design and implementation.  Here, numerical challenges arise, particularly when the model is data-driven. When the number of particles is very large, High Performance Computing is often a necessary approach.  Parameter fitting is also an important consideration, with potential uses for Machine Learning. Multiscale modelling is important: phase transitions can often be found in the particle models and studied via bifurcation analysis at the continuum level.  These continuum limits can be derived either formally or rigorously, often using probabilistic approaches.  Once continuum limits have been derived, mathematical questions of existence and steady-states for the resulting system of PDEs can be considered.  Numerical simulations of the system of PDEs can be studied and compared against the particle system.

The PI currently has openings in the following active projects:

  • Fish migration and marine ecology: This is a project in mathematical biology, in close collaboration with fishery scientists and fisheries.  The project is data-driven and heavily numerical, with a focus on effects of climate change on marine ecology.
  • Territoriality: This project has its origins in crime modelling, though the model can apply to any chemo-repellent system.  We are interested in developing models and deriving and analyzing continuum versions of the models.
  • Emotional contagion through crowds: We are working closely with a group of mathematicians, engineers, and social psychologists to analyze and model evacuation dynamics.  The project involves experiments, model design and implementation, and analysis of these models.

In addition to working with the PI, the candidate will be embedded in the Mathematical Physics group at TU Delft.  This group consists of 27 Scientific Staff and a diverse and active group of 24 Phd students.  The Mathematical Physics group is one of the six research groups within the Delft Institute of Applied Mathematics.  The candidate will have the opportunity to take TU Delft courses and participate in teaching activities during the course of their study.

The ideal candidate would have:

  • MSc degree in Mathematics, Physics, or a related field
  • Familiarity with differential equations (ODEs and PDEs)
  • Ability to work in a multidisciplinary and diverse team
  • English proficiency, both verbal and written

Applications from underrepresented groups are very welcome.


  • Experience with modeling is a plus!
  • Programming experience (Python, C, C++, etc.) is a plus!
  • Background in probability is a plus!
  • Multidisciplinary background is a plus!

Early applications are welcome. If a suitable candidate is found before the end date of the vacancy, the position may close earlier than listed.

Doing a PhD at TU Delft requires English proficiency at a certain level to ensure that the candidate is able to communicate and interact well, participate in English-taught Doctoral Education courses, and write scientific articles and a final thesis. For more details please check the Graduate Schools Admission Requirements .

Doctoral candidates will be offered a 4-year period of employment in principle, but in the form of 2 employment contracts. An initial 1,5 year contract with an official go/no go progress assessment within 15 months. Followed by an additional contract for the remaining 2,5 years assuming everything goes well and performance requirements are met.

Salary and benefits are in accordance with the Collective Labour Agreement for Dutch Universities, increasing from € 2770 per month in the first year to € 3539 in the fourth year. As a PhD candidate you will be enrolled in the TU Delft Graduate School. The TU Delft Graduate School provides an inspiring research environment with an excellent team of supervisors, academic staff and a mentor. The Doctoral Education Programme is aimed at developing your transferable, discipline-related and research skills.

The TU Delft offers a customisable compensation package, discounts on health insurance, and a monthly work costs contribution. Flexible work schedules can be arranged. 

For international applicants, TU Delft has the Coming to Delft Service . This service provides information for new international employees to help you prepare the relocation and to settle in the Netherlands. The Coming to Delft Service offers a Dual Career Programme  for partners and they organise events to expand your (social) network.

Delft University of Technology is built on strong foundations. As creators of the world-famous Dutch waterworks and pioneers in biotech, TU Delft is a top international university combining science, engineering and design. It delivers world class results in education, research and innovation to address challenges in the areas of energy, climate, mobility, health and digital society. For generations, our engineers have proven to be entrepreneurial problem-solvers, both in business and in a social context.

At TU Delft we embrace diversity as one of our core values  and we actively engage  to be a university where you feel at home and can flourish. We value different perspectives and qualities. We believe this makes our work more innovative, the TU Delft community more vibrant and the world more just. Together, we imagine, invent and create solutions using technology to have a positive impact on a global scale. That is why we invite you to apply. Your application will receive fair consideration.

Challenge. Change. Impact!

The Faculty of Electrical Engineering, Mathematics and Computer Science (EEMCS) brings together three scientific disciplines. Combined, they reinforce each other and are the driving force behind the technology we all use in our daily lives. Technology such as the electricity grid, which our faculty is helping to make completely sustainable and future-proof. At the same time, we are developing the chips and sensors of the future, whilst also setting the foundations for the software technologies to run on this new generation of equipment – which of course includes AI. Meanwhile we are pushing the limits of applied mathematics, for example mapping out disease processes using single cell data, and using mathematics to simulate gigantic ash plumes after a volcanic eruption. In other words: there is plenty of room at the faculty for ground-breaking research. We educate innovative engineers and have excellent labs and facilities that underline our strong international position. In total, more than 1000 employees and 4,000 students work and study in this innovative environment.

Click here  to go to the website of the Faculty of Electrical Engineering, Mathematics and Computer Science.

For more information about this vacancy, please contact Dr. Alethea Barbaro at the following email address: [email protected]. 

Are you interested in this vacancy? Please apply before March 24, 2024 via the application button and upload:

  • A cover letter containing a motivation for your application;
  • Your academic curriculum vitae (CV);
  • Transcripts for your B.Sc. and M.Sc. degree studies;
  • Your M.Sc. thesis; if this is not available in English, include a detailed abstract (at most 2 pages) of your M.Sc. research;
  • If available: one or more published academic papers based on your own research;
  • If available: Letters of reference or names and contact information from two professors who are willing to serve as references (reference letters can also be sent to [email protected] with the applicant's name in the subject line).

A pre-employment screening can be part of the selection procedure.

You can apply online. We will not process applications sent by email and/or post.

Please do not contact us for unsolicited services.

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