NSF-Simons Center at Harvard

NSF-Simons Center at Harvard

Who we are

We are one of the United States' four NSF-Simons "Rules of Life" Centers. Our community of scientists, engineers and mathematicians spans 12 departments and 13 graduate programs at Harvard and is constantly expanding to incorporate new members on our campus and internationally. We share the common goal of revealing how and why living things behave the way they do. Together with our colleagues at the Georgia Tech-, Northwestern- and UC Irvine-based NSF-Simons Centers, we are building causal, predictive, mechanistic models of biology and training a new generation of researchers to work at the interface of biology, mathematics, computation, and engineering.



Director, NSF-Simons Center for Mathematical & Statistical Analysis of Biological Systems
Herchel Smith Professor of Molecular Genetics
Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology




Executive Director of Research, Quantitative Biology                                                                                                       


Cassandra Extavour

Cassandra EXTAVOUR

Professor of Organismic & Evolutionary Biology and of Molecular & Cellular Biology


Lola England de Valpine Professor of Applied Mathematics, of Organismic & Evolutionary Biology, and of Physics;

Faculty Dean of Mather House of Harvard College


Professor of Systems Biology

Sharad Ramanathan


Llura & Gordon Gund Professor of Neurosciences and of Molecular & Cellular Biology

Professor of Applied Physics and Stem Cell & Regenerative Biology


The NSF-Simons Center for Center for Mathematical & Statistical Analysis of Biological Systems at Harvard has three programmatic aims:

  1. Advance our knowledge of complex biological systems using mathematical & computational tools;
  2. Develop new mathematics & statistics which describe biological processes; and
  3. Train a new generation of researchers in mathematical & computational biology.

Just as physics has been intricately allied with mathematics for centuries, we believe that biology will be similarly allied with mathematics going forward. The Center aims to marry these disciplines by training graduate students and postdocs who are experts in mathematics and computation to effectively use their skills to provide a layered understanding of biological complexity. We also host visitors and hold workshops to foster linkages between mathematicians and biologists who embrace the natural complementarity of these disciplines.


The scientific goals of the Center are also three-fold:

  1. Reveal how molecular networks within individual cells orchestrate developmental decisions,
  2. Discover how proteins and cells self-assemble and self-organize to produce the components of living things, and
  3. Understand how biological systems adapt within and beyond the lifespan of individual organisms.

We extract general principles which span a broad range of timescales (from milliseconds to millions of years) and length scales (from microns to hundreds of centimeters). To do so, we study a range of experimental systems: viruses, single-celled organisms, tissues, organoids, and multi-celled animals. We build predictive, causal mathematical models that account for biological decision-making, self-organization and adaptation, linking development and evolution.