Iddo Eliazar interview: random path to stochastic modelling of complex systems


Iddo Eliazar is a research scientist at the Smart Device Innovation Science Team of INTEL’s New Business Group. Iddo specializes in the stochastic modeling of complex systems. He has published over 120 research papers on topics ranging from Queueing Theory to Anomalous Diffusion, and from Power Laws to Econophysics. Iddo was the 2012 featured author of Journal of Physics A: Mathematical and Theoretical.

His most recent publication with the journal: Sociophysics of sexism: normal and anomalous petrie multipliers, was a high-interest paper providing a comprehensive statistical-physics analysis of the emergence of sexism.


1- You specialise in stochastic modelling of complex systems. What led you to this area of research?

Randomness – seriously!

During my master’s studies, after having completed the required MSc courses, I was all set to do a thesis in game theory, under the supervision of a certain researcher at Tel Aviv University. However, this researcher was just about to leave for a sabbatical in Chicago – which was out of the question for me (Chicago is way too cold, and way too far from the magnificent beaches of Tel Aviv…). So, I had to find a different MSc supervisor, and there was Uri Yechiali, who taught a great course on queueing theory. I was not so sure that I wanted to do an MSc thesis on queueing, but after accidentally hearing Uri utter a juicy Hebrew curse with quite some passion I changed my mind. It should be fun to work with someone who teaches so brilliantly and can also swear with passion, I said to myself. And indeed, working with Uri turned out to be an absolutely fabulous experience, we became very close friends, and recently we completed a circle: we supervised together an excellent doctoral student – Shlomi Reuveni who is now a postdoc at Harvard’s department of System Biology. So, the queueing theory thesis is what got me into ‘stochastic modelling’.

Years later, reading about the nanotech hype, I was wondering if stochastic models could be applied to nanotech. A friend of mine advised me to talk with Yossi Klafter – then a faculty member of Tel Aviv University’s department of Chemistry, and now the University’s President. So, I met up with Yossi, found out that he is not a nanotechnologist, but that he is very much into stochastic processes – as one of his main fields of research was anomalous diffusion. This meet-up was followed by a most fruitful collaboration, and through Yossi I got to further meet an incredible group of statistical
physicists doing anomalous diffusion, complex system, power laws, and other amazingly fun stuff. It didn’t take long until this group became my scientific home.

So, in short, that’s how I got to do ‘stochastic modelling of complex systems’. And, as I noted, the path there was random and totally unpredictable.

2- What are you currently working on?

Well, currently I’m quite into the exploration of socioeconomic inequality. Inequality is a matter of utmost interest, public and scientific alike. Indeed, from the French revolution to ‘Occupy Wall Street’, and from Vilfredo Pareto to Thomas Pikkety, inequality is an issue of major importance. Now, at first sight one may think that inequality is a matter of economics and social sciences, and has nothing to do with physics. However, exploring the subject, it is fascinating to find out that inequality is actually highly applicable to practically any field of science in which you encounter sizes that vary statistically. So, it turns out that inequality can offer a ‘sociogeometric’ approach to the measurement of statistical variability – providing a perspective which is very different from the common Euclidean-based approach of standard deviation, and from the common information-based approach of entropy.

3- What do you consider to be the most significant problem to be addressed in your field?

Oh, the answer to this question is very simple, yet totally uninformative: The most significant problems are those that we are yet to discover!
Remember, scientific exploration is a random search in terra incognita, and you never know what will turn out around the next corner. Yet, experience has taught us to expect the unexpected, and Louis Pasteur advised us that “Fortune favors the prepared mind”. So, we should keep our minds prepared, and expect the unexpected – and it is then that we shall accidentally bump into our greatest scientific challenges (with a bit of random luck, of course…).

4- What would you say has been your career highlight/ biggest achievement to date?

It is the exploration thrill of each research, and the excitement of writing each paper. See, we theorists are just like painters and sculptures. Papers are our canvas, and equations are the medium that we sculpture into shapes. And with our equations on papers we open new perspectives and create new ideas – from realism to surrealism, and form expressionism to impressionism. We are artists, and my biggest achievement is the pure joy of doing art.

5- What do you hope this research can achieve in the future?

If there is just one student around the world, who happens to stumble upon one of my research papers, and something in this paper ignites a spark of interest or fascination in their heart – then that’s the achievement I’m aspiring for. Richard Dawkins claims that our purpose is to pass on our genes, and memetics claims that our purpose is to pass on our memes. The mathematical language of science is one of our most profound and beautiful memes, and passing on this meme to future generation is one of the greatest achievements to strive for.

6- Finally, do you have any advice for young researchers entering the field?

Yes indeed: Follow your heart, follow your passion, do the thing that makes you wake up with a smile and go to sleep with a smile, and do it with fun and humour. The future was always unpredictable, it is still unpredictable, and apparently it will continue to be unpredictable.  You have no idea what will turn out to be ‘applicable’, you have no clue what the future will be like, and you have no way of planning your ‘career’. So, always be curious, always explore, follow your heart boldly – and, quoting FDR, fear nothing but fear itself.


See what the authors have to say? Eliazar also provided an accompanying Insight for his recent paper: The statistical physics of discrimination.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License. Image courtesy of Iddo Eliazar.

Categories: Journal of Physics A: Mathematical and Theoretical

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