René Doursat
 PhD, Habil.

Research Scientist & Fmr. Director

Complex Systems Institute, Paris Ile-de-France (ISC-PIF)
French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS)

Research Unit UPS3611

113, rue Nationale
75013 Paris, France


Edited Proceedings

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Activities, Grants
Education, Career
   • Degrees
   • Career Summary
   • Academic Positions
       Manchester Met
       CNRS, Polytechnique
       Drexel University,
       Catholic University
       University of Málaga
       Complex Systems
       University of Nevada
       Ecole Polytechnique
   • PhD Dissertation

Academic Positions
I am a Research Scientist at the Complex Systems Institute, Paris Ile-de-France (ISC-PIF), focusing on the interface between computer science and complex systems, in particular computational biology and bio-inspired computing. I studied physics at the École Normale Supérieure (ENS), Paris and completed my PhD in 1991 in neural networks and cognitive science. After postdocs in Germany and France, and a detour through the software industry of the San Francisco Bay Area, I returned to academia in 2004, and occupied various posts at the University of Nevada, Reno (US), Ecole Polytechnique, Paris (France), University of Malaga (Spain), Drexel University (US), and CNRS Paris, before becoming a Full Professor at Manchester Metropolitan University (UK) in January 2016. I eventually quit in November 2019 for personal convenience, and returned to ISC-PIF.
15.  Manchester Metropolitan University: Centre for Advanced Computational Science
Professor of Complex Systems &
Deputy Head of CfACS, Manchester, UK, 1/2016–10/2019  
The Centre for Advanced Computational Science (CfACS), formerly headed by Martyn Amos, is an interdisciplinary hub leading work on fundamental and applied computer science with a focus on high-impact interdisciplinary research in healthcare, security and smart cities, taking an open and collaborative approach to solution development. The CfACS hosts groups in data science, machine intelligence, smart infrastructure, and human-centered computing.
I conducted collaborative research in computational biology toward original methodologies and tools for the multiscale image processing and theoretical modeling of multicellular development. In parallel, I pursued research in bio-inspired computing for the design of decentralized, autonomous systems inspired by morphogenesis, with applications to swarm robotics, synthetic biology and socio-technical networks. I supervised PhD students, led and/or co-authored grant proposals, articles in top-ranking journals and conferences. I was co-director of the 30-staff CfACS and headed its Complex Systems Group, fostering and supporting colleagues’ research activities and publication plans. I also sat on several University, Faculty and School committees, developed cross-campus, UK and international collaborations, and continued (co-)organizing various workshops and summer schools.
14.  CNRS: BioEmergences Lab  /  Ecole Polytechnique: MSc in Complex Systems
Research Scientist ("Chercheur"), BioEmergences, Gif-sur-Yvette, France, 8/2014–12/2015
Guest Lecturer ("Chargé d'enseignement"), Ecole Polytechnique, Paris, 9/2009–12/2015  

The BioEmergences Lab, founded by Nadine Peyriéras on the CNRS campus in Gif, develops original methodologies and tools for the in vivo multiscale and multimodal observation, quantification and multilevel theoretical modeling of biological processes. Its strategies are the basis for a predictive understanding of the morphogenesis of living organisms in normal and pathological conditions, opening the way to new kind of pharmacology and toxicology screening schemes.
I pursued my research activities (see 15. above), also supervising the development of software platforms, PhD students and postdocs, and lecturing at the Erasmus Mundus Complex Systems Master’s of Ecole Polytechnique.
13.-12.  The Catholic University of America (CUA)  /  Drexel University
Adjunct Faculty, School of Engineering, CUA, Washington, DC, 8/2013–7/2014  
The engineering program was established in 1896, soon after the founding of CUA, and the School of Engineering in 1930. Research activities and graduate offerings have increased at a steady rate. Today, the school offers BSc, MSc and PhD degrees in several areas: biomedical, civil, mechanical, electrical engineering & computer science. See Teaching →
I taught six semesters covering four different classes in computer science, math and engineering: Java programming (Sophomores), control systems (Juniors), operating systems (Seniors), and differential equations (Graduates). I also led initiatives on research projects, collaborated with colleagues and supervised students.
Research Associate Professor, Biomedical Engineering, Drexel, Philadelphia, 1/2013–7/2014  
The School of Bioengineering, Science and Health Systems (BIOMED) hosts 39 core faculty and 20 research groups (such as bionanotechnology, integrated bioinformatics, optical brain imaging, and tissue engineering). It has launched many research initiatives with partner institutions and industry, merging physical sciences, computational sciences, and technology with life sciences and medicine toward a new era of health systems.
I was formally affiliated (non-employee appointment) to collaborate with the faculty on submitting proposals that focused on computational modeling and simulation of morphogenetic engineering systems.
11.  Universidad de Málaga (UMA): Research Group in Biomimetics, Computer Science
Visiting Research Scientist, Málaga, Spain, 9/2011–8/2012  
The Research Group in Biomimetics (GEB), is headed by Francisco J. Vico at UMA's Department of Computer Science. Its research topics in computational biology and artificial life aim at explaining how complex patterns and novel behavior emerge from living matter. GEB also has a track record of technology transfer, having applied bio-inspired methodologies to a wide spectrum of projects in partnership with companies.
I conducted collaborative research, publications, and co-supervision of PhD students, focusing on Artificial Life.
10.  CNRS: Complex Systems Institute (ISC-PIF)  /  Ecole Polytechnique: CREA Lab
Steering Committee, ISC-PIF, Paris, France, 1/2011–Present
Research Scientist ("Chercheur"), Paris, France, 11/2006–8/2011  

The Complex Systems Institute, Paris Ile-de-France (ISC-PIF), founded by Paul Bourgine, a former director of CREA, is a multidisciplinary research center and network (GIS: "Groupement d'Intérêt Scientifique") sponsored by the Paris Region Ile-de-France as part of its research initiative (DIM: "Domaine d'Intérêt Majeur"). It is co-financed by 15 top-rank French academic partners—graduate schools, universities, and national institutions (Ecole Polytechnique, Ecole Normale Supérieure, Université Pierre et Marie Curie, CNRS, INRIA, CEA, Inserm, etc.). Its mission is to build a community of research in complex systems (large sets of locally interacting elements creating a collective behavior), to study common "questions" (self-organization, emergence, autonomy, adaptation, etc.) across many "objects" (molecular, cellular, cognitive, social, economic, technological, environmental).
Beside my research activities, I co-managed during my first year, and contributed to, the EU Embryomics and BioEmergences projects (FP6-NEST, 6 partners, €3.15M, 2005-2009), launched by Paul Bourgine and Nadine Peyriéras, whose goal was the spatiotemporal reconstruction of the full cell lineage tree underlying biological development, by image processing, visualization, and agent-based simulation. I also directed a PhD thesis on this topic (MECAGEN project, by Julien Delile).
Director, ISC-PIF, 1/2009–12/2010 (in parallel with above)  
I was also in charge of leading and managing the institute during two full years, in collaboration with a Steering Committee ("Comité directeur") of 15 external advisors, senior researchers and professors. In particular, I led the yearly renewal of ISC's mandate and funding. I reported twice a year to an Executive Board ("Conseil d'administration") composed of our supporting partners about the institute's program, activities and budget use. The capital budget ('investissement") and operating budget ("fonctionnement") totalled about €1M/year. Scientific orientations were overseen by an external Scientific Council of foreign scholars. Capital budget was used to create ISC "branches" hosted by its different academic partners, i.e., build/renovate and equip office space to become complex systems research labs. Another part was invested in a large computing cluster (1600 cores) dedicated to complex systems modeling and numerical simulations. Operating budget supported ISC's activities, including scientific events (conferences, workshops, seminars) and educational programs (summer school, thematic institutes, Master's curriculum), and the resident staff of 10 researchers, 3 engineers and 3 admins who coordinated them. After two years, I decided to hand over this day-to-day management responsibility in order to dedicate myself again to research. In sum, it involved contributing to, or supervising:
  • Liaison with main sponsor, the Paris Region: yearly financing agreements, collaborations with other regional centers
  • Liaison with 15 co-sponsoring academic institutions: partner fees, bi-yearly meetings of the Board of Trustees
  • Liaison and co-organization of events with the National Network (RNSC) and Lyon Institute (IXXI) of Complex Systems
  • Liaison with the Complex Systems Society (CSS): org. of ECCS conferences, submission of grant projects to EU-FP7
  • Agreements for the creation and management of complex systems "branch" labs hosted by our academic partners
  • Purchase, installation, management of computing cluster (devt. of a simulation platform, creation of a user committee)
  • Organization of events: summer schools, conferences, workshops, thematic institutes, seminars, etc.
  • Organization of calls for projects (seed funding) and position searches (recruitment of postdocs, engineers, admins)
  • Creation and coordination of a European Master's in Complex Systems Science (Erasmus Mundus II Program)
  • Coordination of a team of resident researchers, postdocs, engineers, PhD students, MSc interns, admin staff
  • Development of Web/Wiki site, specification of a membership policy, launch of public communication campaigns
  • Development of partnerships with industry and public decision makers ("how complex systems science can help")
  • Preparation and organization of meetings of the Steering Committee, the Board of Trustees, and the Scientific Council
  • Administrative tasks: HR, accounting, operations, logistics, etc.
The value added by ISC-PIF to the previous state of complex systems research in the Paris Region (Ile-de-France) is considerable: the ISC-PIF has played a unifying role, opening bridges between institutions, creating new structures and networks, increasing the regional and national scientific potential, and promoting exchanges between science and civil (non-academic) society. Complex systems science represents a new attempt to conduct on a large scale a multidisciplinary scientific approach that is unprecedented and varied. The Ile-de-France region is one of the great scientific regions in Europe and in the world. It has a duty to be a major player and, more importantly, a pioneer when a new field of science emerges. No complex systems research structure existed there prior to the launch of ISC-PIF by Paul Bourgine. Thus, before federating a "complex systems community" by creating a network for advanced studies, it was necessary to identify the cross-cutting questions of complex systems (such as "self-organization", "emergence", "robustness", "control", "reconstruction of the dynamics", etc.) and the researchers interested in these questions.
9.  University of Nevada, Reno (UNR): Brain Computation Lab, Dept. of Computer Science
Visiting Assistant Professor, Department of Computer Science, Nevada, Reno, 7/2005–6/2006
Research Assistant Professor, Brain Computation Lab, Nevada, Reno, 8/2004–6/2005  
The UNR Brain Computation Laboratory ("Brain Lab") is an interdisciplinary research group studying large-scale spiking neuronal models of the cortex. Its core technology was the NeoCortical Simulator (NCS), a biologically detailed software model running on a massively parallel 220-CPU Beowulf cluster.
I was a Co-PI in the "Neuromorphic Mesocircuits" project led by Philip H. Goodman (Lab Director & Professor, School of Medicine; deceased in 2010). It constituted an original attempt to design a modular brain architecture of spiking neural networks that emulated robotic behavior learning. We modeled pattern recognition and association by "lock-and-key" coherence induction between dynamic cell assemblies. I also further developed the research on spatial categorization started at CREA, Paris (emergence of symbolic language from visual scenes; see next) and became actively involved in several other complex systems projects (see above). Additionally, as a visiting faculty in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering, I taught two to three classes per semester, organized and co-managed student projects, and assisted supervising MSc and PhD works.
5.– 8.  Industry Period
See Industry →
4.  Ecole Polytechnique / CNRS: CREA Lab
Research Associate, Paris, France, 10/1996-9/1997 (while in industry)  
elected Associate Member, 1995-98; Foreign Associate, 1998-06 (while in US); Full Member, 2006-11
The Centre de Recherche en Epistémologie Appliquée (CREA) is an interdisciplinary theoretical research lab in cognitive and social sciences. Its activities range from neuroscience to linguistics and economics, focusing on the mathematical and computational modeling of complex, self-organizing systems.
I worked with Jean Petitot (Professor & Director; also at EHESS—School for Advanced Studies in Social Sciences, Paris) on dynamic models of semantics based on cognitive linguistics (in contrast to logical models of syntax based on generative grammar). We specifically examined spatial categorization, i.e., how the mind is able to map an infinite variety of visual scenes to only a few prepositions ('in', 'over', 'across', etc.). This study addressed central theoretical questions such as the interface between physicalist and symbolic representations and the existence of a "cognitive topology" in perception (less metric than vector spaces, yet more metric than topology). I created a graphical application to illustrate the schematization pathways underlying classification of space, and I collaborated to a book by Jean Petitot on these topics.
3.  Ruhr-Universität Bochum: Institute for Neural Computation
Postdoctoral Assistant ("Wissenschaftlicher Mitarbeiter"), Bochum, Germany, 10/1991–12/1994
The Institute for Neural Computation (INI), founded in 1990, is a research center in neural networks, computer vision, neurobiological models, machine learning and autonomous robotics. Its goal is to understand the organizational principles of nervous systems and find new solutions to problems of information processing in technical systems, such as real time vision, face recognition, and medical engineering.
I worked under the supervision of Christoph von der Malsburg (Professor & Chair; also at the University of Southern California) on theoretical aspects of pattern recognition, specifically the ability of the visual system to segment and regroup image domains under the influence of previously learned shapes. My focus was studying networks of coupled oscillating units and their properties of emergent collective behavior, such as phase-locking synchronization or traveling waves of activity. I designed models showing that shape extraction can arise from such networks and created network simulator applications with high-end graphical user interfaces to support these models. I also co-created and taught two original seminars for graduate students in cognitive science, on neuro-inspired learning and linguistic questions.
2.  ESPCI: Electronics Lab
Doctoral Fellow, Paris, France, 10/1987–9/1991 (enrolled at Université Pierre et Marie Curie, Paris 6)  
The Electronics Lab at the School of Industrial Physics and Chemistry (Ecole Supérieure de Physique et Chimie Industrielles, ESPCI) is an engineering research lab in machine learning, neural networks and signal processing, led by Gérard Dreyfus, Professor & Director.
Under the direction of Elie Bienenstock, CNRS (now Associate Professor at Brown University, Providence), I elaborated a criticism of the traditional activity-rate code in neural models, which also advocated temporal correlations as the basis of brain function (after von der Malsburg's theory, 1981). We illustrated this question through three mathematical and numerical studies:
  1. the bias/variance trade-off faced by machine learning, like any nonparametric statistical estimation
  2. handwritten character recognition based on 2-D "elastic" template matching (instead of pixel lists)
  3. synaptic self-organization in the cortex ("synfire chain" growth) by activity/connectivity feedback
I co-designed the models, created visualization tools and carried out numerical simulations for all three parts (see PhD Dissertation).