Complex networks as computational devices

Study level


Master of Philosophy


Topic status

We're looking for students to study this topic.


Dr Robyn Araujo
Senior Lecturer
Division / Faculty
Science and Engineering Faculty


Inside each living cell is a tiny universe unto itself: vast interconnected communication networks of signaling molecules (mostly proteins, including enzymes, scaffolds and small molecules ('second messengers'), that dynamically assemble and disassemble in order to interpret stimuli and signals generated both outside and within the cell.

We are now beginning to decipher the extraordinary mathematical properties of cellular signalling networks. The remarkable characteristics of these complex networks enable them to represent a kind of 'brain for the cell - allowing the cell to understand and interpret its environment and make computations on molecular signals, thereby enabling the cell to make appropriate 'decisions' (eg. whether to divide or not, whether or not to undergo apoptosis (programmed cellular suicide), whether to migrate to another location within the tissue, etc).

Research activities

Here at QUT, we have recently discovered several previously unknown network architectures ('motifs'), whose role in cellular 'cognition' is only beginning to be explored and understood. One of these special motifs is called an 'opposing set,' in which the molecules interact in such a way as to compute an integral in a distributed fashion.

In this project, students will undertake an analysis of this new type of motif, using a variety of mathematical techniques (including computational simulation) to order to explore the potential behaviour of these remarkable network structures.


This project has the potential to make fundamental contributions to our understanding of cellular design through the analysis of novel network modules involved in cellular communication.

Skills and experience

The project details could be adapted to a student's mathematical interests. The project is likely to involve working with ordinary differential equations, but could be pursued in either a very analytical/mathematical direction or in a more computational direction (or even a combination of the two). Optionally, students could also approach the problem via a stochastic modelling framework, if this suits a student's particular interests.


You may be able to apply for a research scholarship in our annual scholarship round.

Annual scholarship round



Contact the supervisor for more information.