decorative image of bees

Doctor of Philosophy in sustainability with a CASS concentration

About the PhD in sustainability with a CASS concentration

Complex adaptive systems science (CASS) is the study of interactive and dynamic systems that change over time. The School of Sustainability offers a complex adaptive systems science concentration for the PhD in sustainability at ASU’s Tempe campus.

The CASS educational program is tightly integrated with diverse, ongoing research on complex adaptive systems at Arizona State University, providing scholars with new perspectives and offering a more active role in seeking solutions to a broad array of critical issues facing our society today. Students will be fluent in the common language of complexity while also receiving a solid foundation in the domain knowledge of existing academic disciplines.

The flexible, interdisciplinary nature of the program allows students to focus on problems of interest to them, drawing upon relevant knowledge from a variety of disciplines. Students may be admitted to the PhD program with either a bachelor’s or a master’s degree from a regionally accredited institution or the equivalent of a US bachelor’s degree from an international institution officially recognized by that country.

Learning outcomes

Complex adaptive system concepts and tools can serve as bridges between disciplines, providing a common language, and thereby promoting the interdisciplinary collaborations needed to come to grips with the intellectual and societal challenges of the 21st century. Students will be fluent in the language of complexity while also ensuring they receive a solid foundation in the domain knowledge of existing academic disciplines.

By broadly embedding an understanding of complex adaptive system-relevant approaches into the practice of normal science, students will gain the ability to transform science. The CASS program promotes the development and testing of more robust theory and sophisticated methods in a wider array of research settings. This is needed to develop a deeper understanding of the nature and dynamics of complex adaptive systems, grounded in concrete examples and applications.


For a complete listing of CASS Faculty please see:

For more information about complexity scholars at ASU, visit:


Students must complete the graduate application to ASU and choose the PhD in sustainability with the CASS concentration when prompted. Applications will be reviewed by both the School of Sustainability Graduate Committee as well as the CASS Faculty committee. We recommend that prospective students contact a CASS Faculty member before applying.

For more information on applying, visit:


For information about the CASS concentration curriculum /

For information about the basic PhD in sustainability curriculum.

More information

For more information on the concentration, visit:

Requirements and electives

A minimum of 15 credits is required for a certificate in Complex Adaptive Systems Science.

Requirements and electivesCredits
Required core courses:12*
Required research or reading and conference with CASS faculty member:3**
Total credits required15

*With approval, it is possible to share these credits with the requirements for the PhD degree in Sustainability

**These 3 credits may be included in the required 12 credits of research for the PhD degree. For more information, please contact [email protected].

Petitions process

Students choose CASS coursework from the approved list. If an admitted student wants to take an alternative course to fulfill a CASS requirement, approval is required before the student takes the course.

The student must complete the School of Sustainability Graduate Petition form and send it with the syllabus of the course desired to use as a replacement to [email protected]

Professor Barton sends the petitions to the entire CASS faculty for review, and it may take several weeks for a decision.

This PhD concentration in CASS is closely related to the interdisciplinary CASS certificate program. Compare the Sustainability CASS programs here.For more information on CASS programs visit Complex Adaptive Systems Science.

Have a question about the PhD in sustainability with a CASS concentration?

Ask us any questions you have today!

Your Name(Required)
This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.