Dr. Wagner is a senior computational scientist, research program lead, and software engineer at the BEACON Center – an NSF Science and Technology Center. Much of his work is focused on understanding and predicting behavior in complex systems and, most recently, developing creative and complex software solutions that harnesses the governing dynamics.

Dr. Wagner has strong skills in software engineering, project leadership, research design, hypothesis testing, data analysis and manipulation, as well as familiarity with probability theory, information theory, and game theory. He has led and published research in artificial life, ecology, population biology, genetics, and computer science with integrative teams using a broad range of research techniques from evolutionary computation, robotics, statistics, data visualization, scripting, and behavioral and environmental predictive modeling.

In addition to science journal publications, Dr. Wagner’s work has been featured on the BBC World Service, Science in Action, in Scientific American, and even in Janell Cannon’s children’s book “Pinduli”.

Qualifications Summary

• Successful research and development program leader with solid skills in both engineering and management, and extensive experience leading large-scale, integrative projects, teams, and programs.
• Deep-rooted talents for decomposing complex challenges, recognizing and translating requirements, and creating tailored, efficient, and effective solutions.
• Experienced in extracting and capitalizing on hidden data that describe and predict behavior in and of complex systems.


• Postdoc, Michigan State University, Dept of Computer Science & Engineering, East Lansing, MI, 2010
    • Office of the Provost Postdoctoral Fellow
    • Institute for Cyber Enabled Research Postdoctoral Fellow
• PhD, Montana State University, Department of Ecology, Bozeman, MT, 2006
• BS with Distinction in Environmental Science (Biology and Geology minors), University of Delaware, Department of Geography, Newark, DE, 1996
    • Outstanding Senior – Environmental Science
    • Charles Peter White Fellow

Most Recent Grant Awards

• BEACON NSF Center for the Study of Evolution in Action: $90,785 (2013) ‘Variability selection, ecological dynamics, and the evolution of adaptive complexity’ (PI) • $98,763 (2013) ‘Signaling with symbionts’ (co-investigator) • $202,048 (2012) ‘Adaptation in structured worlds’ (co-investigator) • $125,264 (2011) ‘Foundations of intelligence: Behavioral flexibility in spatial contexts’ (co-investigator)
• NSF (Pending): $987,761 ‘Intelligent Behaviors – Evolutionary Origins to Robotic Deployment’ (co-PI)

Grant Awards under $20,000 per
Supporting the Striped Hyena Research Program: The Living Desert Museum & Gardens (PI) 2000, 01, 04, 06, 08 • People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PI) 2002, 08 • Oregon Zoo Foundation, Future for Wildlife Conservation Fund (PI) 2006 & 2008 • Conservation & Research Foundation (PI) 2006 • Cleveland Metroparks Zoo & the Cleveland Zoological Society (PI) 2004 • People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PI) 2004 • Brookfield Zoo & Chicago Zoological Society (PI) 2001 • British Airways Assisting Conservation Program (PI) 1999-2006 • National Geographic Society (co-investigator) 1999

Other projects: Sigma Xi, Grant-in-Aid of Research (PI) 1995

Popular Press & Literature Coverage

BBC World Service, Science in Action (2007) • “Relative Distance”, Scientific American (2007) • “Pinduli” (children’s book) by Janell Cannon


Research Fellow and Project Lead – BEACON NSF Science and Technology Center and the Institute for Cyber-Enabled Research (HPCC), Michigan State University 2010-PRESENT
• Concurrently managed up to 5 teams of up to 8 computer and senior scientists in creating adaptively intelligent input-response cognitive control algorithms for autonomous computational systems.
• Core developer of the Avida (C++) software, a major package used in more than 400 science and engineering publications and downloaded over 55,000 times.
• Fully managed financial, planning, tasking, scheduling, and other requirements of multiple projects.
• Led R&D teams in creating software testing (1) the role of competitive dynamics in the emergence of complex strategies and use of system cues in informing decisions, (2) theories governing the emergence of deception in competitive systems, (3) complex, informative, and non-deterministic tests of behavioral interactions in complex adaptive networks.
• Significantly expanded the code-base and utility of the Avida software, enabling a valuable new array of applications in ecology, sensory systems, cognitive processes, and autonomous vehicle navigation.
• Identified and implemented major performance optimizations of Avida code (>10 X improvements).
• Authored 8 scientific publications in computer science, robotics, artificial life, ecology, and biology.
• Produced numerous data processing, analysis, and visualization pipelines using Python, R, and BASH.
• Secured over $600,000 in competitive grants to support research and development projects.
• Regular discussion leader in weekly planning meetings and seminars.
• Led a unique collaborative effort creating bio-inspired algorithms for autonomous vehicle navigation that can significantly improve system reliability and reduce deployment costs (e.g., targeting millions of dollars in potential savings for underwater robotics applications).

Research Program Lead – Magadi Kenya and Michigan State University 2006-2010
• Built and led a high-profile team of up to 9 investigators in studies of the conditions governing interactive dynamics in competitive (carnivore) systems with flexible interaction networks.
• Fully managed the substantial personnel, technological, electro-mechanical, improvisational, financial, logistical, and diplomatic requirements of maintaining a team in a remote region.
• Primary author of Kenya’s national policy guidelines for wildlife conservation and management.
• Science liaison in monthly management meetings with local and national government authorities.
• Developed novel (eco)system monitoring methods integrating data streams from diverse sources.

Founder and Lead Researcher, Striped Hyena Research Project – Nanyuki, Kenya 1999-2006
• Led a groundbreaking study of complex dynamics in carnivore social groups.
• Numerous liaison and education activities with outside stakeholders and the general public.
• Invented a novel likelihood-based method of extracting hidden patterns from noisy and error-ridden genetic data that can save over $10,000 in supply costs and months of development time per application – implemented in the free software ML-Relate and used in over 260 scientific studies.
• Extensive data analyses, including application of GIS and non-parametric statistical approaches.

Teaching & Mentoring

• Guided 5 (to date) teams of up to 5 computer science and biology graduate students through the full research project process, from conception to implementation to publication.
• Mentored, trained, and advised 8 (to date) individual graduate and undergraduate students in software development and research projects.
• 5 university appointments for teaching inquiry-based courses (>40 students per course).

Programming Languages & Skills

Languages: Python, C++, R, BASH – IDE: XCode, Visual Studio – VCS: Git, Subversion
Sample Platforms: Avida, ArcGIS, Access, MySQL – Operating Systems: Mac OS X, Unix, Windows

Selected Projects

Avida – Interactive Intelligent Systems
• Transformation of a major open-source scientific software platform to enable a suite of complex processes, including cognition and dynamic interactions in autonomous systems.
Intelligent Robotics – Applied Engineering
• Development of intelligent, reactive, and cost saving autonomous robot navigation systems.
ML-Relate – Maximizing Data Value
• Creation of the algorithms enabling software for extracting hidden patterns from ‘noisy’ genetic data.