UC Santa Cruz’s experimental economics program performed a new experiment this year — bringing the North American Science Association conference to UCSC for the first time in its 25-year history.

From Oct. 24-26, the experimental economics conference took place at the Paradox Hotel in midtown Santa Cruz, attracting approximately 280 experimental economists and presenters. Moving from its traditional location in Tuscon, Ariz., the conference relocated for its 26th year due to the preeminence of Northern California in the field of experimental economics.

“Northern California is one of the strongest areas in the world for this research,” said distinguished economics professor and Learning and Experimental Economics Projects (LEEPS) lab director Daniel Friedman.

Of the approximately 400 conference attendees, Friedman said roughly a quarter were from California, a fourth from outside the U.S., and the remainder from various parts of the U.S. For those graduate students interested in pursuing jobs in experimental economics, this event provided them with an opportunity to meet people, go beyond the lab and begin networking for future careers, said UCSC experimental economics Ph.D. graduate Ciril Bosch-Rosa.

“It’s a great place to meet people, to make yourself known, and to get some feedback,” Bosch-Rosa said.

LEEPS lab began at UCSC in 1986 as the world’s second fully computerized market system, simulating the relationship between buyers, sellers and various participants exchanging a service or product.

A division of the economics department, LEEPS provides both undergraduate and graduate students the opportunity to work with controlled, theoretical economic models, which ultimately translate into real-world understanding and results, Bosch-Rosa said. This is the sixth year in a row Bosch-Rosa took part in the experimental economics conference.

“LEEPS lab was not only one of the first labs to exist,” Bosch-Rosa said, “but now they are the first lab to consistently produce continuous experiments.”

Stanford University economics professor and 2012 Nobel Memorial Prize winner in economics Alvin Roth served as the keynote speaker on the opening day of the conference. Roth said experiments have become integral to economic disciplines, such as market design.

“Experiments have become a standard tool in economics in the last few decades,” Roth said via email. “They help economists explore hypotheses that are difficult to explore in field data.

While the LEEPS lab has pioneered experimental economics for almost a quarter of a century, much of the work done by LEEPS is aided by the interdisciplinary nature of UCSC.

Many cutting-edge economic experiments performed by the lab emulate a fairly basic video game, making it easy for UCSC video game students to help program software for LEEPS much faster than done on their own, said experimental economics graduate student Curtis Kephart.

“LEEPS lab runs many real-time and graphics intensive experiments,” Kephart said via email. “Our lab benefits a lot from sharing a building with the engineering department, which has excellent video game design students who help us program our experiments. There’s actually a lot of overlap.

Part of what makes the expansion of experimental growth possible is the updated software utilized by the labs. LEEPS in particular has been a leader in this respect, with the Bank of Canada using LEEPS-developed software and several universities in Europe also outsourcing LEEPs software, said UCSC experimental economics Ph.D. graduate Ciril Bosch-Rosa.

The conference featured two major speakers for each day of the conference, as well as seven smaller speakers to accompany the seven different conference rooms, each with their own particular focus.

Around 280 of the attendees were also considered presenters, submitting smaller presentations approved before they were invited to the conference. Since these presentations did not have specific time slots, the presenters were welcome to show them whenever they felt it was relevant to the conversation. This variety of prepared studies and work offered the opportunity to learn what other experimental economists worked on since the last conference.

“Conferences like these are a good way to keep current on what kind of work other people are doing,” said Stanford University economics professor Alvin Roth via email.

Small beginnings in experimental economics eventually led to a rise in the size of the community and the number of experiments published by experimental economists around the world. Bosch-Rosa said the number of experiments conducted globally by experimental economists grew considerably.

While the experimental economics community remained in tight juncture this past weekend, all within one Santa Cruz hotel, the weight of experimental economics is in the global recognition afforded to the field of study.

“[Experimental economics] is something that has grown a lot,” Bosch-Rosa said. “From 80 something [experiments] when Dan [Friedman] was in the first experiments, until now. The change is incredible.”

If you’re interested in participating in economics experiments, visit econlab.ucsc.edu.