Avoiding boundary effects – dynamically expanding lattice for ABM

In a typical setting, agent-based model (ABM) simulations take place on a domain of fixed size, e.g. square lattice of size 500 x 500. Depending on the model, this can introduce so-called boundary effects, i.e. model predictions that are in part caused by the limited amount of space. Some time ago me and @theheikman published a paper in which we investigated the impact of evolution of cancer stem cells on the rate of tumor growth (link to the paper here). Because of the ABM formulation, we had to implement domain that can freely expand on demand. Otherwise, the tumor evolution would stop once the cells fill all the space. Of course, we could set the initial domain size to be so big that the space wouldn’t be filled in the simulated timeframe. However, it is hard to know a priori what domain size will be sufficient. In this post I will show how to implement in C++ an ABM lattice that dynamically expands if one of the cells touches its boundary. We will be working on pointers and memory allocating/freeing routines.

Our lattice will be a boolean array in which value of true will indicate that the spot is occupied by the cell. First, we need to create lattice of initial size NxN.

lattice=new bool *[N];
for (int i=0; i<N; i++) {
lattice[i] = new bool [N] ();
fill_n(lattice[i], N, false);

An element of the lattice can be easily accessed using double indexing, i.e. lattice[i][j] = true.

Now we need to have a procedure that will expand our lattice, by fixed amount of rows (gN) from top, bottom and fixed amount of columns (also gN) to right and left.

void expandLattice() {
bool **aux;
aux=new bool *[N+2*gN];

for (int i=0; i<gN; i++) { //adding empty columns to the left
aux[i] = new bool [N+2*gN] ();
fill_n(aux[i], N+2*gN, false);

for (int i=N+gN; i<N+2*gN; i++) { //adding empty columns to the right
aux[i] = new bool [N+2*gN] ();
fill_n(aux[i], N+2*gN, false);

//copying the interior columns
for (int i=gN; i<N+gN; i++) {
bool *aux2;
aux2 = new bool [N+2*gN] ();
fill_n(aux2, N+2*gN, false); //filling with false values
memcpy(aux2+gN, lattice[i-gN],N*sizeof(bool)); //copying existing values
aux[i] = aux2;

N += 2*gN;

Very important part of the above procedure is invoking free() function in order to deallocate the memory previously occupied by the lattice.

And that is about it: if an event of touching the boundary is detected, we just invoke the expandLattice() function. We also need to remember to free the allocated memory at the very end of the simulation, by putting

for (int i=0; i<N; i++)


at the end of main() function.

In CAexpandP file you can find the code for the cancer stem cell driven model of tumor growth considered in the previous posts that uses dynamically expanding lattice (change extension from .doc to .cpp). Plot below nicely shows how the domain size grows together with the tumor when using that code with initial N = 100 and gN = 100 (plot shows the average of 20 simulations).