Albert-László Barabási, a world-renowned network scientist at Northeastern University, has received the 2011 Lagrange-CRT Foundation Prize for his body of research on complex networks in natural, technological and social systems.

The prize, which includes a $71,800 cash award, is given by the Institute for Scientific Interchange Foundation, in Turin, Italy.

“Winning the award was pleasantly surprising,” said Barabási, a Distinguished Professor of Physics with joint appointments in biology and the College of Computer and Information Science, and the founding director of Northeastern’s Center for Complex Network Research (CCNR).

CCNR is considered the leading university-based center for network science research in the world. The center focuses on how networks emerge, what they look like, how they evolve and how networks affect our understanding of complex systems.

In 1999, Barabási’s groundbreaking research led to the discovery of scale-free networks, which can be found in human cells and online communities, such as Facebook.
Taking a network-based approach to identifying and battling disease, he said, could help reveal the biological significance of mutations associated with life-threatening illnesses.

As he put it, “Network theory provides a set of tools to understand and solve problems in our society that revolve around complex systems.”

Earlier this year, Barabási and Yang-Yu Liu, a postdoctoral research associate in Barabási’s lab, coauthored a study on the ways in which greater control of complex systems, such as cellular networks or social media, can be achieved by merging the tools of network science and control theory. The research findings were featured as the cover story in the May 12 issue of the journal Nature.

The research could have a variety of applications, said Barabási, from developing cures to metabolic diseases, to offering new insights into the design of better organizations.
He may use his prize-winnings to take his family on a vacation around the world. “I have a long-term dream of visiting Africa,” he said, “but with a 2-and 3-year-old, it could be many years away.”