Network Science Research
Northeastern is at the forefront of network science, a new discipline that examines complex systems and processes that exhibit network behavior, from biological systems in the body to the shifting networks formed by social media websites. This discipline also focuses on network robustness in the face of failures and attack; the laws governing network evolution; and the spread of ideas, viruses, and diseases in social, information, or computer networks.
The interdisciplinary science of networks has grown rapidly in the last decade. Advances in network science are part of Northeastern’s mission to identify solutions to global challenges like health, security, and sustainability.
Northeastern’s Leading Network Science Researchers
Albert-László Barabási, Distinguished University Professor of Physics, Biology, and Computer and Information Science; director of Northeastern’s Center for Complex Network Research
Research focus: A pioneer in the field, Barabási investigates network science and leads the University’s Center for Complex Network Research, considered the foremost research center in network science.
Recent grants: $2.5 million from the U.S. Army Research Laboratory to support the Network Science Collaborative Technology Alliance, focused on network-enabled warfare and counterinsurgency; $1.2 million from the National Institutes of Health to examine gene patterns in human disease; $1 million from the U.S. Department of Defense’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency to study patterns in social response to emergency.
David Lazer, associate professor of computer and information science, and political science
Research focus: Lazer’s research focuses on how people and organizations are connected, which is critical to understanding the functioning, success, and failure of actors and systems.
Recent grants: Coprincipal investigator, $1.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation to launch the National Center for Digital Government and the Program on Networked Governance; principal investigator, $1.1 million from the National Science Foundation to look at how our social networks and communication networks are interdependent; $940,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to explore the adoption and use of web technologies among congressional offices.
David Lazer and Albert-Laszlo Barabasi are part of the The Network Science Collaborative Technology Alliance (NS CTA). The NS CTA is a collaborative research alliance between the US Army Research Laboratory (ARL), other government researchers, and a Consortium of four research centers, performing cross-cutting research on network-science for improved military operations.
Ginestra Bianconi, assistant professor of physics
Research focus: Bianconi studies the theory of complex networks, seeking to map out the evolution and dynamics of networks in different contexts, from the Internet to social interactions to neural networks. She is also interested in mapping the complexity of evolving networks and evolving biological populations to quantum mechanics.
Recent publications: “Critical Fluctuations in Spatial Complex Networks” Physical Review Letters 104, no. 21; 218701 (2010) and “GABAergic Hub Neurons Orchestrate Synchrony in Developing Hippocampal Networks” Science 326, no. 5958 (2009): 1419–1424.
Alessandro Vespignani, Sternberg Family Distinguished University Professor of Physics, professor of computer and information science and health sciences
Research focus: Vespignani is developing computational tools to measure the spread of pandemic diseases and social contagions, such as the H1N1 virus and cigarette smoke. His landmark research has transformed the analysis of spreading processes and shaped policies aimed at eradicating infectious ranging from HIV to computer viruses.
Recent grants: $1.2 million from the National Institutes of Health to study the spread of disease; $1.1 million from the National Science Foundation to look at how our social networks and communication networks are interdependent; $1 million from the National Science Foundation to study how Internet rumors and political revolutions spread on social networking sites.
Alan Mislove, assistant professor of computer and information science
Research focus: Mislove’s research interests center on the structure, growth, and applications of online social networks.
Recent grants: $1.19 million from the National Science Foundation to collaborate with the University of Maryland on a study that looks at privacy-preserving social systems; $450,000 from the National Science Foundation to build better content-sharing systems.
Last year, Northeastern University researchers predicted that major Smartphone viruses will become a real threat to devices such as BlackBerrys and iPhones once a particular operating system approaches a 10 percent market share. It appears their predictions have been realized; news reports indicate that more than one million Smartphones in China have been hit with such a virus.
“This was exactly the type of thing that we described in our study,” says network science expert Albert-László Barabási.
Barabási coauthored a paper with other Northeastern researchers titled, “Understanding the Spreading Patterns of Mobile Phone Viruses,” published in Science magazine in April 2009. The team wrote that Smartphones present fertile ground for viruses since they can share programs and data with each other. The researchers predicted that a virus would run on the leading operating system on the market, and warned that the virus threat would rise as those devices’ popularity grew worldwide.
Since September 2010, the “zombie virus” has infiltrated more than one million Smartphones in China, according to news reports. Through this virus, hackers obtain users’ Smartphone information and contact lists, and the contacts have reportedly received text messages that also contain viruses.
Barabási said that while anti-virus software for mobile phones is available, many users are unaware of its existence, while providers often take reactive measures to viruses rather than thinking of preventative steps.
“I do think the world is truly unprepared for this,” Barabási says.
NETWORK SCIENCE CENTER CONNECTS THE DOTS
Northeastern’s world-leading Center for Complex Network Research (CCNR), directed by Professor Barabási, has a simple objective: think networks. The center’s studies focus on how networks emerge, what they look like, how they evolve, as well as how networks impact our understanding of complex systems. To understand networks, CCNR’s research has spread to rather unexpected areas. Studies include the Internet’s dynamics, showing that webpages are on average 19 clicks from each other; complex networks inside the cell, looking at both metabolic and genetic systems; and how human beings execute tasks like answering email. The center’s scholars have even ventured to study how actors are connected in Hollywood.
Regardless of the kind of network you’re examining, the same principles largely apply. Says physics department chair Srinivas Sridhar, “It turns out that many networks have common principles that can be studied using methods in theoretical physics.” CCNR researchers are even trying to map cell interaction, to uncover information that would help fight cancer and other killer diseases.
For more information about research at Northeastern, visit northeastern.edu/research or northeastern.edu/governmentrelations, or contact Tim Leshan, vice president for government relations, 617.373.8528, email@example.com.