World-​​renowned sta­tis­tical physi­cist Alessandro Vespig­nani has been elected to the physics and engi­neering sci­ences branch of the Academy of Europe for his research on the spread of epidemics.

Mem­bers of the academy — which pro­motes learning, edu­ca­tion and research — are nom­i­nated annu­ally by a highly selec­tive peer-​​reviewed process, based on sci­en­tific excel­lence and schol­arly achieve­ment, and then elected by the council of the academy. Some 2,300 mem­bers, including more than three-​​dozen Nobel Lau­re­ates, cur­rently rep­re­sent a diverse range of dis­ci­plines, such as med­i­cine, math­e­matics and bio­log­ical sciences.

I’m hon­ored,” said Vespig­nani, the newly appointed Stern­berg Family Dis­tin­guished Uni­ver­sity Pro­fessor of Physics, with appoint­ments in the Col­lege of Sci­ence, Col­lege of Com­puter and Infor­ma­tion Sci­ence and the Bouvé Col­lege of Health Sci­ences. “It is a bit intim­i­dating to be among such an accom­plished crowd.”

Vespig­nani will be for­mally inducted into the academy as part of its annual con­fer­ence next Sep­tember in Norway.

As a member of the academy, Vespig­nani will sit on an advi­sory board that will be called upon to pro­vide input on pol­i­cy­making and gov­ern­ment pro­grams. “I have already been told that I will pro­vide exper­tise across the entire spec­trum of the research I carry out,” he said.

His land­mark research on the pro­lif­er­a­tion of viruses, in which he proved that even weak strains can spread in a real-​​world, non­random, scale-​​free net­work, has trans­formed the analysis of spreading processes and shaped poli­cies aimed at erad­i­cating infec­tions ranging from HIV to com­puter viruses.

Vespig­nani and David Lazer, an asso­ciate pro­fessor of polit­ical sci­ence and com­puter sci­ence at North­eastern, were recently awarded $1.1 mil­lion as part of a $1.8 mil­lion grant from the National Sci­ence Foun­da­tion to ana­lyze the inter­de­pen­dence between com­plex net­works in nat­ural, social and tech­no­log­ical systems.

Under­standing how a problem may spread through the nation’s trans­porta­tion infra­struc­ture, for example, could shed light on mit­i­ga­tion strate­gies designed to keep people safe.

Knowl­edge of these dynam­ical processes would allow us to antic­i­pate and pos­sibly min­i­mize sys­temic risk in a variety of con­texts that affect our daily life,” Vespig­nani said.