Network science in a book

I’ve written quite a bit about Net­work Sci­ence both here and for the News@Northeastern. And since learning the term less than a year ago, I’ve come to believe that it will be crit­ical in the way we approach many sci­en­tific ques­tions going forward.

Nonethe­less, it remains a some­what elu­sive sub­ject. Most people (including myself) ini­tially think “the Internet,” when they hear the term for the first time. And while it does have some­thing to do with the Web, that’s hardly the extent of it.

Net­works exist all around us, within us and between us. Net­work sci­ence is the study of those net­works, which, according to physics pro­fessor Albert-​​László Barabási, a global leader in this field, have sur­pris­ingly sim­ilar char­ac­ter­is­tics regard­less of their type. That is, the math­e­mat­ical prin­ci­ples that govern my social net­work on Face­book look a lot like the prin­ci­ples that govern the net­work of pro­teins in my cells.

This is a pretty abstract con­cept. Which is exactly why Barabási and Northeastern’s data visu­al­iza­tion expert Mauro Mar­tino decided to write a book that is at once acces­sible to the plain old curious like me and useful to prac­ti­tioners in the field.

Infor­ma­tion needs to be set free, par­tic­u­larly one that per­tains to such a new and dynam­i­cally evolving area like net­work sci­ence,” said Barabási. “This project is our way to make it easy to learn and teach net­work science.”

Cur­rently, only two chap­ters have been pub­lished. Like the serial novels of yore, Barabási’s book will add new chap­ters over the coming months, cre­ating a living, dynamic resource that is growing in pace with the field itself. “We hope this is only the pond for an ecosystem that will grow up around it, fea­turing prob­lems, trans­la­tions, soft­ware, and var­ious learning tools.”

It is designed to be viewed on the iPad, with inter­ac­tive tools and exam­ples to illus­trate the points and offer the reader a full, immer­sive expe­ri­ence. But if you’re old school and poor like me, you can also down­loaded it (for free, in both cases) as a static PDF.

So far I’ve found it to be a rather approach­able read, and more impor­tantly, it’s fas­ci­nating. If you’re at all curious about this emerging field that will undoubt­edly change the way sci­ence is done, you should check it out. Have fun!