Networks in motion

Apr 19, 2012

A new article by a Northwestern University complex networks expert discusses how networks governing processes in nature and society are becoming increasingly amenable to modeling, forecast and control.

The article establishes relationships between seemingly disparate topics such as the friendship paradox -- by which our friends have on average more friends than we do -- and why carbon can result in a hard diamond or the softer material graphite.

"Many broadly significant scientific questions, ranging from self-organization and to systemic robustness, can now be properly formalized within the emerging theory of networks," said Adilson E. Motter, the Harold H. and Virginia Anderson Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Northwestern's Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. "I was thus humbled to be invited to write such a timely piece."

Motter is first author of the article "Networks in Motion," published last week as the cover story in , the membership journal of the . His co-author is Réka Albert, professor of physics and biology at Penn State University.

The authors argue that, as research matures, there will be increasing opportunities to exploit network concepts to also engineer new systems with desirable properties that may not be readily available in existing ones. Examples include emerging areas such as synthetic biology and microfluidics, which could be radically changed by rational circuit design, but also established areas such as traffic and materials research.

Motter and Albert consider the problem of network control, particularly in the context of biological networks as a promising new avenue for disease treatment. Cascading processes, in particular, in which successive elements in a complex network fail, are shown to be not as unstoppable as previously thought.

They also discuss at length how collective behavior may depend on properties of the underlying network, even when composed of the exact same nodes -- as in the case of radically different materials made of the same chemical element.

By and large, the recent study of complex systems has been centered on the identification and analysis of network features relevant to a particular phenomenon of interest, ultimately reducing complexity. But, the authors ask, with so many conceivable possibilities, what if one simply fails to look for the right features? Researchers have been thinking about this, too, and, as a result, exploratory methods are now being devised to identify patterns not anticipated by pre-conceptions.

One such method mentioned in the article aims at resolving the internal structure of by organizing the nodes into groups that share something in common, even if researchers do not know a priori what that thing is.

"This is, of course, only the very tip of the iceberg," Motter said. "A broader undertaking concerns the development of similar exploratory approaches that can also systematically account for network dynamics, which remains widely unexplored."

Explore further: The hidden world of labor trafficking

More information: Physics Today doi: 10.1063/PT.3.1518

Related Stories

How to control complex networks

May 12, 2011

At first glance, a diagram of the complex network of genes that regulate cellular metabolism might seem hopelessly complex, and efforts to control such a system futile.

Physics rules network dynamics

Dec 11, 2009

( -- When it comes to the workings of the Web, the brain, or a social network, physics finds universal truths.

Getting inside the control mechanisms of complex systems

May 13, 2011

Northeastern University researchers are offering a fascinating glimpse into how greater control of complex systems, such as cellular networks and social media, can be achieved by merging the tools of network ...

Unraveling biological networks

Mar 05, 2012

A new approach to disentangling the complexities of biological networks, such as the way in which proteins interact in our body's cells has been developed by researchers in China. The team's algorithm could allow biologists ...

Recommended for you

Why has Halloween infiltrated Australian culture?

1 hour ago

Halloween appears to have infiltrated Australian culture, and according to a University of Adelaide researcher, the reason for its increasing popularity could run much deeper than Americanisation.

The hidden world of labor trafficking

2 hours ago

When it comes to human trafficking, we often hear about victims being kidnapped or violently taken from their homes. But what about people who are forced into labor in the U.S.?

US state reaches deal to keep dinosaur mummy

17 hours ago

North Dakota reached a $3 million deal to keep a rare fossil of a duckbilled dinosaur on display at the state's heritage center, where it will serve as a cornerstone for the facility's $51 million expansion, officials said ...

Jerusalem stone may answer Jewish revolt questions

20 hours ago

Israeli archaeologists said Tuesday they have discovered a large stone with Latin engravings that lends credence to the theory that the reason Jews revolted against Roman rule nearly 2,000 ago was because ...

Kung fu stegosaur

21 hours ago

Stegosaurs might be portrayed as lumbering plant eaters, but they were lethal fighters when necessary, according to paleontologists who have uncovered new evidence of a casualty of stegosaurian combat. The ...

User comments : 0