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Article source: Nature
Nature 437, 448 (September 2005) | doi: 10.1038/nj7057-448a
Albert-László Barabási, visiting scientist, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute,
Harvard University, Boston, Massachusetts
Mathematician follows networks.
Walking through New York City during his years as a postdoc, Albert-László
Barabási was intrigued not by the glitz and glamour, but by the notion of
the invisible networks of cables and pipes necessary for modern life.
Given that he trained as an engineer in Bucharest, Romania, such thoughts
were not unusual for the Hungarian native. (see CV) Unfortunately we are
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But it is the connection between networks and another passion of his —
chaos and fractals — that really underpins his scientific career. His
fascination for fractals led him to Budapest to work with international
fractal expert, Tamás Vicsek. Later, in New York, he married the ideas of
the self-replicating patterns in fractals with the structure of networks.
Left to his own devices at IBM, Barabási began asking himself: "What the
heck is a computer?" Realizing that everything from computers to
electricity distribution to water pipelines is networked, he wondered why
nobody in science had paid much attention to networks. "Networks must not
be random, but we didn't know anything about them," he says. So he decided
to fill in the gaps.
Timing was on his side. The appearance online of digital maps of the
Internet and biological networks in the late 1990s became the foundations
of his work. The result was two papers introducing the concept of
scale-free networks. No matter what system he looked at, Barabási
discovered that all networks are dominated by a few highly connected nodes
Barabási decided to devote his full attention to networks, even though he
lacked both funding and tenure. He credits this bold move with his
ultimate success. "I thought this is going to be more important than
anything I've done before, I can't do it half-hearted or half-brained," he
Now Barabási has his eyes on the next challenge: a theory of complexity.
"I believe that if there will be a theory of complexity it will emerge in
the next ten years," he says. "How do I position myself to contribute to
He is optimistic that his one-year move to the Dana-Farber Cancer
Institute at Harvard University, will help him. As the field has advanced,
Barabási says, it has become increasingly important to be close to
experimental groups generating data.
For those who want to follow in his footsteps, Barabási offers one piece
of advice: aim very high. "You'll never reach that very high aim, but if
you reach 75%, it's still very good," he says. "If you aim low, 75% gets
2000-present: Emil T. Hofman Professor of Physics, University of Notre
Dame, Notre Dame, Indiana
1999-2000: Associate professor, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame,
1995-99: Assistant professor, University of Notre Dame
1994-95: Postdoc, IBM T. J. Watson Research Center, Yorktown Heights, New
Barry Wellman Professor of Sociology NetLab Director
wellman at chass.utoronto.ca http://www.chass.utoronto.ca/~wellman
Centre for Urban & Community Studies University of Toronto
455 Spadina Avenue Toronto Canada M5S 2G8 fax:+1-416-978-7162
To network is to live; to live is to network
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