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"Social Networking for Zebras"
Science News (12/01/07) Vol. 172, No. 22; Rehmeyer, Julie J.
There is considerable variation in social structures between different
species, and theoretical tools that are being developed to help understand
this variation could also help track terrorists, recommend products to
consumers, and control disease epidemics. Princeton University ecologist
Dan Rubenstein graphed the social interactions of Grevy's zebras and
onagers, and found substantial differences between the two species through
his application of network theory. But a key problem for Rubenstein was
figuring a way to analyze changing networks, so he turned to University of
Illinois in Chicago computer scientist Tanya Berger-Wolf, who took on the
challenge of devising the necessary computational methods with the help of
a $900,000 National Science Foundation grant. The first step of the
project involved reworking the most fundamental network theory concepts so
that they can operate in a graph that shows changes over time, and
Berger-Wolf detailed her new techniques at the International Conference on
Knowledge Discovery and Data Mining. She says that as she and others
create new computational techniques, their research will enable biologists
to make completely novel inquiries. "This is a beautiful example of
computer science, because there are some questions biologists cannot even
ask before we do the computational analysis," Berger-Wolf notes.
S.D. Clark Professor of Sociology, FRSC NetLab Director
Centre for Urban & Community Studies University of Toronto
455 Spadina Avenue Room 418 Toronto Canada M5S 2G8
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