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2008 Recipients of C&C Prize

Group B

Prof. Albert-László Barabási

Prof. Albert-László Barabási

Professor of Physics,
Computer Science and Biology Director of the Center for Complex Network Research,
Northeastern University



Citation

For stimulating innovative research on networks and discovering that the “scale-free” property is a common feature of various real-world complex networks

(Scale-free means being free of a typical scale such as the average in a distribution. Mathematically, a scale-free network follows a power-law degree distribution and explains the fat tails observed in real networks.)

Achievement

Prof. Albert-László Barabási and his team of researchers found in 1999 that the World Wide Web (WWW) is not a randomly connected network but is best described by a new class of networks that he named scale-free. By discovering two generic mechanisms, the first being that networks expand continuously with the addition of new nodes and the second that new nodes preferentially link to already well-connected nodes, Prof. Barabási theoretically derived the power-law distribution for the number of links characterizing the nodes in the WWW. This power-law distribution clearly explains that a handful of hubs having a large number of links coexist with many nodes that have only a few links. For a power-law distribution, the tail of the distribution does not decay fast. Consequently, a power-law distribution is free from a typical scale, which means that the average node is not representative, in contrast to the average in a normal distribution. Prof. Barabási dubbed this feature “scale-free” and the networks having this feature “scale-free networks.“

The most pronounced insight into networks by Prof. Barabási is that the scale-free feature is not at all limited to the WWW. Rather, it is a generic feature of an amazing variety of networks. These include the social networks of actors in Hollywood, the citation patterns of scientific publications, metabolic networks with metabolites linked by chemical reactions in many different living organisms, and flight maps connecting airports. Moreover, his scale-free theory is supported by findings about the physical infrastructure of the Internet with computers linked by wires and cables, by transmission maps for infectious diseases, by business networks, and so on. His results are summarized in the book entitled “Linked: The New Science of Networks“ which was published in 2002.

It is now widely accepted that scale-free property is a universal feature of many complex networks existing in reality. Networks in biology, biotechnology, sociology, economics, industrial organizations, and more have been extensively investigated with the powerful knowledge provided by the theory of scale-free networks. Based on findings that scale-free networks are vulnerable to intentional all-out attacks on network hubs, research into matters ranging from preventing terrorism to countering human illnesses such as cancer and mental disease has made great progress.

Prof. Barabási's research on scale-free networks represents a paradigm change in our understanding of complex systems. Consequently, his trailblazing work into network research has been very highly praised.