22 March 2018

For his exceptionally large and versatile contributions to network science

Honorary doctorate for Prof. Albert-László Barabási

Prof. Henk Dijkstra presents the honorary doctorate to Prof. Albert-László Barabási
Prof. Henk Dijkstra (right) presents the honorary doctorate to Prof. Albert-László Barabási

Prof. Albert-László Barabási has received an honorary doctorate from Utrecht University at the occasion of her 382th Dies Natalis. László is a pioneer in researching the behaviour of complex systems that can be described by networks, ranging from the Internet and social networks to metabolic networks in living cells. The honorary doctorate is a recognition for his breakthroughs in the field as well as for their successful application to social issues. It is rare for a single scientist to make such a large and versatile contribution to a discipline, according to his promoters, physicists Prof. Henk Dijkstra and Prof. Henk Stoof.

Prof. Albert-László Barabási

László has studied many systems, both natural and man-made, to understand how they lead to organised behaviour. He discovered that the structure of the world wide web is a special kind of a so-called scale-free, network. This is important in order to understand the vulnerability of the Internet. A growth model he proposes explains why this type of network is so common in biological, technological and social systems. Part of his scientific work has been explained to a wider public in his best-sellers LlNKED and BURSTS.

Collective Interactions

"László's contributions to network science are best understood in the context of reductionism", explains Henk Dijkstra, Professor of Dynamical Oceanography Henk Dijkstra at Utrecht University. "That's the idea that we can fathom nature by unravelling it into its smallest constituent parts. But nature does not appear to be a simple sum of its parts, particularly due to the occurrence of collective interactions that cause organised behaviour. Network science is about how the parts are connected and how they influence each other.”

Effectiveness of drugs

This also includes processes that take place in people's networks. László thus made discoveries about the predictability of human mobility and the dynamics of scientific success. In more recent work he discovered guiding principles for the control of networks. He applied this to determine the effectiveness of medicines and introduced the new research field of network medication for this purpose.

Broad scientific knowledge and deep curiosity

László combines a remarkably broad scientific knowledge and a deep curiosity about natural and man-made systems, according to Dijkstra. “Through his keen awareness of a problem's context, he is able to formulate the most interesting questions about it. This allows him to find patterns in data that others miss, thus shepherding his community. Moreover, his mathematical-physics background allows him to develop rigorous quantitative theories on the phenomena at hand.”

Albert-László Barabási

Albert-László Barabási (1967, Romania) is the Robert Gray Dodge Professor of Network Science and a Distinguished University Professor at Northeastern University, USA, where he directs the Center for Complex Network Research and holds appointments in the Departments of Physics and College of Computer and Information Science. He also holds appointments in the Department of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women Hospital in the Channing Division of Network Science. In addition László is a member of the Center for Cancer Systems Biology at Dana Farber Cancer Institute as well as a member and visiting professor at the Center for Network Science at Central European University in America. He already received an honorary doctorate from the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid in 2011 and was elected a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and the Academia Europaea. He has also won a variety of scientific awards, including the Federation of European Biochemical Societies (FEBS) Anniversary Prize for Systems Biology and the international Lagrange-CRT Foundation Prize for scientific research on complex systems. László is also the founder and current chairman of the international Network Science Society. For more information see his website.

Complexity Science in Utrecht

At Utrecht University, the Centre for Complex Systems Studies (CCSS) stimulates and facilitates the collaboration on complexity science over the boundaries of disciplines. The centre aims at scientific breakthroughs as well as novel solutions for societally relevant issues by approaching existing problems from the perspective of complex systems science. This includes research on the spread of infectious diseases, on the impact of different types of social networks on the decision-making of a group of people, on how a stock market crash occurs and on transitions resulting from climate change, such as in ocean circulation. In addition to the research, a Bachelor’s minor, a Master’s profile and a Summer School programme are offered to educate students in complexity. Prof. Henk Dijkstra is director of the Centre for Complex Systems Studies and the successor of Prof. Henk Stoof, initiator of the focus area Foundations of Complex Systems.

382nd Dies Natalis of Utrecht University

The 382nd Dies Natalis of Utrecht University was dedicated to 'Darwin, Data and Academic Intelligence'. Dutch Minister Ingrid van Engelshoven of Education, Culture and Science was one of the guests and speakers.


Presentation of the honorary doctorate: Robert Oosterbroek

Portrait: Gabor de Fiala