Hungarian network scientists at Europe’s forefront: László Lovász and Albert-László Barabási winners of most prestigious grant in exploratory research

A momentous international success for the Hungarian scientific community: László Lovász, Albert-László Barabási and Czech scientist Jaroslav Nešetřil have jointly won a 6 year research programme grant worth almost 10 million euros in order to gain a better understanding of the networks surrounding our everyday lives. The MTA Alfréd Rényi Institute of Mathematics, the Central European University and the Charles University of Prague will provide the insitutional background for the project.

The three researchers and their colleagues will explore what mathematical rules are applicable to large networks, from cellular processes to human brain functions to Facebook networks.

The project was awarded the most prestigious of European Commission-funded grants, the ERC Synergy Grant. This program, launched in 2012 and 2013 on a trial basis, was launched again after four years of intense preparation, in 2017 by the European Research Council.

The Synergy Grant aims to promote cooperation among different disciplines in a way that the research results may later form the basis of new disciplines. The goal of the project is to build upon the newest results of network science and graph theory, bringing researchers from each field together to better understand the workings of large complex networks. The results can have an impact on multiple disciplines, so the researchers plan to consult with brain scientists, medical doctors, cell biologists, physicists, experts in communication, social networks, transportation and computer science.

The coordinating Principal Investigator of the project is László Lovász, President of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and professor emeritus of Eötvos Loránd University. The cutting-edge mathematician aims to record the mathematical characteristics of dynamically changing networks.

“ThePlease click here to read an excerpt on the three winning grants. network has become a basic term in modern science, in the same way as ‘functions and their differentiation’ was earlier. Of course there wasn’t as much time for their development as in the case of analysis, so the use of mathematical methods can develop a lot. Nevertheless, practical observations and methods, and questions stemming from concrete applications are of crucial importance in network science. So I am pleased to work with Albert-Laszlo Barabasi, the prominent personality in the field of network science. I have been working with our partner Jaroslav Nešetřil for decades, and his research is a welcome addition to the methods we want to develop. Those at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences’ Alfred Rényi Institute of Mathematics helped a lot in the preparation of this grant application,” said Lovász.

Albert-László Barabási, László Lovász and Nešetřil Jaroslav

“It gives me great pleasure to participate in this project, which is an extraordinary opportunity to strengthen the mathematical foundations of network science. I am honored to work with Lovász and Nešetřil, the legends of graph theory, and the researchers of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences’ Alfred Rényi Institute of Mathematics. If we do our jobs well, this project can be paradigm-changing,” said Barabási, a physicist and network scientist, one of the three Principal Investigators of the project, visiting professor at CEU’s Department of Network and Data Science.

In terms of ERC projects won, Hungary outperforms the EU13 region. Since the program’s launch in 2007, more than 40% of the projects selected for funding have had a Principal Investigator hosted by a Hungarian research institution. Of those, half involve the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, and a quarter were awarded to CEU researchers. The recent success is not without precedent: the Hungarian Academy of Sciences’ Alfred Rényi Institute of Mathematics and CEU work together on several research projects. The only Synergy Grant hosted by an institution based in Central and Eastern Europe until now was awarded to CEU researchers in the field of cognitive science.

Both network science and graph theory are fields with a successful and serious tradition in Hungary. Generations of mathematicians have been at the frontier of graph theory, including Dénes Kőnig, György Pólya, Pál Erdős, László Lovász, Alfred Rényi, Endre Szemerédi, Laszló Babai, Béla Bollobás and others. In network science, renowned Hungarian researchers include Albert-László Barabási, Réka Albert, Tamás Vicsek, János Kertész, and Péter Csermely, who play leading roles with their Hungarian colleagues in the development of this field.

Synergy: where mathematical graph theory and network science meet

Mathematics has been engaged with networks for a long time – results from the field known as graph theory are used in everything from computer programming to industrial design and package shipping. Apart from mathematics, we meet networks and relationship systems every day – it’s enough to imagine the relationships inherent in a city’s transportation network or among the inhabitants of an ecological system to recognize them.

In recent years, however, with the explosive development of technological possibilities, more and more people in both scientific and commercial fields find themselves faced with huge networks that may have billions of nodes, and understanding these networks are crucial to answering key questions. How fast does news and fake news spread on Facebook? Of thousands of proteins, which should be influenced via medication in order to restore a cell or a tissue to health? How is the brain able to rewire itself following an injury? To answer these questions, it would be helpful to understand the mathematics behind the functioning of huge, dynamic networks.

Barabási, as a network scientist, examines the properties of very real networks, and in the course of his research has made important discoveries regarding their mathematical characteristics. Lovász and Nešetřil historically approach the issues of large complex networks from a mathematical perspective, and have reached fundamental conclusions. However, it has emerged that the mathematical results achieved to this point only concern parts of large networks, so the explanation of the overall properties and dynamic characteristics of large networks represent the challenge of this project.

In the six-year project by the three prominent researchers, the two approaches – mathematical graph theory and network science – will meet. Research led by Lovász aims to lay out the mathematical explanation for the functioning of dynamic networks that appear frequently in real life. The results for each approach have exciting possibilities and can bring us closer to answering multiple practical and essential questions in medicine, from cell biology to brain research, and in other areas from engineering applications to the communications networks that permeate our lives.