If your Facebook page – or “node” – disappeared, would your whole social network come crashing to a halt?

A five-year, $5.4 million award to UC Irvine researchers will help them find out. The grant from the U.S. Office of Naval Research will allow a research team to analyze networks of data on a significantly larger scale than ever before. The goal is to help scientists understand how networks the size of Facebook and LinkedIn are formed and how they evolve over time. The millions of Web pages connected through hyperlinks also will be studied.

Related research traditionally has focused on networks of just a few hundred connected individuals, or nodes. In this new project, UCI researchers will develop mathematical models for studying networks with millions of nodes.

Modeling techniques developed through this research could be used to identify critical network nodes and predict likely areas of new network growth. Project research also could spur the development of software that automatically creates new links among people in large organizations or on the Web to foster collaboration.

Padhraic Smyth, computer science professor and director of UCI’s Center for Machine Learning and Intelligent Systems, is leading the study. Funding was awarded through the U.S. Department of Defense’s Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative. The program supports basic research involving more than one science and engineering discipline and seeks to apply discoveries to both commercial and military uses.

“These new network data sets are rich and complex,” Smyth said. “The structures of digital social networks are changing constantly over time. Our goal in this research project is to develop novel computational techniques to help us better understand and predict the characteristics of these large networks.”

The multidisciplinary research effort, which spans the spectrum from theoretical computer science to the social sciences, will involve faculty members with expertise ranging from algorithms to graph visualization, machine learning, data mining, statistics, sociology and behavioral science.

Smyth, along with co-investigators Michael Goodrich and David Eppstein from UCI’s Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences, will collaborate with sociology professor Carter Butts and with researchers at the University of Washington, Pennsylvania State University and University of Maryland. The research team also includes a total of 12 graduate students and postdoctoral fellows from all four universities.

Center researchers study computer algorithms that can harness the vast amounts of digital data available in the 21st century. Then they apply them intelligently to solve real-world problems, such as the development of personalized software that can interpret and prioritize e-mails without human intervention.

The center’s research spans topics including Web search engines, statistical text mining, image and video data analysis, ocean and atmospheric sciences, analysis of biological and genomic data, sensor networks and medical diagnosis.
About the Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences: The Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences is the first independent computer science school within the UC system and one of the fastest-growing programs of its kind in the nation. Elevated from department to school status in December 2002, information and computer sciences at UCI is an academic community of more than 1,500 students, more than 100 full-time faculty and staff, and approximately 6,500 alumni worldwide. With experts in areas ranging from embedded computer systems and networking to bioinformatics and the social impacts of computing, the school ranks 15th among all public university computer science graduate programs, according to U.S. News & World Report.

About the University of California, Irvine: The University of California, Irvine is a top-ranked university dedicated to research, scholarship and community service. Founded in 1965, UCI is among the fastest-growing University of California campuses, with more than 27,000 undergraduate and graduate students and nearly 2,000 faculty members. The third-largest employer in dynamic Orange County, UCI contributes an annual economic impact of $3.6 billion. For more UCI news, visit www.today.uci.edu.

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