UCI assistant professor of public health Cynthia Lakon has been awarded $400,000 by the National Institutes of Health to lead research of dynamic networks among teens and their influence on cigarette and marijuana smoking and alcohol use. The study will explore why social ties sometimes promote and other times discourage substance use among youth and will also examine what role emotional support, strong emotional ties and peer influence play. “I’m very excited to get this funding. This idea has been percolating in me for a long time,” Lakon said. “Social network ties offer both risk and protective effects for health and health-relevant behavior. Disentangling the risk and protective sides of networks is key for creating health behavior change programs.” She will work with three UCI co-investigators: Carter Butts, associate professor of sociology; John Hipp, associate professor of criminology, law & society; and David Timberlake, assistant professor of public health. The project launches the Social Networks & Health Initiative at the Center for Networks & Relational Analysis, which is part of the California Institute for Telecommunications & Information Technology. The analyses will be based on data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, which involved a nationally representative sample of students in grades 7-12.