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Physics prof to transfer to Boston

Kaitlynn Riely | Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Albert-László Barabási, the Emil T. Hofman professor of physics and the director of the Center for Complex Network Research, will leave Notre Dame in the fall to pursue research and teaching opportunities at Northeastern University and the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, a teaching affiliate of Harvard Medical School.

Barabási’s decision to leave Notre Dame followed his experience last year as a visiting professor studying biological networks at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute. Over the course of his time in Boston, his investigation into networks led him to the study of human diseases.

Barabási stressed that his decision to take a new position was not because he was unhappy at Notre Dame.

“To the contrary,” he said in an e-mail sent to friends after deciding to leave the University. “I love this University and the whole Notre Dame community, and over the years I became an Irish fan as well.”

He will leave Notre Dame to take up his new position in September.

Professor Mitchell R. Wayne, the chair of Notre Dame’s physics department, called Barabási’s departure a “big loss to the physics department and the University.”

“He’s one of the most prominent researchers in the University,” Wayne said. “It’s a huge loss. He’s one of the most publicized, well-cited scientists probably in the whole world right now.”

Wayne called Barabási a “creative scientist” and said he was popular with his students.

At Northeastern University, Barabási will take a position in the Department of Physics, Computer Science and Biology. He will also work in the Center for Cancer Systems Biology at Dana Farber Cancer Institute.

Barabási arrived at Notre Dame as an assistant professor in 1995. He originally intended to pursue research on materials science but soon turned his focus to the investigation of complex networks. In the relatively new field of networks research, Barabasi has been a central figure in both initiating exploration in the field and making progress in the study of interconnectivity.

An article in a 1998 issue of Notre Dame Magazine described Barabási’s published research findings on the amount of water it takes to make the sand in a sandcastle stick together. In collaboration with other physicists at the University, Barabási’s discovery – that only a small amount of liquid is necessary to yield the salt residues that create bridges between the sand grains – graced the cover of the June 1997 issue of the science journal Nature.

These findings, the article said, could be used by industries that store materials in piles, as well as by pill manufacturers, who need to understand how chemical grains adhere to each other.

The portable document format (PDF) version of Barabási’s curriculum vitae fills 25 pages and includes many published articles and other honors.

As the director of the Center for Complex Network Research (CCNR), Barabási and his team of researchers study interconnectivity. According to the CCNR’s Web site, its research ranges from studying the topology of the Internet to investigating the cellular network inside cells to studying the connections between Hollywood actors.

Barabási was out of town and could not be reached for comment, but he forwarded to The Observer the e-mail he sent to his friends when he decided to leave the University.

He said he felt he needed to make the move to advance forward with his scholarship, since his interests have evolved toward medical research.

“At the end it was not a vote for or against the University, nor a question of resources -it was a decision based on location, and access to the collaboration possibilities that are necessary to take my research program to a new level, which,” Barabási said, “with the exponential growth of the field that we initiated now requires close interactions with experimental groups, heavily based in medical schools.”

Wayne said the physics department is “disappointed” to see Barabási go but said the faculty wishes him good luck.

“In a certain sense, it reflects well on Notre Dame that one of our faculty members is so well-recognized around the world,” he said.

Barabási majored in physics and engineering at the University of Bucharest in Romania. He received his master’s degree in physics from Eotvos Lorand University in Budapest and his Ph.D. from Boston University.