Many man-made and natural networks have same underlying architecture

November 3, 2011

By Denise Brehm
Civil & Environmental Engineering

Complex networks as dissimilar in size, age and character as the metabolic processes of a yeast cell, the World Wide Web, and the airline system of the United States all share a similar underlying structure, said Professor Albert-László Barabási of Northeastern University in an Oct. 26 talk, the first in the Distinguished Engineering and Science Speaker Seminar Series (DES4) sponsored by the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE).

“What is really amazing about this is that these networks — that differ both in nature and in age — have over time and through many different processes converged to a somewhat similar architecture as if the same designer tried to build them,” said Barabási, who is known for introducing the concept of scale-free networks in 1999 using the World Wide Web as an example.

A scale-free network is one in which the distribution of connections to nodes follows a power law, like the 80/20 rule often used to describe distribution of wealth among a population: 20 percent of the people own 80 percent of the wealth. In a scale-free network, there are a very few nodes that have many, many connections, and many, many nodes w