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"What makes the new science exciting is the amalgamation of scientists from many disciplines — physics, chemistry, zoology, sociology," Professor Brian Uzzi says. "There are very few conferences like this on the planet."

Brian Uzzi

Q&A: Professor Brian Uzzi

The network expert explains the thinking behind ‘NetSci2012,’ an international conference on the emerging field of network science

By Paul Dailing

6/18/2012 - A decade ago, the academic field of “network science” didn’t exist.

Today, the field is so widely accepted that it’s convening hundreds of academics at Northwestern this week for NetSci2012, an international conference that Brian Uzzi, the Richard L. Thomas Professor of Leadership and Organizational Change, and Noshir Contractor, the Jane S. and William J. White Professor of Behavioral Sciences, have helped bring to fruition.

Network science examines a wide range of complex networks, including social networks, ant colonies, the Internet, electrical power grids and even the human brain. Coming together at events such as NetSci, the academics who study these seemingly diverse fields have found unnoticed similarities, such as how the removal of key species, servers or neurons can cause similar collapses in ecological food webs, the Internet or the brain function of Alzheimer's patients.

Taking place from June 18 to 22, NetSci2012 features distinguished keynote speakers from the Kellogg School, Oxford University, Princeton University and other leading universities. Throughout the week, researchers, practitioners and academics will have the opportunity to deliver talks and research on their approach to this multifaceted topic.

Here, Uzzi talks about the conference, the burgeoning field of network science and how they relate to Kellogg's commitment to the architectures of collaboration.

What is the significance of NetSci2012 to the network science community?
The last five years have really seen the creation of a new science — network science. What makes the new science exciting is the amalgamation of scientists from many disciplines — physics, chemistry, zoology, sociology. There are very few conferences like this on the planet. Most scientists in a particular discipline focus on problems germane to their discipline. They rarely study each others' problems. And when many different disciplines study the same phenomena from different points of view but converge on the same set of facts, it suggests that science has touched on a new truth.

Past NetSci conferences have been held everywhere from Budapest to Queens, N.Y. How was Northwestern picked for NetSci2012?
The conference is meant to alternate between a U.S. and a foreign location. It's also meant to be located at a place that is a hub of network science, and that is Kellogg and Northwestern. It's also meant to be in a world-class city.

In what ways does this conference speak to Kellogg’s commitment to the “architectures of collaboration”?
We started out thinking collaboration was the eyeball-to-eyeball stuff, meeting across a table. Now we realize collaboration can be much greater and more far-reaching than that. Companies are doing this all the time now on the web. These new architectures of collaboration are known to us through Wikipedia, through open source communities. We map out those relationships between the individuals in this crowdsourcing community and companies. Understanding the relationships is key to understanding the architectures of collaboration.