• National Science Grant Enables Mathematical Look at "Friends"

8/3/2011

Eight undergraduate students from across the country have spent the last two months making connections in the classroom as they simultaneously examined social networks.

The program is part of Suffolk’s chapter of the National Science Foundation (NSF) Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU). This was the second year of a three-year $320,000 grant awarded to Math and Computer Science Department Professor Dan Stefanescu, who is directing several projects using online social networks as a research tool.

The goal of the REU is to expose undergraduate students to computer science research techniques and have them participate in projects that yield publishable results.

This year, students examined certain mathematical and statistical elements of massive online social networks, particularly the direct and indirect relationship among “friends.”

“The volume of online social networking is exploding, and it appears it is becoming more pervasive than real-life social networking,” Stefanescu said in an interview with U.S. News.

"It is so much easier to find new 'friends' for social intercourse because, unlike in real life, one can reach the 'friends' of 'friends' of 'friends' of your 'friends,' ad infinitum," he added.

The findings may tell scientists how the structure of social networks affects members’ behavior as well as suggest patterns for future social networks. The data may also provide insight into certain behaviors, like how people will vote in upcoming elections or what consumer products they are likely to buy.

The National Science Foundation is a major source of funding for computer science research at Suffolk University. In addition to Stefanescu’s $320,000 grant, Professor Honggang Zhang is supported by a five-year, $400,000 grant from the agency.

Students interested in next year’s program should visit Suffolk University’s REU Web site for application information.

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