World-renowned researcher elected to the Academy of Europe

Photo by Christopher Huang.

World-renowned statistical physicist Alessandro Vespignani has been elected to the physics and engineering sciences branch of the Academy of Europe for his research on the spread of epidemics.

Members of the academy — which promotes learning, education and research — are nominated annually by a highly selective peer-reviewed process, based on scientific excellence and scholarly achievement, and then elected by the council of the academy. Some 2,300 members, including more than three-dozen Nobel Laureates, currently represent a diverse range of disciplines, such as medicine, mathematics and biological sciences.

“I’m honored,” said Vespignani, the newly appointed Sternberg Family Distinguished University Professor of Physics, with appointments in the College of Science, College of Computer and Information Science and the Bouvé College of Health Sciences. “It is a bit intimidating to be among such an accomplished crowd.”

Vespignani will be formally inducted into the academy as part of its annual conference next September in Norway.

As a member of the academy, Vespignani will sit on an advisory board that will be called upon to provide input on policymaking and government programs. “I have already been told that I will provide expertise across the entire spectrum of the research I carry out,” he said.

His landmark research on the proliferation of viruses, in which he proved that even weak strains can spread in a real-world, nonrandom, scale-free network, has transformed the analysis of spreading processes and shaped policies aimed at eradicating infections ranging from HIV to computer viruses.

Vespignani and David Lazer, an associate professor of political science and computer science at Northeastern, were recently awarded $1.1 million as part of a $1.8 million grant from the National Science Foundation to analyze the interdependence between complex networks in natural, social and technological systems.

Understanding how a problem may spread through the nation’s transportation infrastructure, for example, could shed light on mitigation strategies designed to keep people safe.

“Knowledge of these dynamical processes would allow us to anticipate and possibly minimize systemic risk in a variety of contexts that affect our daily life,” Vespignani said.