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The social network, Hungary-style

For every Hungarian living in Greater Boston, there are about 4,000 non-Hungarians.  Despite its small size, however, the Hungarian community has formed a tight social network, according to recent research from Distinguished University Professor of Physics Albert-László Barabási and Ancsa Hannák, a doctoral candidate in network science.

This small network expanded further by adding an extraordinary connection—Hungarian President János Áder. Along with a delegation of dignitaries from Boston, New York City, and Washington D.C., Áder visited with the local Hungarian science and medical researchers on Thursday evening at Northeastern.

Hannák and Barabási, who has joint appointments in the College of Science and the College of Computer and Information Science, presented their work to the very community it addressed at the biweekly meeting of the Hungarian Society of America’s science club. The meeting was held in honor of President Áder, who was joined by Gyorgy Szapary, the U.S. ambassador to Hungary; Karoly Dan, consul general; and Gabor Garai, honorary consul general.

Áder’s visit to Boston is part of an ongoing effort to strengthen human, cultural, commercial, and diplomatic ties between Hungarian-Americans and their home country. The visit, from Oct. 22 to Oct. 30, includes stops in four other North American cities.

“There is a lot to be learned from studying and working abroad,” Áder said, through a translator, in his discussion with Stephen W. Director, Northeastern’s provost and senior vice president for academic affairs. In their discussion about Northeastern’s experiential learning model and research and educational enterprise, Áder noted that Hungary would benefit from motivating its students to study in foreign countries before returning to apply their skills at home. He pointed to the medieval practice of sending apprentices abroad to learn a profession. While the focal careers—masonry and carpentry—were different then, the benefit of international experience remains of value, he said.

“Our co-op program builds on that idea,” Director said. Áder agreed, noting that he was very impressed with Northeastern’s experiential education model, rooted in its signature co-op program, and considered an opportunity for a similar model in Hungary. Áder also noted that many talented and educated Hungarians in a range of disciplines have left the country to pursue careers overseas—a challenge he is particularly focused on solving.

The primary goal of the president’s trip to Boston, according to Garai, was to meet members of the local community and exchange ideas. Along those lines, Barabási and Hannák’s research reveals a social network ripe for collaboration with the homeland.

Distinguished University Professor of Physics Albert-László Barabasí discussed his research in network science with Hungarian president János Áder. Photo by Brooks Canaday.

“We used the science of networks to understand communities and the relationship to American culture,” Barabási said. “There is a network here, of business, professional, and social ties.”

Hannák is a doctoral candidate in the lab run by Northeastern professor David Lazer, who has joint appointments in the Department of Political Science and the College of Computer and Information Science. She said the Hungarian community is diverse and includes important researchers and medical doctors. “If you look at the network,” she explained, “you can see that researchers have strong ties with their colleagues back home.” The work also reveals an interconnectedness between Boston-based Hungarian corporations, which are surprisingly isolated from the broader community.

Hungary has a reputation of excellence in mathematics education. Some of its most notable researchers include Farkas and János Bolyai, who invented modern, non-Euclidian geometry, and Paul Erdős, who was known for pursuing diverse mathematical problems through hundreds of research collaborations. It was that very spirit of collaboration that last week’s event sought to highlight.

“While many researchers emigrate,” Hannák said, “we can show that they’re coming to Boston to do something more and that they are keeping their academic connections in Hungary.”