The Social Network, Hungary-​​Style

October 28, 2013

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 Hancsak, 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.

Hancsak 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 Hancsak’s research reveals a social net­work ripe for col­lab­o­ra­tion with the homeland.

“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.”

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