Rensselaer Research Review Spring/Summer 2010
Professor Boleslaw Szymanski, the Claire and Roland Schmitt Distinguished Professor
Rensselaer Launches $16.75 Million Center To Research Social Cognitive Networks

Our social networks are staple sources of information, advice, and ideas. Add technology to the mix — Twitter, Facebook, cell phones — and the power of social networks balloons to a global scale. Harnessing that power is the work of the new Social Cognitive Networks Academic Research Center (SCNARC) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

The new center, funded by a $16.75 million five-year grant from the Army Research Laboratory, will join researchers from a broad spectrum of fields — including sociology, physics, computer science, engineering, and medicine —in exploring social cognitive networks. The center will study the fundamentals of network structures and how those structures have been altered by technology. The goal will be a deeper understanding of social cognitive networks and a firm scientific basis for this newly arising field of network science.

Social networks involve people who interact for various reasons — mentoring, friendships, rivalries
“Social networks involve people who interact for various reasons - mentoring, friendships, rivalries,” said Professor Boleslaw Szymanski, the Claire and Roland Schmitt Distinguished Professor at Rensselaer. “In the past, social networks were limited by the distance of possible interactions. Thus, they were limited in size and there was no easy way in which a network could become huge and fast. Technology — cell phones, Facebook, LinkedIn — makes it much easier to be involved in the lives of many people who could be very distant from each other. This brings new opportunities and new dangers to society.”

The center will look at five aspects of social cognitive networks, each of which could lead to improvements in how we form ties, gather information, and make decisions: dynamic processes, organizational networks, adversarial networks, trust within social networks, and the impact of human cognition on social networks.

Rensselaer is the primary member and the leader of a center with four partners around the country. The Institute is joined by corporate and academic partners from IBM Corp., Northeastern University, and the City University of New York, and collaborators from Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, New York University, Northwestern University, the University of Notre Dame, the University of Maryland, and Indiana University.

Rensselaer Joins New Global Network of Web Science Laboratories

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute has been selected to join a new international network of prestigious world-class research laboratories to support the growing field of Web science research and education programs.

Rensselaer joins academic organizations from around the globe in the new Web Science Trust Network of Laboratories (WSTNet). The network combines many of the world’s leading academic researchers in Web science, with new academic programs that will enhance the already growing influence of Web science.

According to WSTNet, the World Wide Web is transforming society. In order to understand what the Web is, engineer its future, and ensure its social benefit, the new interdisciplinary field of Web science has emerged to help map out the future and provide education for those studying the Web.

“Our lives are increasingly impacted by our connection to and use of data on the Web,” said Deborah McGuinness, director of Rensselaer’s Web Science Research Center. “Web science is the emerging interdisciplinary field of study supporting the foundations of the interconnected network of information called the Web. WSTNet forms an international body of world-class groups doing research on the current and future Web. As one of the 10 founding laboratories, Rensselaer’s Web Science Center will take a leadership role in defining and growing the emerging area of Web science.”

Deborah McGuinness is joined in the new laboratory by Rensselaer Professors James Hendler and Peter Fox. Students in Rensselaer’s new Web science laboratory will investigate issues on the Web related to security, trust, privacy, content value, and the development of the Web of the future.

WSTNet is managed by the Web Science Trust, which brings together academics, business leaders, entrepreneurs, and policy-makers from around the world, with the goal of fostering multidisciplinary research to study the World Wide Web and describe the issues and challenges that will shape its future use and design.

Through a number of specific agreements and commitments with the Web Science Trust, the member labs will provide valuable support for the ongoing development of Web science.

Contributions from the labs will include the organization and hosting of summer schools, workshops, and meetings, including the WebSci conference series. The WSTNet Labs also will identify opportunities for new events and fundraising, all as part of the ongoing development of Web science.

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