A look into NETWORKS

There are still many moments at which my fellow principal investigators and I remind each other how great it is that it all worked out.


When we wrote the grant application for NETWORKS, back in 2013, we obviously put all our energy into it, and tried to come up with the best proposal possible. But in our heart of hearts we feared that we wouldn't make it in this fierce grant competition, in which only the top few percent would be awarded the coveted Gravitation grant. We had to convince a broad committee of scientific experts that they should fund this team of mathematicians and theoretical computer scientists, working on topics they may perceive as somewhat abstract and ethereal...

But it did work out. We had prepared the interview to the last detail. And that was needed. When we would have been interviewed by fellow mathematicians and computer scientists, we would know exactly what to expect. But this committee could ask questions about completely different aspects of networks. I think we succeeded very well in making sure it came across that networks are a key concept in math and computer science, but also in various surrounding disciplines. And that there are deep and challenging problems that we would like to attack. It was tougher, though, to make sure it came across that we think primarily methodologically. Put differently: inspired by problems such as cascading outages in power grids or congestion on highways, we'd like to understand, design and control the underlying networks, but the emphasis is on developing algorithms, limiting results, and insights rather than on providing the final, numerical answers to concrete, operational questions.

Now that we're six years further, things have been slowly shifting. While still having the focus on fundamental aspects, we're gradually getting more and more in touch with users of network theory. We have always been working with applied researchers in ICT industry, transport and logistics, but currently in other areas new opportunities are opening up. The best example is the new link with researchers in the social sciences, with whom we'll be having a workshop in January 2020. As they often model communities of interacting agents as dynamic networks, we strongly believe there is ample scope for collaboration. Curious what this will lead to!

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