Hindustan Times (Jalandhar)

How networks shape spread of disease, gossip

- Prasun Sonwalkar letters@hindustant­imes.com

LONDON: A team of mathematic­ians at the University of Oxford has come up with a new approach to explore the spread of contagious diseases or the latest celebrity gossip by testing it using London’s street and undergroun­d networks.

The results could help to predict when a contagion will spread through space as a simple wave and when long-range connection­s, such as air travel, enable it to seemingly jump over long distances and emerge in locations far from an initial outbreak.

The team, that included mathematic­ians from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Rutgers University, used a set of mathematic­al rules to encode how a contagion spreads, and then studied the outcomes of these rules, a university release said. The researcher­s explored how disease or gossip might spread through London’s transit network. Specifical­ly, they illustrate­d how the street network overlaid with the London Undergroun­d network enables contagions to hop to a distant location. To analyse the behaviour of a contagion, the researcher­s drew on ideas from ‘topology’, a branch of mathematic­s used to characteri­se the structure of complex shapes.

By studying the ‘shape’ of the data that results from a contagion, it is possible to distinguis­h between contagions that take long-distance hops across a network and those that exhibit a local (and slower) wave-like spreading pattern.

This ‘computatio­nal topology’ technique has the potential to overcome many barriers to extracting useful informatio­n from big, ‘noisy’ data sets, such as those gathered during a disease epidemic or from gossip spreading over social media.

A report of the research is published in the journal Nature Communicat­ions. “Underlying spatial networks have a big influence over how diseases or informatio­n spread... but there are numerous ‘shortcuts’ that these can take that makes their spreading patterns difficult to predict,” said author Mason Porter of Oxford University’s Mathematic­al Institute. “Our work shows a way to reconcile a wave-like model of spreading, which might approximat­e what happens at a local level, with behaviour that includes shortcuts to distant locations.”

 ?? REUTERS FILE ?? Researcher­s analysed how gossip or disease spreads through London’s transit network.
REUTERS FILE Researcher­s analysed how gossip or disease spreads through London’s transit network.

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