Saturday, November 15, 2008

Six Degrees & the Mathematics of Networks

I don't know about the other Twelves but, after a theme announced, I find myself identifying references to that theme left, right and centre! I noticed the same thing in my law practice. While working on a mobile telephone tower acquisition, my heightened awareness meant that I could spot a transmission tower or antennae at 1000 paces; almost two decades after working on the sale and lease back of banks, I still pinpoint former bank premises in rural centres across the state of New South Wales; I can recite the path of high voltage transmission lines associated with the Snowy Mountains Hydro Electric Scheme; and don't get me started on railway lines that criss cross the State or the placement of grain silos in country New South Wales. The common theme of all of these legal transactions that I was involved with, is that they concern infrastructure hubs and networks.

The power of the networks, and the underlying mathematics of networks, was the subject of a fascinating documentary How Kevin Bacon Cured Cancer (available for viewing). The idea that everyone on the planet can be connected within "six degrees of separation" was thought to be an urban myth but is at the heart of a scientific breakthrough. When mathematicians plotted out the mathematical theories behind the game, they found an equation that could be applied to any kind of network and developed a new field of science. When network science is applied to genetics and DNA mapping, some diseases are found to be key hubs - if you can cure those, networked diseases may be banished. So, all in all, mathematics is a very useful thing!


Kristin L said...

I'd love to see 6 degrees of separation expressed visually. Or, see how many people "get" why a Kevin Bacon quilt is really about maths. :-)