Robert May
Robert May

Lord Robert May, current president of the venerable British scientific institution the Royal Society will be speaking at the Science Center on Oct. 6 at 4 p.m.

May holds a professorship jointly in the Department of Zoology at Oxford and Imperial College, London. He’s won a number of international awards, including the 1996 Crafoord Prize for “pioneering ecological research in theoretical analysis of the dynamics of populations, communities, and ecosystems.” Between 1995 and 2000, he was chief scientific adviser to the U.K. government. He became a member of the House of Lords in 2001 and was appointed to be a member of the Order of Merit in 2002.

May’s lecture is titled “The Nonlinear Dynamics of Vulnerability: How systems, whether ecosystems or IT networks, or transmission networks for infectious diseases, respond to disturbance.”

As the title suggests, May sees striking similarities in the way apparently dissimilar systems work. The transmission of infection among humans or other animals, the spread of viruses or worms among computers, and the way ecosystems respond to disturbance are three examples of systems whose behavior depends on the nature of the network of connections among the system’s units (that is, individuals, computers, and species, respectively).

Recent and current concern about HIV/AIDS, SARS, and foot-and-mouth disease among livestock have prompted advances in our understanding of the interplay between network patterns and effective control measures. Separate, but ultimately related, work has recently focused (often in the context of “homeland security”) on protecting IT networks from attack.

Says May, “My talk aims to be an opinionated overview of all this.”