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Réka Albert named Evan Pugh University Professor

3 May 2024
Reka Albert

Réka Albert, Distinguished Professor of Physics and Biology at Penn State, has been named an Evan Pugh University Professor, the highest honor that Penn State bestows on a faculty member. This prestigious distinction has been conferred by Penn State to only 79 faculty members since the designation’s establishment in 1960.

The professorships are named for Penn State’s founding president, Evan Pugh, a renowned chemist and scholar who was at the helm of the University from 1859 to 1864. The Evan Pugh Professorships are awarded to faculty members who are nationally or internationally recognized leaders in their fields of research or creative activity; demonstrate significant leadership in raising the standards of the University with respect to teaching, research or creativity, and service; display excellent teaching skills with undergraduate and graduate students who go on to achieve distinction in their fields; and receive support from colleagues who also are leaders in their disciplines.

“Réka Albert is a pioneer and internationally renowned expert in the impactful field of network science,” said Mauricio Terrones, George A. and Margaret M. Downsbrough Head of the Department of Physics at Penn State. “Her work as a graduate student led to the birth of the field and changed the way networks are used, and her research continues to have widespread impacts in mathematics, physics, and biology. She is also an outstanding teacher and mentor, having advised more than two dozen graduate students and postdoctoral researchers from across the University and developed two courses that present the frontiers of network science and network biology.”

Albert's research focuses on the organization and dynamics of complex biological systems. Her research group develops computational representations called network models to investigate a broad range of biological questions. Experimental measurements by collaborators or from the literature guide the development of the network models, which in turn are used to make predictions about the dynamics of a system and to guide further experiments. Using this combined approach with experimental and theoretical components, Albert and her collaborators investigate areas such as the response of plants to environmental change, the genetic and signaling pathways used by cancer cells to hijack the body's developmental processes, and the interactions between plants and pollinating insects. Her papers have been published in physics journals as well as in journals devoted to computational or systems biology.

Albert is an elected Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Physical Society, and the Network Science Society and is an external member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. She was recognized with a Distinguished Alumna Award from the University of Notre Dame Graduate School in 2016, the Maria Goeppert Mayer Award from the American Physical Society in 2011, a National Science Foundation CAREER Award in 2007, a Sloan Research Fellowship in 2004, and the Shaheen Graduate School Award from the University of Notre Dame in 2001. Albert sits on more than ten editorial and advisory boards. She serves as a reviewer for more than 50 journals and more than 12 foundations, including the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health. She was recognized as an Outstanding Reviewer by the American Physical Society in 2019.

Albert was honored with the title of distinguished professor by Penn State in 2015. Prior to joining Penn State in June of 2003, Albert was a postdoctoral associate at the University of Minnesota from 2001 to 2003. She received a doctoral degree in physics from the University of Notre Dame in 2001, and master's and bachelor's degrees in physics from the Babes-Bolyai University in Romania in 1996 and 1995, respectively.