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Nakisa Nassersharif and Megan Sinton are getting an opportunity to further develop their skills as mathematicians, while helping to advance research in rumor psychology.

Nassersharif, a senior double major in mathematics and Spanish at Syracuse University, and Megan Sinton, a junior math major at Bucknell University, are both participating in the Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) center in mathematics at RIT. The REU, funded by the National Science Foundation and open to undergraduate scholars from around the country, focuses on promoting research and development in a host of mathematics disciplines, while also providing hands on education experiences to students.

Nassersharif and Sinton are developing algorithms that generate realistic and dynamic artificial social networks. The social networks are structurally similar to real networks such as Facebook and are used by researchers to study how rumors propagate.

The project is based on nearly a decade of research in rumor modeling conducted by Nicholas DiFonzo, professor of psychology from the College of Liberal Arts, and Bernard Brooks, associate professor of mathematics from the School of Mathematical Sciences. The team has investigated how rumors spread, why some are believed and others are not, and how they affect social interaction.

"Social networks are everywhere," Nassersharif says. "Common examples are kinship, romantic relationships, relationships in the workplace, as well as more obvious networks such as Twitter and Facebook."

"We can use graph theory to mathematically represent these real world relationships that make up social networks," Sinton adds. "The network as a whole can be represented as a graph where the people are the nodes and their relationships and social connections are the edges between nodes."

In addition to creating the algorithms, Nassersharif and Sinton are crafting the code that will run these algorithms on RIT's Research Computing Cluster so that very large artificial social networks can be constructed.

"Formulating these algorithms requires quite a bit of creativity as well as mathematical competency," says Brooks, who is supervising Nassersharif and Sinton. "By understanding how to build artificial social networks, we hope to be able to understand how real social networks form, why friendships materialize and why they wane."