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Dr. Madhav Marathe is a Professor of Computer Science and Director of the Network Dynamics and Simulation Science Laboratory within the Biocomplexity Institute of Virginia Tech. He is also an adjunct faculty member at Chalmers University, the Indian Institute of Public Health, and the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Virginia Tech. Madhav received his Bachelor of Technology Degree in Computer Science and Engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology in Madras, and he was awarded his Ph.D. in Computer Science from the University of Albany. Afterwards, Madhav conducted postdoctoral research working in the Computing Division group at the Los Alamos National Laboratory before coming to Virginia Tech. Over the course of his career, Madhav has received numerous awards and honors including being named the Inaugural George Michael Distinguished Scholar at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, an Association of Computing Machinery Fellow, an Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers Fellow, and a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. In addition, he was awarded the Distinguished Copyright achievement award from Los Alamos National Laboratory for TRANSIMS software, the University of Albany Distinguished Alumni Award, and the Award for Research Excellence at the Biocomplexity Institute of Virginia Tech. In our interview Madhav shared more about his life and science.
People Behind the Science Podcast Show Notes
Life Outside of Science (2:48)
Outside of work, Madhav treasures his time spent with family and close friends. In particular, he and his family have fun engaging in deep discussions about world events and important societal questions. Madhav also enjoys listening to or watching a great game of cricket or badminton.
The Scientific Side (4:12)
Research in the Network Dynamics and Simulation Science Laboratory focuses on understanding the general principles that govern large networks. They focus on networks that have social and technical components. Madhav and his team are working to understand how networks are formed, how they grow, how they change, how they can be used to solve problems, and how to make them more resilient. They use technology, including computer science, machine learning, artificial intelligence, and other tools to address critical problems in the study of complex networks.
A Dose of Motivation (7:31)
“The mind is everything. What you think, you become.” – Buddha
“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
What Got You Hooked on Science? (10:39)
Early on, Madhav was motivated to pursue science by his older sister who was studying chemistry and his father who pushed Madhav to gain a deep, conceptual understanding of different subjects. Madhav was interested in science, and he read a lot of scientific books, but he didn’t initially picture himself becoming a researcher. He grew up in a small town in India, and his high scores on an entrance exam gave him the opportunity to attend the Indian Institute of Technology in Madras. Once there, Madhav decided to study computer science. Though he wasn’t entirely sure what computer science was at first, he enjoyed the people he met and the academic environment. Once he began learning about algorithmics and theoretical computer science, Madhav knew he wanted to take the next step and study theoretical computer science in graduate school.
The Low Points: Failures and Challenges (34:57)
One of the first major challenges in Madhav’s career came when he went to college. It was difficult to move to a big city, leave his family, and meet new people. Madhav was surrounded by bright and motivated peers, and he realized that he couldn’t always be the best in his field. He discovered quickly that failure is part of life, and his motivation should come from working on a problem he was excited about, rather than comparing himself with others. Another tough time in Madhav’s career was when he came to the U.S. for graduate school. Again, he had to leave his family behind, but he was also exposed to a new culture, and the research was very challenging. Having support from his friends, family, and teachers throughout his life has been a tremendous help.
A Shining Success! (38:55)
In 2014, Madhav’s group was asked by various U.S. federal agencies to provide assistance and support in the government’s response to the ebola outbreak. His team gave real-time support to help with decision making at the highest levels as the outbreak evolved. This was difficult and time-intensive work, but it was rewarding to develop these tools to solve real societal problems as they were occurring. Another more recent success is that the lab has begun working with AccuWeather to do forecasting for infectious disease outbreaks. Accuweather is planning to show forecasts for infectious flu-like diseases within their application, and it’s exciting to be able to translate work in the lab to real-world uses.
Book Recommendations (44:16)
Books by Richard Feynman, The Creative Destruction of Medicine: How the Digital Revolution Will Create Better Health Care by Eric Topol, Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, Being Mortal by Atul Gawande.
Most Treasured Travel ( 45:56)
Madhav has really enjoyed his travels to Sweden to visit Stockholm, Lund, Malmo, and Chalmers. On his trip to Chalmers, he had a fantastic time meeting a close friend and colleague at the University there. Madhav was able to see some of the sites around Chalmers and interact with the local community there. Another memorable trip took Madhav to Milagro, Spain to attend a conference that was organized by one of his friends. The conference was excellent, the location was spectacular, and it was great to sit on the beach pondering scientific questions.
Quirky Traditions and Funny Memories (47:26)
Team science has become a strong tradition in their group at the Biocomplexity Institute. They have cultivated a phenomenal collaborative environment where people are excited to contribute to the many research projects going on, but the investigators don’t compete to be named leader on a project, and team members don’t fighting to get their share of credit. Everyone works hard for the science and for their passion that drives them.
Advice For Us All (50:32)
Madhav’s father gave him the wise advice that it is important to understand subjects conceptually, rather than through rote memorization. Also, Madhav believes that what makes a scientist’s journey interesting is working hard with the goal of understanding a subject instead of focusing on earning awards and accolades. Humility in science is important, and there is great joy in discovering the truth.
Madhav is an expert in interaction-based modeling and the simulation of large, complex biological, information, social, and technical systems. As the Director of the Network Dynamics and Simulation Science Laboratory, he leads the basic and applied research program where researchers are advancing the science and engineering of co-evolving complex networks and developing innovative computational tools based on these advances to support policy informatics. His research interests are in network science, computational social science, computational epidemiology, high performance computing, data science, and policy informatics. Madhav has published over 300 peer-reviewed articles and is a fellow of the IEEE, ACM, and AAAS.