A Co Cork mathematician’s groundbreaking research on how information, behavior and trends spread through social networks could help influence positive human behavior and ultimately help the homeless in Los Angeles.

Peter Fennell, from Ballincollig, in Co Cork, was recently granted a prestigious fellowship, giving him an opportunity to work in any institution in the United States, the Irish Examiner reports.

The $200,000 fellowship was awarded to nine recipients, of which only three came from outside the U.S. Fennell was the only successful applicant from Ireland.

For his PhD, Fennell studied how phenomena spread through networks using tools such as mathematical modeling, calculus, statistics, and linear algebra.

“Now I am applying these methodologies to study different types of spreading behavior in social networks,” he said.

He has already found interesting applications for his work just weeks into his fellowship.

“I had a meeting last week with people involved in social work. The reason their work is relevant to me, and vice versa, is because they are working with networks of homeless people here.

“The people are interconnected through friendship and peer relationships, and the challenge for the social workers is how can they influence these networks?

“Many of the people in this network have addiction problems, so the social workers want to spread a good behavior, like rehabilitation. We have to examine how to do that in the most effective way.

“People are influenced by their connections, so if you can spread a behavior in a social network it can be more effective than trying to introduce it from the outside.”