Conventional network visualization seemed to be stuck in two dimensions for years. One important focus of the BarabásiLab, at the interface of network science and art, is overcoming this two-dimensionality and transferring networks into three-dimensional space, giving birth to data sculptures.
Traditional network layout algorithms perceive the connections between two components, called »links,« as virtual and bodyless lines that are allowed to cross each other. Yet in physical networks, like the network within a brain, this is not possible. The BarabásiLab created a new mathematical algorithm that permits the layout of three-dimensional networks without link crossings. The algorithm’s formula, inspired by actual physical and biological patterns, shapes the final structure of the data sculpture. Through the software developed and the possibilities offered by the emerging powder-based 3D printing process, »The Flavor Network« was realized in 2018 as the first three-dimensional network representation. While the previous two-dimensional »Flavor Network« was in color, at that time 3D printing could only be done in monochrome. It carries information in its structure—presenting a clear separation of the different flavor communities and unveiling previously hidden relationships between food groups.