UVA to Lead Study of How Big Data Can Battle Future Pandemics

Jun 1, 2020

As COVID-19 spread from China to Europe and then on to North America, two universities in Virginia got news of a grant that would help them plan for and respond to pandemics in the future.  Sandy Hausman reports on how that research – called Expeditions in Computing – will work.

UVA Professor Madhav Marathe will lead the effort to use computers and big data to fight future pandemics.
Credit UVA

With ten million dollars from the National Science Foundation, computer scientists at the University of Virginia, Virginia Tech and 13 other schools have begun to tackle a massive problem with the power of big data and computers.  Chris Barrett at UVA’s Biocomplexity Institute says now – in the 21st century – mankind is armed to confront the ancient problem of plagues.

“We have a nice small word for it – pandemic – but it’s a very big, complicated worldwide object,” he explains. “To hold it in your head is impossible.  We have to use computers to do that.”

And Professor Madhav Marathe, the lead researcher on this project, says it will involve people from many disciplines.

“We have folks who have backgrounds in physics, economics, biology, epidemiology, statistics, computer science, data science, psychology. What we are after is to solve this important societal problem, and the tools we’ll use are borrowed from every field.”

Using big data, they’ll look at human behavior, public policy, weather and other variables to create models that will help us forecast the spread of disease and how best to stop it.

The Institute also hopes to help governments predict where resources will be needed and what impact the pandemic will have on our economies. 

***Editor's Note: The University of Virginia is a financial supporter of Radio IQ. Radio IQ is a service of Virginia Tech.