The Network Science Institute

TRACKING COVID-19 IN THE AGE OF A.I.

As COVID-19 spreads like wildfire, it is upending every facet of human life. The pandemic is endangering lives worldwide, changing the ways we interact, overloading our healthcare system, confounding workplaces and educational institutions, and threatening the economy with each passing second.

Northeastern’s Sternberg Family Distinguished University Professor Alessandro Vespignani, director of the Network Science Institute (NetSI) and Laboratory for the Modeling of Biological and Sociotechnical Systems (MOBS Lab), is leading the response across a consortium of of 60 academic centers. He has rapidly mobilized an interdisciplinary team to combat COVID-19 by tracking and tracing its spread. They are working around the clock to forecast the virus’s spread in real time. Vespignani urgently requires financial resources that will bolster personnel, meet computational expenses, and purchase datasets.

LEADING THE FIGHT AGAINST COVID-19

  • Vespignani, a renowned expert in infectious disease modeling, is harnessing enormous computing power to analyze how patterns of human behavior—such as air travel—fuel or suppress the virus.
  • His team is continually updating data-driven computational models to forecast the global spread of the pandemic.
  • Vespignani is developing hundreds of possible COVID-19 models that inform intervention strategies—such as travel bans, school closures, and social distance policies—and his recommendations are sought by global health agencies, government officials, and senior leaders.
  • The MOBS Lab is one of four that presents weekly to the World Health Organization (WHO) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and Vespignani counsels on the impact of interventions; forecasting the spread of COVID-19 within the U.S.; and the virus’s spread around the globe.
  • Vespignani is in ongoing dialogues with the White House, governors across the U.S., and international task forces. He is also in demand at the local level, fielding inquiries from Boston officials to inform crucial and unprecedented decisions that have a direct impact on communities.

BOOSTING CRITICAL RESOURCES

  • Personnel. As the research effort intensifies, Vespignani seeks to grow his staff by adding contract researchers, software developers, PhD students, and technical writers who will amplify his lab’s ability to model and forecast the pandemic and inform key decision makers.
  • Computation. Since January, Vespignani’s monthly costs in this area have more than tripled. Computation is the essence of the lab’s modeling, and additional financial support will boost processing more computational packets—collections of data that are used by computers—through powerful cloud computing systems run by Google and IBM.
  • Datasets. These groupings of data show routes of human activity in a network, such as travel in and out of a community. With funds to purchase even more datasets, Vespignani will be able to add data to the network model, which will result in more accurate predictions of the evolution of COVID-19.

How you can get involved

If you’re looking to support Vespignani’s work with the Network Science Institute, connect with James Poulos, Associate Dean of Development, College of Science at j.poulos@northeastern.edu.

Faculty Expert: Alessandro Vespignani, Sternberg Family Distinguished University Professor, Director of the Network Science Institute and Director of the Laboratory for the Modeling of Biological and Sociotechnical Systems (MOBS Lab). Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

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