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Sources: Joshua Ericson, jericson@k-state.edu;
Pietro Poggi-Corradini, 785-532-0569, pietro@k-state.edu;
Caterina Scoglio, 785-532-4646, caterina@k-state.edu;
and Walter Schumm, 785-532-1494, schumm@k-state.edu;
News release prepared by: Tyler Sharp, 785-532-2535, media@k-state.edu

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

UNDERGRADUATE WORKS ON MATHEMATICAL MODEL TO TRACK SPREAD OF RURAL EPIDEMICS

MANHATTAN -- It is a daunting idea for any city.

A biological epidemic afflicts a population. How can it be mitigated? How was it spread? How can it be prevented in the future? These factors are usually examined in the context of a major city. But Joshua Ericson, junior in mathematics, Junction City, has a different point of reference. Ericson is part of a research team studying how epidemics are spread in rural communities and how they can be effectively controlled.

"Advances in this field will lead to direct improvements in how we handle and prevent potential epidemics in the future," Ericson said. "These outbreaks very often originate in rural settings and so our results will be able to be applied immediately to regions throughout Kansas and the Midwest."

A variety of researchers are represented in the study. The co-principal investigators for the project "A Probabilistic Network-based Model Approach for the Development of Efficient Epidemic Strategies for the City of Chanute, Kansas" are: Caterina Scoglio, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering; Pietro Poggi-Corradini, professor of mathematics; and Walter Schumm, professor of family studies and human services. Steve Kubler, safety coordinator for the city of Chanute, is a collaborative partner. The research is being funded by K-State's Center for Engagement and Community Development.

This research is part of a larger effort carried out at the K-State's EpiCenter, also known as the Center for Complex Network Approach to Epidemic Modeling and Simulation, and it is significant not only in its rural focus, but in its examination of effective mitigation strategies. A similar study was conducted in the city of Clay Center. The results, published in the July 2010 edition of journal PLoS One, found that targeting popular hangouts could significantly limit the spread of an epidemic.

Residents of Chanute were surveyed to gain insight on how they interacted with one another and to analyze the ways diseases could be spread. Walter Schumm prepared the surveys and completed statistical analysis on the results. The data is being used by Anton Lyubinin, research associate in the EpiCenter, in the development of an agent-based simulator that can simulate the Chanute and its residents and the spread of a disease in this area. The development is supported by K-State's National Agricultural Biosecurity Center. The virtual environment for the simulation is based on data provided by Kubler, and also at http://www.census.gov and U.S. Department of Agriculture data. The survey results will help to program people behavior during a typical day of the simulation.

Probabilistic methods are being used to measure the rate and nature of growth of the epidemic in a rural community. Phillip Schumm, doctoral student in electrical and computer engineering, is researching how to construct the weighted contact network to represent each survey respondent as a node, and to establish links between the respective nodes to represent human interaction. Multiple variables will establish the probability of a certain outcome in the model. The mitigation strategies will be tested accordingly.

The research is currently examining ways of simplifying the model of Chanute residents. While the town's population is low, representing the individuals surveyed is becoming complicated. This is the focus of a research team consisting of Ericson, Poggi-Corradini, and Hainan Zhang, senior in mathematics, China. The group intends to shrink the dimensions of the graph.

Ericson is currently using MATLAB, a numerical computing language, to compute various properties of the contact network from the survey data. Results aren't available yet.

"We are still in the process of analyzing our survey data using tools from fields of mathematics such as Probability Theory, Graph Theory, and Complex Analysis," Ericson said.

The level of mathematical research has expanded Ericson's knowledge.

"Josh has had to pick up several new fields of mathematics from probability to graph theory, to more applied computer skills, in a very short amount of time," Poggi-Corradini said.

In the future, Ericson would like to be a university mathematics professor and Poggi-Corradini said he should do well.

"He is flexible and open to interact with collaborators in other fields, such as engineering," Poggi-Corradini said.

Ericson was one of K-State's nominees for the 2011 Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship. He is a 2010-2011 K-State department of mathematics I-Center Scholar and received a K-State Transfer Scholarship, a Friends of Mathematics Scholarship and a National SMART Grant. The I-Center facilitates research at the undergraduate and graduate level in the department. He attended Wichita State University before coming to K-State. Ericson graduated from Junction City High School in 2008 and is the son of Don Ericson and Suzy Lauseng, Junction City.

More information on the project is available at http://www.eece.ksu.edu/epicenter_wiki and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aBMWM4iAGOA.