Researcher models infectious diseases to understand their spread

Engineering epidemiology

By Lindley Lund

Imagine this research portfolio: $15.5 million in research funding, 114 journal publications and 49 invited talks.

Those impressive numbers have led Caterina Scoglio, Paslay professor in electrical and computer engineering and Steve Hsu Keystone research scholar in the Carl R. Ice College of Engineering, to become the first woman recognized as a Kansas State University distinguished professor in engineering.

“It was the universal laws behind physics, concerning in particular electricity and electronics, that made me want to originally study electronics engineering,” said Scoglio, who researches in the Mike Wiegers Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. “I thought that this degree would give me more opportunities to find an interesting position both in research, as that was my dream, but also in the industry.”

Scoglio grew to become an industry pioneer who has opened the door for the next generation of women engineers while simultaneously becoming a research leader. She challenges electrical and computer engineering paradigms by combining them with a multitude of disciplines to solve diverse problems through network-based theoretical approaches.

The topic she most heavily researches is the spread of infectious diseases.

“I found at K-State a very relevant environment for this type of research,” Scoglio said. “The study and the development of mitigation strategies against these diseases is a central theme.”

Working with her research team, Scoglio has developed the now widely used Generalized Epidemic Model Framework, which is a software tool that simulates the disease spreading process. This tool allowed her team to forecast accurately the spread of 2019 Ebola cases in Uganda and COVID-19 in Wuhan City, China.

Scoglio’s current research focuses on creating network-based approaches for vector-borne infectious diseases, which are transferred by infected insects, such as mosquitoes.

“These systems are more complicated. They have a lot of dependencies with climate, temperature, rainfall and vector abundance,” Scoglio said. “Our goal now is to try to develop models for vector-borne diseases that can be as accurate as those for airborne transmitted diseases.”

Despite Scoglio receiving national and international attention for her groundbreaking research, her true passion has been mentoring more than 40 doctoral and master’s students.

“It’s one of the most important and rewarding parts of my work,” Scoglio said. “For all my work and publications, I must give much of the credit to them. I have had very good students and every one contributed in different ways.”