UChicago to host interdisciplinary workshop to address COVID-19

IMSI convenes scholars, policymakers to discuss how math, statistics can address public health

The COVID-19 pandemic has presented unprecedented medical, scientific and economic challenges, and researchers of every academic and scientific discipline have refocused their efforts to find ways they can contribute their expertise to finding solutions.

On Oct. 29-30, the Institute for Mathematical and Statistical Innovation (IMSI) at the University of Chicago will host an interdisciplinary workshop to address the COVID-19 pandemic. The event, “Dealing with COVID-19 in Theory and Practice,” will bring together key stakeholders with diverse backgrounds and expertise from across academia, industry and government—including biomedical experts, epidemiologists, public health officials, economists, business professionals and bioethicists.

“This pandemic is causing lots of people who don’t ordinarily work together to talk to each other,” said Kevin Corlette, professor of mathematics at UChicago and inaugural director of IMSI. “It’s a new Manhattan Project that brings together many disciplines to address a global challenge.”

Launched earlier this year, IMSI brings together mathematicians and statisticians to collaborate and bring powerful new mathematical ideas to bear on key scientific and technological challenges—none more urgent than the ongoing pandemic.

Mathematicians and statisticians have long been involved in helping develop and refine statistical models to track the spread of disease or understand the economic impact of major catastrophes. However, the fact that COVID-19 is causing simultaneous health crises, economic shocks, and political upheavals presents a new level of complexity.

“It is the scale that is the real problem right now,” said Takis Souganidis, a professor of mathematics at UChicago and scientific advisor to IMSI. “The mathematical models that epidemiologists are using to track the virus reproduction rate are not new, for example. But the difficulty with these models is that they rely on so many factors, from economics to demographic factors like population density and age. At the scale of a global pandemic it is still difficult to calibrate.”

The workshop will feature four major themes: public health challenges; the role of data science; measuring and managing economic impact; and the path forward for pandemic responses. It is being organized by Andrew W. Lo, a Professor of Finance at the MIT Sloan School of Management and Director of the MIT Laboratory for Financial Engineering.

“To address the challenges posed by COVID and prepare for future pandemics, we need all hands on deck to develop innovative solutions—as the adage goes, ‘a crisis is a terrible thing to waste,’” said Lo. “One of our main goals in hosting this workshop is to facilitate cross-disciplinary collaborations that could really make a positive impact on society now.”

The workshop will take place on Zoom. To register and find more information, visit the Institute for Mathematical and Statistical Innovation website.