Forecasting the Spread of Emerging Diseases

If we can forecast the path of a hurricane or even the trajectory of a subatomic particle, why shouldn’t we also be able to forecast the spread of an emerging disease? That is the question Alessandro Vespignani, who was installed as Northeastern University’s Sternberg Family Distinguished University Professor of Physics on Tuesday in the Raytheon Amphitheater, began asking 10 years ago.

The answer, he explained, is twofold: our ability to predict disease transmission is limited by both the complexity of human social networks and by the fact that understanding that complexity requires enormous amounts of data and thus extremely sophisticated technology.

Vespignani – who holds joint appointments in the College of Science, the College of Computer and Information Science and the Bouvé College of Health Science and is one of the leading network scientists in Northeastern’s Center for Complex Network Research – said the mobility patterns of individuals around the world determine how quickly and vastly a contagion will spread.  More