Alessandro Vespignani Maps Out Pandemics

May 9, 2013

Alessandro Vespignani, Sternberg Family Distinguished University Professor of Physics, Computer Science, and Health Sciences is a pioneer in the emerging field of digital epidemiology, which promises to revolutionize the way we approach public health issues involving the spread of infectious diseases.

He notes that it took nearly a decade for the Black Plague to spread through Europe, while, thanks to modern transportation, the 2009 H1N1 pandemic swept across the globe in just four months.

Vespignani has developed computational modeling tools that would transform preemptive public-health efforts the next time a contagion decides to hitch a lightning–fast ride around the world.

Using data such as airline traffic and cell phone usage, Vespignani creates maps of human mobility across the planet. Combining that data and the specific dynamics of a disease, his computational models can predict epidemic outbreaks with great precision. In fact, Vespignani and his team confirmed that their model accurately predicted—with a lead time of several months—the peak of the 2009 H1N1 outbreak in 42 countries in the Northern Hemisphere.