Tuesday 11 August 2015

Video: Squirrels, Cancers, and other Invaders

Recently, at the Isaac Newton Institute's program on Coupling Geometric PDEs with Physics for Cell Morphology, Motility and Pattern Formation, our very own Professor Philip Maini, FRS, gave another one of his classic talks, featuring (almost) everything from squirrels to cancer, including the admission of crying and how to cope with it (spoiler). The talk was cleverly titled: "Case studies in modelling pattern formation Some other stuff"

Watch the video here, or check out the other videos from the workshop and future events at the Newton Institute. And remember: "The devil is in the mesoscale!"

Can you spot the devil? (image from the program website)

Monday 24 November 2014

Ebola Crisis Hackathon

The Ebola Virus has killed almost 6000 people in West Africa since Dec 2013
Ebola has infected over 15000 people in West Africa since the start of the current outbreak in December 2013. The disease has an estimated case fatality rate of about 71%, and efforts to control the outbreak have been hampered by the political and economic situations in the countries affected (so far almost all cases have occurred in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea). Problems have included, but are certainly not limited to, the extreme poverty in the region (including very limited infrastructure), a lack of trust in government officials, traditional death customs (e.g. physical contact with the dead) and the propensity of health workers to become infected with Ebola.

It was with these obstacles in mind that the Said Business School's Oxford Launchpad (which aims to support entrepreneurial endeavour in Oxford) organised and hosted the Ebola Crisis Hackathon, which aimed to "explore and solve 'pinch-points' in the response, care and management of the global response against Ebola". The hackathon (an exciting name for a workshop or study group, which has the consequence of labelling its participants as hackers, in this case making me sound much cooler and edgier than I am) was held on the weekend of the 8th-9th of November and brought together life-scientists, MBAs, software developers, physicians and charity workers.

Participants were encouraged to gather ideas over the week or so before the workshop and the event started on the Friday evening with brainstorming sessions. We worked in groups to generate and evaluate different ideas for solutions. The most popular ideas were then pitched to all participants, with groups forming around a few ideas.

While researching the problems around the diagnosis and treatment of Ebola, before the hackathon, I read about the potential for Ebola to be diagnosed using mobile apps. However I soon discovered that internet access was severely limited in West Africa (1.5% in Guinea, 1.3% in Sierra Leone and 3.8% in Liberia) which reduced the scope for using apps. However, mobile phone use is reasonably high (47% in Guinea, 52% in Liberia and 48% in Sierra Leone), and this encouraged me to think about developing similar systems using SMS text messages. I found that an open-source Django based package for writing SMS based systems had been developed and had been deployed in similar medical applications around Africa (RapidSMS).

Mobile phones are a primary communication method in West Africa

At the Hackathon, I teamed up with others who had had similar ideas. Given the severe lack of health workers in the affected region, we decided that a risk assessment tool would be particularly useful. Concerned individuals would text a number, and would receive a series of five questions on their symptoms and recent travel history. They would then  be categorised into several risk categories and would be given automated advice by the system and, in some cases, have their details passed onto agencies who would be able to help. We worked in three subgroups: one looking at the risk assessment questions, another looking at the obstacles to deployment and one implementing the system in RapidSMS.

We called our product SymptomSMS and were mentioned in an article on the Hackathon in last week's New Scientist.

Tuesday 2 September 2014

Maths in the city

Outreach is an incredibly important part of a researcher's job. Many mathematicians are funded through research councils that rely on tax payer money, so we really should be able to justify the work that we do. One project set up to do just that is Maths in the City. WCMB members, Dr Thomas Woolley and Paul Taylor, were recently filmed demonstrating the tour. Here, Paul recounts the experience.

Wednesday 25 June 2014

On tweetcasting

After a travel- and conference-induced silence over the past months, we're back from the ECMTB in Gothenburg with some fresh thoughts for new posts. To start, Alex Fletcher, Linus Schumacher and Jacob Scott discuss a newly fashionable conference activity: tweetcasting.

Sunday 6 April 2014

James D Murray, Reflections of a life in Academia, in conversation with Phillip Maini

Founder of the WCMB, James Murray, visited Oxford last month to give the inaugural Hooke lecture, "Why there are no three-headed monsters, resolving some problems with brain tumours, divorce prediction and how to save marriages". While he was here, he was interviewed by his former student and our current director Prof. Philip Maini, featuring questions from various members of the WCMB. You can watch the interview here as part of the podcast series The Secrets of Mathematics.

Monday 31 March 2014

Monday 24 March 2014