The zombies are fictional: the science is realAt first glance, fictional zombies, real diseases and mathematics do not seem to have very much in common, but Dr. Robert Smith?, assistant professor in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics and the Faculty of Medicine, is putting all these elements to use in creating mathematical models for infectious diseases.
The zombie portion of the equation arose from a class project on disease modelling that will be part of an upcoming book entitled Infectious Disease Modelling Research Progress. Dr. Smith? welcomes the national and international attention the zombie angle has brought to his research, but cautions that the fictional zombies are used to explain some very serious science.
"When you try to model an unfamiliar disease, you try to find out what's happening, try to approximate it. You then refine it, go back and try again," explains Dr. Smith?. "We refined the model again and again to say... here's how you would tackle an unfamiliar disease."
Originally from Australia, Robert Smith?'s initial doctoral studies were in environmental clean-up methods. He then became interested in applying mathematical tools to questions of disease control which led to immunological modelling of HIV. Using mathematical models, Dr. Smith? was able to determine how many doses of HIV drugs could be missed and how many would have to be taken consecutively, in order to be back in a good place.
The zombies may have grabbed a lot of attention, but Robert Smith?'s research is no fiction. He is among a host of outstanding uOttawa researchers and scholars who are sharing expertise and making discoveries that are making a difference.
By François Rochon
Published: October 2009
Professor Robert Smith?’s research in mathematics was profiled on Infoman, a television show on Radio-Canada on April 1, 2010. [In French only.]