Complex Systems

Driving Question

If we view Covid-19 or flu as complex systems, how can we analyze them and lessen their impact on our community?

Big Idea

Infectious diseases are very powerful for teaching about two types of tightly coupled disease dynamics: those inherent in the virus itself and those associated with human behavior in the presence of the virus. The problem of the spread and attempted control of an infectious disease is addressed as a Complex System, highly interdisciplinary and includes math, physics, biology, and social and behavioral sciences. In this project, students will investigate the recent spread of coronavirus or seasonal influenza in their town, region or country and provide recommendations for dealing with future outbreaks.

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Student Entry Event


Students Will Learn

  • Basic concepts from the field of system dynamics that lie at the heart of systems thinking, such as stocks and flows, feedback loops, unintended consequences, etc.
  • About an important public health problem, influenza, that society faces every year
  • About mathematical models used to study and understand the spread of respiratory infectious diseases
  • The basic dynamics of epidemiology, including exponential growth of infections
  • What is required to achieve herd immunity
  • How to adjust their own personal behaviors to reduce chances of becoming infected
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Students Will Be Able To

  • Look at a system as a whole and analyze the system’s underlying structure
  • Understand infection feedback mechanisms
  • Create “Stock and Flow” mathematical models of disease infection and recovery
  • Estimate their own personal values for R0, the exponential growth factor of a disease
  • Analyze and understand the roles of vaccines, herd immunity and social distancing
  • Present research findings in a 10-minute Lightning Talk with slides
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