Forecasting Diseases

Dr. Nicholas Generous
Los Alamos National Laboratory
Café Scientifique - Los Alamos


Speaker: Nick Generous
Forecasting Diseases
By: Elijah Pelofske, Teen Leader
Cafe Scientifique – Los Alamos

October 25th 2016

forcasting-disease-los-alamosThis cafe is primarily about educating the teens who come about how contagious diseases work, how to prevent spreading of contagious diseases, and the types of diseases that exist. Dr. Nicholas Generous started by posing questions to the audience such as ‘what is a disease?’ Dr. Generous then introduced the concepts behind how disease spreads.

He put up John Snow’s map of cholera outbreak in London circa 1866 as the triangle that causes disease. This introduced the audience to the concept of vectors and environment. Next, Dr. Generous discussed the various types of organisms that can cause disease (fungi, virus, protozoa and bacteria) and their different attributes, including the fact that roughly 8% of human DNA is retroviral in origin. Modes of transmission (airborne, bodily fluids, ingestion and physical contact) were discussed, and related to the Ebola outbreak in North Africa and how lack of sterile medical treatment contributed to that outbreak.

We then discussed ways to eliminate possibility of infection which included vaccines, antibiotics, quarantine and elimination of vectors. Elimination of vectors includes killing of for instance mosquitos or pigs which carry said disease and the legality and ethicality of that. That discussion topic was then related to modern public health of the Zika virus and using genetic modification to eliminate the vector of a specific species of mosquito.

And finally, we learned about the use of modern supercomputing and mathematical modeling in forecasting disease were discussed. Overall, the presentation and topic effectively captured the audience’s attention with interesting and fun facts and helped to educate them on forecasting diseases.

Hands on Activity

The hands on activity for this presentation was in the form of a group project. Each group was tasked with creating any sort of disease that they wanted. This activity was done in the table groups, and each member contributed to a discussion of the type of disease they wanted to create. Each person was provided with a sheet of paper and pen so that they could fill in the specific attributes of the disease. This included mode of transmission, environment, pathogen type, symptoms, contagiousness, and incubation period. One member of the group was then selected to present their newly invented pathogens to the rest of the audience. This group project helped to solidify the individual’s understanding of how diseases could potentially impact our modern society.