CAM Student Yujia Zhang’s Research Applied to Pandemic Problems as They Unfold

Hand-drawn self-portrait at desk by Yujia Zhang

"Working in the COVID-19 modeling team led by Professor Peter Frazier since May 2020 has been a truly rewarding experience. We set up an epidemiological model and ran extensive simulations to help the university make operations decisions during the pandemic. I feel really fortunate to have been part of this, and it taught me both the power and limitations of mathematical tools in solving real-world problems.

On the one hand, mathematical models are simplifications of reality. We also had a lot of uncertainty when choosing parameter values, as quantities like transmission rates were not well-studied for an emerging disease like COVID-19. On the other hand, mathematical models are powerful in that they can predict and quantify the long-term outcomes of different policies in different scenarios, where model uncertainty can be reduced by extensive robustness testing. These predictions were crucial for informing urgent and important decisions like reopening Cornell’s campus and setting COVID-19 surveillance testing frequency.

Through this experience, I became more confident that, even in a highly uncertain environment, we as applied mathematicians have (and are learning and reinforcing) the knowledge and skills to make an impact."

Yujia Zhang
PhD Student

Image:  Yujia Zhang, Self-Portrait, pen on paper, 2021.

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