Biological modelling course "a big influence" on Merton student involved in Covid-19 research

Francesca Lovell-Read, a Merton DPhil student heavily involved in the development of a tool to track and compare policy responses to the Covid-19 pandemic, has just had her first academic paper published - and she credits the work of one of her tutors, Professor Radek Erban as "a big influence on my decision to pursue a DPhil in biological modelling."

Francesca's paper, 'Time from Symptom Onset to Hospitalisation of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Cases: Implications for the Proportion of Transmissions from Infectors with Few Symptoms', was published on Friday 2 May in the Journal of Clinical Medicine; it looks at what the change in the proportion of Covid-19 infections arising from hosts with few symptoms from the start of an outbreak through the implementation of control measures can tell us about the success of those measures, and its implications for modelling the further spread of the disease.

Francesca matriculated in 2015 and read Mathematics at undergraduate level at Merton. Her course tutor was Professor Erban, who recommended a course in biological modelling to her. This provided an introduction to stochastic methods for modelling biological systems, covering a number of applications, ranging in size from molecular dynamics simulations of small biomolecules to stochastic modelling of groups of animals.

The material from this course has recently been published in a book by Professor Erban and Merton alumnus Professor Jon Chapman (1986), Stochastic Modelling of Reaction-Diffusion Processes, available from Cambridge University Press. "The focus of the book is on the  underlying mathematics; it doesn't require an advanced knowledge of biology or chemistry" says Professor Erban, adding "it can be used both for self-study and as a supporting text for advanced undergraduate or beginning graduate-level courses in applied mathematics."

Professors Erban and Chapman have taught both graduate and undergraduate courses based on the material in their book, and many of their students - including Francesca, whose 3rd and 4th year dissertations were supervised by Professor Erban - continue to work in this research area, with some currently involved in modelling the Covid-19 pandemic.

Francesca and the co-authors of the paper, her colleagues Dr Robin Thompson and Dr Uri Obolski, are now in the process of preparing a second paper for submission, whilst continuing to work on the Oxford COVID-19 Government Response Tracker (OxCGRT) at the Blavatnik School of Government.