As a Leading Laboratory of the Biocomplexity Institute, we were founded to address large-scale research challenges that integrate multiple disciplines. We've delivered on that promise. Today, our biocomplexity approach allows us to answer the diverse issues presented to us by partners in government, industry, and academia.
At the Network Dynamics and Simulation Science Laboratory (NDSSL) we practice problem-driven science, research that is responsive to the needs of decision-makers in the public, private, and academic sectors. Leveraging our modeling expertise, cyber-infrastructure, and global-scale simulation system, we help these organizations develop sustainable solutions to their most pressing problems.
Want to learn more about how an NDSSL partnership can benefit your organization? Contact us with your questions or read on to see the results of our recent collaborations.
Building the City of the Future Through Training in Urban Computing
Issue: By 2050, an estimated 70 percent of the world’s population will live in cities. Scientists are trying to keep pace with the rate of urbanization, developing high-tech solutions like self-driving cars and smart energy grids to help ease the strain on infrastructure. Still, without a new generation of experts who are trained to adapt these systems to new challenges, our cityscapes could soon become an outdated mess of incompatible technologies.
Solution: NDSSL is committed to establishing this new cohort of cross-trained, data-savvy city planners. Led by Dr. Naren Ramakrishnan (Professor in the Department of Computer Science), and backed by funding from the National Science Foundation’s Research Traineeship Program, our laboratory is partnering with eight interrelated departments at Virginia Tech to create a unique graduate certification program in urban computing.
Impact: Our initiatives partner directly with government agencies to solve pressing challenges in public health, safety, and infrastructure. This gives our graduate researchers a wide range of hands-on experience, grappling with emerging issues in real-life metropolitan environments. The interdisciplinary expertise of urban computing students also allows NDSSL to pursue an increasingly diverse portfolio of policy problems.
Using Simulation Science to Help Cities Stay Healthy
Issue: Why do some cities stay healthier than others? The question is more complicated than it may first appear—environment, economics, and access to medical care all play a role, but no single factor can account for the continued inequities in our health outcomes. To find sustainable solutions for regional healthcare issues, experts in a wide range of academic disciplines need a central forum to focus their collaborative efforts.
Solution: Virginia Tech’s Global Forum on Urban and Regional Resilience (GFURR) was established to help researchers consolidate their findings on effective urbanization and infrastructure development. NDSSL faculty have joined this effort, applying their expertise in large-scale simulations to help policy professionals test the effects of social and environmental factors on a population’s overall health.
Impact: In the face of emerging diseases like swine flu, Ebola, Zika etc. and rising global temperature levels, public officials across the U.S. have begun building out their long-term plans for maintaining community health. GFURR’s collective expertise and predictive modeling capabilities could help these leaders ensure their plans account for the environmental risks most likely to affect their region.
Informing "First Responders" to Global Epidemics
Issue: In the face of an emerging epidemic, knowledge is power. Every division of our government's response team, from high-level decision-makers to vaccine distributers, should be equally well informed. This level of coordination requires a standing team of epidemiological experts who can quickly identify effective response strategies and distribute their findings across the public sector.
Solution: Established by the National Instiute for General Medical Sciences, MIDAS is the consortium our government relies on for the surveillance and modeling of epidemics. Backed by a unique database of global disease statistics and the expertise of NDSSL epidemiologists, MIDAS is uniquely positioned to assess how different intervention strategies will work to mitigate or control an epidemic.
Impact: Using NDSSL-developed modeling technology, MIDAS has provided decision support throughout a number of recent epidemics, including H1N1 in the US, cholera in Haiti and Ebola in western Africa. With a proven track record and active collaborations that span the public health and national security sectors, these disease models have emerged as powerful tools for guiding emergency responses to major diseases.
Winning the Arms Race Against Drug-Resistant Pathogens
Issue: Around the world, medical science is struggling to stay one step ahead of microbial evolution as more and more strains of drug-resistant bacteria continue to emerge. To effectively treat and contain these diseases, scientists and public health officials need a resource that will help them quickly identify biological threats that contain genetic markers for antibiotic resistance.
Solution: Sustained through a collaborative effort between NDSSL, NIH, and the University of Chicago, PATRIC serves as a globally accessible repository of bacterial knowledge. This database is comprehensive in scope, including all known genomic sequences for important pathogens, including E. coli and Rickettsia sp—75,000 in all.
Impact: Supported by an in-house development team, PATRIC has built a base of over 35,000 returning users from across the globe. Since its founding, this go-to resource has received over 450 citations in 63 peer-reviewed publications. Over the years, the PATRIC team has delivered 40 workshops to train epidemiologists and international health agencies to get the most out of this unique system.
Helping Industry Take More Informed Risks
Issue: A healthy business sector is risk-resilient, able to invest in a variety of new ideas without jeopardizing its core assets. But in today’s increasingly globalized economy, conventional risk analysis tools struggle to account for all the factors that could impact commercial success: health crises, environmental issues, and infrastructural stability. To pursue innovation while minimizing liabilities, companies need predictive models that can better capture the complexity of the real world.
Solution: NDSSL’s suite of predictive modeling tools employ high-performance computing clusters, powerful enough to run rich, individual level, global-scale simulations—all in a matter of seconds. By partnering with international risk analytics firm Metabiota, these flexible, user-friendly tools can serve the needs of private agencies around the world: 30 countries in Eastern Europe, West and Central Africa, and Southeast Asia.
Impact: Metabiota’s business-savvy staff are ready to apply a full range of private sector applications using NDSSL’s signature simulation tools. Previously employed by federal defense agencies to analyze potential threats to national security, these tools can now support industry’s need for fast, effective decision support.
Creating Powerful, User-Friendly Analytics Tools
Issue: Effective research and policy-making relies on a deep understanding of context, creating the demand for tools that can quickly pull and process massive amounts of data. But computational power alone won’t meet the requirements of an average user: analyses have to be delivered in a format that’s clear, easy to navigate, and controlled for informational accuracy.
Solution: NDSSL’s partnership with software development firm Persistent Systems keeps the creation of our technology solutions aligned with the needs of real-world users. This collaboration ensures quality control and consistent customer support, and their expertise in user-friendly design helps sustain an efficient pipeline from proposed solution to final product.
Impact: NDSSL has made Persistent Systems a key member of its development team for a number of innovative data analysis tools including SIBEL, CINET, Edison, and EpiViewer. These resources harness the processing power of our high-performance computing infrastructure to deliver efficient, web-accessible solutions to complex problems.