researcher

WPI Researcher Shares 3D Roadmap of Coronavirus with Scientists Worldwide

WPI bioinformatics researcher Dmitry Korkin examines a 3D model of a key protein of the novel coronavirus.

“This is one of the first examples of how data-driven science can quickly respond to this challenge.”- Dmitry Korkin, associate professor of computer science

WORCESTER, Mass. (PRWEB) February 10, 2020
A Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) bioinformatics researcher has created and unveiled a structural 3D roadmap of the new coronavirus (2019-nCoV), a major development that potentially holds the key to understanding the spread and treatment of the deadly virus.
Using a recently published viral genome of the Wuhan coronavirus made available on the National Center for Biotechnology Information website, Dmitry Korkin and a team of graduate students used molecular modeling to reconstruct the 3D structure of major viral proteins and their interactions with human proteins.
“We’re confident that our data and visual models could provide the guidance for experimental scientists worldwide who are working feverishly to solve this pandemic,” said Korkin, associate professor of computer science at WPI and director of the university’s bioinformatics and computational biology program.
In effect, Korkin said, he and his team have created a structural genomics map of the coronavirus that will be made available to researchers and anyone worldwide.
“Anyone can download our models, get any kind of information and use it for research,” he said. “This is one of the first examples of how data-driven science can quickly respond to this challenge.”
The complete 3D structural roadmap dataset and a manuscript preprint can be found at Korkin’s lab website, and will be available at bioRxiv, a free online archive and distribution service for unpublished preprints in the life sciences operated by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, a not-for-profit research and educational institution. Given the global concern over the new coronavirus, Korkin and researchers worldwide are using the website for rapid communication about the virus.
Korkin and his team used existing public databases to identify three different isolates, or pure cultures of bacteria, in Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), a virus identified in 2003 that also caused worldwide infection and significant deaths. These could be the source of the new virus. According to the World Health Organization, there have been more than 40,000 cases worldwide, with more than 900 deaths, mostly in China—numbers that have been increasing daily as international agencies work to stem the spread of the virus, which began in Wuhan, China, in late December.
“We found that those three SARS isolates are not just similar to each other, but remarkably similar to the new coronavirus,” he said. “In fact, one of the isolates shares between 95 to 100 percent of its protein sequences.”
In explaining the 3D model findings, Korkin theorizes that multiple inserts on the genome sequence—which he likened to teeth on a key—may show how this virus is different from other coronaviruses such as SARS and MERS. For instance, while some of the inserts may block human antibodies from interacting with the viral surface protein, structural analysis suggests that some antibodies are capable of interacting with it.
Extending the analogy, the wrong key is being used to try to open a door—the door that would allow human antibodies in to combat the virus.
Korkin and his team made two other significant findings. First, WPI identified where on its protein structures this coronavirus differs from SARS. Through this identification, they were able to understand the functional implications of these differences.
Second, Korkin was able to examine the drug candidates for SARS that exist in the public database, and able to pinpoint the potential drugs that could lead to the new coronavirus treatment.
Korkin says he believes this kind of data-driven approach will become the standard for helping to solve some of the world’s biggest health challenges, as in the case of the coronavirus treatment.
“I firmly believe that using a strong bioinformatics and data-driven approach to life sciences will increasingly become the way for the science community to react to immediate health threats,” said Korkin.
As a next step, Korkin will provide the research community with further insights into the evolutionary implications of this new virus.
Joining Korkin on the research are WPI PhD students Hongzhu Cui, Ziyang Gao, Ming Liu, Senbao Lu, all from China; Oleksandr Narykov from Ukraine; Suhas Srinivasan from India; master’s student Sun Mo of China and master’s Fulbright scholar Winnie Mkandawire of Malawi.
Contact:Andy Baron, Associate Director of Public RelationsWorcester Polytechnic InstituteWorcester, Massachusetts508-831-5916, ajbaron@wpi.edu
Colleen Wamback, Associate Director of Public RelationsWorcester Polytechnic InstituteWorcester, Massachusetts508-831-6775, cbwamback@wpi.edu

Share article on social media or email:

Worcester Polytechnic Institute Researcher Uses Math to Help Army Protect Soldiers from Chemical Attack

WPI mathematician Randy Paffenroth is helping the U.S. Army create a thumbnail-sized chemical sensor that can be worn on outer garments to detect dangerous chemicals more quickly.

“We’re taking math and data science and solving a real-world problem. We’re working on math to save lives.”-Randy Paffenroth, Associate Professor of Mathematical Sciences at WPI

WORCESTER, Mass. (PRWEB) January 30, 2020
A Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) mathematician is helping the U.S. Army create a thumbnail-sized chemical sensor that can be worn on outer garments to detect dangerous chemicals more quickly, and dramatically drop the rate of false alarms.
“Using the power of data science, we can greatly advance chemical sensors so they will be better able to save lives,” said Randy Paffenroth, associate professor of mathematical sciences, computer science, and data science, and a principal investigator on the project.
In the wake of Paffenroth’s work on a three-year $169,000 award that he received in 2016 from the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Soldier Center (CCDC-SC) on the sensor project, he now is receiving another three-year award via the soldier center. Paffenroth is a Co-PI on a $1.8 million award to the CCDC to continue the sensor development, and approximately $249,000 of that amount is expected to support Paffenroth’s work on the project.
To improve sensors, Paffenroth will combine data science, advanced machine learning, and a classic statistics algorithm to more quickly and accurately detect dangerous chemicals.
“This kind of work drives me,” said Paffenroth. “I can take algorithms and good theory and apply them to new problems, like making a better sensor. We’re taking math and data science and solving a real-world problem. We’re working on math to save lives.”
The wearable sensor device is built to mimic the human nose, which has roughly 400 types of olfactory receptors capable of discerning at least one trillion different odors. Each sensor in the device will detect combinations of multiple molecules: one might detect diesel fumes and a specific chemical agent, while another might detect diesel fumes and humidity. The results are combined to give a more complete and accurate assessment of the chemicals in the environment.
To improve the speed and accuracy of the device’s signal processing, Paffenroth combined new and old math techniques. Specifically, he blended an artificial neural network, which is a new type of machine learning that mimics the function of the human brain, with the Kalman filter, a classic algorithm developed around 1960 to get rid of “noisy” data to better detect problems while tracking airplanes. He combined the two because neural networks in this type of problem have a difficult time with signal processing, or culling through the “noise” of all of this incoming information, to accurately and quickly detect the presence of chemicals in the air. The WPI researcher combined the “noise dampening” Kalman filter with the neural network, creating a new algorithm dubbed the Autoencoder Kalman Filter. The classic and new algorithms work together to simplify noisy, complicated data from the sensors to better detect chemicals in the environment.
“If you have a lot of signals coming together and if they’re all noisy, they overlap a lot,” said Joshua Uzarski, PhD, a research chemist with the CCDC-SC. “That overlap could cause false positives or false negatives. It makes it so much more difficult to analyze the signals coming in and the patterns they form. The problem with sensors has been that they don’t work well when there are a lot of competing signals. Randy’s work takes care of that.”
Paffenroth created the new algorithm to solve this problem in the first three-year project. Now he is working to make the new algorithm more efficient, accurate, and faster.
An early prototype of the advanced chemical sensor is expected to be produced by the end of this latest three-year project.
“Instead of starting from scratch, why not start from something you know is good, like the Kalman filter, and then try to make it better?” said Paffenroth. “This is the power of data science. It’s the toolset that combines data with machine learning, computation, and old and new math to solve real-world problems. It’s the best way of solving a whole class of problems.”
“We’re not reinventing how chemical sensors work. Randy is using data science to make them work better,” said Uzarski. “To get the sensors to do what we need them to do, his data science work is absolutely crucial. We wouldn’t even try this project without him.”
WPI graduate student Matthew Weiss, who is working on the research project with Paffenroth, noted that after analyzing two seconds’ worth of data with the Autoencoder Kalman Filter, the sensor already is five times more accurate than with unfiltered data.
Paffenroth and Weiss have written five papers about this project that have either been published or accepted for publication.
About Worcester Polytechnic Institute
WPI, the global leader in project-based learning, is a distinctive, top-tier technological university founded in 1865 on the principle that students learn most effectively by applying the theory learned in the classroom to the practice of solving real-world problems. Recognized by the National Academy of Engineering with the 2016 Bernard M. Gordon Prize for Innovation in Engineering and Technology Education, WPI’s pioneering project-based curriculum engages undergraduates in solving important scientific, technological, and societal problems throughout their education and at more than 50 project centers around the world. WPI offers more than 50 bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degree programs across 14 academic departments in science, engineering, technology, business, the social sciences, and the humanities and arts. Its faculty and students pursue groundbreaking research to meet ongoing challenges in health and biotechnology; robotics and the internet of things; advanced materials and manufacturing; cyber, data, and security systems; learning science; and more. http://www.wpi.edu
Contact:Andy Baron, Associate Director of Public RelationsWorcester Polytechnic InstituteWorcester, Massachusetts508-831-5916, ajbaron@wpi.edu

Share article on social media or email:

Worcester Polytechnic Institute Researcher to Probe Link Between Cell Death, Calcification, and Heart Valve Disease

Kristen Billiar, department head and professor of biomedical engineering

“We think the cells themselves are actively playing a role in calcification. If we can figure out how, we can start thinking about treatments that could stop them from what they’re doing.”- Kristen Billiar, Department Head and Professor of Biomedical Engineering

WORCESTER, Mass. (PRWEB) January 30, 2020
Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) researcher Kristen Billiar has been awarded a $154,000 grant from the American Heart Association to determine how cell death leads to calcium deposits in heart tissue that cause aortic valves to fail.
The two-year project will involve laboratory experiments with cells grown in flat and three-dimensional shapes, and it will aim to discover ways to interrupt the process that leads to calcification and heart valve disease. The incidence and severity of aortic valve calcifications increase with age, and there is no way to cure the disease. Instead, a patient typically undergoes surgery to repair or replace the valve.
“We don’t know why calcific nodules form, but one of the things correlated with it is programmed cell death,” said Billiar, who is professor and head of the department of biomedical engineering. “We can use engineering techniques in reproducible experiments and see calcium depositing in cells like it does in valves. Now we want to know, what are the mechanisms involved in that?”
Programmed cell death, also known as apoptosis, is a normal process in which a cell self-destructs and breaks apart in the body in a controlled way that avoids an immune response. Some researchers hypothesize that the remnants of apoptotic cells serve as aggregation sites for calcium in the cusps of aortic valves, leading to nodules that interfere with the normal opening and closing of the valve in a pumping heart. The aortic valve is the final valve in the heart, opening so that blood can leave the heart and begin its journey through the body.
Billiar, whose research has focused on the way groups of cells mechanically pull on each other in the body, will measure calcification in animal heart cells cultured flat on gels. He also will develop a way to show calcification in tiny spherical groups of cells and investigate how calcifications form on apoptotic bodies.
“We think the cells themselves are actively playing a role in calcification,” Billiar said. “If we can figure out how, we can start thinking about treatments that could stop them from what they’re doing.”
WPI graduate student Mahvash Jebeli will work on the project with Billiar, who expects the program to ultimately provide research opportunities for more than a dozen undergraduates under WPI’s project-based curriculum.
About Worcester Polytechnic InstituteWPI, the global leader in project-based learning, is a distinctive, top-tier technological university founded in 1865 on the principle that students learn most effectively by applying the theory learned in the classroom to the practice of solving real-world problems. Recognized by the National Academy of Engineering with the 2016 Bernard M. Gordon Prize for Innovation in Engineering and Technology Education, WPI’s pioneering project-based curriculum engages undergraduates in solving important scientific, technological, and societal problems throughout their education and at more than 50 project centers around the world. WPI offers more than 50 bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degree programs across 14 academic departments in science, engineering, technology, business, the social sciences, and the humanities and arts. Its faculty and students pursue groundbreaking research to meet ongoing challenges in health and biotechnology; robotics and the internet of things; advanced materials and manufacturing; cyber, data, and security systems; learning science; and more. http://www.wpi.edu
Contact:Colleen Bamford Wamback, Associate Director of Public RelationsWorcester Polytechnic InstituteWorcester, Massachusetts508-831-6775; 508-688-4858 (cell)cbwamback@wpi.edu

Share article on social media or email:

As Winter Rushes In, Worcester Polytechnic Institute Researcher Uses Corrosion Test Chamber to Simulate Road Salt Impacts on Future Car Designs

WPI professor Adam Powell, postdoctoral fellow Kübra Karayagiz (center) and PhD student Qingli Ding prepare to place welds inside the cyclic corrosion test chamber.

“We’re trying to show that corrosion can be much less of a problem with this new type of welding.” -Adam Powell, associate professor of mechanical engineering at WPI

WORCESTER, Mass. (PRWEB) December 12, 2019
A Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) professor—in collaboration with national laboratories and a global auto parts supplier—is testing a new type of welding that may make the joint between light metal alloys more resistant to corrosion, including salt spray, leading to future designs of durable, next-generation metal car joints used in ultra-light car doors and other vehicle body applications.
Adam Powell, associate professor of mechanical engineering, was awarded a three-year, $1.5 million grant from the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy’s Vehicle Technologies Office for the research. As the lead institution, WPI is receiving $750,000 while two other groups—Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL)—will split the remainder. Magna International will contribute in-kind time and materials to the project.
Powell said that the auto industry is seeking to reduce the weight of cars and trucks while maintaining the lifespan of a car. One of the ways to do that, he said, is to use advanced lightweight materials such as aluminum and magnesium alloys. The researchers are testing to determine if a new type of welding—known as friction stir welding—reduces corrosion in aluminum-magnesium alloy joints. Currently, any joint involving direct contact between different metals tends to suffer from galvanic corrosion.
“We’re trying to show that corrosion can be much less of a problem with this new type of welding,” said Powell, who is the principal investigator on the project. “We think that this process holds a lot of promise and could make a significant impact on energy use in motor vehicles without reducing the lifespan of a car.”
Under the research plan, Magna, a global automotive parts manufacturer and supplier of lightweight structures, provides aluminum and magnesium metals to PNNL, which welds the materials. PNNL then ships the welded parts to WPI, which conducts corrosion and mechanical testing. WPI then sends much of its tested samples to ORNL, which oversees advanced analysis on the welds.
Computer simulations then take place at WPI, said Powell, “to try to understand how the corrosion and mechanical fracture work together.”
WPI is currently conducting a series of experiments in a lab using a piece of equipment known as a cyclic corrosion test chamber, which stands about three feet tall and resembles a tanning bed. Powell and his research team place the small sections of welds—which look like tealight candles—in rows inside the chamber. The welds are then exposed to a variety of corrosive environments, including salt spray, high temperatures up to 140 degrees Fahrenheit, and high humidity.
“We expose the welds to a variety of conditions that accelerate the corrosion process simulating the lifecycle of a vehicle,” said Powell. “It’s that cycling between different conditions that leads to accelerated corrosion. WPI’s goal is to use computer simulations that show with a level of confidence that the welds will last for up to 20 years, even in a harsh New England winter.”
Auto companies can then use this simulation capability to do virtual experiments and predict corrosion over the 15- to 20-year lifespan of a car. Based on the validated model, the researchers will enable design of low-cost robust welded joints that could be used in ultra-light doors and multiple vehicle body applications.
In the first year of the research, Powell and colleagues will seek to understand corrosion behaviors of magnesium and aluminum diffusion-bonded joints in the test chamber. In the second year, they plan to simulate on a computer both the corrosion of friction stir welded joints and mechanical fracture. In the final year, they expect to make the models much more accurate.
As a result of the research, Powell and his team aim to show that the new welding process will lead to more durable subassemblies made of the two dissimilar metals. Benefits include lighter vehicles, reduced fuel consumption for gas-powered cars, and longer range for electric cars.
“All of these benefits will go a long way to impacting the safety, performance, and lifespan of a car,” said Powell.
In addition to Powell, five WPI researchers are working on the project. They are Brajendra Mishra, a co-principal investigator and head of WPI’s Metal Processing Institute; math professor Marcus Sarkis-Martins and computational scientist Siamak Faal, both of whom will help develop computer simulation models; postdoctoral fellow Kübra Karayagiz; and PhD student Qingli Ding.
About Worcester Polytechnic Institute
WPI, the global leader in project-based learning, is a distinctive, top-tier technological university founded in 1865 on the principle that students learn most effectively by applying the theory learned in the classroom to the practice of solving real-world problems. Recognized by the National Academy of Engineering with the 2016 Bernard M. Gordon Prize for Innovation in Engineering and Technology Education, WPI’s pioneering project-based curriculum engages undergraduates in solving important scientific, technological, and societal problems throughout their education and at more than 50 project centers around the world. WPI offers more than 50 bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degree programs across 14 academic departments in science, engineering, technology, business, the social sciences, and the humanities and arts. Its faculty and students pursue groundbreaking research to meet ongoing challenges in health and biotechnology; robotics and the internet of things; advanced materials and manufacturing; cyber, data, and security systems; learning science; and more. http://www.wpi.edu
Contact:Andy Baron, Associate Director of Public RelationsWorcester Polytechnic InstituteWorcester, Massachusetts508-831-5916, ajbaron@wpi.edu

Share article on social media or email:

Project Lifeline Community Partner, Researcher to be Honored at NACDS Foundation Dinner for Opioid Abuse Prevention Work

There is no greater tribute to their work than to announce that the NACDS Foundation is expanding Project Lifeline to Allegheny County to help even more Pennsylvanians now, and to provide the framework model that can make a positive impact across the nation.

ARLINGTON, Va. (PRWEB) November 19, 2019
Project Lifeline – a community partnership and research program initiated by the National Association of Chain Drug Stores (NACDS) Foundation to address substance use disorder (SUD) – will take center stage at the upcoming NACDS Foundation Dinner.
Two individuals who have led to the program’s effectiveness in preventing and treating opioid abuse in Blair County, Pennsylvania, will receive the NACDS Foundation’s Excellence in Patient Care Award. At the same time, the NACDS Foundation is announcing that the program is expanding to Pennsylvania’s Allegheny County.
The NACDS Foundation will present the award to Janice L. Pringle, Ph.D., founder and director of the University of Pittsburgh School of Pharmacy Program Evaluation and Research Unit (PERU), and to Judy Rosser, executive director of Blair Drug and Alcohol Partnerships. The 21st Annual NACDS Foundation Dinner will be held December 4, 2019, at the Sheraton New York Times Square in New York City.
NACDS President Kathleen Jaeger said, “We look forward to honoring the community partnership and research of Dr. Janice Pringle and Judy Rosser. Their incredible work has helped to make a difference in Blair County and in the lives of those who have benefited from more than 4,000 screenings over the past year – in a way that seeks to remove the stigma of SUD while providing much-needed care. There is no greater tribute to their work than to announce that the NACDS Foundation is expanding Project Lifeline to Allegheny County to help even more Pennsylvanians now, and to provide the framework model that can make a positive impact across the nation.”
The awardees and their organizations, in partnership with local community pharmacies, set out in October 2018 to evaluate the sustainability and feasibility of the evidence-based practice known as SBIRT (Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment). SBIRT is a process designed to provide comprehensive care for a patient with, or at risk of developing, SUD.
In Project Lifeline, individuals with a schedule II opioid prescription are screened for opioid use disorder and SUD at the pharmacy. The results are used to provide the appropriate intervention or linkage to care. Patients are provided education and counseling, naloxone, immunizations, and HIV/Hepatitis C screenings and linkage to care, as appropriate. Project Lifeline has conducted over 4,200 SUD screenings over the past year and has distributed naloxone to over 300 patients.
Project Lifeline reflects the public-health and patient-outcomes focus of the NACDS Foundation, which funds evidence-based research, educational programs and philanthropic initiatives.
The National Association of Chain Drug Stores (NACDS) Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit charitable organization that pursues evidence-based research, and related medication management and educational initiatives, that benefit patients, improve outcomes and advance public health. For more information, please visit http://www.NACDSFoundation.org.

Share article on social media or email:

Mount Sinai Researcher’s Examine the Metabolic Effects of an Oral Blood Cancer Drug

NEW YORK (PRWEB) November 12, 2019
A popular cancer drug is associated with significant weight gain and increased systolic blood pressure, researchers from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai report in a study published in Scientific Reports in November.
The drug, ruxolitinib, was the first and currently remains the most widely used FDA-approved mechanism-based therapy for myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs), blood cancers that include myelofibrosis and polycythemia vera. Ruxolitinib is a Janus kinases (JAK) 1/2 inhibitor, an enzyme-blocker that affects blood cell production.
As cancer therapies improve, and patients are living longer on them, understanding the long-term consequences of these targeted therapies on metabolic health is increasingly important.
“Weight gain with ruxolitinib has previously been reported in clinical trials, but our study provides real-world experience regarding the extent of that weight gain,” said Emily J. Gallagher, MD, PhD, the study’s lead author and Assistant Professor of Medicine (Endocrinology, Diabetes and Bone Disease) at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, specializing in onco-endocrinology, the treatment of endocrine complications of oncology treatments. “We recommend that patients who go on this medication and do have an increase in weight get a full metabolic evaluation.”
The researchers studied 69 patients with MPNs who started on ruxolitinib from 2010 to 2017 at Mount Sinai. The patients’ medical records had data on metabolic parameters up to one year prior to starting ruxolitinib and 72 weeks after starting the drug. They found that more than half of patients taking this medication gained more than 5 percent in body weight. The weight gain was also associated with an increase in systolic blood pressure and liver enzymes.
“In contrast to the perception of many health care providers, patients are not going from being underweight to being a normal weight. Instead, a significant number of patients are developing obesity. Based on these results, physicians should be aware of the potential effects, and counsel patients accordingly,” said Dr. Gallagher.
This study is the first step in documenting the metabolic consequences of this drug. Further studies are needed to gain a greater understanding of the changes in hormones and metabolism in those receiving treatment for this condition.
About the Mount Sinai Health System
The Mount Sinai Health System is New York City’s largest integrated delivery system, encompassing eight hospitals, a leading medical school, and a vast network of ambulatory practices throughout the greater New York region. Mount Sinai’s vision is to produce the safest care, the highest quality, the highest satisfaction, the best access and the best value of any health system in the nation. The Health System includes approximately 7,480 primary and specialty care physicians; 11 joint-venture ambulatory surgery centers; more than 410 ambulatory practices throughout the five boroughs of New York City, Westchester, Long Island, and Florida; and 31 affiliated community health centers. The Icahn School of Medicine is one of three medical schools that have earned distinction by multiple indicators: ranked in the top 20 by U.S. News & World Report’s “Best Medical Schools”, aligned with a U.S. News & World Report’s “Honor Roll” Hospital, No. 12 in the nation for National Institutes of Health funding, and among the top 10 most innovative research institutions as ranked by the journal Nature in its Nature Innovation Index. This reflects a special level of excellence in education, clinical practice, and research. The Mount Sinai Hospital is ranked No. 14 on U.S. News & World Report’s “Honor Roll” of top U.S. hospitals; it is one of the nation’s top 20 hospitals in Cardiology/Heart Surgery, Diabetes/Endocrinology, Gastroenterology/GI Surgery, Geriatrics, Gynecology, Nephrology, Neurology/Neurosurgery, and Orthopedics in the 2019-2020 “Best Hospitals” issue. Mount Sinai’s Kravis Children’s Hospital also is ranked nationally in five out of ten pediatric specialties by U.S. News & World Report. The New York Eye and Ear Infirmary of Mount Sinai is ranked 12th nationally for Ophthalmology and Mount Sinai South Nassau is ranked 35th nationally for Urology. Mount Sinai Beth Israel, Mount Sinai St. Luke’s, Mount Sinai West, and Mount Sinai South Nassau are ranked regionally.
For more information, visit https://www.mountsinai.org or find Mount Sinai on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

Share article on social media or email:

Researcher at Worcester Polytechnic Institute Wins Grant to Develop Analytical Tool for Asylum Cases

Andrew Trapp, associate professor of operations and industrial engineering at the Foisie Business School at WPI, will develop a model that government authorities could use to process asylum cases.

WORCESTER, Mass. (PRWEB) October 30, 2019
A researcher at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) is developing analytical tools to estimate capacities for holding sites, judges, and other resources needed to humanely process migrant asylum cases at the U.S. southern border.
Andrew Trapp, associate professor of operations and industrial engineering at the Foisie Business School at WPI, has received a $63,730 supplemental grant from the National Science Foundation to fund the research. The work builds on previous research that Trapp, colleagues, and students have done to develop analytical tools to better match refugees to communities.
Under the new award, Trapp will use queueing theory to develop a model that government authorities such as the Department of Homeland Security could use to determine the resources needed to process a proportion of asylum applicants within a specified time period. Queueing science is an established tool that allows organizations such as banks and fast-food restaurants to manage lines of customers, but it can also be used to benefit society, according to Trapp.
“A business may have servers and lines and a desire to serve 95% of its customers within a certain time period,” Trapp said. “Similarly, at the southern border, we have judges and queues of asylum seekers. The goal is to develop a tool that decision makers could use when managing those queues.”
The flow of migrants to the U.S. southwestern border has surged in recent months, with U.S. agents apprehending nearly 51,000 people at the border during August. People from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador have historically represented some of the biggest categories of asylum seekers.
More generally, Trapp is interested in using analytics to improve the lives of vulnerable populations. He spent a year of his life in urban Los Angeles, working to find shelter and services for homeless youths. He has also worked with colleagues on research to better understand illicit supply chains involved in human trafficking.
For his project on asylum resources, Trapp is working with Geri-Louise Dimas, a PhD student in data science at WPI, and five WPI undergraduates who are undertaking their Major Qualifying Project, or MQP. Goals include understanding the asylum process, the flow of people across various border sectors, and what affects that flow, Trapp said.
“There is great potential of using the tools that exist now, and developing new tools contextually, that can make a great difference in our society,” Trapp said. “It’s the right time to think about doing so.”
About Worcester Polytechnic Institute
WPI, the global leader in project-based learning, is a distinctive, top-tier technological university founded in 1865 on the principle that students learn most effectively by applying the theory learned in the classroom to the practice of solving real-world problems. Recognized by the National Academy of Engineering with the 2016 Bernard M. Gordon Prize for Innovation in Engineering and Technology Education, WPI’s pioneering project-based curriculum engages undergraduates in solving important scientific, technological, and societal problems throughout their education and at more than 50 project centers around the world. WPI offers more than 50 bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degree programs across 14 academic departments in science, engineering, technology, business, the social sciences, and the humanities and arts. Its faculty and students pursue groundbreaking research to meet ongoing challenges in health and biotechnology; robotics and the internet of things; advanced materials and manufacturing; cyber, data, and security systems; learning science; and more. http://www.wpi.edu
Contact:
Alison Duffy, Director of Strategic CommunicationsWorcester Polytechnic InstituteWorcester, Massachusetts508-831-6656; 508-340-5040amduffy@wpi.edu

Share article on social media or email: