The International Society for Artificial Life presented Luis Zaman with their Education and Outreach Award for his website Developing an Intuition for Pandemics.

In a tweet about the honor, Zaman said, “I’ve never been more excited to wake up at 3am. Thank you to everyone that found this work useful!” The award was presented during the virtual Conference on Artificial Life hosted from Prague, Czech Republic, July 19 – 23. The ISAL Education and Outreach Award recognizes outstanding projects that either teach about artificial life or uses AI techniques to teach about another topic or inspires users to learn more on their own.

During spring 2020, Zaman designed a tool to help people navigate decision-making during the COVID-19 pandemic. The award-winning website he developed describes why he created the simulation models for disease transmission and how they work. Zaman is an assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and in the Center for the Study of Complex Systems (CSCS).

Zaman studies how coevolution between hosts and their pathogens drive fascinating ecological and evolutionary dynamics. In fall 2020, he taught a new course on the Ecology and Evolution of Infectious Disease.

He’s always believed that hands-on learning is the best way to build intuition about complex topics, and that was something he planned to bring to his new course. He’s a big fan of using simulations in the classes he teaches and in his own research.

“There are a lot of great resources for scientists interested in studying disease dynamics, and several good simulation frameworks that are geared towards teaching broadly about disease transmission. I spent some time looking for something that would run in web browsers, so that students could get right into experimenting without having the universally loathed class period dedicated to installing software. Unfortunately, I didn't find a simulation with the right mix of simplicity (to get rid of so many of the complicated bits) and flexibility (to add in the bits that might be important) for this course.

“So, I built it.” And now he’s won an award for it. However, rather than resting on their laurels, Zaman added that he continues to work with U-M faculty Elizabeth Bruch (sociology and CSCS), Marisa Eisenberg (epidemiology, CSCS, math) and Jon Zelner (epidemiology) -- (with epidemiology graduate student Emily Andrus and recent School of Information graduate Stephanie Choi) Stay tuned for what’s next! 

Read more about Luis Zaman in previous articles:

From CSCS: Luis Zaman produces comprehensive interactive websites on infectious matter

Complex Systems faculty turn talents to COVID-19 research in order to serve

From LSA: An unexpected evolution

From EEB: Pioneering research: studying life in silico and in vivo (starting on Page 5 of Natural Selections) 

Read more about Zaman on his EEB faculty page, including many linked news articles

Compiled by Gail Kuhnlein