Who are you?

Professor Christl Donnelly, Professor of Applied Statistics

I am a professor in University of Oxford’s Department of Statistics but also in Imperial College London’s Department of Infectious Disease Epidemiology.

Overview of the activity

I talked through with the Sparks team (including the animators) how statistical epidemiologists contribute to understanding a new pathogen when an epidemic is taking off. There was a mock-up of images to give me a sense of what the feel of the animation would be and we discussed how to represent the isolation of clinical cases and their contacts.  The animators then put it all together.

Emmanuelle Dankwa, one of my DPhil students, reviewed the animation and recommended edits to make its message clearer and to increase the chances of engagement.

What was the aim of the activity?

I began analysing data from what we would eventually know as SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 in mid-January 2020. I had worked with Imperial colleagues in several real-time responses to outbreaks (including the original SARS epidemic, the 2009 influenza pandemic and the West African Ebola epidemic).  So working with Imperial colleagues I provided statistical input into the early analysis of data on the number of cases exported from the Wuhan area in January 2020, analysis of severity data and analysis of transmissibility (estimating the basic reproduction number). 

The animation was to give insight into the process of learning about a new pathogen as it spreads.  Some people will read our academic papers, but those are not typically written for the public.  This animation would allow us to convey scientific and quantitative concepts without writing equations that might, for some, distract from the communication of concepts. 

I had a great time working with the Sparks team – we had the same goal but made such different contributions. I’m so glad that the University values engagement between researchers and the public. I thought the end product was fantastic and I was so happy when the video won a silver award for COVID-19-related content.

Prof Christl Donnelly

What was the outcome?

I enjoyed working with a new type of collaborator. Mathematics is a way of being precise and it was challenging to communicate clearly without using mathematical language or symbols, but I am proud of what we managed to produce together. More information about it can be found on the Oxford Sparks website.

Podcast: What does my family want to know about Coronavirus?  [to go in link on RHS if possible]