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By Leah Poffenberger
Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers around the world have been racing to better understand the novel virus. Among them have been physicists, applying expertise in areas from modeling of spread of the virus, to the fluid dynamics of transmission, applying AI to detect the disease in medical images, to the development of ventilators and other technologies.
In order to bring the physicists researching COVID-19 together with medical professionals and epidemiologists, the APS Topical Group on Medical Physics (GMED) and several other APS units have launched the COVID Research and Resources Group (CRRG). The CRRG will facilitate communication, sharing of resources, and other activities to mobilize physicists to help combat an ongoing medical emergency.
“There is no shortage of science that physicists are contributing to COVID—a lot of people don’t know that physics is playing an important role,” says Robert Jeraj, Past Chair of GMED and chair of the CRRG organizing committee. “CRRG [promotes] physics research towards a broader community…A lot of physicists work behind the scenes, so we want to show the importance of physics in addressing medical problems.”
At the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, the GMED executive committee recognized an opportunity to consolidate the efforts of members in different APS Units conducting research to address COVID. The committee submitted a proposal to APS Leadership calling for the creation of CRRG. “This was a new problem for everyone, and there was no real home for it [within APS],” says Jeraj.
CRRG currently has around 130 members connecting regularly through the APS Engage networking platform. While the group promotes collaboration among different areas of physics, a broader goal is to involve disciplines outside of physics.
“The CRRG is something that started in APS, but we want to make it broader for anyone who interacts with physics, for example, engineering, computer science, operations research, modeling, and chemistry,” says Jeraj. “We are reaching out to other communities as well. We hope this will also create partnerships that haven’t existed yet. COVID is not a single discipline problem—physics plays a role but not the only role—so these partnerships need to happen.”
CRRG also hopes to connect with physics societies outside the United States. “We see this as an initiative to link with other physics societies within Latin America, Europe, and India—we are continuing to bring the international community together. COVID is not limited to North America, but is global, so the fight and the science that contributes is global,” Jeraj adds.
The first phase of CRRG activities kicked off with a webinar series, featuring the latest COVID research by leading experts. The purpose of these webinars, according to Jeraj, is to present problems that physicists have the ability to address and spark discussion among CRRG members.
“This led us to selecting Dr. Marc Lipsitch (Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health), for the first webinar, particularly because we wanted to have a leading epidemiologist explaining the problem in a way that physics can play a role. We wanted to have a broader, high level view of the problem and bring the physics perspective into it,” says Jeraj. “For the following webinars, we’ve picked some of the most significant topics, ranging from modeling to understanding the evolution of viruses to understanding the transmission of viruses.”
Beyond the webinars and discussion groups on APS Engage, CRRG is working on creating a comprehensive webpage with resources for COVID researchers. The group is also forming a partnership with the Johns Hopkins University Novel Coronavirus Research Compendium, lending additional expertise for literature review. Another activity CRRG is considering for the future is working with educators to create educational resources about COVID for students at a variety of levels.
As CRRG grows and takes on new activities and plans new webinars, Jeraj hopes the group’s efforts will be community driven, and that the work that comes out of CRRG continues long after COVID.
“COVID [has] brought together people that didn’t interact before. What we hope is that there will be a long-lasting impact with new collaborations and new partnerships that will go far beyond COVID.” says Jeraj. “The community will continue [to focus] on medical and society related problems. By building this collaboration, we hope and anticipate that this will have reach well beyond the COVID-specific challenge.”
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Editor: David Voss
Staff Science Writer: Leah Poffenberger
Contributing Correspondents: Sophia Chen, Alaina G. Levine
Publication Designer and Production: Nancy Bennett-Karasik