The project teams for the Harker Influenza Project were announced at a special school meeting in November. The teams, each led by a grade 11 student, will undertake a project related to the spread of viral disease around campus.
The first project, led by Michael Cheng, will be to develop a smartphone application that will help collect data relevant to the project. The nature of the app is yet to be determined, as the students involved are being given “quite a bit of freedom to create an app that they think would enhance the project,” said Anita Chetty, science department chair. “They may come up with an app that we’re not even thinking about right now that will increase the amount of data that is collected for this project.”
Working with Cheng on the research team will be students Lynda Tang, grade 11, Vikram Sundar, grade 10, and grade 9 students Rishabh Jain and Andrew Jin. Somnath Banerjee, parent of Nila Banerjee, grade 10, will be assisting the team as a Harker mentor for this project.
The next project, led by Suchita Nety, will be to study how environmental factors on campus can assist in the spread of microbes. Because of the scope of this effort, it has been split into two parts, each with a different team and lead investigator. Ilsa Zhang will lead the team responsible for measuring the level of carbon dioxide in various rooms. Rooms with little change in CO2 levels over a 24-hour period may experience poor air circulation, making them potential breeding grounds for viruses. Shivani Gillon, Jennifer Dai and Zahreen Choudhury, all grade 10, will make up the project’s research team.
Another team, led by Andrew Luo, will examine surfaces for their potential to harbor disease-causing pathogens. Luo will work with researchers Leslie Tzeng and Trisha Jani, both grade 10. “The two [projects] together are going to give us lots of data about areas in the school where students may get sick,” Chetty said.
In order to gauge similarities and discrepancies in subjective and objective data, Indulakshmi Seeni will lead a team that will conduct surveys and measure the data against that collected by “motes” worn by volunteers taking part in the project. Students will be surveyed about things such as how many people they came in contact with, as well as when and where the contact occurred. Because the information gathered from these surveys is reliant upon the memories of those surveyed, the data will be compared with data collected by motes, which are worn by volunteers and electronically track their interactions throughout the day. Working with Seeni on this project will be Maddie Dawson and Molly Wolfe, grade 11, Divyahans Gupta, grade 10, and Anokhi Saklecha, grade 9.
Finally, Victoria Lin will lead a team of students responsible for gathering volunteers who, should they register a temperature of 100 or higher, will report to nurse Debra Nott, who will take a nasal and throat swab, which will in turn be sent to Dr. Elodie Ghedin at the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Medicine. Ghedin, a MacArthur Fellow and leading virologist, will sequence the genome of the viruses, which can be used to find out which viruses exist on campus. Student researchers on this project will be grade 10 students Mabel Luo, Efrey Noten and Sandra Yin, and Vasudha Rengarajan, grade 9.
Dr. Marcel Salathe, who is conducting the study, visited Harker in early December with his colleague, Dr. Vicki Barclay. During their visit, they met and spoke with each team to give them advice on how to conduct their research and to prime them on the purpose of the project. Upper school biology teacher Kate Schafer will act as a liaison between the students and Salathe and Barclay. Schafer also worked closely with Salathe during the original study he conducted at Harker during the 2009-10 school year.
With the teams selected, the search will begin for volunteers once school resumes in early January. Chetty plans to hold a kickoff event that will include a screening of the film “Contagion.”