Students, faculty and staff all began their participation in the Harker Influenza Project on Tuesday, wearing electronic motes around their necks which measure and record their interactions with other people around campus.
Led by Dr. Marcel Salathe at Penn State, the project will examine how viral disease spreads on a high school campus. The motes, which are activated when within nine feet of one another, record the ID of the motes they come in contact with as well as the time and length of the interaction. Stationary motes were also been placed in every room on campus so that the neck-worn motes can record where each interaction took place.
Participants will also fill out a survey in which they will identify who they came in contact with and when. One purpose of the project is to demonstrate that human memory can be unreliable as a source of information about how disease spreads. “The only tool [researchers] had in the past are these surveys, and so there’s a goal in trying to compare this new method to decades of research that’s been done solely based on this process that probably isn’t that helpful,” said Kate Schafer, upper school biology teacher.
Dr. Vicky Barclay, one of the researchers from Penn State leading the project, was impressed by the number of students she saw wearing the motes. “It’s good to see that we have so many people participating again,” she said. “It just goes to show that Harker really is interested in research.”
Students around campus, such as Aaron Bisla, grade 12, enjoyed the opportunity to help the cause of science in a simple, hassle-free manner. “I don’t really notice [the mote], actually,” he said. “I just put it underneath my jacket and just pretend that it’s another normal day.”
Two more “mote-wearing” days are planned for February.
Five student-led project teams will also be assisting with the research, working on such tasks as developing a smartphone application and measuring carbon dioxide levels in various rooms on campus. Each team consists of three to five students and is directed by a lead investigator from grade 11, since the project is expected to last until after the Class of 2012 has graduated.