SPI & McDonnell Academy award new round of seed grants to address Covid-19-related challenges

For a second year, the Social Policy Institute and the McDonnell International Scholars Academy at Washington University in St. Louis partnered to provide joint seed grants to advance international policy-relevant research. Three new projects were selected to receive seed funding of up to $30,000 each. The recipients include researchers from both Washington University and McDonnell Academy partner institutions in China, India and Israel.

“We are excited to partner with the Social Policy Institute to support research that impacts social policy across the globe,” said Kurt Dirks, vice-chancellor for international affairs and director of the McDonnell Academy. For this year’s cycle, the focus is on addressing COVID-19-related challenges through artificial intelligence, technology and big data.

The first project selected to receive funding is led by Rajan K. Chakrabarty, associate professor in the Department of Energy, Environmental and Chemical Engineering at the McKelvey School of Engineering and Chandra Venkataraman, professor of chemical engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay. The team will investigate the association of racial and ethnic disparities of PM2.5 exposure (particulate matter with aerodynamic diameter 2.5 μm or less) and the speed of COVID-19 spread in the United States and India.

Another team from the McKelvey School of Engineering was awarded funding to support the development of a simple, fast and inexpensive diagnostic device for at-home testing and machine learning tools to help interpret these diagnostics. The device, in conjunction with a proposed innovative social policy framework in Xi’an, China, will help inform and guide current and future responses to pandemics. This project will be conducted by Guy Genin, Harold and Kathleen Faught Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Washington University and Feng Xu, director of the Bioinspired Engineering and Biomechanics Center at Xi’an Jiaotong University, China.

The third project selected for funding is led by Thomas Kannampallil, assistant professor in the Washington University School of Medicine’s Department of Anesthesiology and the Institute for Informatics, and Alex Mintz, director of the Computerized Decision Laboratory at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya (IDC) in Israel. They will investigate the effects of biases in the diagnosis of COVID-19 patients using an artificial intelligence platform. Specifically, they aim to quantify the effects of information acquisition biases on the quality of COVID-19 decisions by medical staff. The study is part of a multinational collaboration involving medical centers in Israel, Canada, Switzerland and the United States.

Each of these new research projects supports the overarching missions of both the Social Policy Institute and McDonnell International Scholars Academy. Funding for the seed grants was provided in part by the Mastercard Impact Fund, in collaboration with the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth.

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