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Using Mathematics to Understand Epidemics

During the second full week of Waterford’s remote learning model, physics teacher Barr Dolan had a special event for his AP Physics students. Students heard from Dr. Shaun Comfort, a board-certified neurologist, whose work focuses on clinical trial forecasting, predictive analytics, statistical decision theory, and operations research applications for healthcare, clinical trials, and pharmacovigilance. Dr. Comfort gave students a fascinating overview of how to apply physics and math to real-world situations and gave them tools to understand the current dynamic situation of the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Comfort’s lecture demonstrated the efficacy of different mitigation strategies in response to epidemics, and helped students understand the real meaning behind the term “flatten the curve.” 

Using Mathematics to Understand Epidemics ​Mr. Dolan invited Dr. Comfort to speak for many reasons, but he writes that his “#1 reason is to show [students] why taking physics at Waterford is a good idea,” and that it helps students understand how the math and science classes that the students are taking now can be applied in a practical, hands-on way. Mr Dolan also hopes that this experience showed students that “using one’s science and math backgrounds, one can build models that are very useful for decision making.” 

Using Mathematics to Understand Epidemics ​Beyond Dr. Comfort’s extensive experience and relevant insight to the current global crisis, he urged students to be dedicated to all of their subjects, and especially stressed the importance of science and math classes to understand the complicated events that can shape how people live their lives, saying, “It’s no exaggeration to say that if you can understand a lot of the basics that underlie how our universe works, you have a level of insight and understanding that very few human beings have in this world.”

​This was a unique opportunity, and one that emerged from the current, worldwide situation. We are grateful for Waterford teachers, who are thinking outside of their set lesson plans to create interesting and engaging online learning. 

Casey O'Malley, Academic DeanCasey O'Malley grew up in Minnesota and moved to New York City to attend Columbia University, where she douuble majored in English and Russian Language. While an undergrad, she studied abroad in Moscow, Russia, and was the captain of the Columbia University Sailing Team. Casey moved to Utah after graduating and has been at Waterford ever since. She completed her master's degree in school leadership from Vanderbilt University in the summer of 2018. 

Casey loves to backcountry ski in the winter and hike and garden in the summer. 

Barr Dolan, Physics TeacherBarr Dolan, Physics Instructor at the Waterford School, holds a B.A.in Chemistry and M.S. in Engineering from Cornell University, a B.A. in Engineering and Applied Physics from Harvard University, and an M.B.A. from Stanford University. From 1982 to present, Barr has worked in venture capital in silicon valley as a partner at Charter Venture Capital and currently as a partner at Charter Life Sciences, investing in early stage technology and healthcare start­ups. Successful investments that Barr has helped start and fund include Linear Technology Corporation (LLTC, NYSE), Elli Mae, Inc. (ELLI, NYSE), and EP Technologies, Inc. (cardiac electrophysiology, acquired by Boston Scientific). Barr currently sits on the boards of KFX Medical, Inc. (private, orthopedic devices) and Elli Mae, Inc. (cloud software). Barr also is a mentor to the Waterford robotics team and coaches his daughter’s AYSO soccer team.

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