Dear NIMBioS Colleagues and Friends,

I and all the leadership team and staff here in Knoxville hope that you and your families and friends are staying healthy. We regret that the situation has necessarily led us to cease all in-person activities here, but our first priority is the safety of all of us in the NIMBioS community. We are monitoring the situation and following the University guidance to work at home, focusing our efforts on how to plan effectively for a resumption of in-person activities when it is deemed appropriate. Although we have postponed all visitor activities through May 25, ongoing guidance may lead us to further postpone these. If you are involved in an activity that has been postponed, we will correspond with you as soon as it becomes clear that it is safe to resume. We are hopeful that some activities will resume in July and encourage you to regularly visit our website for updates. 

In the meantime, we will be hosting a series of webinars to encourage the community of researchers at the interface of quantitative methods and the broad field of biology to stay connected. Please view this an opportunity to expand your understanding of diverse fields and, as our University has suggested that all of us do while working remotely, to use this time for personal development that you might not have done otherwise. Maintaining our community of collaboration and learning can be challenging in these times, even with the variety of at-distance collaborative tools available. We at NIMBioS hope that you will find these webinars a helpful means to learn about key concepts in fields that you may not be intimately associated with. Therefore, we are encouraging presenters to focus the beginning of their presentations on key ideas that are broadly accessible to a general audience. The first of these will be held on Tuesday, March 31, at 3:30 p.m. (Eastern Daylight Time), given by Nina Fefferman, Professor of Mathematics and Ecology and Evolutionary Biology here at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. As a leading researcher in modeling infectious disease, Nina will talk on "The Role of Applied Math in Real-time Pandemic Response: How Basic Disease Models Work" and will provide insights that we hope your friends and students without any intensive background in math will appreciate.

While we are justifiably proud of all the research and educational activities fostered here over the past decade, a major emphasis has been on infectious disease and particularly on zoonotics. Many Working Groups and Workshops have developed new models, analysis methods and provided insights about various diseases as well as investigated human behavior, demographics, social structure, and other factors affecting disease spread. Given the current situation, these investigations have taken on additional significance. Though disturbing, it has been edifying to hear our colleagues who have devoted their careers to mathematical epidemiology being interviewed by various media and consulting with policymakers at the highest levels to provide evidence-based advice. I encourage all of us to be proactive in interactions with students, friends and relatives to use our expertise to explain how models work, their limitations, and what can be learned from them.  

Clearly though, as a community, we have not been successful in sufficiently fostering the connection to policy, preparedness and planning that would have reduced the devastating impacts of the current pandemic. The interface of the life and social sciences presents many novel challenges, and we here at NIMBioS expect to build upon our efforts at this interface to do what we can to reduce the potential for similar disasters from recurring. Please consider joining us in these efforts. 

All our best wishes to you and yours in these disconcerting times. 

Stay healthy.
Louis J. Gross
Chancellor’s Professor and Alvin and Sally Beaman Distinguished Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Mathematics
Director, National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis
NIMBioS is supported by the National Science Foundation through NSF Award #DBI-1300426, with additional support from The University of Tennessee, Knoxville.