Mengdi Wang receives grant for COVID-19 research

Wednesday, Jun 24, 2020
by Sharon Adarlo

The Digital Transformation Institute has awarded $5.4 million to 26 projects to accelerate artificial intelligence research to mitigate COVID-19 and future pandemics. Princeton faculty member Mengdi Wang is among several Princeton researchers to receive funding for their projects.

Details on her project are below:

Reinforcement Learning to Safeguard Schools and Universities Against the COVID-19 Outbreak

Mengdi Wang, associate professor of electrical engineering and the Center for Statistics and Machine Learning, is part of the project team “Reinforcement Learning to Safeguard Schools and Universities Against the COVID-19 Outbreak.”

Project description: The COVID-19 outbreak has disrupted normal activities in nearly all aspects of higher education. To reopen our universities, we need new technology and innovative practices to safeguard students against the potential second wave of the virus outbreak. In this proposal, we seek to develop analytical methods for modeling and mitigating the COVID-19 situation based on students’ location and symptom data collected via mobile apps. We adopt an optimal control approach and seek intervention policies that strike a balance between containing the virus and keeping productive on-campus activities. This problem is highly challenging due to the prevalence of hidden states, unknown dynamics, and high dimensionality. By leveraging recent advances in system identification, reinforcement learning, and adaptive control, we will develop predictive methods to infer the hidden health states of individual students and develop algorithms to recommend optimal interventions (e.g., testing and quarantine) for decision makers. We will develop simplified models to assess the impact of such policies on the stability of the system captured in the growth rate of infections. The methods will be validated using simulation and available data. We expect to apply and further develop the methods to analyze real campus data from MIT in the fall semester of 2020. By using the computing capabilities of Suite and Microsoft Azure Cloud, we expect to analyze large volumes of location data as they are collected and adapt the intervention policy. We will make our research outcomes, including software, non-confidential data sets and analysis sharable on the platform.

Along with Wang, the research team includes two faculty members from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology: Munther Dahleh, the William A. Coolidge Professor, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, and Anette Hosoi, associate dean of engineering and the Neil and Jane Pappalardo Professor of Mechanical Engineering.

More on the award can be found here.