With a doctorate in physics, Famulare is using mathematical models and data analysis to help eradicate polio.

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Mike Famulare

What do you do? I’m an epidemiologist at the Institute for Disease Modeling (IDM), an initiative under the Global Good Fund at Intellectual Ventures. I do mathematical modeling and data analysis in support of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative. The primary goals of our work are to better understand how disease outbreaks happen and how best to interrupt and prevent them.

How did you get started in that field? Seattle is a center for global health science and policy, and I wanted to stay here after graduating from the UW with a PhD in Physics and a thesis about how neurons process information. While I don’t have a background in epidemiology, I fit with the team because IDM’s approach to quantitative science is multidisciplinary and combines expertise in epidemiology, mathematical modeling and software engineering.

What’s a typical day like? I spend a lot of time in the weeds with data and coding, debugging and recoding. Wednesday through Friday, I usually work full-time on health policy questions for those we work most closely with — the WHO, CDC, Gates Foundation, and country partners in Africa and Asia. I also spend a fair amount of time carefully presenting our research so it can be useful.

What’s the best part of the job? I can sincerely say that I work with unreasonably smart people, and we are more cooperative than competitive. I love this. In the big picture — if I do my job well — I make tiny contributions to the massive effort underway to improve healthcare and control preventable disease world-wide. Maybe I help life get a little better for a lot of people.

What surprises people about your work? People ask: “There’s still polio?” and “Wait, so Intellectual Ventures conducts global health research? In offices adjacent to the Modernist Cuisine kitchen?”

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