How maths, science and law fight Covid-19 – free UC public talk

What do a mathematician, a chemist, an epidemiologist and a law expert have in common? These University of Canterbury academics are all involved in vital aspects of the global fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.

Four UC experts – epidemiologist Arindam Basu, chemist Deborah Crittenden, legal academic John Hopkins, and mathematical modeller Michael Plank – will explain their diverse responses to the pandemic, ranging from the maths behind our nation’s rapid lockdown and the legality of that lockdown, to the balancing of individual rights and community health, vaccination, and the invention of a five-minute Covid-19 breath-test.

Join them on Wednesday night, 11 August, at the University of Canterbury’s Ilam campus for this special 90-minute, livestreamed event, Maths, science and law in the fight against Covid-19. UC’s Head of Mathematics and Statistics, Professor Clemency Montelle, will host the free event, which will conclude with an audience Q&A session.

Professor Michael PlankMathematics and Statistics, UC Engineering
Mathematical modelling has played a key part in understanding and responding to the pandemic in countries around the world, including New Zealand. In the early stages of the pandemic, a group of award-winning researchers at the University of Canterbury and Te Pūnaha Matatini developed models to estimate the scale of the health impacts if the virus were allowed to spread unchecked, helping to prompt government action. Subsequently, these and other models have been used to help inform the New Zealand government response in areas such as contact tracing, border management, testing, and outbreak control. In this talk Professor Plank will give an overview of how these models work, some of the ways they’ve been used over the last year, and what they can and can’t tell us about the future.

Michael Plank is a medal-winning Professor in the School of Mathematics and Statistics at UC and a Principal Investigator at Te Pūnaha Matatini, New Zealand’s Centre of Research Excellence in Complex Systems and Data Analytics. He obtained his BSc (Hons) in Mathematics from the University of Bristol and his PhD in Applied Mathematics from the University of Leeds. He started at UC as a postdoctoral research fellow in 2004. Professor Plank is an expert in mathematical modelling of complex biological and social systems at multiple scales. His expertise includes ecological and social networks, population dynamics, epidemiological models, size-structured marine ecosystems, collective cell behaviour, and intracellular dynamics.

Professor John Hopkins, UC School of Law
“Natural” disasters are often anything but. They are human and social events caused by the intersection of hazards and the vulnerabilities of communities and individuals. Covid-19 is no different – the virus was not the disaster; the social and health impacts were. It comes as no surprise, given the social nature of disaster, that law is at the heart of our response. Professor John Hopkins will briefly explore some key legal issues that arose as a result of the Covid-19 response, from the legality of lockdown to the balancing of individual rights and community health. He will share his thoughts on what worked well from New Zealand’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic and what we can do better when the next disaster strikes.

John Hopkins is a Comparative Public Lawyer at UC’s Law School, who specialises in Disaster Law. He is currently Director of the Institute of Law, Emergencies and Disasters (LEAD). In 2020 he was the independent legal advisor to the Epidemic Response Parliamentary Select Committee.

Associate Professor Arindam BasuSchool of Health Sciences, UC Education Health & Human Development
Associate Professor Arindam Basu will talk about the lessons learned over the pandemic of Covid-19: the timeline, the epidemiology, the vaccine and its uptake, and the state of Covid-19 in New Zealand and the rest of the world, and what may we expect from a public health perspective.

Arindam Basu is an Associate Professor of Epidemiology and Health Sciences at UC’s School of Health Sciences. He is a medical doctor and an epidemiologist. His research includes distribution and determinants of emerging epidemics, the impact of Covid-19 from the perspective of social determinants of health and social protection, and use of telemedicine and technology to address emerging epidemics. His research includes a driven approach to unravel the role of genes and environment on the risk of emerging health issues. He also studies how telemedicine can be best used to control and address emerging health issues and bridge gaps of health services organisation and delivery of care responding to the emerging health problems.

Associate Professor Deborah CrittendenSchool of Physical & Chemical Sciences, UC Science
Associate Professor Deborah Crittenden will describe how she, with her research team and collaborators, invented a new method for directly detecting coronavirus particles at biologically relevant concentrations – a Covid-19 breath-test. The concentration of viral particles required to transmit infection is scarily small, equivalent to around the number of atoms in one-hundredth of a teaspoon of salt dissolved in an Olympic-sized swimming pool. Associate Professor Crittenden will discuss how solving this problem required the combined skills and experience of a multidisciplinary team of physical chemists and biochemists, and drew on results from others published in the scientific literature. She will discuss ways the pandemic has catalysed new scientific discoveries and accelerated scientific progress.

Deborah Crittenden graduated with a PhD in Chemistry & Pharmacology from the University of Sydney in 2006, and then moved to the ANU where she worked as a postdoctoral fellow in Theoretical Chemistry. She joined UC as a lecturer in 2010. Her research is fundamentally based on finding new ways of understanding how molecules behave and interact, and then applying that understanding to solving real-world problems such as drug design, finding new ways of storing energy, and new ways of detecting pathogens and environmental contaminants.

2021 Tauhere | UC Connect public lecture – Maths, science and law in the fight against Covid-19, with Arindam Basu, Deborah Crittenden, John Hopkins, Michael Plank, emceed by Clemency Montelle, University of Canterbury, 7pm – 8.30pm, Wednesday 11 August in C1 Central lecture theatre, Ilam campus, University of Canterbury, Christchurch. Register free to attend: