A groundbreaking collaboration between research mathematicians and the BBC invites everyone in the UK to contribute to research to combat future pandemics. A team of mathematical researchers (and frequent MMP collaborators!) are working with the BBC on an innovative project, BBC Pandemic, combining outreach, citizen science and new mathematical research.

The Spanish Influenza outbreak in 1918 killed up to 100 million people worldwide. Nearly a century later, a catastrophic flu pandemic still tops the UK Government’s Risk Register of threats to this country. Key to the Government’s response plan are mathematical models which simulate how a highly contagious disease may spread. But the models are only as good as the data that goes into them.

In order to understand how an infectious disease like flu will spread, researchers need data about how we travel and interact. You can volunteer to help by downloading the BBC Pandemic smartphone app, and taking part in a nationwide citizen science experiment to gather data on movement patterns.

The immediate results of the experiment will be reported in a feature length science documentary, presented by Dr Hannah Fry, to be shown on BBC Four in early 2018. The long-term impact of the experiment will be even bigger: the data set will be available to the whole science community, with hugely exciting potential for future disease dynamics research.

The scale and visibility of this citizen science project, thanks to the collaboration with the BBC, is huge, but it's not the first time that the research team involved has combined outreach with active research. Professor Julia Gog, Dr Adam Kucharski and Dr Andrew Conlan have previously collaborated with the MMP to work on several groundbreaking research projects with schools. Working directly with participating school classes, the highly successful research projects enabled pupils to become active contributors and participants in the research process, with students gathering data on social networks within the classes. You can read more about how these projects led to a research paper published in the prestigious Proceedings of the Royal Society B here, and find school resources on understanding the maths involved in disease spread on our NRICH website.

You can find out more on the BBC Pandemic webpage, including links to download the app from the App Store or Google Play. To learn more about the mathematical background to the experiment, watch the interview with Professor Julia Gog below, or read this feature article on Plus.