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In late September 2001, U.S. officials, worried about smallpox attacks, turned to SFI External Professor Joshua Epstein, whose work with agent-based computer modeling offered a potential solution.

For decades epidemiologists had used complex mathematical equations to predict the spread of diseases, but those equations dealt with pools of theoretically identical people, making it difficult to model the spread of a real disease through a network of unique individuals.

Epstein's models worked differently. By tweaking different tactics and simulating the spread of the disease tens of thousands of times, the Epstein and his collaborators discovered that the most effective strategy was to vaccinate hospital workers preemptively, to isolate confirmed cases, and to vaccinate only the victims' immediate families.

Epstein's first work with modeling came at MIT, where he used differential equations to work on problems like arms races. He continued this work at Brookings Institution and the Santa Fe Institute, where biologists were using a kind of modeling called cellular automata to simulate coral reefs and forest growth. His focus continues to be infectious diseases, and in the last five years he's become interested in what's known as behavioral epidemiology.

Full story: Forbes