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PiggyDemic

PiggyDemic

Researchers at Tel Aviv University have developed a Facebook application called PiggyDemic that allows users to "infect" their friends with a simulated virus or become infected themselves. The resulting patterns will allow researchers to gather information on how a virus mutates, spreads through human interaction, and the number of people it infects.

Scientists use mathematical algorithms to determine which virus will spread and how, but this method has some flaws. It assumes that a virus has equal distribution across populations, but that is simply not the case, the researchers say. Patterns of social interaction must also be taken into account.

Once added to a user's Facebook account, PiggyDemic follows the user's newsfeed to determine the people they interact with. Users are deemed "susceptible," "immune" or "infected" with various simulated viruses, and can pass them on to their online contacts. Researchers then follow these interactions using network visualization software, and watch the links between users as the "viruses" are passed on.

Project Details

  • PRINCIPAL SCIENTIST: Gal Almogy and Nir Ben-Tal, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Department
  • SCIENTIST AFFILIATION: Tel Aviv University
  • DATES: Ongoing
  • PROJECT TYPE: Observation
  • COST: Free
  • GRADE LEVEL: All Ages
  • TIME COMMITMENT: Variable
  • HOW TO JOIN:

    PiggyDemic can be accessed via Facebook.

See more projects in FreeObservationAll Ages.

What Is Citizen Science?

Research often involves teams of scientists collaborating across continents. Now, using the power of the Internet, non-specialists are participating, too. Citizen Science falls into many categories. A pioneering project was SETI@Home, which has harnessed the idle computing time of millions of participants in the search for extraterrestrial life. Citizen scientists also act as volunteer classifiers of heavenly objects, such as in Galaxy Zoo. They make observations of the natural world, as in The Great Sunflower Project. And they even solve puzzles to design proteins, such as FoldIt. We'll add projects regularly—and please tell us about others you like as well.

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