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Royal Society Award recognises researcher’s pandemic modelling effort

Dr. Saiful Khan has received an Early Career Investigator Award for voluntary efforts in data visualization and visual analytics aimed at combating COVID-19

Saiful Khan

Oxford e-Research Centre researcher Dr. Saiful Khan has been selected for a Royal Society award for his work as part of the Royal Society convened RAMP project (Rapid Assistance for Modelling the Pandemic). RAMP VIS brings together a group of volunteer specialists in Data Visualization and Visual Analytics, who answered a call to support modelling scientists and epidemiologists in the Scottish COVID-19 Response Consortium (SCRC), of three consortia in the Royal Society’s RAMP Programme

RAMP’s volunteers have supported efforts to model the Coronavirus pandemic and guide an evidence-based response in the UK.

The RAMP Early Career Investigator Award (RECIA) aims to recognize early career researchers such as Dr Khan who have made exceptional contributions towards RAMP's activities.

He says of his contribution, “In May 2020, I responded to a call from Professor Min Chen calling for VIS volunteers for the RAMP project. My responsibility was to design the RAMP VIS system's architecture and develop core technical solutions such as user interface, middle-layer server, ontology, and database. There were volunteers from both academia and industry responsible for developing numerous visual designs.

"We developed a new methodology for quickly developing visualisation capabilities for large-scale emergency responses and delivered the RAMP VIS system.”

Finding optimal models to forecast contagion patterns of COVID-19 in different conditions (e.g., geographical, social, seasonal variations; different human interventions; etc.) is a major challenge. Development of Workflows that utilise human and machine intelligence is essential, while data visualization and visual analytics (VIS) is indispensable. In combating COVID-19, such a collective effort has been compressed into a period of weeks and months. RAMP VIS has aimed to meet the urgent need to increase the VIS/VA capacity in rapid model development workflows; and has worked to maintain the provision of this capacity throughout the period of combating the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr Khan’s engineering DPhil and experience on related research projects meant he was very well prepared for such a venture, he explains,

“My DPhil project and industrial knowledge transfer projects at Oxford contributed significantly to my career development"

"I received extensive supervision from my DPhil supervisors Professor Min Chen and Professor Rene Bañares-Alcántara. After my DPhil studies, I worked as an industrial research engineer at Oxford e-Research Centre and two companies. Professor Min Chen and Professor David Wallom supervised those projects. This training mainly helped me develop the skills required to engineer large-scale, complex, and production-grade software systems”.