Liftoff PGH is Charting a New Map for Innovation, and It Starts in Pittsburgh

Gal Inbar

Liftoff PGH in Motion is, well, in motion. The series builds on the diversity of voices in response to critical innovations in health care, and the June 17th session was no exception. More than 125 participants joined from across Pittsburgh for an in-depth discussion with Dr. Don Burke, founder of Epistemix and former Dean of the University of Pittsburgh's School of Public Health. His insights should be broadcast for the community to hear, but we'll just share a quick peek for your reading pleasure.

Dr. Burke and Epistemix CEO John Cordier demonstrated how the company is modeling the pandemic and building tools for policymakers to test an infinite number of hypotheticals, such as school closures, work sick days, vaccine deployment, or contact tracing strategies. As Cordier explains, "Austin is different than Dallas, which is different than El Paso. Each of these places, whether they're urban, suburban, or rural, they have different places and frequencies where people gather." 

Their platform FRED is an agent-based model that remixes real data to simulate a disease's spread through a synthetic population. Each "person" has distinct motivations and capacity for decisions and is mapped based on their demographics and daily behaviors. The geographically grounded tool has modeled measles, alcohol abuse, and opioid addiction, and now is at the epicenter of COVID-19 modeling. Epistemix is coming of age at a time when their product could mean life or death, and that pressure is equal parts overwhelming and exhilarating. "It's a very important moment in history to enable policy makers to make decisions, and there's this unprecedented urgency to provide a solution," add Cordier.

Dr. Burke is just the beginning of the Pittsburgh chain of innovators responding to the crisis. On June 30th, Liftoff in Motion hosted Gal Inbar, Israeli tech entrepreneur and founder of 412x972, an innovation connector, and on July 14th, Dr. Poh Shen Loh of Carnegie Mellon University's Mathematics department will discuss his ground-breaking NOVID app, which uses ultrasonic waves in an easy to use contact tracing app. He might just treat audiences to one of his interactive pandemic math lessons, broadcast live on YouTube.To register for upcoming speakers, please check out You can also watch full recordings of the sessions on our YouTube channel. 

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