For those who consider advanced mathematics a strictly academic pursuit, David Gerberry’s research comes to a completely different, and extremely useful, conclusion. Gerberry creates and analyzes mathematical models of biological processes and diseases. In one project, he and four colleagues set up models to see how HIV spreads through populations in South Africa.
Their models showed the epidemic is concentrated in geographical “hot zones.” Targeting prevention efforts in those zones could prevent 40 percent more infections than spreading efforts equally across the entire country—and be 40 percent more cost-effective, a crucial consideration when fighting a scourge like HIV.
The research was published in the scientific journal Nature Communications and was an editor’s pick in Science magazine. For Gerberry, it illustrates how math and science can solve some of the planet’s biggest problems. “When we set up models for these infectious diseases, it translates into physical results,” says Gerberry, who came to Xavier in 2012. “It’s nice to show this is where math, chemistry and biology play together. They’re separate courses in college but they work together in real life.”
Gerberry, a graduate of Youngstown State University, earned his PhD at Purdue University, where he became intrigued with the modeling of infectious diseases. At Xavier, he teaches all different levels of math and also helps students in the Philosophy, Politics and the Public program map election results.
“At Xavier, we have a really close relationship between departments, and people have been really open to collaborating,” he says.
Gerberry also spoke about mathematical modeling of the Ebola virus to freshmen to show how medicine and math can complement their studies. He encouraged them to consider hard questions like what’s more effective, new treatment centers or a vaccine? Determining the most cost-effective treatment is a huge step in solving some of the world’s most challenging diseases, and math is an essential part of it.