Cleo Falvey – REU Experience

Hi! I’m Cleo and I’m a senior at the University of Massachusetts Boston studying Biology and Mathematics. This summer, I participated in the Interdisciplinary Computational Biology REU program at the University of Tennessee Chattanooga, analyze the spread of the SARS-COV-2 under the guidance of Dr. Hong Qin and Dr. Menjun Xie.

Working with a team of several students, my REU research centers around the coronavirus pandemic and uses cutting-edge computational methods to investigate how weather, social distancing, and the mutations of the virus itself could influence the outcome of the pandemic. More specifically, my project involved utilizing real-time epidemiology data from Johns Hopkins to estimate R0, the growth rate number that indicates whether the epidemic is shrinking or growing, and correlating it with the mobility data reports from Apple and Google showing how individuals changed their behavior as a result of the social distancing measures implemented. Lastly, we investigated how weather conditions might influence the transmission of the coronavirus. The R0, social distancing, and temperature variables allowed us to create multiple regression analyses to discover the effects of public health measures to contain the virus.

Although the results are still in progress, I created several graphs to illustrate the change in movement: Indeed, one of the most striking results was how quickly America locked down to contain the virus’ spread, decreasing overall movement by up to 50% in the first week of March as schools, businesses, restaurants, and stores closed.

One of the most valuable takeaways from this experience was not only being able to learn more about methodology at the intersection of epidemiology and computational biology, but the ability to analyze real-time and incredibly relevant data. It was fascinating to study the impacts of the virus on individuals’ activity levels and see similar reports on the news and on television. Studying the pandemic, I felt I was able to make a positive contribution while still safely social distancing.

Although the REU was virtual rather than in-person due to the pandemic and restrictions on travelling and gathering in large groups, I was still able to create productive relationships with the other members of my cohort. I participated in a trivia night and game night over video calls and I was able to connect with other students across the country who were also incredibly passionate about computational biology!

This summer was highly unusual due to extenuating circumstances. However, the REU investigative team at the University of Tennessee Chattanooga made the best of a challenging situation and provided an awesome, engaging, and informative research experience!


1. This image shows a drastic drop in movement showing what mobility looked like before social distancing and during social distancing across the country.

transit % change
mobility transit data

2. This image shows the REU cohort on Zoom.

bio reu cohort