The Face of Science during COVID-19: A call to personal action!

This page is based on the collaborative effort of Mayur Khandelwal, Elena Li, Janet Miller, Matthew Seery, and Brian von Kosky for the Australian Computer Society (ACS) Flatten the Curve Hackathon held on 10-11 April 2020.

A hackathon is an event in which teams work on a focused project, usually over an intensive 48 hour period and leading to a minimum viable product.

Exponential Growth – Like doubling grains of rice on a chess board

An image of a chess board with the number of grains in successive squares doubling.
Image Source: McGeddon (2016)

Why are people worried about COVID-19? Consider this thought experiment. How much rice would you need if you doubled the number of grains of rice on successive squares of a chessboard? Put one grain of rice on the first square, two on the next, four on the one after that, and so on. In the end, there would be 9,223,372,036,854,775,808 grains of rice in the last square. There would be 18,446,744,073,709,551,615 grains of rice on the chessboard in total. Now that’s a lot of rice!

Don’t believe it? Check the math for yourself in the table below.


So what does this mean for COVID-19? If one infected person infects two others, and each of them infects two others, and so on and so on and so on, then a lot of people end up getting infected. This is why the authorities are worried. Rather than being frightened, though, take action and responsibility to safeguard your health, and that of your family, neighbors, and vulnerable people in the community. This site will help you to do so!


Hutchens, Gareth (2020) The exponential growth of coronavirus can be explained by rice on a chessboard, And we should be worried. ABC News. Accessed 5 April 2020. /coronavirus-exponential-growth-explained-by-rice-on-a-chessboard/12122214

McGeddon (2016) Wheat and chessboard problem.jpg. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International License. Accessed 10 April 2020. /wiki/File:Wheat_and_chessboard_problem.jpg

Computer Models in Simple Terms and What They Mean for Me

Computer programs have been written to project how a disease will progress in the community. These programs consider the rate at which people become infected from contact with someone who already has the disease. Social distancing limits contact, and therefore reduces the spread of disease within the community.

There is some uncertainty regarding how long someone remains sick or infected and sheds virus, which is considered in such models.

You can try varying these features for COVID-19 by changing values in the scrollbars below. After you’ve had a chance to explore this, consider the following questions from a personal point of view:

  • If everyone in the community practiced social distancing the way I do, what would be the outcome of the disease?
  • If everyone in the community practiced social distancing the opposite of the way I do, what would be the overall outcome?
  • If I’ve been sick, should I stay at home even after I’m feeling better, given the uncertainty of how long I might be contagious?

The SIR Model of infectious disease (Hill, 2016; Winther, 2019) shown here enables you to “flatten the curve” using a computer model to change significant values related to disease progression.

This computer model uses the Susceptible-Infected-Removed (SIR) approach to model the spread of contagious infections. The value of beta is the rate at which Susceptible (S) individuals become infected. Move the beta scrollbar to the left to flatten the curve and see the impact when the community practices social distancing. The gamma value is the rate at which Infected (I) individuals are Removed (R), either because they have died or have recovered and become immune to further infection. Gamma is related to the number of days that individuals tend to remain infectious and are shedding virus.

If you have the mathematical skills and would like to peek “under the hood”, see the excellent video by Oxford Mathematician Dr Tom Crawford (2020), which provides the details of how SIR models COVID-19.

Unfortunately, there is no “magic slider” to flatten the curve. Flattening the curve will require you and all of your neighbors to take action. Read on to see what you can do!


Hill, Christian (2016) Chapter 8: SciPy, Additional Examples, The SIR epidemic Model in Learning Scientific Programming with Python is published by Cambridge University Press (ISBN: 9781107428225) Accessed 9 April 2020.

Tom Rocks Maths (2020) Oxford Mathematician explains SIR disease model for COVID-19 (Coronavirus). Tom Rocks Maths. Accessed 10 April 2020.

Winther, Greg (2019) Implementing a SIR Disease model in Python. Accessed 9 April 2020.

Decisions Based on What’s Going On in my Neighborhood

Having access to information helps me to make informed decisions.
Using the data from the map below, consider these questions and their impact on your behavior:

  • If my area has a large number of cases, what actions should I take to safeguard myself and my family?
  • If my area has relatively few cases, what can I do to keep it that way?

Hover your mouse over the marker to see infection rates in your neighborhood and for nearby communities. This map has COVID-19 data current as of 10 April 2020 that was from the New South Wales Government (2020).

Other dashboards provide localized infection data. See for example the excellent work by the University of Sydney (2020).


New South Wales Government (2020) NSW COVID-19 data. Accessed 19 April 2020.

University of Sydney (2020) NSW COVID-19 Cases and Community Profile by The University of Sydney. Accessed19 April 2020.

Personal Stories with Strategies and Resources

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1.5 Meters of Distance

Amy is an avid hiker. Hiking not only provides exercise, but getting close to nature helps her manage stress and keeps things in perspective. Social distancing is impossible on a narrow trail when passing other hikers. Amy will commit to walking in her neighborhood instead where she can stay 1.5 feet from others on the path.


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Do Not Gather

Mary is a teenager. She enjoys spending time with her friends. They often go to the mall or hang out and listen to music. During quarantine Mary does not gather with friends, so instead she meets with them remotely on the internet or telephone.


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Wash Hands

Kalinda is a single mother of three children. They live in a rural community. The community has been quarantined and open only to community residents in order to reduce Sars CoV 2 transmission from outside. There are nurses and small medical clinics available in this area but doctors are available mostly using telemedicine options. A severe COVID-19 illness would require air transport to a hospital. Kalinda teaches her children how to properly wash their hands.


Man in face mask
Image source: (c) Janet Miller, 2020. Used with permission.

Wear a Face Mask

Joe is taking care of his elderly mother, Mae. Since Mae is at an age with increased risk for COVID-19 serious illness, it is important that he doesn’t expose her to the virus. While out doing essential errands like shopping for food, wearing a face mask will help reduce the risk of Sars CoV 2 exposure. Joe makes his own face mask to cover his nose and mouth while out running essential errands.


Man mopping floor
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Wash and Disinfect Surfaces

Caleb is an essential worker.  His partner, Wayne, has COPD. Wayne’s lung condition increases his risk of severe illness with COVID-19. Caleb and Wayne regularly wash and disinfect surfaces, door knobs and other frequently touched surfaces in their home.


Man stocking pantry
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Keep a Supply of Food and Medicine

Blake has diabetes and high blood pressure. His health conditions increase his risk of respiratory complications due to COVID 19. Blake is keeping a 2-week food supply and 30 days of medication on hand to minimize his essential trips to the market and pharmacy. When he must make essential trips for food and medication, he wears a mask over his nose and mouth.


Woman at the office
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Make a Plan

Andrea is a young professional. She lives close to her parents who are retired, and to her cousins who are essential workers. During the quarantine, Andrea is able to remotely work from home. Andrea, her parents, and her cousins have a plan. Their plan is made in case one of the households become ill with the COVID-19 virus. This plan details how this family network will safely supply groceries, supplies and medication to the infected household as well as who will provide care to sick individuals.


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Stay Home

Martha is a successful entrepreneur. She has a comfortable life in the city and a country home. She enjoys frequent vacations. She would like to travel now, but stays home to stop the spread of COVID-19.


Man exercising
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Manage Stress

Kenneth is a nonessential gig worker. Quarantine has impacted his income. Ken is stressed about the COVID-19 epidemic. To take care of his health and minimize anxiety, Ken takes breaks from the news, meditates regularly, eats a healthy diet and gets physical activity daily.


Image Source: (c) Janet Miller, 2020. Used with permission.

Stay Away from Others When Sick

Jared is sick. He has a cough, shortness of breath, and a fever. When he coughs he coughs into his elbow. He stays at home and away from other people, and he calls his doctor.


Strategies Shared by Members of the Personal Face of Science Community

There have been 7 strategies to flatten the curve that have been shared by members of the Personal Face of Science community.

Scroll through the strategies and see the empowering ideas of our community!

User: Matthew Moore
Date: 2020-04-23 00:11:31
Strategy: Staying at home and limiting contact with others.

User: Janet Miller
Date: 2020-04-22 16:06:47
Strategy: I like to hike, but instead of narrow trails, I walk neighborhood streets where I can stay at least 6 feet from other walkers. To minimize grocery store visits, I make a weekly menu which informs my shopping list and ensures that I have what I need on hand. In addition to wearing a mask while on an essential errand, I make use of alcohol based hand sanitizers when available on essential errands and I wash my hands as soon as I return from an essential errand. I connect with others virtually to stay socially connected while personally distancing. I have attended virtual yoga classes at home to remain active and manage stress.

User: John Venable
Date: 2020-04-22 07:08:46
Strategy: My wife and I keep contact with friends by meeting for a picnic - but at a distance. If you go to a park, it's easy to sit 2-4 metres away from friends in a small enough group - e.g. my wife and me and another couple - and still be close enough to talk. It's even technology-free!

User: Elena Li
Date: 2020-04-21 09:27:53
Strategy: I stay connected with friends and other students through video or audio calls and I attend virtual events to balance my social life. I only go out for essential errands (currently, to shop grocery and exercise), during which I maintain at least 1.5 meters distance from other people. I also wear masks when I am in supermarkets and I wash my hands frequently.

User: Brian von Konsky
Date: 2020-04-21 08:11:29
Strategy: This is test of 1.5 meters and cleaning frequently

User: James Kent
Date: 2020-04-21 04:25:01
Strategy: Keep washing my hands and keep practising appropriate social distancing measures.

User: Brian von Konsky
Date: 2020-04-17 08:37:18
Strategy: I've hosted a few "Online Games Nights" for our friends and family. It's been great fun. We use Google Hangouts to share the game board and to see each other. We've got software from Jackbox Games that lets each player enter their moves on their personal device. Loads of fun!

Take the Pledge and Share Your Personal Strategy to Flatten the Curve

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Let’s learn from each other, and work together to flatten the curve!

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