Frontiers of Science lecture series continues Feb. 19

A free public lecture titled "On the Eve of Eradication? Outbreak Dynamics and Vaccine Policy in the Developing World" will take place from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Feb. 19 in room 100 of the Thomas Building on the University Park campus. The lecture, part of this year's Penn State Lectures on the Frontiers of Science series, will be delivered by Matthew Ferrari, assistant professor of biology at Penn State. This will be the fifth of six lectures in the series, which takes place on consecutive Saturday mornings. It is not necessary to register for the event.

During his talk, Ferrari will give a guided tour of the latest research efforts to rid the Earth of infectious diseases through coordinated, global vaccinations. He will discuss why no human pathogen has been eliminated since smallpox, despite significant advances in technologies for the development and delivery of vaccines. In particular, he will show how the interactions between populations and disease pathogens for measles and meningitis create both biological and logistical challenges to the ultimate eradication of these diseases.

Ferrari's research investigates how differences in interactions among individual organisms, including plants, wildlife and humans, result in patterns that can be detected at the population level due to such factors such as the organisms' age, sex or location. He investigates how the movements of individuals generates disease patterns at the population level, how the statistical methods he is developing can overcome problems in using incomplete data sets as effective public-health tools and how simple models can be used to inform public-health decision making in the developing world.

In collaboration with Medecins Sans Frontiers and the World Health Organization, Ferrari is investigating local and regional dynamics of annual measles epidemics in developing countries -- with particular focus on Niger, Nigeria, and Malawi -- in order to recommend measles-vaccination strategies to minimize illness and death. He is using statistical analysis and epidemic models to investigate large-scale patterns of measles cases, the nature of seasonal measles outbreaks at the regional level, and local differences in how measles outbreaks can be predicted and managed. Ferrari's research in global public health also includes locally relevant, data-driven models that predict disease dynamics in a changing world.

Ferrari's research also includes projects at the interface between agricultural and natural systems. A recent project for example, concerns the foraging behavior of cucumber beetles on a wild gourd, and the consequent transmission of a bacterial pathogen from the beetle to the gourd.

In 2006, Ferrari received an Outstanding Graduate Student Award from the Penn State Department of Biology. He also was a Braddock Graduate Scholar at Penn State from 2002 to 2004. He has published numerous papers in peer-reviewed scientific journals, and he has been an invited speaker at several conferences and workshops throughout the United States and in South Africa.

Before being appointed an assistant professor of biology in 2010, Ferrari had been a research associate since 2007 and a postdoctoral researcher from 2006 to 2007 at the Center for Infectious Disease Dynamics and the Department of Biology at Penn State. He earned a doctoral degree in ecology at Penn State in 2006, a master's degree in statistics at Montana State University in 2002, a master's degree in fish and wildlife management at Montana State University in 1999, and a bachelor's degree in biology at Colby College in 1996.

The Penn State Lectures on the Frontiers of Science is a program of the Penn State Eberly College of Science that is designed for the enjoyment and education of residents of the Central Pennsylvania area and beyond. The 2011 series features Penn State faculty members in the Eberly College of Science and the College of Agricultural Sciences who participate in collaborative research in Penn State's Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences. For more information or access assistance, contact the Eberly College of Science Office of Media Relations and Public Information by telephone at 814-863-0901 or by e-mail at More information about the Penn State Lectures on the Frontiers of Science, including archived recordings of previous lectures and a list of other lectures in the 2011 series, is on the Web at

Last Updated March 21, 2011