Answering the call: Using artificial intelligence to fight the novel coronavirus

DALLAS (SMU) – It all started with a spring 2020 Zoom call; Logged into a conversation convened by the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, SMU’s Frederick Chang – chair of the Computer Science Department and Bobby B. Lyle Endowed Centennial Distinguished Chair in Cyber Security – was hearing about a variety of activities underway to battle the novel coronavirus. How could artificial intelligence and computer science at SMU join the fight, he wondered?

Chang brought together a volunteer team of students and faculty members to join a COVID-19 research challenge posted on the data science site Kaggle. Through the challenge, they have had access to more than 50,000 scientific papers made available via the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and a collection of research groups. Partnering with renowned Dedman College biologist John Wise, the team used natural language processing (a type of artificial intelligence) and SMU’s supercomputer, ManeFrame II, to begin mining the papers for data about previously studied coronaviruses. The team is now developing a search engine designed to facilitate Prof. Wise’s lab members search through the massive text database for vital nuggets of insight that may advance their research in discovering a COVID-19 therapy.

Forming an interdisciplinary team, the volunteers did the work in their spare time during the early months of disruption stemming from COVID-19. The students, Chang noted at the time, were eager to fill their hours in pandemic-driven isolation with the pursuit of something meaningful.

The work continues. “We have the opportunity to work on something larger than ourselves. We’re happy to do it,” Chang said.


About the Lyle School of Engineering
SMU’s Lyle School of Engineering, founded in 1925, is one of the oldest engineering schools in the Southwest. The school offers eight undergraduate and 29 graduate programs, including master’s and doctoral degrees, through the departments of Civil and Environmental Engineering; Computer Science; Electrical and Computer Engineering; Engineering Management, Information and Systems; and Mechanical Engineering. Lyle students participate in programs in the unique Deason Innovation Gym, providing the tools and space to work on immersion design projects and competitions to accelerate leadership development and the framework for innovation; the Hart Center for Engineering Leadership, helping students develop nontechnical skills to prepare them for leadership in diverse technical fields; the Caruth Institute for Engineering Education, developing new methodologies for incorporating engineering education into K-12 schools; the Linda and Mitch Hart Institute for Technology, Innovation and Entrepreneurship, combining the innovative forces of the Lyle School of Engineering and the Cox School of Business to integrate their expertise, resources and guidance to develop technology prototypes and create viable business plans; and the Hunter and Stephanie Hunt Institute for Engineering and Humanity, combining technological innovation with business expertise to address global poverty.