Two college students approach a nurse in a hospital in Taiwan, unsure of what to do. She deftly reads their hesitation, then puts them to work rolling bandages and dispensing medication. Hard at work, they start asking questions about the flu epidemic currently tearing through the hospital. After talking to the nurse about the rate of infection, glancing at some infographics about herd immunity, and making notes, these budding student epidemiologists walk about 100 feet to arrive in Argentina.
Like the geography, this flu epidemic isn’t real, but rather part of an immersive learning experience we’ve created called Flu vs. You. Participants work through the same processes that real epidemiologists work through, conducting field research and formulating vaccines. On October 3, 2019, NCSE’s local volunteers led our Flu vs You program at San Francisco’s Exploratorium museum for an after-hours event for adults. After a briefing, participants visit five countries with epidemics, talking to actors playing roles like patient, doctor, and ambulance driver to understand the dynamics of each outbreak.Then they return to a “lab” where they use antigenic assays and genetic sequencing to create a viable flu vaccine.The experience provides a hands-on way to understand viral evolution and epidemiological models and gain insight into a topic about which misconceptions abound.