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UNB student part of national effort to track COVID-19 spread

Author: UNB Newsroom

Posted on Apr 8, 2020

Category: UNB Fredericton , myUNB

Xavier Hébert-CouturierAs the global outbreak of COVID-19 restricts travel around the world, UNB engineering student Xavier Hébert-Couturier is looking back on a 2017 trip that is now allowing him to help Canadians during the pandemic.

“In 2017 I went to Shad Saskatchewan, where I met many extremely talented and driven students from across Canada,” said Mr. Hébert-Couturier. “Recently, the president of FLATTEN, fellow Shad alumni Shrey Jain, put a call out on social media, looking for experience with certain online platforms. When I learned about the effort, I was impressed with the ambitious scope and vision, and knew I would love to be a part of it.”

FLATTEN is a not-for-profit online platform designed to help Canada monitor and slow the rate of infection of the 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19), a strategy known as flattening the curve. The crowdsourcing platform uses self-reporting to track symptomatic Canadians and generate a heatmap of the outbreak. So far, they’ve received more than 380,000 responses.

The project is led by University of Toronto student Shrey Jain, and more than 25 collaborators from across Canada are involved in the project. The multidisciplinary team is composed of engineering, computer science and molecular genetics students from the University of Toronto, the University of Waterloo, the University of New Brunswick and McMaster University, as well as advisors with related professional experience. The team of experts advising them includes Dr. Marzyeh Ghassemi, a University of Toronto faculty member, Canada CIFAR Artificial Intelligence (AI) chair and Canada Research Chair.

Mr. Hébert-Couturier saw an opportunity to use the skills and knowledge he’s developed in UNB’s software engineering program to contribute to an innovative platform that was contributing positively to Canadian society.

“I’ve spent three years learning and developing my skills in computing and software development, which allows me to contribute to interesting projects. I'm especially excited to be working on data science and cybersecurity-related tasks. I love to see technology leveraged to solve social problems, so I'm grateful to have the opportunity to help create a resource for Canadians during this time of uncertainty,” he said.

Dr. Paul J. Mazerolle, president and vice-chancellor of UNB, commended Mr. Hébert-Couturier for his participation, which he says represents an important role that universities play in their communities.

“Recent events have rapidly and significantly altered our world, creating new challenges that require ambitious vision and bold action to address. Mr. Hébert-Couturier’s participation in this project is illustrative of our university community’s ingenuity and passion for engaging with these challenges and for changing our world for the better,” said Dr. Mazerolle.

Mr. Hébert-Couturier is currently in the third year of his bachelor of science degree in software engineering, and plans on graduating in the next two years. The degree program is jointly offered by the faculty of computer science and the department of electrical and computer engineering. It is the only software engineering program in Atlantic Canada accredited by the Canadian Engineering Accreditation Board.

Community participation is key in making the project successful – and ultimately flattening the curve.

“I’d like to emphasize the importance of filling out the symptoms form periodically, to maximize the accuracy and usefulness of the data,” added Mr. Hébert-Couturier.

The FLATTEN project can be found at flatten.ca.

Media contact: Jeremy Elder-Jubelin