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BlueDot’s blueprints

Toronto, October 24, 2016

By Geoff Koehler

Dr. Kamran Khan and his team use big data to track disease spread and impact
Dr. Kamran Khan, an infectious disease specialist and scientist with St. Michael’s, and his team use big data to track disease spread and impact. They’ve redesigned their space to meet research and business needs. (Photo Katie Cooper)

BlueDot draws on big data such as global weather patterns from satellites and worldwide airline ticket sales to create predictive models of where, when and how an outbreak will spread. As BlueDot’s staff move fluidly through their newly designed space, their activity resembles the flight-patterns they use to track pandemics.

Dr. Kamran Khan, an infectious disease specialist and scientist with St. Michael’s Hospital, is the founder of BlueDot. He and his team worked closely with an external consultant to redesign the company’s new space on the third floor of the Keenan Research Centre.

“While planning this space with Research Facilities, we learned that many organizations can’t hire because they have no space for employees to work, yet 10-20 per cent of those spaces are unoccupied every day,” said Dr. Khan. “We wanted to use the space as efficiently as possible, so we moved away from the notion of each team member having a dedicated desk. If I’m not working here, I’m going to pick up my stuff and the space is available for someone else to use.”

A large communal table has a sheet of glass over a map of the world - an ideal place to write notes about outbreaks and events happening around the world each day.

The walls marking the divide between BlueDot and the Centre for Urban Health Solutions are wooden topographical maps, built to scale of regions across the globe. All of the wood, including the communal table and desks, were machine-cut from digital files created by the BlueDot design team, which Dr. Khan said significantly reduced the cost.

Lockers where staff can store their personal belongings are named after different pathogens from the Anaplasma bacterium to Zika virus.

   
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Each workstation’s desk is a hub for activity, but also a conversation piece. Every work table is engraved with a location of historic significance to a particular infectious disease, such as Ross River in Queensland, Australia, where the Ross River virus was isolated in 1959.

While many elements of the space playfully give nods to the nature of their work, the reimagined space is also outfitted with a Deep Think Room — where phone calls and conversations aren’t allowed — for employees to put their head down and work in a quiet space. All four walls in BlueDot’s War Room are white boards, where the group will be free to work and produce collaborative ideas.

“What we’re doing lies at the crossroads of medicine, engineering, computing, data science, design and business so we needed a space that was going to allow all of those interactions to occur in a fluid way,” said Dr. Khan. “Being in our new space at St. Michael’s fosters real innovation by blending an academic culture of discovery with the pragmatism of industry. In our new space we’re right at home.”

About St. Michael's Hospital

St. Michael’s Hospital provides compassionate care to all who enter its doors. The hospital also provides outstanding medical education to future health care professionals in 27 academic disciplines. Critical care and trauma, heart disease, neurosurgery, diabetes, cancer care, care of the homeless and global health are among the hospital’s recognized areas of expertise. Through the Keenan Research Centre and the Li Ka Shing International Healthcare Education Centre, which make up the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, research and education at St. Michael's Hospital are recognized and make an impact around the world. Founded in 1892, the hospital is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto.