Lauren Gardner Wins the $250,000 Lasker-Bloomberg Public Service Award for 2022

Lauren Gardner, the Alton and Sandra Cleveland Professor in the School of Engineering at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, has received the 2022 Lasker~Bloomberg Public Service Award from the Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation. The award includes a $250,000 honorarium. Dr. Garnder was honored for creating the Covid-19 Dashboard, which set a new standard for disseminating authoritative public health data in real time.

Professor Gardner, trained as a transportation engineer, studies how people’s behavior, among other factors, influences disease transmission. On January 21, 2020, she met with graduate student Ensheng Dong to discuss how vaccine hesitancy was driving measles risk. He mentioned that he had been tracking cases of the disease now known as Covid-19 back home in China. Realizing that the situation posed an unusual opportunity to follow an infectious disease outbreak from the beginning, they decided to collect data and make it accessible through an intuitive and interactive interface.

At first, the dashboard displayed only cases; two weeks later, the scientists added deaths and recoveries. Eventually, they included other variables such as testing, hospitalization — and vaccines too, after those became available. At the beginning, Dr. Gardner and her students updated the database around the clock, as they became aware of new cases, but as the outbreak exploded into a pandemic, this system became unsustainable. Gardner’s research group at the Center for Systems Science and Engineering and another team that she leads at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory wrote computer programs to automatically “scrape” data from a wide variety of sources.

As of July 2022, these computer programs are harvesting numbers of cases, deaths, and vaccinations every hour from more than 3,500 locations—down to the county level in the U.S. By early 2022, the dashboard had been queried hundreds of billions of times.

“It’s been an exceptional experience to play such an integral role in keeping the world informed during a global public health crisis, and perhaps equally important, changing the expectations around public access to data and information,” Dr. Gardner said.

Prior to joining the faculty at Johns Hopkins University in 2019, Dr. Gardner was a senior lecturer in civil engineering at the University of New South Wales in Australia. She holds a bachelor’s degree in architectural engineering, a master’s degree in civil engineering, and a Ph.D. in transportation engineering from the University of Texas at Austin.

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