Ann Stanley Mathematical Modeling of the AIDS Epidemic

AIDS is one of the most serious health crises facing the world today. More than one million people are infected with the AIDS virus in the United States alone. In the third world, the situation is even more grim. In some African villages, one-third of the adults have died from the disease. With no cure or effective treatments in sight, it is imperative that the mechanisms of the spread of the disease be understood and
controlled.

Mathematical models of epidemics have been in use for decades. However, modeling the AIDS epidemic poses new challenges, for AIDS spreads differently than most epidemics. Together with her colleagues, mathematician Ann Stanley has developed new mathematical methods for modeling the spread of AIDS. This work has resulted in more realistic and reliable models for charting the course of the epidemic.

Over the last few years, Ann developed the mathematics behind a large demographic model initiated by the U.S. State Department to study the spread of AIDS in third-world countries. “I developed all the mathematical equations in the model, and I made a lot of decisions about which processes would be modeled,” Ann explains. “I collaborated with another researcher who solved the equations on the computer and integrated the results with real-world data.” The model can be used to investigate such questions as how the use of condoms could affect the spread of AIDS. Recently, on the strength of predictions from this model, the President of Uganda decided to reverse that country’s ban on public advertising of condoms.

Ann grew up in Mesa, Arizona, where she attended Westwood High School. Her father was a metallurgy professor at Arizona State University, and her mother worked as an analytical chemist before having children. Ann finished her bachelor’s degree in engineering mathematics and went on to the California Institute of Technology, earning her doctorate in applied mathematics in 1985. “I was the second woman to get a PhD in applied mathematics at Caltech,” she says. Often she was the only woman in her classes, but “it never bothered me too much. Maybe I was naive, in retrospect, but I just forged ahead… I never felt I got special treatment, and I never felt I got put down.” Before coming to Iowa State University in 1990, Ann worked for six years at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Ann believes women have a perspective on the world that could prove very useful as science and mathematics are brought to bear on increasingly complex problems. “I’ve seen a real surge of women in mathematics, and I think it’s a great thing.”

This brochure was published in 1991, so some information may be out-of-date.