University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Press Release

UWM physicists’ to use their unique tool to improve neonatal health

With grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation researchers pinpoint the moment of conception

By - Dec 16th, 2016 10:13 am
UWM Union. Photo by Dave Reid.

UWM Union. Photo by Dave Reid.

MILWAUKEE_Knowing exactly when an expectant mother conceived saves lives. And not just during pregnancy, but for many years after childbirth. This makes uncertainty in the time of conception a major risk factor in neonatal health.

But mothers often don’t know when they conceived, and their best estimates can be weeks off.

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee will use an algorithm they created to shrink the uncertainty of weeks down to days, or even hours. The project is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The mathematical approach, devised by UWM physicists Abbas Ourmazd and Russell Fung and published in the journal Nature, can reduce timing uncertainty by a factor of up to 300.

The computer algorithm works by extracting a weak “arrow of time” from noisy data with highly inaccurate time stamps. Think of it as restoring the initial sequence of a deck of cards after it has been heavily shuffled.

The algorithm was originally devised to make movies of ultrafast chemical bond-breaking in molecules, said Ourmazd, but could have many applications.

The data for application to neonatal health will come from the foundation’s collection of global statistics on the health of mothers and babies during, and for many years after, pregnancy.

“It is a privilege to use the algorithm we originally developed for fundamental science to help improve people’s health everywhere, particularly in developing nations,” said Ourmazd, a UWM distinguished professor of physics.

About UWM 

Recognized as one of the nation’s 115 top research universities, UW-Milwaukee provides a world-class education to 26,000 students from 89 countries on a budget of $667 million. Its 14 schools and colleges include Wisconsin’s only schools of architecture, freshwater sciences and public health, and it is a leading educator of nurses and teachers. UW-Milwaukee partners with leading companies to conduct joint research, offer student internships and serve as an economic engine for southeastern Wisconsin. The Princeton Review named UW-Milwaukee a 2017 “Best Midwestern” university based on overall academic excellence and student reviews, as well as a top “Green College.”

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