Hormel Institute Scientist Receives $19,000 Venn Foundation Grant to  Develop Data Analysis Platform

David Guinovart, PhD, Assistant Professor at The Hormel Institute, University of Minnesota, is the recipient of a two-year, $19,000 grant from the Venn Foundation. The grant will support a project to develop a user-friendly, web-based platform for data analysis and simulation using SIR models that can benefit researchers, policymakers, business managers, educators, and students alike to support learning and decision-making.

SIR models are tools used to understand how things spread — not only diseases like the flu, but also information or trends. In these models, individuals are grouped into three categories:

1. Susceptible (S): People who haven't caught the disease or heard the information yet.
2. Infected (I): Those who have the disease or know the information and can spread it.
3. Recovered (R): People who have recovered from the disease or no longer spread the

By tracking how people move between these groups, SIR models help predict how quickly a disease or a piece of information will spread. This is useful in planning public health strategies or understanding how ideas or trends catch on in a society.

One of the primary goals of this project is to make SIR models more accessible to a broader audience, regardless of technical expertise — which will help to advance understanding and predicting the dynamics of various systems, such as disease spread, information diffusion, environmental changes, and consumer behavior.

By offering a platform that simplifies this process, the Guinovart lab’s research will help support current researchers and enable newcomers to engage with these models more efficiently. This is especially beneficial for experts who can now extract more information to visualize and forecast trends without deep technical knowledge.

“This democratization of complex models will enable more researchers and practitioners, including public health, sociology, marketing, and environmental studies, to conduct data-driven science,” said Dr. Guinovart.

“The versatility of our platform is crucial; it can handle various scenarios and datasets, making it an invaluable tool for diverse scientific domains,” Dr. Guinovart continued. “Whether it’s forepidemiologists tracking disease spread, sociologists studying social behaviors, or marketers analyzing consumer trends, our tool provides a unique opportunity to understand and predict complex systems with greater ease and accuracy. This research, therefore, holds the potential to revolutionize how we approach and solve problems across multiple fields, making sophisticated data analysis more accessible and actionable.”

The interactive, user-friendly nature of these simplified models will also be helpful for teaching and learning purposes.

“The educational component of our platform will foster a deeper understanding of these models among users, potentially inspiring further innovation in the field,” said Dr. Guinovart. “This could lead to more accurate and effective strategies in public health, better marketing campaigns, more informed policy-making, and greater awareness of social dynamics. Ultimately, the widespread use of our platform could contribute to a more knowledgeable and prepared society capable of responding more effectively to challenges ranging from epidemics to social changes.”

The funding from this grant will facilitate the transition from MATLAB (a programming language) to this more accessible and versatile web-based application, which requires skilled programming, design enhancements, and domain hosting, among other advancements. The lab intends to include a variety of both traditional and novel SIR models to serve diverse needs across fields such as epidemiology, sociology, ecology, and more.

“Upon completion, our project will not just be a research tool, but also a comprehensive decision-support system for business managers, educators, and policymakers. It will offer insights into complex dynamics, such as market trends, educational outreach, and public health strategies. This wide-ranging applicability and the potential for educational involvement make our project a tool for today's challenges and a platform for nurturing the next generation of scientists and decision-makers.”