Timmins grad student designs COVID info site to dispel misinformation
Published Thursday, February 11, 2021 10:47AM EST Last Updated Thursday, February 11, 2021 1:00PM EST
TIMMINS -- A pair of graduate students from the University of Toronto (U of T) has been working to dispel misinformation around COVID-19 and its variants through a visually-focused website called SciForAll.
PhD candidate Amir Arellano Saab felt the vast amount of information surrounding the virus has been confusing people and partially driving false claims — and wanted to find a simpler way to explain what COVID-19 is and how it works.
"I thought, why don't we take all this information and we make it accessible, we translate it into words that people will understand," Saab said.
He received funding from the university and a federally funded global issues organization called TakingITGlobal, as part of an initiative to spread accurate information about the virus.
He recruited Katrina Hass from Timmins, who is pursuing her master's degree in biomedicine communication at U of T, to design the website and take people on a visual scientific journey.
Her goal was to use simple visuals to showcase the building blocks of the coronavirus — most recently looking to answer questions about the COVID-19 variants through an infographic.
"What is a variant? Why are there multiple variants? And how is this different from the original COVID strain," Hass said about the questions addressed in the graphic. "What you should be concerned about? And then what you can do to combat them?"
The infographic describes and illustrates two variants, the B.1.1.7., first found in the UK, and B.1.351., which originated in South Africa. It also explains how they mutated from the original strain and whether they are more dangerous.
The website details the building blocks of the coronavirus, the public health measures needed to protect yourself and a 'Kid's Zone' to break down COVID-19 for children.
The duo has enlisted a team of scientists to help with the accuracy of the information, as well as scientific language translators to help make the website more globally accessible.
One of their scientific advisors, Peter Stogios, said the website is one of the most easily digestible sources of COVID-19 information he's seen, comparing it to visual content produced by the New York Times.
"Having a graphical representation of what's happening with the coronavirus and the biology behind it, I thought it was unique and really effective," said Stogios, a senior researcher at U of T's faculty of applied science and engineering.
Hass said her greatest challenge in designing the website was breaking down the structure of the coronavirus step-by-step, without confusing readers.
She designed interactive elements that let readers click on different parts of the virus and wanted to make sure people remember each of the different virus proteins and structures as they explore the site.
"Each of them have kind of like their own function and their own story to tell," Hass said. "Making sure that, if you go to one page and then the other page that you understand how that story flows."
The team's goal is to make the website and its COVID-19 variants infographic available in multiple languages and continue updating the website with the latest information about the virus.
Saab has ambitions for SciForAll to eventually become an information source on different scientific topics and help drive solutions to other global issues through the science of structural biology.
"We can use the same science to study and to solve agricultural problems ... antibiotic resistance, for example," Saab said. "There are many cool things that we can do with structural biology, so I hope this website will evolve into that at some point."