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Professor Omayra Ortega Colloquium – Celebrating Black in Physical Sciences Series

April 22 @ 11:00 am - 12:00 pm

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This is part of the “Celebrating Black in Physical Sciences Colloquium Series” organized by the UCI School of Physical Sciences Office of Access, Outreach and Inclusion where we invite prominent Black physical scientists and mathematicians to share their research with the community and also allows us the opportunity to celebrate their accomplishments. The colloquium series will feature speakers in each of the four department areas.

About the Speaker:
Omayra Y. Ortega is an assistant professor of mathematics & statistics at Sonoma State University in Sonoma County, California. She earned her Ph.D. (2008) and an M.S. (2005) in applied mathematics and computational sciences from the University of Iowa, where she also was awarded her Masters of Public Health. She earned a B.A. in music and in pure mathematics from Pomona College in 2001.

​Dr. Ortega has directed the Mathematical Epidemiology Research Group (MERG), an undergraduate research group, since 2007. Her scholarly interests reflect her expertise in mathematics: mathematical and computational biology, mathematical epidemiology in developing countries, infectious disease epidemiology, and the participation of women and minorities in sciences. Regarding the latter, she has organized an annual Sonia Kovalesky High School Mathematics Day at several institutions including the University of Iowa, ASU’s West campus, Pomona College, and Sonoma State University in recognition of the day’s namesake, Sonia Kovalevsky, who was one of the first woman to receive a Ph.D. in mathematics.

Dr. Ortega is currently the President of the National Association of Mathematicians Inc. (NAM), a non-profit professional organization in the mathematical sciences with a mission and purpose of promoting excellence in the mathematical sciences and promoting the mathematical development of all underrepresented minorities. She previously served as the editor of the NAM newsletter and was one of the NAM contributors to the MAA Math Values Blog.

In her free time Dr. Ortega enjoys the outdoors and the fiber arts.


Researchers have used mathematical modeling to characterize and understand both localized outbreaks of measles and the current Covid-19 pandemic. Two important notions in mathematical epidemiology are the basic reproductive number of a disease and the disease-free equilibrium. With a basic reproduction number between 12 -18, measles is a highly infectious disease that quickly spreads throughout a population once introduced. However, the lifelong immunity developed by those who recover from measles as well as the development of modern vaccinations give hope to the idea that modern measles outbreaks will inevitably reach a disease-free equilibrium. I will present a model of measles and a model developed for COVID-19 using a system of ordinary differential equations following the natural history of the infection. The virus that causes COVID-19 is a new coronavirus that has spread from person-to-person and has spread throughout the world. COVID-19 symptoms can range from mild (or no symptoms) to severe illness. The model uniquely incorporates the behavior of susceptible and symptomatic individuals. The results show the possibility of multiple waves and the importance of incentivizing self-isolation as a means to reduce disease transmission. Additional discussion of the disproportionate burden of coronavirus on traditionally underserved groups will be shared as a call to action to study this current pandemic.