Tracking a Pandemic

Alessandro Zulli is a doctoral student in chemical engineering. During the COVID-19 pandemic, he and colleagues analyzed wastewater to predict outbreaks of the virus up to a week sooner.

Alessandro Zulli ’26 PhD
Alessandro Zulli ’26 PhD
Alessandro Zulli ’26 PhD
Alessandro Zulli ’26 PhD

When the SARS-CoV-2 virus caused a global pandemic, PhD candidate Alessandro Zulli began to apply his research in chemical engineering to tracking outbreaks of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. “I had already been focused on viral populations,” Alessandro says. “I had worked on the prevalence of different respiratory viruses, including coronaviruses, and the likelihood of catching them in various environments.”

Alessandro studies under Jordan Peccia, the Thomas E. Golden, Jr. Professor of Chemical and Environmental Engineering. Since March 2020, Peccia’s lab has been testing wastewater to determine disease rates in local populations, and Alessandro is part of the team that helps track the virus’s spread. Their methods can detect outbreaks up to seven days before the same pattern is reported by in-person testing data, and their work has informed Connecticut’s state guidelines during the pandemic.

“This is exactly what I want to be doing,” Alessandro says. “Academia exists for situations where information is scarce and contradictory, like the emergence of a new virus. I want to add to the growing body of knowledge on the subject.”

Alessandro sees this work as part of a broader responsibility towards society. “I’m a firm believer that it’s part of our job as researchers to contribute where we can to societal problems, like COVID. With my background and interests, I’m in a unique position to help.”

As this vital effort continues, Alessandro is grateful for the resources of Yale’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. All students at the Graduate School receive full funding, enabling them to focus on their education. “This experience has significantly contributed to what I will do across my career,” Alessandro says. “The support of donors allows us to do these cutting-edge things. Yale is one of the few places where this work can happen.”

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