Month: August 2014

3D printing a contact matrix in 3 easy steps

A contact matrix is a representation of contacts between individuals. For instance, in order to model the spread of rumors on social media, you ideally have to rely on contact matrices to compute the strength of bonds between types of individual agents. In the infectious disease world, a contact matrix is used to approximate contacts between individuals, e.g. between grand-parents and grand-children.

In this blog post, after a short explanation of POLYMOD contact matrices, I will show how to get the data, process it and 3D print these matrices. Ready?

1. Finding contact matrices

The most used contact matrices in epidemiological modelling are coming from the POLYMOD study, published by Mossong et al. in 2008. The study is a population-based prospective survey of mixing patterns in eight European countries (Belgium, Germany, Finland, Great Britain, Italy, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, and Poland). For that purpose their method consisted in common paper-diaries used by individuals to record information about their daily contacts (you might think this is so old fashion but nobody reproduced this study or did better so far!).

So what does it look like (I’ll take Belgium as an example here)?

Smoothed weighted physical contact matrix (Fig. 3 from Mossong et al.)
Smoothed weighted physical contact matrix (Fig. 3 from Mossong et al.)

You can see above a heatmap of physical contacts between participants and their contacts. The more towards the blue indicates fewer contacts. The more towards white indicates more contacts. Therefore the diagonal towards the top right shows that most Belgian participants have contacts with people of the same age. And this diagonal has two “wings”, representing interactions between parents in their 30s and their children. There are also two “bumps”, representing interactions between grand-parents and their grand-children.

So these heatmaps are already something pleasant to the eye. But what if you could actually touch them? Can you actually physically play with them? This was made possible thanks to 3D printing, a manufacturing process that transform practically any custom 3D model created on a computed into a physical artifact.

We’ll first need to get the data, process it in a suitable format and finally print it …

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