UW-Madison Professor Lectures on Geospatial Data

Story posted March 9, 2021 in CommRadio, News by DJ Morrissey

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Friday, Dr. Song Gao, an assistant professor in Geographic Information Science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he heads the Geo-Spatial Data Science lab, gave an online lecture at Penn State.

Gao, the author of over 50 scientific publications, came to University Park to explain how cellular location and other basic phone data can be aggregated and used to combat COVID-19 by tracking social distancing.

Dr. Gao used the beginning of widespread lockdowns last March to display how social media activity and data from mapping applications can indicate the dramatic shifts in human interaction that we have all become familiar with.

“The first week of the pre-pandemic, we saw a lot of long-distance travels in the continental U.S.,” Gao said. “Later doing the stay-at-home orders, you see reduced long distance mobilities.”

The acclaimed scholar then went on to explain how crucial using this kind of information will be this summer as the world begins to normalize and borders re-open.

”The COVID-19 infection might evolve based on the different settings such as travel volume, transmission rate changes, and how the detection and reporting rate change,” Gao said.

While the benefits of geospatial data are evident, problems are bound to arise. Dr. Gao would be the first person to tell you this futuristic technology isn’t entirely perfect.

Aside from tangible issues such as lacking personal medical histories from participants, Americans as a whole are already concerned about how their phone data is used. The idea of analyzing personal location data might leave many people skeptical.

When asked if he had reservations about the technology being used by bad-faith actors, he responded that he did, but where there are reservations there is opportunity.

Gao’s most recent research paper actually focuses on the privacy aspect of geospatial data location, so he is well versed in the issues that threaten this technology.

Nonetheless, geospatial data science will certainly have an increasing role in society throughout the emerging decade.


DJ Morrissey is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email him at djmorrissey21@gmail.com.

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DJ Morrissey

Senior / Broadcast Journalism

Daniel “DJ” Morrissey is a senior from Cresskill, New Jersey majoring in broadcast journalism at Penn State. He is a reporter and political analyst for CommRadio’s news department. Also, he has been a member of the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism since Spring 2020. You can contact him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).