The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way the University of Michigan works on many levels, but it also has galvanized activity across the university as a broad range of academic, research and administrative units apply their expertise to this worldwide crisis.

These synopses offer a glimpse into the variety of activity underway. Follow the links at the end of each story to learn more.

U-M ecologists join call to protect scientific diversity during, after pandemic

A team of researchers, including two U-M ecologists, has called on the international scientific community — and especially those in leadership positions — to support the retention and diversity of early-career scientists during and after the COVID-19 crisis. In a letter to the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution published June 3, the 19 scientists say the COVID-19 pandemic poses major challenges to all sectors of society, including scientists faced with abrupt disruptions and redirections of research and higher education. The scientists emphasize that overcoming the acute and long-term challenges of the pandemic will require policies to protect decades of efforts to build diverse and inclusive scientific communities, which they say are more innovative, productive and impactful. Read the letter.

Read more about protecting scientific diversity.

— Jim Erickson, Michigan News

Sounds of sickness: Perceptions of coughs, sneezes not diagnosed accurately

You’re standing in the store’s check-out line, and the customer behind you viciously coughs. Is that person sick or do they simply have a throat tickle? Chances are you’re misidentifying the origins of those sounds, according to a newly published U-M study in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. The more disgusting people perceive a sound to be, the more likely they were to judge that it came from an infected person, regardless of whether it did. “We find no evidence that perceivers can reliably detect pathogen threats from cough and sneeze sounds, even though they are reasonably certain they can,” said Nicholas Michalak, the study’s lead author and a U-M psychology graduate student. Unlike other research indicating perceivers can accurately diagnose infection using other senses, such as sight and smell, researchers at U-M and the University of California, Irvine found that people overperceive pathogen threats in subjectively disgusting sounds. Read the study.

Read more about the study.

— Jared Wadley, Michigan News

Student-led incubator optiMize funds COVID-19 community aid efforts

OptiMize, a student-led incubator at U-M, launched a $25,000 Community Aid Relief Fund in April in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The relief fund aims to provide mutual aid and community-based projects in Washtenaw County that have student leaders. Students at U-M, Eastern Michigan University and Washtenaw Community College were eligible to apply for up to $5,000 in funding. OptiMize received more than 35 applications within two weeks and nine were chosen. Jeff Sorensen, co-founder of optiMize and director of social innovation in LSA, said optiMize wanted to do its part to support not only the Washtenaw County community but also the Ann Arbor and U-M community — and believes that people have their own best solutions to issues in our community.

Read more about optiMize and see a list of the chosen projects.

— Stephanie Grau, Michigan News

New app analyzes how social distancing affects biological clocks

Almost overnight, the sleep and wake patterns of nearly four billion people may have changed because of COVID-19-spurred lockdowns. An app built by U-M researchers will help users understand their own sleep rhythms, shedding light on how their biological clock is responding to lockdowns, and give tips about how to shift their potentially disrupted rhythms to a more appropriate time. The data generated by the app could also give scientists an unprecedented opportunity to examine disruption in circadian rhythms. Circadian rhythms are internal clocks in our cells that regulate when we sleep, when we wake, when we eat and even our digestion. If these clocks are disrupted, a cascade of ill effects may occur, including a weakened immune system. The new Social Rhythms iOS app assesses how a person’s circadian rhythm changed before and after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Read more about the circadian rhythm app.

— Morgan Sherburne, Michigan News

Diversity scholars address COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a dramatic impact on nearly every aspect of society. Research and scholarship are critical to understanding and addressing COVID-19 impacts, including focused attention on issues of diversity, equity and inclusion. This includes, for example, scholarship that interrogates how existing societal inequalities are influencing health disparities in COVID-19 outcomes based on race or ethnicity, socioeconomic status, gender and disability status, among other characteristics. It also includes critical attention to existing and emergent social and cultural perceptions and attitudes — such as prejudice and bias based on race or ethnicity, nationality and immigrant status — that underlie discriminatory behaviors and decision making. Members of the Diversity Scholars Network have been contributing their expertise to public national discourse, policy and practices. The DSN, hosted at the National Center for Institutional Diversity at U-M, is an international network of over 900 scholars across a variety of institutions, fields and disciplines who conduct diversity scholarship.

Read more about the DSN’s contributions.

National Center for Institutional Diversity