Michael Pupulin

Role: HQP Scholar

Degree: M.Sc.

Project: A spatio-temporal model for the spread of fire blight in Ontario apple orchards, an investigation into profit-maximizing control strategies.

Department: Department of Mathematics and Statistics (CEPS)

What inspired you to pursue your current degree? 
It was actually while I was working as a summer student at OMAFRA that I started to consider graduate school in mathematics. I was fortunate to have a supervisor that let me explore the things that I found interesting while still finishing my work. I became particularly interested in the different pests and diseases challenging growers in Ontario. Trying to understand the mechanisms by which these pests spread, and how to best control them, really intrigued me. This led me to pursue a Master’s degree in the math department at the University of Guelph.
What about your research area excites you?
I want to work with growers, horticulturists, and entomologists to provide a better understanding of how these complex diseases work. This collaboration with multiple fields of study and occupations is something I find very exciting. It is also necessary in order to connect theory with practice in a way that produces a tangible impact on how we grow our food. It helps to find the math side of things interesting as well!
What challenges do you find in your research, and how do you try to overcome them?
What I find difficult is trying to describe the very complex dynamics of an orchard in the simplest terms possible. It needs to be simple enough so that we can handle the math, but not too simple such that the results are uninteresting. I try to describe the relationship between vector, host and pathogen in a way that captures only the most important aspects of their interactions.
How would you describe your research and the implications of your project?
By using partial differential equations and computer simulations, I am modelling a highly destructive bacterial disease in apples and pears called fire blight. This is a historically important plant disease, it was the first one proven to be caused by bacteria. Fire blight continues to be a problem here in Ontario. Despite a long history of research on the biology side, there is surprisingly little to no work on how it spreads from the point of view of an infectious disease model. By looking at fire blight through this framework, I am hoping to gain insight into how this disease moves through an orchard and provide a control strategy for growers that maximizes their harvest. I also hope to attract the interest of other mathematicians in the study of fire blight.
What are three of your favourite activities outside the lab?

I like to play and watch basketball. Big Raptors fan. I have two dogs that I like to spend time with outside. I also like to play guitar. I wish I could play like Prince.

What is one important thing you have learned during the pandemic? 
Enjoy all the time you get with friends and family.