PhD Defense by Michael M. Thomas

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School of Civil and Environmental Engineering

Ph.D. Thesis Defense Announcement


By Michael M. Thomas


Dr. John E Taylor (CEE)

Committee Members:  B. Aditya Prakash (CSE), Dr. Yichang James Tsai (CEE),
Dr. Lance A Waller (Emory, Biostat) Dr. Neda Mohammadi (CEE)

Date and Time:  March 12, 1:00 PM

Location: *CODA Building, C1308 Cabbagetown, 

Zoom: Meeting ID: 864 543 6884, Passcode: 439317

The impacts of built environment risk factors on public health outcomes have been the center of varying research efforts as early as industrialization changed the way humans live. The COVID-19 pandemic and the opioid crisis are two examples of twenty-first century public health crises that exemplify the longevity of these issues in spite of strides towards healthier communities. Addressing the root causes of these emergencies through public health intervention necessitates untangling the associations between urbanization's externalities and the diseases' sequelae. This dissertation aims to bring into focus a cross section of epidemiology, computing, and civil engineering that considers the impact of crowding and the effects of the built environment on physical and behavioral health.
In the first of three studies, this dissertation investigates a potential link between mass transit attitudes as a proxy for transit crowding and COVID-19 incidence in a national study of U.S. metropolitan areas. This work adds to the web of risk factors and interactions that were pinpointed to determine which public health interventions, behavioral recommendations, and resources are needed to protect against disease spread in respiratory disease epidemics. The second study builds on this inference by suggesting a method to leverage information on human behavior and the built environment to better predict the transmission of diseases in the early stages of novel infectious disease pandemics. This second study provides a framework for making these predictions in locations that do not yet have any cases or have an extremely small number of cases despite other locations having established outbreaks. Finally, a third study outlines a novel approach to evaluate theory around the built environment's impacts on a different public health outcome that has relentlessly evaded numerous interventions in recent decades. Researchers and the behavioral health community alike have been vexed by the changing proliferation of opioids in different formats the more recent ones, synthetics, proving more deadly than many of the last. The risk factors for opioid mortality have varied over time and region and require sophisticated modeling approaches to parse out which communities are in need of which type of interventions. This third study aims to understand crucial differences between the way theorized risk factors for opioid overdose mortality change across urban and rural counties in Georgia: a task that has proved difficult due to unstable mortality rates in low-population areas. 
Cities and public health risks share common origins as the proliferation of the former led to an explosion of the latter. These studies together aim to continue efforts at uncovering the hidden associations between the built environment and contemporary public health emergencies by filling key gaps in knowledge pertaining to the most pressing challenges to our communities' progress and vitality.

*CODA is a secure building. If you need access, please contact Michael in advance so he can make arrangements for you.



  • Workflow Status:Published
  • Created By:Tatianna Richardson
  • Created:02/27/2024
  • Modified By:Tatianna Richardson
  • Modified:02/27/2024



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