CONTAGION Filmmakers, Scott Z. Burns and Steven Soderbergh Fellowship

September 26, 2011

Following his three-year collaboration as senior technical adviser for the critically-acclaimed movie Contagion, Mailman School’s Dr. W. Ian Lipkin has announced a new fellowship named in honor of the film’s creators, screenwriter Scott Z. Burns and director Steven Soderbergh. 

Dr. W. Ian Lipkin with Scott Z. Burns

Surprising Mr. Burns at the conclusion of a recent private screening event on the eve of Contagion’s premiere, Dr. Lipkin presented him with a formal letter describing the Scott Z. Burns and Steven Soderbergh Fellowship in Emerging Infectious Diseases. The fellowship, currently funded with $500,000, will support postdoctoral research in global infectious diseases at the Center for Infection and Immunity at the Mailman School of Public Health.

In receiving a document establishing the endowment, Burns quipped, “There was a time when I couldn’t get into Columbia.”

“Scott and Steven used their brilliant talents and the power of media to raise public awareness of the growing threat of infectious diseases to our health and social fabric,” said Dr. Lipkin. “This endowment honors their visionary leadership.” He hopes that Contagion will inspire promising young scientists to pursue careers that can reduce the danger of pandemics. 

The Fellowship will provide a source of funds in perpetuity that enables the Mailman School’s Center for Infection and Immunity to recruit the most talented scientists working in the field and support their path-finding research and professional development. 

Contagion imagines a deadly virus outbreak that quickly sweeps around the world. While the plot is fictitious, director Soderbergh and screenwriter Burns were committed to a truthful portrayal of a global pandemic. To ensure their success, the filmmakers tapped the expertise of Dr. Lipkin, who is John Snow Professor of Epidemiology at the Mailman School and Director of the Center for Infection and Immunity. Dr. Lipkin, a world-renowned virologist who has identified more than 400 new viruses, worked closely with the filmmakers from the inception of the script development and through many aspects of the movie’s production. Giving the School an unusual brush with Hollywood, several of the film’s notable actors spent time at his lab on the 18th floor of the Rosenfield Building so they could develop familiarity with scientific research methods.