Saturday, February 28, 2015

Cornell Researchers Use Statistics to Help Us Survive a Zombie Apocalypse

Yeah, stay rural. Nothing will hurt you in the country.
Anytime researchers can add the element of fun to disease modeling, it's a great thing, right? Of course when you throw in zombies, it gets even better. Thanks to being inspired by a statistical mechanics class (sounds delightful) and reading Max Brooks' World War Z, a group of researchers at New York's Cornell University decided to study how an actual zombie apocalypse would pan out in the US.

I'll break this all down with quotes and stuff but basically, you want to be in a rural area in order to survive the longest. Tell that to the folks in Night of the Living Dead.

According to, "During the 2015 American Physical Society March Meeting, on Thursday, March 5 in San Antonio, Texas, the group will describe their work modeling the statistical mechanics of zombies—those thankfully fictional 'undead' creatures with an appetite for human flesh." This isn't the first time zombies have been used in real situations: the CDC even has a "preparedness campaign" in place because the techniques are helpful in disasters. Wait, do these brain-y types know something we don't know?

Okay, so let's turn to Alex Alemi, a graduate student at Cornell University, for answers on why he and his gang decided to use zombies in the disease model. In a nutshell, we can wrap our brains around zombies...they're relatable. He goes on to state, "Modeling zombies takes you through a lot of the techniques used to model real diseases, albeit in a fun context." Zombies really are fun, agreed? Disease...not so much.

Alemi getst all scientific and stuff, "It's interesting in its own right as a model, as a cousin of traditional SIR [susceptible, infected, and resistant] models—which are used for many diseases—but with an additional nonlinearity." Then it gets even cooler, "At their heart, the simulations are akin to modeling chemical reactions taking place between different elements and, in this case, we have four states a person can be in—human, infected, zombie, or dead zombie—with approximately 300 million people."

If you live in the city, you're basically go to the country. Upstate NY, the Rockies, Hershel's farm...all good choices. Alemi talks about how it goes down in movies, "If there is a zombie outbreak, it is usually assumed to affect all areas at the same time, and some months after the outbreak you're left with small pockets of survivors. But in our attempt to model zombies somewhat realistically, it doesn't seem like this is how it would actually go down. Given the dynamics of the disease, once the zombies invade more sparsely populated areas, the whole outbreak slows down—there are fewer humans to bite, so you start creating zombies at a slower rate. I'd love to see a fictional account where most of New York City falls in a day, but upstate New York has a month or so to prepare."

The team hopes to elaborate their study in the future, "Given the time, we could attempt to add more complicated social dynamics to the simulation, such as allowing people to make a run for it, include plane flights, or have an awareness of the zombie outbreak, etc."

So...stay rural, don't get bitten, stock up on Twinkies, aim for the head and always double tap.

-Larissa Mrykalo