Tag Archives: night of the living dead

Student scientists study living dead

In the event of a zombie outbreak, don’t muddle around watching Atlanta burn or New York City fall. Run for the Rockies.

A team of students at Cornell University created a model for how a zombie outbreak might develop in the United States. The modeling shows the safest places to safeguard the human brain are remote locations, especially the Northern Rockies.

The research team presented its work modeling the statistical mechanics of zombies on March 5 at a meeting in San Antonio, Texas.

“Modeling zombies takes you through a lot of the techniques used to model real diseases, albeit in a fun context,” said Alexander Alemi, a graduate student at the New York state university.

Alemi, Matthew Bierbaum, Christopher R. Myers and James P. Sethna conducted the research, which involved a full-scale simulation of an outbreak in the United States and an analysis. They summed up their findings in an abstract published in the Bulletin of the American Physical Society: We “discover that for the realistic parameters, we are largely doomed.”

But doomsday doesn’t come as quickly as many “living dead” films and graphic novels suggest. In the Cornell research, cities would fall quickly, but the outbreak would take weeks to penetrate into less densely populated areas and months to reach the Northern Mountain time zone.

“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,” said Alemi. “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.”

To reach their determination, the researchers made a lot of computations, employing models that address complex interactions between people and groups and then large-scale simulations of the progress of the disease outbreak.

“Each possible interaction — zombie bites human, human kills zombie, zombie moves — is treated like a radioactive decay, with a half-life that depends on some parameters,” Alemi said. “And we tried to simulate the times it would take for all of these different interactions to fire, where complications arise because when one thing happens it can affect the rates at which all of the other things happen.”

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