You've thought about this for years and now it's finally happening: a zombie outbreak. Adrenaline rushes. Life flashes before your eyes. Why didn't you travel more, see the world? Your cat shrieks. What do you do? Where do you go? Science might have answers.

A Cornell research group thought long and hard about this scenario after reading World War Z (I didn't make that up) and taking a stats class. The crew of students then decided to use a zombie outbreak as a model to figure out how to respond to real-life disease outbreaks: 1) because zombies are cool 2) because it's fun.

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Grad student Alex Alemi explains:

"Modeling zombies takes you through a lot of the techniques used to model real diseases, albeit in a fun context. 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."

Okay. In the simulation, the researchers came up with fictional events and placed people in four possible "states": human, infected, zombie, dead zombie. Alemi says the results they found were much different from what movies and books tell us:

"...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."

More like:

"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."

So find Rick Grimes or Michonne and aim for the Rockies. Now that you know, use this information wisely and don't tell anyone. The study will be presented for the American Physical Society on March 5 in San Antonio.

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Image via AMC


Contact the author at clover@jezebel.com.