Tracking the zombie outbreak

Who doesn’t love a good zombie story? I know, not everyone does but I like to pretend they do. From George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead to the AMC channel’s The Walking Dead, zombies have been a staple of the horror genre for half a century, with no sign of them being killed off anytime soon.

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But who knew that zombies could be a topic worthy of honest-to-goodness scientific inquiry? I sure didn’t. I was wrong.

A team of researchers from Cornell University used a combination of US Census data and statistical probabilities regarding disease outbreaks, coupled that with some zombie lore, and created an interactive map that allows you and me to watch our own little zombie outbreak as it filters across the US.

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The map, which you can find here, lets us control a few of the parameters to make it interesting:

–how easy or hard it is to kill zombies

–how fast the zombies move

–where the outbreak originates

I tried a couple of simulations, and watched as a chilling red crept across the map. for both simulations, I had the outbreak start in Miami, because all the weird stuff happens in Florida.

In simulation 1, I had slow-moving zombies that were relatively easy to kill. While the zombies zipped up the east coast of Florida, it took them a full 16 days to conquer Florida, and after a month, they were still bogged down in the deep south. The zombies2takeaway? Under these conditions humans would have a good chance of surviving — the threat could conceivably be contained.

Then I tried a quicker, nastier simulation, with faster zombies that were harder to kill. Again, I started in Miami. And the results were scarier, at least for those of us on the East Coast. By the second day Florida was completely overrun. After 4 days the south was gone. On day 5, zombies were attacking New Orleans and the Midwest. Day 6: Washington DC, Baltimore were decimated, followed quickly by Philadelphia, and as the day ended, New York City fell victim, with Chicago, Houston and Detroit next to fall.

The good news? The outbreak had a hard time spreading through the rural areas of the Western United States. So if you want to survive the zombie apocalypse, go west.

Blurred lines – Zombie edition

Zombies through the ages have morphed, and they continue to do so.

The Hollywood Reporter has this cool slideshow on their website¬†that takes us through decades of zombies in film. It starts with a 1932 movie titled White Zombie. But they weren’t zombies as we know it — they were simply people who were entranced.

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The years that followed gave us more voodoo zombies, then on to George Romero’s iconic undead slow walkers — to the brain-eaters, up to today’s version — the viral walkers.

I have a soft spot for Romero’s zombies, especially the ones in Night of the Living Dead – they were my first, and I’ll always love their menacing ambling. Plus, there was something about the black and white of the movie that kept the creep factor high.

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But I’m really digging the later versions as well, especially the one popularized by the British movie 28 Days Later. These were zombies created from a lethal infection, still vicious but not as mysterious. These latter-day zombies thrill the science geek in me.

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So what will come next in zombie lore? Alien-induced zombieism? I can’t wait.