Zombie Attack? Canadians have our back, statistically.

For those who claim that math has no practical application in everyday life, our response has always been "oh yeah...well, what about an uprising of the undead?" Of course, that response was, unfortunately, a blustery theoretical, unsupported by actual computations and graphs and PowerPoint presentations, and therefore lacked credibility. But all that has changed, thanks to some Canadian college students who have wisely invested their parents' tuition payments in the creation of a mathematical model of how an "outbreak of zombie infection" might spread throughout the general non-Night-of-the-Living-Dead population. You can read their full report here (PDF document).

If you find reading about mathematical models somewhat, um, boring, here's an abstract that will allow you to be impressively conversant about the study without actually knowing anything. (In other words, you're qualified to blog about it.)

Zombies are a popular figure in pop culture/entertainment and they are usually portrayed as being brought about through an outbreak or epidemic. Consequently, we model a zombie attack, using biological assumptions based on popular zombie movies. We introduce a basic model for zombie infection, determine equilibria and their stability, and illustrate the outcome with numerical solutions. We then refine the model to introduce a latent period of zombification, whereby humans are infected, but not infectious, before becoming undead. We then modify the model to include the effects of possible quarantine or a cure. Finally, we examine the impact of regular, impulsive reductions in the number of zombies and derive conditions under which eradication can occur. We show that only quick, aggressive attacks can stave off the doomsday scenario: the collapse of society as zombies overtake us all.

As the guy on the travel website TV ad puts it, this is serious stuff we're doing here. And if you don't think so, just skim through a few of the comments left on the Freakonomics blog post that originally highlighted the Canadian study. I for one am glad that we have people who are committed to addressing such pressing issues. And I suspect that you'll never again look at mathematical models in quite the same light.


The world clearly needs more math majors. But thinking back, I think most of my math professors were actually zombies.

Eric, my father was a native Michigander, just across the border from Canada ... I suspect one of the drawbacks of leaving home and joining the Marines was that he'd posted somewhere ill-prepared for an "outbreak of zombie infection" ... Korea, Vietnam, Beirut, etc.

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This page contains a single entry by Eric published on August 19, 2009 7:01 AM.

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