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The Blue Streak: Zombies rise again at ‘Science Unwrapped’

February 25th, 2012 Posted in Opinion

LOGAN—The College of Science at Utah State University hosted a zombie-inspired lecture Friday as part of this semester’s “Science Unwrapped” series—“End of the World as We Know It.”

College officials said the so-called Zombie Apocalypse, a popular topic in pop culture, provides an ideal metaphor for a global pandemic.

Math and biology professor Jim Powell talked about “Mathematics and the Life-Impaired: How the Theory of Disease Predicts the Zombie Apocalypse,” to a crowd of more than 300 people, many in zombie costumes and makeup.

“The notion of the zombie apocalypse was used to introduce the audience to how people like me think about coming up with mathematical models in the real world,” Powell said following the lecture.

Powell said he was invited to speak about the zombie apocalypse because he has used examples of zombies in his applied math classes for years. Powell asks his students to build mathematical models of “infected” populations he creates.

Powell began his lecture by introducing the audience to his in-class scenarios and giving them a brief history of zombies. He then took mathematical predictions inspired by the interactive “Humans vs. Zombies” game held on campus and applied them to a theoretical zombie apocalypse in Cache Valley.

Freshman Lizzie Spencer, an engineering student, helped him gather the data.

“I went and talked to him about math and stuff and he was telling me about his research,” Spencer said. “I was interested in it and we started talking about it. That’s how I got into doing the research.”

Post-lecture, Spencer presented three independent mathematical models she created relating zombie and human population changes over time. Her presentation included quadratic and logistic equations on the subject matter.

“I started researching zombies last semester and had been working on the presentation for the last three weeks,” Spencer said.

A separate presentation by one of Powell’s students on chronic wasting disease concluded the event. That disease, Powell said, can be viewed as “a zombie disease of deer.”

After Powell’s presentation, the Department of Mathematics and Statistics provided a variety of hands-on learning activities.

The next Science Unwrapped series lecture will be held March 30 at 7 p.m. in the Eccles Science Learning Center Auditorium. Jamie Farrell, a doctoral candidate from the University of Utah, will present his research on the purported “Yellowstone Supervolcano.” The event is free of charge and open to the public.

The Blue Streak Team: Betsy Blanchard, Jason Borba, Taldon Bressel, Maggie Euller, Alicia Facer, Curtis Lundstrom and Amanda Taylor contributed to this report.


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