For Alex Alemi and Matt Bierbaum, physics graduate students at Cornell University in the US, there really was no escaping the zombies – those fictional reanimated human corpses that feast on the living.
In autumn 2011 they were required to complete a project for a class on statistical mechanics taught at Cornell by James Sethna – a physicist who claims he’s “constantly dragged into new topics by my students”. Alemi had recently been reading World War Z and The Zombie Survival Guide, two popular and detailed books on zombies by US horror author Max Brooks. (World War Z uses a collection of individual narratives, in the style of oral history, to depict the harrowing spread of a zombie plague.) Brooks’ books attribute the resurrection of dead humans to a vicious virus, and Sethna had mentioned disease modelling as a possible topic for his students to study. Merging the two ideas “seemed natural”, Alemi recalls. “We thought we might as well study zombies.”
Read more about the physicists who model zombie outbreaks here.