Physics students explore feasibility of surviving zombie viral infection

January 6, 2017

A real-life zombie outbreak would leave the world's population in shambles, with less than 300 survivors remaining a mere one hundred days into the apocalypse, according to students from the University of Leicester.

Assuming that a can find one person each day, with a 90 per cent chance of infecting victims with the zombie infection, the from the University of Leicester Department of Physics and Astronomy suggest that by day one hundred there be just 273 remaining human survivors, outnumbered a million to one by zombies.

The students presented their findings in a series of short articles for the Journal of Physics Special Topics, a peer-reviewed student journal run by the University's Department of Physics and Astronomy. The student-run journal is designed to give students practical experience of writing, editing, publishing and reviewing scientific papers.

The student team investigated the spread of a hypothetical zombie virus using the SIR model – an epidemiological model that describes the spread of a disease throughout a population.

The model splits the population into three categories - those susceptible to the infection, those that are infected and those that have either died or recovered. The SIR model then considers the rates at which infections spread and die off as individuals in the population come into contact with each other.

As part of the formula, the students looked at S (the susceptible population), Z (the zombie population) and D (the dead population), suggesting that the average life-cycle of a zombie would be S to Z to D.

They also examined the time frame over which individuals in the population encounter one another.

The initial study did not factor in natural birth and death rates, since the hypothetical epidemic took place over 100 days, resulting in natural births and deaths being negligible compared to the impact of the zombie virus over a short time frame.

Without the ability for humankind to fight back against the undead hordes, the students' calculations suggest that if global populations were equally distributed in less than a year the human race might be wiped out.

However, in a more hopeful follow-up study, the students investigated the SIR model applied to a zombie epidemic and introduced new parameters, such as the rate in which zombies might be killed and people having children within the nightmare scenario. This made human survival more feasible.

The team factored in how over time survivors may also be less likely to become infected after having experience of avoiding or fending off zombies.

They found that it would be possible for the world's to survive the zombie epidemic under these conditions – and that eventually the zombie population would be wiped out and the human would recover.

Course tutor, Dr Mervyn Roy, a lecturer in the University of Leicester's Department of Physics and Astronomy, said: "Every year we ask students to write short papers for the Journal of Physics Special Topics. It lets the students show off their creative side and apply some of physics they know to the weird, the wonderful, or the everyday."

Explore further: Fluid dynamics explain how quickly a vampire could drain your blood

More information: A Zombie Epidemic. Journal of Physics Special Topics. physics.le.ac.uk/journals/index.php/pst/article/view/956/679

Another Zombie Epidemic. Journal of Physics Special Topics. physics.le.ac.uk/journals/index.php/pst/article/view/965/683

Related Stories

What zombies can teach us about infectious diseases

December 23, 2015

If someone you know exhibits the following symptoms, you may want to steer clear of them at your next holiday gathering: shambling gait, moaning, loss of personality traits, rotting of the flesh.

The model for a perfect human pyramid

April 14, 2015

Physics students from the University of Leicester have calculated the formula for a perfect human pyramid – and have found that the best suited candidates are groups of men, women and children rather than formations of ...

Recommended for you

Studying the quantum vacuum: Traffic jam in empty space

January 18, 2017

An important step towards a completely new experimental access to quantum physics has been made at University of Konstanz. The team of scientists headed by Professor Alfred Leitenstorfer has now shown how to manipulate the ...

Flexible ferroelectrics bring two material worlds together

January 17, 2017

Until recently, "flexible ferroelectrics" could have been thought of as the same type of oxymoronic phrase. However, thanks to a new discovery by the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory in collaboration ...

7 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

nuncestbibendum
3.9 / 5 (7) Jan 06, 2017
When the press started talking about zombie studies, it was interesting. But, they kept at it. It is not interesting any more; it is downright silly and tiresome. I am sure the study of hypothetical zombie attacks is very useful when it comes to exploring game theory scenarios, but constant reports at this are tiresome and boring.
syndicate_51
3 / 5 (2) Jan 06, 2017
90%! LOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLS!

Understand one thing right now. Hollywood always underestimates physics and the actual forces involved in modern weaponry.

Example. Damaging the brain stops a zombie.

You do know that high percussive shock wave's (ie. explosions) create just the situation to scramble brains right?

You know that some of the heavier artillery pieces have a 50m shock wave kill radius right?

You know about the AA-12 right?

And finally I quote.

"A disorderly mob is no more an army than a heap of building materials is a house." - Socrates

This whole "zombies can ruin the world" crap is getting old.

Lets be more realistic and say the chance to successfully infect is much lower and say account for firearms and all the other improvised weapons.
joejagent
2.3 / 5 (3) Jan 06, 2017
Let's get real. Zombies last forever unless you destroy their brain. they can't die, they are already dead. The kill rate by humans against zombies is all wrong. People will be overwhelmed at first, but once there are large quantities they can be destroyed easier with bombs, fire and just shooting in the head. In countries with an armed populace the people will make out much better, destroying many per day (some not destroying any, but some destroying a bunch). Places without an army or armed populace will be overrun completely, but once the situation is like that the zombies can be destroyed in mass quantities with bombs. It are the zombies who will be all destroyed exept for a few hundred in 100 days.
Osiris1
3.7 / 5 (3) Jan 06, 2017
This is just a student with an over-ripe and maybe funny mushroom fueled imagination who is playing with numbers.....stupidly. We have a real world scenario of infections with ebola, part of whose life cycle involves creating psychosis in its' victims.... victims made ugly by ebola's subcutaneous skin hemorrhagic symptoms. The one writer who wanted to 'make clear....that zombies...immortal' is just full of bull. There is no such thing as an unwhackable life form. In Africa in the REAL world, people ran away from the infected. This would be studied well. We now have a vaccine for ebola. Zombi no different.

This 'zombie' disease would make for a lousy illness because it would soon outrun its 'food supply' since it kills all its victims...and GO EXTINCT!! Nothing 'dead' can really move because dead bodies do not process food to energy and distribute it to the calls. Dead is just that..dead.
Any large scale outbreak would be nuked or otherwise isolated.
Dug
3 / 5 (2) Jan 06, 2017
Nice high school student project, but seriously naive university level infection model project - that considers populations equally distributed. It doesn't consider the degree of isolation of the populations limited by the frequency of access with the outside world.

Surprisingly, there are significant numbers in of people in the world that don't access the the outside world even every 180 days. Consequently, in a global population of 7.4 billion (likely seriously underestimated for similar analytical weakness reasons) the numbers would be substantially higher. I would worry about this level of education over zombies regarding doing the human species in.
MarsBars
3.7 / 5 (3) Jan 07, 2017
Let's get real. Zombies blah blah blah

Let's get real, joejagent - zombies are fictitious.
Captain Stumpy
3 / 5 (2) Jan 13, 2017
I am sure the study of hypothetical zombie attacks is very useful when it comes to exploring game theory scenarios, but constant reports at this are tiresome and boring
@nuncestbibendum
yes and no...
for starters, it can have real world application with military or national level defense against disease and or other types of highly infectious biological agents

plus there are certain types of poisons or recreational & pharmaceutical drugs that can mimic "zombie" behaviour, hence there will likely be at least some interest somewhere in studying the weaponization of said chemicals, drugs or poisons

but as an additional benefit, there are quite a large number of younger people who think zombies, vampires or other similar such fictional characters are really awesome (or some other modern slang term for cool)

these types articles can potentially draw the youth to STEM fields

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.