Just in time for “The Walking Dead” Season 4 premiere, four University of California Irvine lecturers have come together to teach a course inspired by the hit AMC zombie series. Applying topics like social sciences, physics, mathematics and public health to the fictional walker apocalypse, “Society, Science, Survival: Lessons from AMC’s The Walking Dead” will not only prepare students for the potential undead epidemic but also teach them how these academic subjects can be applied to real-life situations.
The course’s four professors each interviewed cast members from “The Walking Dead” show to discuss the course’s topics with the people who are living in the show’s world. While social sciences lecturer Joanne Christopherson was interviewing one of the actors, Zap2it spoke with the other three teachers — physics and astronomy professor Michael Dennin, public health lecturer Dr. Zuzana Bic, and mathematics lecturer Sarah Eichhorn — about their plans for the course.
“There’s kind of something for everyone in the class. I think all four of us, it’s an opportunity to get students interested and aware in our fields and kind of how our fields are useful in the real world — I guess. I don’t know if you can use zombies to talk about the real world,” Eichhorn explains. “The students might not leave the course able to go create a mathematical model for disease spread, but they may leave the course appreciating that mathematicians may useful for playing this kind of role.”
The discussion of physics, mathematics, social sciences and public health fits better in the world of “The Walking Dead” than one might think. An analysis of the exponential spread of the zombie infestation is important because it leads to discussion of whether humans can reproduce fast enough to offset the population being turned into walkers (spoiler alert: it’s not likely). Discussing the show from a public health angle could lead to debate about whether putting off-putting scents on one’s clothing could prevent a zombie attack like a similar technique works on mosquitos.
“I notice things like all the crossbow bolts come the exact same distance outside of a zombie’s head when they get fired,” Dennin says as an example of how he’s applying physics to the series. “So is that realistic? I actually did a quick calculation which will show up in the course and it turns out that probably the crossbow bolt might not make it through a zombie’s head unless it was softer than a normal human, so you can infer that they’ve degraded a little.”
Though none of the four lecturers were originally fans of “The Walking Dead” when they were asked to become a part of the course, they all have been converted by now. The foursome was brought together because they had taught online to large classes before and because their disciplines lent themselves to discussing the AMC series.
It quickly became clear that “The Walking Dead” worked hand-in-hand with a college course. Eichhorn says she’s already experienced students being interested in a similar sort of pop culture/education mash-up in the past.
“Three years ago I had an undergraduate student who was into zombies and found this paper about mathematics and zombie apocalypse, and I was like, yeah I can talk about that and I can use mathematics to model it,” she says. “I never expected to be recording lecture videos where I’m talking about decapitating people in my mathematics lecture.”
For Bic, she can use this opportunity to discuss the way the CDC would actually operate in the face of a zombie epidemic — as in, the last remaining CDC survivor probably wouldn’t blow up the Atlanta headquarters like Dr. Erwin Jenner did in Season 1.
“The public health providers, they are working. They are trying to protect and doing the prevention and everything,” Bic says. “It’s not like one building, it’s gone, there is no hope. There is. … Someplace, somewhere, there are public health providers working hard and doing the public health in action. I strongly believe in that.”
Even with all their expertise in their fields, the three instructors didn’t have the best advice for actually surviving the zombie apocalypse. Brennin says to hide in the UC Irvine physics building, Eichhorn says to simply stay away from walkers and Bic says to make sure you have a backpack prepared in case of a zombie outbreak. Her final words of advice? “Keep a smile on your face.” You know, like Bicycle Girl did.
“Society, Science, Survival: Lessons from AMC’s The Walking Dead” is free to sign up for and runs from Oct. 14 to Dec. 21. “The Walking Dead” premieres on AMC on Oct. 13 at 9 p.m. ET.