Walking Dead Comes Alive

About 35 students came to Pacific Ballroom C at the Student Center on Tuesday, Jan. 21, for a discussion by the professors who taught the class that earned UCI’s claim to fame in zombie-academia. These experts presented a lecture on their knowledge of what to do in a post-apocalyptic wasteland filled with undead killers.

As a short crash course on those lessons from AMC’s show “The Walking Dead,” the online eight-week class was condensed into a one hour session. Each professor demonstrated different applications of their academic expertise applied to the murderous and undead-infested world, by weighing in on their roles in the development, collaboration and creation of the immensely popular online course.

ASUCI hosted the speaker series, having all four professors give a short dialogue based on each of their disciplines: Physics, Social Science, Public Health and Mathematics. Each articulated examples of how each of these vastly different academic areas could apply to pop culture, or in this case, zombies.

Joanne Christopherson, professor of social sciences, specialized in the social scientific portion of the course and went into great detail explaining the social hierarchy of behavior in post-apocalyptic situations. For example, one is far more concerned with security of self when the numbers of zombies increase, but as security is less of a concern and zombies aren’t chasing after a character, complex social interactions formulate. It is the idea of actions in relation to danger and safety.

In the show, the prison and the farm were safe locations for the characters, and thus, more complex and social bonds ascended.

“People are [more] scarier [than the zombies,]” Christopherson said, “it’s the Governor [who I’m scared of.]”

As the thematic suspense of the show fluctuates with the amount of zombies present, Sarah Eichhorn, the associate dean of distance learning, described how applications of complex mathematical equations can be applied to determine how many days a group of zombie-slaying survivors might last on Earth given different situations, i.e. fast, strong zombies vs. resilient, super-humans.

The numbers didn’t seem to be in the survivors’ favor as she demonstrated with complex and advanced equations. Survivors tended to last from two to six days, depending on the strength and ferocity of those fighting the zombies, according to Eichhorn. Of course, in “The Walking Dead,” when one dies of natural causes, he or she becomes a zombie anyway. According to Eichorn, it seems life does not last too long in this world. Although, a very practical application of equations in a setting such as one with so many zombies, a grounding and realistic perspective might be a good one to have, according to Eichorn.

Physics and astronomy Professor Michael Dennin described how easily a physics application to the zombie world can be explored. He investigated the “physics of smashing zombies,” and different possibilities of armor-wear. It all comes down to the scientific idea of how energy is transferred when smashing zombies. Professor of health sciences and public health Zuzana Bic introduced Public Health to the dystopia, emphasizing the importance of the many dimensions of health in a world where there is no longer any healthcare. She joked that she would carry garlic with her if zombies invaded, to both deter zombies but also for the same reasons ancient Egyptians used garlic: to cast off evil ghosts and the undead.

The four professors, who taught and built the class, all had to absorb the show before they began applying their expert knowledge to it, since none of them had heard of the popular zombie show before they started teaching. Each of them had to soak in The Walking Dead, which either included hours of Netflix streaming or shorter YouTube synopses.

The class itself was 100 percent gratis and open to anyone who wanted to take it. More than 65,000 people were enrolled from all over the world. Christopherson chuckled that during her speaker’s panel for a New York publication, the enrollment of the class jumped up because members in the audience enrolled as she was discussing the class. While a condensed hour could not include all the lessons taught in the course, it proved that academic disciplines can be applied to a large variety of situations — even ones with zombies.