After a zombie outbreak, you might want to run for the Rocky Mountains, at least according to researchers at Cornell University.
The research team used statistical mechanics to figure out that this is the safest place to live during a zombie apocalypse.
However, the research wasn't completely fictional. The models they used could also be applied to real-world disease outbreaks.
Inspired by zombie novel World War Z, as well as a class on statistical mechanics, these researchers figured out how a zombie virus would spread throughout the U.S. The team started with equations that considered the U.S. population as a whole, but then narrowed those equations down to simulate how the disease would spread throughout specific areas, some more remote than others.
"At their heart, the simulations are akin to modeling chemical reactions taking place between different elements and, in this case, we have four states a person can be in-human, infected, zombie, or dead zombie-with approximately 300 million people," says Alex Alemi, a graduate student at Cornell University.
What's most interesting about this study is that in zombie books, movies and television shows, zombie outbreaks happen everywhere at the same time, but Cornell's model shows that if such an event really happened, that wouldn't be the case. Cities would be the first to succumb to the virus and fall quickly, but more remote less-populated regions would have a few weeks to prepare. Also, it would take months for the outbreak to reach the region containing the Rocky Mountains.
"Given the dynamics of the disease, once the zombies invade more sparsely populated areas, the whole outbreak slows down-there are fewer humans to bite, so you start creating zombies at a slower rate," says Alemi. "I'd love to see a fictional account where most of New York City falls in a day, but upstate New York has a month or so to prepare."
That preparation, though, could end the entertainment factor. If an area has so much time to prepare for an outbreak, the zombie virus could be dealt with in that amount of time, perhaps even cured.
But the takeaway here is that when the zombie apocalypse begins, head for the mountains. And remember that something called statistical mechanics probably just saved your life.
Alemi points out that his researchers aren't expecting an outbreak, but by using a fun topic of study, students can better understand a complicated subject.