Courtesy SuitovRemember in 8th grade, when you were taking geometry or pre-calc or whatever, and some cleverboots in the back row asked the teacher when anyone was every likely to use math in real life? Your teacher probably said something like, “Do I have to shake the answer into you, numbskull? You’ll use it every day! What if you want to figure out the rate of wear on your tires based on circumference? What about when you want to figure out the height of your favorite tree, using only the length of its shadow?” And because everyone involved could see the hollowness of this answer, you went home feeling a little darker.
But, see, what your lousy teacher should have said is that when the zombie apocalypse comes, math is what’s going to drag us out of that corpse-filled scenario and into a brighter, infection-free future. Because, when it comes to zombies, math is the real weapon.
JK, of course. Claw hammers and chainsaws will still be the real weapons. No getting past that—even the trickiest math problems will hardly destroy the brain, much less sever a spinal cord. But mathematical models will provide a strategy for survivors.
Mathematical models for vampire scenarios are old hat. They’re old, boring hat, in fact, on account of how people can’t agree about the methodology, and because vampires aren’t that great in the first place. But a practical zombie model is making the rounds in the popular press, because this is the sort of thing we need to know.
Taking into account infection rates, and the relative numbers of “suseptable,” “zombie,” and “removed” individuals, the model confirms what we have long suspected: that a zombie outbreak would suck. The model is, of course, much more complicated than this, and it has lots of fun little symbols and graphs, but that’s the long and short of it.
However, the model does leave room for hope. Putting victims into quarantine could eradicate the infection, but only under ideal circumstances (i.e., not in the real world), and a while a zombie cure could ensure the continuing existence of humanity, survivors would need to coexist with zombies. The remaining solution, and the only practical one, it turns out, is the old fashioned one: head smashing. As the paper puts it, “only sufficiently frequent attacks, with increasing force, will result in eradication.”
We’ve got to hit the zombies where they live. Or where they undead-live. Or whatever. The point is that when the time comes (any day now), we have to take the fight to the zombies, and we have to do it fast. So prepare your bite-guards and blunt instruments, and put them next to your fire extinguisher and emergency blanket. Be a survivor.
A quick note: To all of you who are thinking, “Puh-leaze, JGordon. Zombies are played out like Super Bowl XLIII,” I respond with a puh-leaze of my own. I say y’all are the ones played out, played out like Mario 3, and I think y’all should check yourselves and just go watch Transformers 2, or whatever it is you people are into.
The restart of the Large Hadron Collider, the massive, 17-mile-long particle accelerator in the Alps that is supposed to teach us about about the fundamental particles and properties of the universe (immediately before destroying the universe. not really. probably) has been delayed again. October 2009 is the new start up date.
Come on, scientists! If you wait too long, we won't care any more. You'll be all, "Hey, everybody, it's the biggest scientific machine in the history of science and machines, and it's doing something..."
And we'll all be adjusting our Halloween costumes, all like, "Whatever, scientists. The Higgs boson and the end of the world were totally September, 2008. Laterz."
Why don't you surprise us all by turning the world into strange matter sometime in August?
Courtesy NASASo, what? You wanted to live forever?
Oh, you did? Er…even at the expense of scientific enterprise? Whatever. Deal with it, crybaby, because me and my little Strangelet are going to wring this planet dry.
Do you remember the Large Hadron Collider? No? We posted about it this spring on Science Buzz. It’s a recently completed supercollider in France and Switzerland—the largest supercollider in the world, with a 17-mile circumference. Protons will be blasted through the device so fast that they’ll make the entire circuit 11,000 times per second (which is about the speed of light, I believe). When two streams of protons meet, some of them will collide, and smash apart. At that point two huge detectors will attempt to gather data on just what comes out of the destroyed protons. The hope is that when the machine is switched on in August, we’ll make some fantastic discoveries about the most basic (and yet mysterious) elements of matter.
Oh, and the world might be instantly destroyed. I didn’t mention that last time? Huh. I suppose it just slipped my mind because, you know, who wants to live forever, right?
Some people (read: crybabies) are very concerned that the colliding particles could form a micro-black hole, which could either evaporate instantly, or gobble up the earth. Whoops! There’s some thought that the collider might also produce a spicy little devil we call the “strangelet.”
Stranglets are, it should be said, hypothetical—they’ve never actually been observed. A strangelet is basically a tiny piece of “strange matter,” stuff made up of the same components of regular vanilla matter, but in a unique configuration (equal amounts of up, down, and strange quarks, for those of you in to…quarks, I guess). The fear is that, where a strangelet to come into contact with regular matter on Earth, it could convert that matter into another strangelet, which would convert other matter into strangelets, until the whole of Earth would be turned into a big ball of hot strange matter. Which would just be the pits.
A particular group of people was so worried about the repercussions of turning on the LHC that they actually filed an injunction against its operators. The lawsuit was dismissed, on account of the defenders of humanity just “needing to chill out.”
The plaintiffs claimed that the odds of the LHC creating a global catastrophe are about one in fifty-million—about the same as winning the lottery, but that happens from time to time. Not to me, though.
The scientists behind the LHC, however, argue that the odds are much lower than that even, if not zero. Collisions like those planned for the LHC occur naturally every second, as cosmic rays smack into the earth, and so far everything is all right. Furthermore, should something like a micro-black hole be formed, mega-eggheads like Stephen Hawking predict that it would instantly turn to nothing.
And that’s kind of the thing—some of the world’s biggest smarty-pants are working on this project, and they aren’t concerned. That has to mean something, right? Then again, according to The Incredible Hulk, many scientists aren’t all that concerned about their own certain, imminent death, so long as they get to do some crazy experiments. And I trust comic books implicitly, so who knows.