Zombies Teach Students About the Spread of Disease

Massachusetts General Hospital's "zombie doctor" teams up with Hollywood.

Dr. Steven Schlozman, a child psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital and assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, loves zombies. That’s right, zombies. How can a Harvard professor and doctor at one of the nation’s top hospitals love a fictional entity so much? His debut novel, “The Zombie Autopsies: Secret Notebooks from the Apocalypse,” was released in 2011 and since then, he’s been providing expert advice to filmmakers through The Science & Entertainment Exchange, a program that is part of the National Academy of Sciences. Schlozman’s book is currently being adapted by acclaimed filmmaker George Romero for the silver screen.

““To get calls from writers and producers and to be asked about how to make a story plausible and fun is a dream and also feels like a genuine public service,”” Schlozman says. So it’s no surprise that he’s earned the nickname “the Zombie Doctor” around town. He was contacted by Texas Instruments to assist with the development of a “Zombie Apocalypse” curriculum, part of its “STEM Behind Hollywood” program, which is a free Hollywood-inspired online education program that aims to get middle school and high school students interested in careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

“It’s fun,” Schlozman says in an MGH report. “I used to be an English and science teacher. The idea of using stories to teach makes sense because there is a lot of data out there to support the idea that kids believe what they see. We have a real opportunity to tease the science out of them so they might pursue careers they normally wouldn’t.”

According to a report from MGH:

Zombie Apocalypse was developed with assistance from actress and STEM education advocate, Mayim Bialik, who – like her character in “The Big Bang Theory” television show – has a PhD in neuroscience. Schlozman joined Bialik in New York City earlier this month to promote the technology during the program’s launch. “We want to get the word out to teachers and administrators,” Schlozman says. “Using the notion of Hollywood stories – zombies in this instance – to teach students about epidemiology and neurology is ground-breaking. We are taking real-life scenarios like ebola outbreaks and modeling the transmission of a hypothetical zombie contagion through the human population, the infection rate and logistics patterns.”

Wait… Blossom has a PhD in neuroscience? The technology both Bialik and Schlozman helped to create is a handheld device that depicts the spread of airborne infections. The program creates situations like an exponential growth of a zombie horde and how the infection spreads through the human population. According to a report from Texas Instruments, the activity gives students an inside-look at STEM careers by using modeling and graphs that the World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control use to track the spread of infectious diseases. Researchers hope to use the technology to be able to track real diseases. Sorry folks, zombies are not real (yet).