Monsters, microbiology and mathematics: the epidemiology of a zombie apocalypse. Journal of Biological Education 29 Oct 2013, doi: 10.1080/00219266.2013.849283
Abstract: The aim of this learning exercise was to harness current interest in zombies in order to educate audiences about the epidemiology of infectious disease. Participants in the activity were provided with an outbreak scenario, which they then used as the basis of play-based activities. By considering the mode and speed of transmission, size of outbreak and prevention/control strategy, participant groups were able to define parameters of their outbreak scenario. These were then input to SimZombie, a computer simulation program developed by the authors, which visually demonstrated the spread of infection through a population. The resulting animations were then used as the basis of in-depth discussion which, in turn, enabled the consideration of principles of disease transmission and control strategies. The activity provided an opportunity to engage a range of audiences through a variety of different delivery mechanisms, including role play, workshops and informal drop-in. Learning was evidenced by participation and feedback.
So why did I post this (apart from the obvious halloween angle)? The authors make a pretty strong case for this approach to communicating microbiology to a wider audience:
“Given the increasingly connected nature of the global community, there is a pressing need for a better public understanding of disease dynamics. In UK schools and colleges, knowledge of infectious diseases is indicated in the school science curriculum. For the general public, salient facts about infectious disease include principles of disease prevention and control and awareness of transmission routes. Public information is generally provided through the media, leaflets in surgeries/pharmacies and via the internet, but these are typically ‘one-way’ modes of communication, with no subsequent evaluation of learning acquisition. Engagement can therefore be enhanced by modifying the delivery system to use a novel vehicle or context, such as mixing science with art, literature,or games. Vampires, and other ‘monsters’ such as zombies and werewolves, potentially offer a focus for engagement with disease transmission and outbreaks. Thus, a workshop delivered for the 2010 Manchester Children’s Book Festival used the Twilight novel in that context. The workshop was set in a biology laboratory, with microscopes and slides of the cell cycle available for examination. Using readings from the novel and facilitated discussion, the participants identified routes of vampirism/disease transmission, and considered analogous methods of prevention (garlic as a representation of an antimicrobial; ‘not inviting them in’ representing behaviour modification).”
That’s the first time I’ve ever cited Twilight on MicrobiologyBytes: the horror, the horror. Don’t expect it happen again anytime soon :-)