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Zombie conference brings unique perspectives to real-life challenges

ASU psychology faculty host interdisciplinary conference to expand access to science


Illustration of a zombie approaching lines of cars in front of a large billboard that reads "Channel Zed."

The Zombie Apocalypse Medicine Meeting brings together scientists, artists, doctors, lawyers, ethicists and futurists to engage with the challenges of zombification and the apocalyptic conditions that may be generated by or contribute to zombification. This year's conference includes talks hosted by comedian Shane Mauss, rapper/scientist Baba Brinkman and scientist Ed Hagen.

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October 12, 2022

Next week, zombies are coming to Arizona State University with the return of the Zombie Apocalypse Medicine Meeting (ZAMM), hosted by Associate Professor Athena Aktipis

This conference is an interdisciplinary meeting that bridges science and the arts to grapple with the most pressing challenges of the present and the future. It spans Oct. 20–23, and registration is now available for both in-person and online participation for students and community members. 

Aktipis is the producer of Channel Zed and the "Zombified" podcast, which discusses science through the lens of surviving the apocalypse. She brings together leading experts in various related fields such as epidemiology and survival prepping to talk about everything from sex, conflict and social media, to how puppies can zombify their owners.

Related: Watch the latest on Channel Zed: 'Everyday Carry ... Prep for Daily Life'

“This year's theme is Zeds, Drugs, and Rock & Roll. We will have featured speakers and shows on topics including psychedelics, addiction, music, entertainment, improvisation and counter culture, all with an eye to how these entities can zombify us and/or how they contribute to, or help us mitigate, the apocalypse,” Aktipis said. “We’ll also be talking about the role of festivals, gatherings and collective experiences of the arts in helping humans process complex information and build valuable social networks that can help us survive through all kinds of apocalypses, zombie or otherwise.” 

ZAMM brings together scientists, artists, doctors, lawyers, ethicists and futurists to engage with the challenges of zombification and the apocalyptic conditions that may be generated by or contribute to zombification. This edition includes talks hosted by comedian Shane Mauss, rapper/scientist Baba Brinkman and scientist Ed Hagen.

“We define a zombie as an entity that is fully or partially under the control of another entity. This includes host-parasite interactions, autonomous technology and coercion or control in human interactions. These dynamics — where one entity controls another — can lead to unanticipated biological, technological and social consequences,” Aktipis said. 

The previous meetings in 2018 and 2020 have focused on topics like how birth control, race relations, the pandemic, sex, literature and social media can all be thought of as zombification processes, and the importance of cooperation during pandemics.

“These are potentially frightening topics of our present and future, and being able to discuss them without fear and anxiety is important. The goal of ZAMM is to reduce the global burden of zombification and contribute to apocalypse prevention and preparedness through interdisciplinary engagement,” Aktipis said. 

Zombifying undergraduate students

In addition to the Zombie Apocalypse Medicine Meeting, Aktipis has been helping to teach FMP 394: Livestream Production Workshop, which prepares students for the live production environment of podcasting, streaming and content creation. The course is taught by Jason Scott, associate professor at the Sidney Poitier New American Film School in Mesa, Arizona. 

The undergraduate students in the course will help with the creation of a new undergraduate-driven show called “Zombie State University” that covers college apocalypse survival tips and other topics of interest to undergraduates.  

Additionally, this spring, one of Aktipis’ graduate students, Gissel Marquez Alcaraz, a first-generation college student, is hosting another show in the series called “Conspiracy Lab: DIY Research,” which will debunk conspiracy theories and set examples for how research should be done in order to understand the world. This show will feature first-generation scientists talking about the real science that shows conspiracy theories to be wrong, and also will be a space to talk about how expertise is developed and how anybody can become a scientist and do their own research. 

Aktipis also is teaching the new BIO 294 course, Science of Zombification, for undergraduate students.

“In this course, we’ll look at how we are vulnerable to being neurally and behaviorally hijacked by things that are not us," Aktipis said. “... From microbes hijacking behavior, to humans influencing each other, to our brains being taken over by social media, we discuss why zombification happens, why we are susceptible to it and what we can do about it.”

This course will be held at the same time as Scott’s Livestream class, offering students opportunities to work in collaborative teams to pitch new shows for Channel Zed and produce them together. This new model will allow students to have interdisciplinary experiences within courses, working in teams with students who will be responsible for both the science (Aktipis’s course) and the Livestream production side (Scott’s course).

Aktipis, Scott and colleagues across many schools at ASU are working together to build new structures that facilitate interdisciplinary communication across units, using zombies and the apocalypse as a way to engage both students and faculty.

“The zombie apocalypse is a great way to bring us together across ASU,” Aktipis said. “From faculty members putting their heads together to figure out how to beat — or coexist with — the zombie hordes, to students creating new shows to debunk conspiracy theories and provide survival tips for their fellow students, we are all having fun working together to accomplish shared goals: helping us all survive and thrive in increasingly uncertain times.”

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