Zombie Institute of Theoretical Science

Issued: Mon, 04 May 2020 14:31:00 BST

Kevin O'Dell on stage in his Zombie Apocalypse public engagement show

Life Sciences' Professor Kevin O'Dell has used a zombie apocalypse to explain real-life biomedial science and how best to tackle a global pandemic, particulalry relevant during the current COVID-19 crisis.

His unique public engagement efforts involve delivering spoof lectures to school pupils and other groups - the target audience is those aged 13-30 - on the subject of an impending zombie outbreak.

The interactive multi-media shows were the brainchild of Douglas MacDonald, an algorithms engineer who was a science communicator at the Glasgow Science Centre and science advisor for CBBC’s Nina and the Neurons.

Fronted by two ‘zombiologists’, played by actors Ian Alexander and Gilchrist Muir, the shows have been attended by around 80,000 individuals in the last five years.

Professor of Behavioural Genetics Kevin, who delivers lectures on genetics during the show and also plays a victim who is bitten but survives, said: “Our aim is to popularise science and making it more accessible. If a research seminar and a pantomime had a baby it would be this show. It’s story-led teaching through comedy that is fun - but there are some real take-home messages.

"Our strength is in our mixture of skills, making for high-quality, professional productions that are funny but also provoke the audience to think and ask questions.

“We try to make people think about the consequences of an outbreak and about the ethics of decision-making.

“These ethical questions are relevant today: do you quarantine a cruise ship with a few cases, exposing everyone on the ship to the disease so you keep whole cities safe from the virus? We also look at the stigma attached to the infected and the so-called super spreaders.

As the coronavirus spreads, it’s one of the few times that I have sympathy with politicians as they can only make the wrong decision – there’s always a downside whatever they do.

“The zombie apocalypse is a useful hook as it encourages people to think more objectively about the consequences of contagion and ethical dilemmas. For example, we take a vote on whether you would kill a zombie or try to treat them and find a cure.

“We are seeking further funding to go into schools; meanwhile, our team of theoretical zombiologists is available to deliver shows about biomedical science and the dangers of a zombie apocalypse at any event to anyone who will listen.”