Robert Allen of the University of Wisconsin at Lacrosse gave a very lively MCSP Conversation Series talk on March 18. This was not a surprise, as Robert is a very funny and upbeat man and had given a thoroughly entertaining talk two years ago. However, when someone gives a talk with the title “Zombies, Vampires, and Math, Oh My!” it’s comforting to know that he is, in fact, alive.
On the surface, this talk is about zombie outbreaks and vampire attacks, and whether humans can survive. However, peel back this entertaining layer (of rotting flesh?) and you find standard differential equations models used in epidemiology and population studies of competing species. Replacing unspecified diseases with zombies and fish species with vampires kicks up the entertainment level several notches, especially for the many non-math majors in the audience.
And Robert’s entertainment is definitely at a high level. Whether he is adopting a Vogue pose for the “paparazzi” or running away from a student who suggested that a shotgun is a good cure for zombie-ism, or making his case for Dave Taylor being a vampire, Robert is always working a humorous angle. Before the audience realizes what is happening, they are following along the latest tweak in a differential equations model to learn the fate of the human race. And, most importantly, they listen intently when Robert makes a sudden turn to the serious and talks about the usefulness of mathematics in all majors and walks of life. Not to mention walks of the dead.