Zombies for science education

Zombies for science education

December 6, 2013

December 6, 2013

Let’s face it. Zombies rule the world!
 
A movie movement that began with George Romero’s classic Night of the Living Dead a generation ago has more recently spawned a spate of zombie-themed Hollywood and pop culture domination: Shaun of the Dead28 Hours LaterZombieland (my personal favorite, always remember Zombieland rule #2: the double tap!), World War Z, and the hit TV seriesThe Walking Dead, to name a few. 
 
Now, zombies are also inspiring one Biodesign Ph.D. student to go Hollywood as well to get more people interested in science.
 
When he’s not furiously working away on completing his doctoral dissertation on immunosignatures, Biological Design Ph.D. student Kurt Whittemore and his longtime friend, game designer Patrick Coan, are working to make their dreams a reality.
 
“If you want to get more people interested in science, start with a good story,” said Whittemore.
 
Enter their project, LabDreams, where a team of scientists, writers, animators, musicians and voice actors produce an animated web series explaining science through storytelling.
 
Think of a LabDreams as a rich storytelling stew where they take the best elements of science populists extraordinaire like Bill Nye or Carl Sagan, add in one part zombie movies, another part X-Files style government conspiracy theorists, Robot Chicken animation, and for flavor, a dash of charismatic characters like Sheldon Cooper from the Big Bang Theory.
 
Here’s the pilot episode pitch:
 
“The series takes place in a fictional biotech facility in Seattle named Emerging Bio. This company performs research in diverse areas from gene therapy, cancer vaccines, synthetic biology, to the development of improved bioinformatics techniques,” said Whittemore. “One of Emerging Bio's projects was a secret bioweapon for the shadowy private investor corporation, the Arlington Group, essentially a modified rabies virus capable of targeting specific people based on their genotype. Something went terribly wrong during the development of the project and there was an outbreak. The company quarantined the affected area in the facility, and managed to keep the incident away from the eye of the public. Victims of the virus are referred to as “zombies” due to their rabid nature and resemblance to the pop culture icons. The protagonists of the story are employees of the company struggling to find solutions to the problem.”
 
And along the way, they manage to squeeze in the some heady science education stuff:
 
“Our pilot series Antibody Evolution Machine begins with scientists trapped in a zombie-infested laboratory, and along the way, teaches viewers about basic concepts in computer science and genetics. The characters will even have an impromptu conversation about Stephen Wolfram’s book A New Kind of Science, said Whittermore.”
 
Like all would-be Hollywood types, Whittemore and Coan needed a producer to green light LabDreams , and so, they turned to crowdfunding sources through a Kickstarter campaign.
 
Now, after having raised a modest goal of $2,000, they are off doing pre-production, and perhaps even one day becoming the Damon and Affleck of science animation shows. “We are so excited to unleash the first episode in our Antibody Evolution Machine series,” said Coan. “The public’s support has made this idea possible.”
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To learn more about LabDreams and get in on the fun at the ground level, visit their Kickstarter page for regular updates.

Good luck Kurt and Patrick. We look forward to seeing the pilot and unleashing zombies on an unsuspecting public to entertain and inform about science! Stay tuned…

 

Written by: Joe Caspermeyer