Argonne National Laboratory

Simulating the “zombie virus” spreading through Chicago


Argonne researcher Chick Macal and his team spend their days building mathematical models to simulate the spread of disease, like flu, Ebola and MRSA, through populations. This helps officials and policymakers address ongoing crises and prepare for potential ones. But this fall, they put a different virus through their models. The new research question: How vulnerable is Chicago to the Zombie Apocalypse? And more importantly: What could we do to stop it?

Here’s one model, above. In this base case scenario, two million people are zombified by day 60.

But Macal and his team typically run the models hundreds of times, varying the parameters slightly to tease out patterns. In some scenarios, they can add interventions, like training populations to kill zombies, or communications from City officials that tell people how to avoid them. (In real life, interventions can be things like vaccine distribution or communications about transmissions.)

Their models suggest a two-pronged intervention strategy that combines improving people’s defensive actions with better offensive tactics. “This offers great promise for countering the zombie apocalypse in Chicago,” Macal said.

The other members of Macal’s team at Argonne are Jonathan Ozik, Nick Collier, Emily Rosenblum and Jessica Trail.

To learn more about the emergency planning and resilience work done at Argonne, visit

Happy Halloween!

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