Friday, August 16, 2013

Walking dead infuse life into classrooms

THE APOCOLYPSE IS COMING: Schlozman, right, and Bialik demonstrate the technology to students. (Photo courtesy of Texas Instruments)

“In space, no one can hear you scream.” This original – and factual – quote was introduced into pop culture as a tagline for the 1979 movie “Alien.” Today the saying is an example of how the magic of the big screen can engage students in classrooms across the country, says Steven Schlozman, MD, of the Mass General Department of Psychiatry. “Sound actually needs molecules to vibrate, and there are no molecules in the vacuum of space. If you watch ‘Star Wars’ they use all kinds of sound effects in space, but ‘Battlestar Galactica’ doesn’t use sound and kids want to know why.”

The Mass General psychiatrist has been hurled into the Hollywood spotlight  since the 2011 release of his debut novel, “The Zombie Autopsies: Secret Notebooks from the Apocalypse,” providing expert advice to filmmakers through The Science & Entertainment Exchange, a program of the National Academy of Sciences. Most recently, Schlozman was contacted by Texas Instruments to assist with the development of a Zombie Apocalypse curriculum, part of its “STEM Behind Hollywood” program. This free Hollywood-inspired online education activity is aimed at getting middle and high school students excited about careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

 “It’s fun,” says Schlozman. “I used to be an English and science teacher. The idea of using stories to teach makes sense because there is a lot of data out there to support the idea that kids believe what they see. We have a real opportunity to tease the science out of them so they might pursue careers they normally wouldn’t.”



 A LESSON IN ZOMBIES Handheld devices depict the spread of airborne infection. (Photo courtesy of Texas Instruments)


Zombie Apocalypse was developed with assistance from actress and STEM education advocate, Mayim Bialik, who – like her character in “The Big Bang Theory” television show – has a PhD in neuroscience. Schlozman joined Bialik in New York City earlier this month to promote the technology during the program’s launch.

 “We want to get the word out to teachers and administrators,” says Schlozman. “Using the notion of Hollywood stories – zombies in this instance – to teach students about epidemiology and neurology is ground-breaking. We are taking real-life scenarios like ebola outbreaks and modeling the transmission of a hypothetical zombie contagion through the human population, the infection rate and logistics patterns.”

In addition to zombies, “STEM Behind Hollywood” downloadable activities will feature other popular movie themes including space, superheroes and forensics. For more information visit

Read more articles from the 08/16/13 Hotline issue.

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