The Science and Engineering Applications of Zombies

I just watched World War Z last week, and it was not my first zombie movie of the year. It probably will not be my last. Zombies are the new vampire. They’re everywhere in every permutation, and show no signs of slowing. In fact, they seem to be getting faster these days.

If you don’t care for these movies and TV shows, you probably feel like you’re living in a zombie apocalypse. Let me make the argument that this wouldn’t necessarily be so bad…


I’m going to ignore the disease-induced and physically possible zombies. You know, where the zombies are just sick people? Sick people who have lost their minds and developed the taste for flesh? The ones who need circulating blood, hearts, other organs, and who don’t violate any laws of physics.

I’m talking ZOMBIES here, not sick, crazy people. I’m talking the supernatural. I’m talking about buggers who don’t stop without a headshot. Creatures whose hands continue to crawl toward you, seeking, even when severed from their bodies. Not sick people, but beings who obey a different set of laws than the ones scientists have discovered in their laboratories.

There’s no science there.

At least not science as we know it. It might be possible to apply science to discover what rules these zombies operate under, but it’s not the rules we know today. Their limbs move without blood to provide energy. That’s seriously weird. The zombies keep going without energy, even if, inconsistently, they’re always hungry and seeking food. There’s a lot of things that don’t really make sense about the nature of zombies, but I’m not going to be sidetracked from my main point.

Engineers would love zombies.

Imagine you’re living in the post-zombie apocalypse world trying to rebuild civilization. There aren’t a lot of humans left, but there’s a big supply of zombies. If you’re careful, anyway. But you’d have to be to have survived, and you’d have ways of handling zombies.

What the zombies give you is a perpetual motion machine. They keep going with the mildest of stimuli (a piece of brain on a fish hook, dangled in front of them replacing the proverbial carrot) and I’ve never seen a movie where they stop. Sure, some seem to go dormant when there aren’t brainy humans around to eat, but they spark right up when a human is around. You don’t actually seem to need to feed them, even if they’re hungry. They can plow the fields, run the generators, peddle the bicycles (or new zombie-powered vehicles engineers can design), and even pieces of them can be cut off for specialized uses.

Eventually human civilization would rise up again, perhaps with the occasional zombie outbreak, but the critters would be too useful to get rid of. There would be entire new textbooks written in the age of zombie power. There would be editorials written about conserving zombie resources as they got used up in our machines. Sure, there might be pockets of moral outrage or safety concerns, but when did war in the middle east or the threat of climate change actually diminish our appetite for oil?

I can’t hardly envision what such a world would look like, but I think it’d be interesting. More interesting than another movie where suddenly, ZOMBIES!, and they chase and eat some people, and some other people kill some zombies and get away. Heck, we’ve even had some love stories recently (gross!), which is not the most original concept either (necrophilia has been around a while).

What’s your best idea for how to build a better world with zombie power or parts?

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