Academics in Action

MATHEMATICAL MODELING OF A ZOMBIE OUTBREAK
Q&A with Mellon Mays Undergrad Fellow Dara Belarmino

Why did you choose Whittier?

I really liked the liberal education I could get here, like taking courses not in my major. Some of my favorite classes weren’t even in the math major, like archeology or Dr. Morris’s amazing JanTerm course on The Lord of the Rings. The result is I got to know the school as a whole and not just my department, even though I know my department really well. So overall I feel more well-rounded.

What’s something you discovered about Whittier that might not be apparent on the surface?

It is the relationship between students and professors. It’s very supportive and you can always approach them. When you first come in you’re really nervous, thinking about trying to find friends, etc. But when you engage with professors, they engage you on an equal level. It’s very easy to approach them and ask for help.

What advice would you give a new student at Whittier?

I’d definitely say to engage in the community that is Whittier. Get to know your classmates and your professors. The time here goes by really quickly and you don’t know how close you’re getting to everyone until your junior year. Then you see how much you love it and you have to start thinking about leaving. So enjoy it.

How are you combining math and a Zombie apocalypse?

The idea started junior year when I saw a show on Zombies while I was also doing a math modeling course, and I realized I could model a Zombie epidemic. Math modeling is taking what we know about systems and equations, and applying math to solving real world actual situations. So I talked to my mentor, Professor Lutgen, and he decided we could do this for my Mellon Mays Fellowship, and it has since become my senior project as well. For the project, I study different Zombie situations—like a basic Zombie attack, or one where the virus incubates for a while, or another where the infected population is quarantined, etc. I also looked at the stability of the system and whether I could find a case where Zombies and humans can live together.

I had a lot of freedom with this project. And even though it is unconventional in the math sense, it still had the basic core of what I needed, and it was kind of fun. I was nervous to propose this at first but my professors saw merit in it, merit

I didn’t even see up front. They’ve been very supportive and really got behind the project. What I hope to do is to model real life cities like Los Angeles, taking intoaccount the density of the population. It makes it more realistic and hypothetical. And this can be applied to other diseases like HIV/AIDS, influenza, or West Nile.

Dara is a math major from Pico Rivera, California, and a recipient of the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship and the John Greenleaf Whittier Scholarship.