Real-Life Zombies: Tiny Particles That Can Manipulate Your Mind

2012 was the year of peak Zombie. The Walking Dead TV show first aired in late 2010, and zombies started to get hot in 2011. In May 2011, the normally tight-laced CDC even put out a press release highlighting the importance of disaster preparation using the Zombie Apocalypse as an example. In 2012, The Walking Dead season 3 set viewing records, and inspired zombie pub crawls and zombie fun runs. But how long can zombie hysteria last? There are more zombie movies set to be released In 2013, but as with vampires, eventually the public will tire of zombies and will move on to some other mythical creature. Perhaps minotaurs will be next? Or unicorns?

Courtesy of the CDC Public Health Matters Blog

Is the zombie fad over yet? (Courtesy of the CDC Public Health Matters Blog)

But while everyone’s attention is focused on zombies, I’d like to point out examples of so-called “zombies” in nature – no, not the undead, brain-eating kind that are transformed by a zombie virus, but people whose minds are being controlled in much more subtle and insidious ways.

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Life Lesson #3 – Don’t Be Afraid of Making Mistakes

Science history is full of mistakes. You will seldom meet a scientist who hasn’t stumbled onto something by accident, had an experiment go awry, or just plain messed s%$t up.

Sometimes scientists didn’t so much make mistakes as just getting it plain wrong. Lots of really smart people were into alchemy, which is the idea that you can change one element to another, like lead into gold. Others believed for centuries that the Earth was the center of the universe, and some even believed that the Earth was only 6,000 years old (Some people actually still believe this. If you believe this, you should probably read this blog with an open mind and learn some science.). Of course, we know now that each of these things are wrong. As our collective scientific hiveminds grew, we all moved forward as a society.

Beautiful Mistakes

Sometimes mistakes benefit society in ways that no one could have predicted. You know plastic, right? It’s pretty much everywhere and we wouldn’t know what to do without it. Well, it turns out that the man who invented it was just looking to make a shellac alternative.  In the mid-1960s, two Americans that worked for Bell Telephone Laboratories accidentally discovered the cosmic microwave background radiation that had been predicted decades earlier.

The best example of a beautiful mistake is probably penicillin. Before penicillin was around, many people died from bacterial infections that we don’t think twice about today. such as strep throat, gonorrhea, and pneumonia. According to the American Chemical Society, in 1928, Alexander Fleming was a Professor of Bacteriology at St. Mary’s Hospital in London. As he returned from a holiday to his lab, Fleming began sorting through petri dishes filled with Staphylococcus bacterium. He noticed that one dish was a little peculiar – the bacterium weren’t growing around some  mold that had found its way onto the petri dish. Fleming found that his “mold juice” could kill many harmful bacteria.

If at First You Don’t Succeed. . .

Of course, not every great invention was “accidentally” discovered. The vast majority of scientific advancements were made through painstaking, backbreaking work. But every time a scientist conducts an experiment in which nothing “worked”, this still leads to an enhancement of science. Science lets us look at what works and what doesn’t work. Experiments are meant to help us figure this out. How will we move forward and grow without mistakes?

I played basketball in high school. When I was a freshman, instead of playing for fun, I was afraid of making mistakes. Therefore, I didn’t play as well as I could have. I often think back about that time and wish I could tell my younger self to just go out and have fun.

I try to remember this advice every day, both in my professional and home life. Go out. Live. Do. Don’t be afraid.

Life Lesson #2

Teach your kids science. Understand how science works.

See, this seems like a no-brainer. We all covered this in elementary or junior high science class, right? Maybe, but that doesn’t guarantee we were paying attention.

You see, science affects us almost every day of our lives, whether we recognize it as “science” or not.

Science teaches us things about the everyday world and allows us to make informed decisions. Humans are inherently fooled by our senses all the time. The human body, while a wonderful patchwork of tissues, cells, and organs working together, makes a  lot of bad decisions based on our senses, gut reactions, and feelings. This is where we need science to step in. This is how magicians, a lot of politicians, and “scam” artists make their living – by exploiting our senses.

What are some other reasons to teach our kids science? Well, it’s everywhere. Have you cooked something in the past week? Science. Flown in an airplane? Science. Used a computer, smart phone, television, or any other electronic device? Science. Modern agriculture, modern medicine – science. Are you watching your local weather report, listening to the meterologist tell you what will happen in the next 7 days? Science. Try to imagine a hurricane’s impact without the advance warning from meteorologists.

Science literacy is not just a thing to help your kids get ahead. In the future, the very near future, science literacy will be an absolute necessity.

Teaching our kids to think critically will help them wade through the ever-growing number of talking faces on television and the internet, such as:

This is Bill O’Reilly. He did not pay attention in science class in school.

Jim Inhofe

Jim Inhofe, one of the Senate’s biggest climate change deniers.

Yes, Bill O’Reilly, we actually can explain tides. Yes, Senator Inhofe, climate change is extremely real. Can you imagine if every politician’s claim had to be held up to the same rigorous standards that scientists do? The halls of Congress would immediately empty. Although things wouldn’t be slowed down any more than they are today if that happened.

Teaching and understand science is absolutely essential for our economy, our democracy, our culture, and our development as human beings. The failure to understand science and to pass on its importance will only hinder our future generations.