The chance of a zombie apocalypse happening is, at the most, slim to nonexistent, but there’s no harm in being prepared. In that spirit, Neil deGrasse Tyson entertained the thought of zombies on Friday night’s episode of Star Talk. In the podcast, Tyson discussed the one way in which a zombie invasion could actually be helpful to humankind: solving the energy crisis.
The subject, he explains, came in the form of an anonymous fan question: “If zombies can’t die, can we pop them in a giant hamster wheel for energy?”
Tyson was immediately on board. “That is brilliant, brilliant!” he exclaimed. “If we got to live with zombies, let’s put them to work.” Tyson proposed enticing zombies to keep moving forward on the proverbial wheel by dangling brains in front of them.
Realism aside, it’s not a bad idea. Researchers have already proved that muscle power can act as an energy source. A team from Georgia Tech discovered in 2009 that hamsters wearing a little power-generating jacket could create renewable energy, a discovery that they hope will open the door to discovering new ways that biomechanical energy can become electricity. In this experiment, the jackets were fixed to a nanogenerator that harvested the hamster’s energy — the crystalline material of the jacket produced electrical potential when placed under mechanical stress.
But forcing hamsters to provide energy would be a environmental and socioeconomic disaster: It would take 1,458 billion hamsters running at once to generate enough energy to power the United States, which means a lot of dead hamsters from exhaustion. Asking humans to do the job isn’t realistic either; researchers estimate a human would have to run 24 hours a day for over 400 days a year to create enough energy for a small apartment.
That’s where our zombies could come in. And if a zombie apocalypse did happen soon (lets face it, with the way 2016 is going, surprise would be minimal), we’re in need of their service. Energy experts anticipate a 48 percent growth in worldwide energy demand from 2012 to 2040.
Even if zombies stay out of the world and in The Walking Dead, there’s still a real-world way dead bodies can provide us with energy: Scientists are currently working on specialized burial plots that would speed up decomposition, channeling chemical corpse energy into fuel cells.