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Engagin' Contagion

The symptoms of “zombie flu” will sound familiar to anyone who’s ever watched an undead apocalypse movie or been rendered bed-ridden from a bad cold: Balance and movement issues, confusion, lethargy, aggressive reactions.

And next week, all that will stand between the world and this fictional disease spreading to pandemic levels will be a group of elementary and middle school students role-playing doctors and other scientists at ScienceWorks Hands-On Museum’s Zombie Outbreak Camp, held from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday, June 24-28, at McLoughlin Middle School in Medford.

The pilot program, intended to teach attendees about the science of disease in a week-long role-playing scenario, is for youth ages 10 to 14. There will also be hands-on science investigations, engineering challenges and games, ScienceWorks officials said.

The camp takes a page or two of inspiration from the popular cooperative board game “Pandemic” and the “Choose Your Own Adventure” book series, says ScienceWorks interim marketing coordinator Leah Ruby.

“(Camp officials) made a bunch of short videos where every day at the beginning of camp, you see the science leader, who has been bitten,” Ruby says. “So every single day, he gets worse and worse in the videos.”

And day to day, the video selection will vary, based on how work at fighting the contagion progressed the day before. These young containment experts, stationed at the aptly named “McLoughlin Base,” must identify the zombie flu’s source, its mode of transportation, and try to isolate it. As in every great outbreak or zombie movie, problems and plot twists arise along the way.

“This is the first time we’ve done this, but we are really excited about it,” Ruby says. “We hope to develop it further. We want to keep doing it — all the time _ because there are just so many entry points in this topic to a lot of interesting science about disease.”

During the camp, students will learn the differences between bacteria and viruses and how neurological illnesses and brain lesions affect behavior and movement. They will play games to model how epidemics spread, learn to create emergency kits, and participate in engineering challenges to deal with malfunctioning power grids, water-purification plants and other infrastructure breakdowns. There will also be creative writing activities and science journaling.

Curriculum comes from NASA, the National Science Teachers Association, and the Centers for Disease Control’s “zombie apocalypse” materials — yes, it’s a real thing, see www.cdc.gov/cpr/zombie.

About six spots were still available Friday. The camp’s cost is $300 for nonmembers and $270 for members. There are 75-percent discount scholarships available for Oregon Trail Card holders and other qualifying individuals.

See https://scienceworksmuseum.org/camps to register or call 541-482-6767 for more information.

Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at rpfeil@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4468.