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One of my side characters is a scientist, and he is zombie immune. This lets him get close enough to study the zombies. However, I feel like just saying he is a "biologist" might be too broad. A lot professional scientists are specialized in something, right? Perhaps some sort of human anatomy or disease specialist would be ideal to make him the best guy for the job? Or is just "biologist" good enough?.

I'm aware the absolute best option might vary slightly depending on the specific traits of the zombies, but for stereotypical zombies surely there is a short list of specialties, probably mostly in the field of biology, that would make a person uniquely qualified for trying to study them?

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    $\begingroup$ Which kind of zombies are they? Living people affected by drugs and brainwashing, living people affected by a rabies-like disease that reduces higher brain functions, dead people reanimated by nanotechnology, dead people whose bodies are being animated by some kind of parasite, dead people reanimated by magic? (Not necessarily an exhaustive list of options) $\endgroup$ May 1 at 6:43
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    $\begingroup$ @MarielS Viral means the 'zombie' bodies are still very much alive requiring at least as much sustenance as a non-zombie to stave off death, so you get no heavily rotted or near skeletal zombies with that, fungal 'perhaps' gives most leeway for the degraded body type zombies 🤔 might be 'some' leeway available with a bacterial version as well, but with viral you can't have any corpses digging themselves out of graveyards, not if you're trying to stay just a little bit adjacent to any sort of scientific reality. $\endgroup$
    – Pelinore
    May 1 at 8:50
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    $\begingroup$ Studying zombies could involve studying (a) how the virus spreads throughout the body and how to fight it, (b) how the virus makes someone behave, (c) how zombies would behave on a larger scale and (d) how the virus would spread throughout society and the world. Each of those could be tackled by different types of scientists. $\endgroup$
    – NotThatGuy
    May 2 at 0:41
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    $\begingroup$ Astronomer, obviously. Getting Zombies into deep space is left as an "exorcise" for the student. $\endgroup$
    – tjd
    May 2 at 15:33
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    $\begingroup$ Necrologist, what else? $\endgroup$
    – RedSonja
    May 3 at 6:29

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I think the comment of @Daron is crucial here - decide the discipline of the scientist based on the discovery that he will make in your story. Just a "biologist" might be too broad indeed because there are many sub-disciplines in biology which will have little to contribute to zombie research.

A few interesting options might be:

  • Figuring out that the "zombie disease" is caused by a virus; here I have a sample by the way, don't touch it, because it's still active, and I'm going to analyse it in my lab to see whether we can somehow deactivate it after an infection, or maybe develop a vaccine: a virologist.

  • I found there are quite some changes in brain structure when people become zombies, and by the way, did you know that we can paralyze them by flashing them with an SOS signal in morse code? A neuroscientist.

  • So zombies can really only eat raw meat, but we can trick them into eating meat alternatives instead and they will die after a few days! A nutritional scientist or physiologist.

It can be helpful to check Wikipedia's list of scientific disciplines for more options.

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    $\begingroup$ ...I can't believe I've never found that wiki list before now, or realized it probably exists. facepalm It would've been so helpful for some of my past stuff, too! Thanks for the link. Definitely going to be looking through it for fun later :) Time to learn about some obscure scientific fields! $\endgroup$
    – MarielS
    May 3 at 0:28
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah, there truly is a wikipedia list for everything, but I wouldn't have thought to check there either. $\endgroup$
    – Hobbamok
    May 3 at 22:13
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    $\begingroup$ You could make him an actual expert, or from a story perspective, what an opportunity to put your character out of his comfort zone. What if he's a leading research oncologist? Built in conflict, built in opportunity for extra characters who are experts in funguses, viruses, etc. $\endgroup$ May 4 at 13:39
  • $\begingroup$ @ChrisPfohl I've actually been thinking along these lines myself since posting the question. Now I have a nice list to look through for fun sounding specialties for both him and the other characters, though :) $\endgroup$
    – MarielS
    May 4 at 23:33
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Kelly Weinersmith

enter image description here

I study how host behavior influences risk of infection with parasites, and how parasites subsequently change host behavior and correlations between host phenotypic traits.

Someone who studies behaviour-influencing parasites is a good bet. I don't believe there is a specific name for these people other than Parasitologists.

Bonus points for this being a small field. Since it is a small field it is more likely the researchers have a wide range of skills. There is no such thing as an "ecological behavioural parasitologist" or a "laboratory parasitologist". There are too few to specialise like that. Everyone can do everything.

The classic example is the zombie fungus. . .

enter image description here

. . . which tells the ant host to climb high. But there are probably only two or three people on the planet who specialise on that particular fungus. Seems unlikely one of them would be in town unless you want to play it for laughs.

If you want to play it for laughs, I suggest the infected are at first called "zombie fungus people". This is later shortened to "zombies".

Rather than a fungus that infects an ant, Kelly is interested in a worm that infects a fish. The parasite changes the fish behaviour so it swims to the surface and gets eaten by birds. The bird becomes the new host, and poos out worm eggs over a large area. This is how the parasite spreads.

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  • $\begingroup$ ^_^ I looked at the last name, and thought, "Nah... got to be a different one," but indeed, that's the same Kelly Weinersmith who co-authored Soonish: Ten Emerging Technologies That’ll Improve and/or Ruin Everything with Zach Weinersmith, arguably more famous for his webcomic. Good to see her cited on her own. $\endgroup$ May 4 at 13:34
  • $\begingroup$ We all know Dr Weiner is a popular name. $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    May 4 at 20:07
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Virologist

Virologists are medical doctors that oversee the diagnosis, management and prevention of infection. They’re also scientists, who may drive research on various aspects of viruses. A virologist may be both a scientist and a physician. (source)

Epidemiologist

Epidemiologists study outbreaks of diseases, the causes, locations, and how various communities are affected, utilizing relative information to aid in the prevention of future outbreaks. Epidemiologists help to keep the public informed of methods to maintain and improve public health. (source)

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  • $\begingroup$ Drake P seems to have hit it…I was about to suggest anyone with experience in public health but Drake P seems to have hit it. $\endgroup$ May 7 at 21:04
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Toxicologist/immunologist

A toxicologist or immunologist would be best equipped to handle zombies, since there must be some toxin, or biological disease, that "zombified" the zombies. The toxicologist would have knowledge of various toxins, as well as toxins in general, giving them a good chance of solving the zombie problem. If it is caused by biological causes, then an immunologist will likely be your best bet, as the immune system must have fought the disease well enough to keep the body alive but mentally damaged(and still contagious), or itself became the perpetrator of the disease. It is likely a good idea to have one of each.

Having a doctor, or physician around doesn't make much sense as they tend to only be good when there is preexisting knowledge about the disease, as they must work on many different diseases, diagnosing them to known ones, for many different people.

A general biologist, of course, likely spends very little time with cures of people or healing, but rather instead biology in general, not even necessarily immunology, or even human biology.

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Cryptozoologist.

If you're telling a story that involves the unknown, the various rumours and legends surrounding the mythology of zombies and where it's cropped-up in the world, what brought it about, what their behaviour is, their drives, their weaknesses - and whom they serve - then your best bet is to get on board someone who's spent hours scouring online sites and ancient library books studying zombie lore. A smattering of college biology wouldn't go amiss in attempting to explain how they work too.

Of course you'll be able to tie-in legends from Voodoo, shamanism and the Manitou of the native Americas, Chinese zombie stories and folk-lore and strange tales from the Ancients of Egypt and Celtic peoples to reveal the truth behind the myth.

A crypto-zeek would also be able to tell apart the superstition of a frightened people, the misinformation, the mixed-signals from other supernatural stories that haunt people's psyches, to disentangle all these you need someone who's obsessed about this creature for much of their life. This of course lends itself to a back-story for the character of an experience in their childhood/youth that sparked the obsession.

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    $\begingroup$ I don't think I've heard of real world cryptozoologists discussing zombies or anything of the sort, but maybe that would be an interesting hook for this character. Even among a ridiculed niche they are an outcast until the zombie apocalypse proves them right. $\endgroup$
    – Harabeck
    May 2 at 14:48
  • $\begingroup$ Of course they will need a a more specialized crypto-person, like a Cryptozombologist $\endgroup$
    – Goodies
    May 2 at 20:12
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    $\begingroup$ Hah, I should have expected someone would have coined it, thanks. @Goodies $\endgroup$ May 2 at 20:17
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Mathematician

stochastic

https://www.maths.ox.ac.uk/node/28517

Specifically an expert in stochastic calculus.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stochastic_calculus

The best-known stochastic process to which stochastic calculus is applied is the Wiener process (named in honor of Norbert Wiener), which is used for modeling Brownian motion as described by Louis Bachelier in 1900 and by Albert Einstein in 1905 and other physical diffusion processes in space of particles subject to random forces. Since the 1970s, the Wiener process has been widely applied in financial mathematics and economics to model the evolution in time of stock prices and bond interest rates

Your mathematician is not interested in zombie teeth or how they became zombies or zombie society. The zombies are treated as particles and your mathematician derives rules governing their movements. Horde agglomeration is the most dangerous to humans and also a pattern which might be manipulated for human benefit, but your scientist (who was different to begin with, and has become more different through isolation as well as the process that made him immune) is interested in horde formation for its own sake. It is interesting.

Your mathematician is studying horde behavior via math because it is an objective and comfortable lens through which he can study himself. And understand what he has become. Because of course, he is a zombie.

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    $\begingroup$ I believe I already suggested solving the problem with Weiners. $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    May 1 at 18:19
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    $\begingroup$ @Daron: I did not realize it was that kind of a movie. $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    May 1 at 18:21
  • $\begingroup$ Ah +1 for Brownian motion lol $\endgroup$
    – Goodies
    May 2 at 20:16
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A thanatologist

These guys are to science what necromancers are to magic; death obsessed experimenters of dubious repute.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thanatology

Any specialist of the types mentioned in other answers who had a morbid interest in death might start to call himself a thanatologist; or alternatively, you might have a genuine interdisciplinary generalist who just really, really, really knows a lot about many aspects of death.

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Zombiologist, experts on education and hygiene will follow

The zombies started popping up. For some reason, resurrection became statistically far more frequent than people previously believed (in).

At first, zombie folks just escaped their graves and started to roam around eating people. This habit was shortcut a few years later, when soylent green got distributed in their neighborhoods and the zombies kept calm.

But the smell is not gone. And the zombies are of no use.

Now, we're setting up this expedition. It has a few experts on board, who may find a way to civilize the zombies. What education they need (if any) and if there would be means of communication. Also, cleaning experts and cosmetics firms have shown interest to take part.

Ms X will prepare the expedition. She has the advantage of being zombie-resistent, and an expert in the field. Zombiologist, specialization behavioral sciences.. she lived with zombie family all her life.

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A cell biologist

This is just one possibility among many already mentioned, but if your zombies are literal walking dead - moving around despite the heart not beating - then a cell biologist would be the perfect specialisation.

Somehow the zombies' muscle cells have enough energy to move despite the lack of freshly oxygenated blood. This is an astounding scientific mystery, and if we can solve it it might shed some light on how the infection can be stopped. So you need someone with an insight into the inner workings of the cell, in particular someone who specialises in the cell's energy systems.

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There is no short list, it all boils down on which aspect of zombies you want to study.

Throw for a moment the zombies out of the question, and think of humans: which scientist is better for studying humans?

  • for understanding how their bodies work, a biologist or an anatomist might be the better choice
  • for understanding their health issues, a medical doctors is the way to go
  • for understanding their interaction in groups, an ethologist or social scientist is better suited, maybe paired with a jurist
  • etc. etc.

The same can apply to zombies. And don't forget that many fields of study have overlapping between them.

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Pathologist

A doctor who specializes in all the ways the human body can break down. (One might believe that all doctors does that, but it is not so)

Now, there are a lot of subcategories to choose from. I was thinking of the guy down at the morgue who performs autopsies on all the "died from unknown causes" bodies.

Typically seen in TV series while eating lunch next to an cut open corpse while cheerfully discussing some macabre subject with the detective.

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Morticians and medical doctors

Zombies cannot exist without , so all a scientist of any kind is going to be able to say about how they work is "yeah, it is dead but still moving".

Morticians, along with many physicians as well, know just about everything that there is to know about corpses - things that you can't even imagine and which you don't know that you don't know. A mortician or a medical doctor would be able to analyze how the zombies decay and what their weak points are.

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  • $\begingroup$ "Zombies cannot exist without magic" - eh, this may certainly be true for some interpretations of zombies, but whether it's plausible for them to exist without magic depends on the exact mechanism at work. But for most interpretations I'd probably prefer to say it's an alternate universe that doesn't exactly follow our laws of reality (which is true for a lot of fiction) rather than saying "it's magic", when magic isn't even known to exist in that canon ... and magic would largely be at odds with our laws of reality in any case, so not a big difference there. $\endgroup$
    – NotThatGuy
    May 4 at 6:43
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Zombies being a new phenomenon would almost certainly warrant their own field of research. And it would grow out of the medical field, since it the phenomenon would be mistaken for a disease at first.

I introduce you to necrology and the necrologist.

Though the first ones would have trained as medical doctors, within a span of a decade or so and recognizing that this has nothing to do with biology they would be trained in physics, with perhaps a side of occult/demonology.

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Probably not what you're going for but just to throw out the idea: computer science, mechanical engineer, materials scientist and/or mechatronics.

Traditional D&D style zombies are fundamentally magic. There is nothing scientific going on there; they are animated by magic. You could go with something like "28 Days Later" where there's a biological explanation (namely, they aren't dead at all) but maybe as an alternative, suppose the zombies were caused by self-replicating nanotech that has gone out of control.

Scientists invented nanotech robots that were supposed to go through your body and fix cellular damage, self-replicating and even mimicking muscle tissue and sinew where needed. They can even form rudimentary neurons to attempt to correct minor brain damage.

Welp, turns out, they end up killing the patient, "helpfully" taking over the dying functions (including the brain) and keeping the corpse going in a horrifying mimicry of life. If they bite you, there's a good chance of nanobots crossing into your body and repeating the process.

You get the idea. In this case, what you might need is a variety of specialists in nanotechnology and programming.

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Kinemortology.

Derived from word for the irrational fear of zombies (kinemortophobia), "kine" is the Greek word for motion, and "morto" is the Greek word for dead or death; together they make the word kinemorto, which literally means walking/moving dead, or the more familiar term, zombie. "-ology" is, of course, the Greek word for a branch of study or science. Kinemortology, in essence, is the "branch of science studying the walking dead".

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Reanimatologist

As zombies are created through the reanimation of a corpse, reanimatology can be considered as an all-encompassing field for the study of zombies and other revenants. It can be a twist also as a reanimatologist could be someone who creates the zombies and thus, knows them well.

a branch of medicine that studies the main patterns of the cessation and restoration of human functions. The pathophysiology of the death agony, of clinical death, and of the restoration of lost or altered vital functions constitutes the theoretical basis of reanimatology. The term “reanimation” refers to the complex of methods used for revival.
https://encyclopedia2.thefreedictionary.com/Reanimatology

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