The Tweet That Begins the Zombie Apocalypse

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This is not the kind of Tweet you want to see from a feed that describes itself as "an automated Twitter feed provided by the Illini-Alert System" that is "not actively monitored by a human being." In essence, we have a robot reporting to us that some kind of hazardous material -- what, we don't know and can't discover -- has been released within a biotechnology research center. The Institute for Genomic Biology has a wide variety of research programs including stuff like "host-microbe systems."

For 52 minutes, that was all the information that was available. Then, two tweets came in fairly quick succession. The first said that the "spill" was "contained within the building." The second said that the building had been safely evacuated and "The fire department is on scene."

We still don't know what happened, though I'm pretty sure that this will turn out to be a routine situation. (Not 100 percent: I called the campus police and they said they had "no more information" than what went out on the alert system.) BUT, whoa, this really sounds like the opening line of an updated version of the post-apocalyptic novel World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War or a plot point in Colson Whitehead's Zone One. There's something chilling about, "Escape area if able to do so." Escape? From what? And why wouldn't I be able to? WHATS HAPPENING?!?!

Ok, sorry. Carry on. I'm sure zombies aren't closing in on Chicago or anywhere else. 

UPDATE 9:28am: @IlliniAlert reports that everything is OK: "The hazardous materials release at the Institute of Genomic Biology has been mitigated and is no longer a threat. IGB will be open tomorrow."

Thanks to Geoff Manaugh, aka BLDGBLOG, for alerting me to this situation and ruining my night of sleep.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com, where he also oversees the Technology Channel. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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