Full course description

Course Description

FX’s The Strain depicts a city in the chaos of a rapidly spreading disease epidemic, coupled with a devastating cyber-virus attack. This course will explore the real-world science behind virus and parasite biology, cyber security and epidemiological modeling.

We will see each of these topics featured in clips from The Strain and discuss real-world examples of parasites changing host behavior, hackers taking down communication networks and diseases rampaging through populations.

This course will be divided into 3 “strains” of learning…

Strain 1: Parasitic Invasion

“Scientists have no idea just how many species of parasites there are, but they do know one dazzling thing: parasites make up the majority of species on Earth. According to one estimate, parasites may outnumber free-living species four to one. In other words, the study of life is, for the most part, parasitology.” – Carl Zimmer

In the Parasitic Invasion Strain, we will discuss the following questions:

  • How do humans interact with parasitic pathogens?
  • Can parasites change the behavior of their host?
  • What effect does the human “microbiome”, the entire collection of bacteria that resides within us, have on our health?

Join us in an exploration of human-pathogen interactions. We will discuss pathogens that can reside in humans for years asymptomatically, but can potentially change human behavior in strange and inexplicable ways. To a modern microbiologist, a human being is merely a vessel for carrying bacteria around! We will discover our current understanding of the human “microbiome” — the entire collection of bacteria that resides within us, which powerfully influences our health and disease. Finally, we will explore conventional parasites that we are familiar with, and the diseases that they cause.

Strain 2: Disease Dynamics

“The worst pandemic in modern history was the Spanish flu of 1918, which killed tens of millions of people. Today, with how interconnected the world is, it would spread faster.” – Bill Gates

In this Disease Dynamics Strain, we will discuss the following questions:

  • How do we predict and track a large scale disease outbreak?
  • How do we prevent such rapid disease spread?
  • When resources are limited, how do we ethically decide to which patients to treat?

Diseases can quickly spread from a few isolated patient cases to global pandemics. How do we prevent such rapid disease spread? What factors affect the virulency of disease pathogens? How do we predict and track a large scale disease outbreak? When resources are limited, how do we ethically decide which patients to treat? Delve into these questions and more as you discover the dynamics of disease.

Strain 3: Cyber Attacks

“Cyberspace has become the fifth domain of warfare, after land, sea, air, and space. Some scenarios imagine the almost instantaneous failure of the systems that keep the modern world turning. As computer networks collapse, factories and chemical plants explode, satellites spin out of control, and the financial and power grids fail.” – The Economist, July 1, 2010

In the Cyber-attacks Strain, we will discuss the following questions:

  • What form do cyber-attacks take?
  • How do hackers infiltrate and disrupt computer systems?
  • How can we protect our personal and business computer systems from security breaches?

Cyber-attacks are inspired and targeted attacks carried out mostly through the Internet that generate extensive damage. Take a closer look at several types of cyber-attacks taking place in today’s world and the sophistication behind them. Understand more about cyber-attacks on the public through the spread of malware and its potential impact. In addition, take a deep dive into the world of hacking and discover ways to protect yourself from harmful attacks.

Course format

Students in this course are welcome to focus on just one learning strain, dabble with a couple different learning strains, or fully immerse with all three. You can earn a badge for each learning strain that you complete.

Each learning strain will feature weekly lecture videos, quizzes, discussion forums, optional readings, and bonus videos featuring UCI research efforts in related fields. In addition to the learning strains, students will view video excerpts from The Strain and listen to discussions about how the weekly science lecture topics are depicted in the show.

At the end of the course, students have the option of completing a final project and showcasing their learning to the course community through fun, multimedia productions.

Pavan Kadandale, PhD

Pavan Kadandale, PhD

Track 1 Parasitic Invasions

Reddit: u/pmaverick

Dr. Kadandale hails from the once sleepy city of Bangalore in India. After getting a Bachelor’s degree in Microbiology, Chemistry and Zoology, he then did his Master’s in Biochemistry. He then moved to the United States, and obtained his PhD from Rutgers University in New Jersey. He continued traveling West, and did a post-doc at UC San Diego, and is currently an Asst. Teaching Professor at the Ayala School of Biology at UC Irvine. He has had diverse research interests, and has studied (amongst other things) how DNA is transported into the nucleus of a cell, the molecular basis of fertilization, and the role of autophagy in cellular dynamics. He is currently interested in Biology education, and is trying to figure out how improve the teaching of critical thinking and data analysis skills in the undergraduate curriculum.

Sarah Eichhorn, PhD

Sarah Eichhorn, PhD

Track 2 Disease Dynamics

Reddit: u/SarahEichhorn

Sarah Eichhorn is the Associate Dean of Distance Learning and a tenured lecturer in the School of Physical Sciences at the University of California, Irvine. Eichhorn received her Ph.D. in Applied Mathematics from the University of Arizona in 2004. Her research interests include dynamical systems, planetary physics and undergraduate education. Eichhorn is particularly passionate about innovative approaches to improving undergraduate education. She currently has a couple NSF undergraduate research and training grants. Eichhorn has had the opportunity to teach 3 different MOOC (Massive Open Online Courses) and through these has had over 300,000 students!

Hadar Ziv, PhD

Hadar Ziv, PhD

Track 3 Cyber Attacks

Reddit: u/HadarZiv

Professor Hadar Ziv is a Researcher and Teacher of Informatics at the School of ICS at UC Irvine, with more than 30 years experience in teaching, mentoring and "doing" software development in practice. He holds a PhD from UCI and has published in academic conferences. His dissertation on the Uncertainty Principle in Software Engineering was influential in the formative years of Agile and SCRUM methodologies, and was later dubbed “Ziv’s Law”.

Professor Ziv has worked as consultant for several organizations wishing to advance their Agile development practices, requirements engineering, object-oriented architecture and design, and corresponding test strategies. At UCI, he hosts the popular annual Agile Open un-conference, as well as teaches many classes, across the spectrum of software engineering, including the Capstone project course for Informatics seniors, where students employ many of the same tools and methods to develop web-based and mobile applications for real customers; he was previously awarded UC Irvine’s Excellence in Teaching award.