Vampires, Witches, Zombies and the Science Behind Halloween: Colorado State Graduate Students Talk Science Behind the Myths at Park Hill Library on Oct. 26

Two Colorado State University biochemistry graduate students will be in Denver on Oct. 26 to provide an interesting perspective on the biochemical origins that have led to the popular myths behind vampires, witches and zombies.

Kristopher Hite and Nick Clark will speak at the Park Hill Library in Denver, 4705 Montview Blvd., from 5:30-7 p.m. on Oct. 26. The presentation is free and open to the public and recommended for ages 12 and up. Because space is limited, registration is required at

Biochemical origins of various myths have most likely led to the stories behind some of Halloween’s most notorious mythical figures, scientists have said.

For example, witch trials in the 15th through 19th centuries most likely stemmed from hysteria caused by exposure to chemicals produced by a fungus, Hite said.

People ingested the fungus from rye growing along the Rhine River Valley in Europe, which led to behavior blamed on witchcraft. Affected people acquired a condition called ergotism that manifested in one of two forms: gangrenous, which caused limbs to fall off, or convulsive, which led to hallucinations.

“The hallucinations most likely came from a compound in the fungus which led to strange behavior,” said Hite. “When a whole community is affected by it, there’s mass hysteria.”

Hite will also talk about a condition in the geographic area of Romania that may have led to light sensitivity and glowing teeth that helped perpetuate the vampire myth. Hite admits a fascination with the myths, but his real research, working with Colorado State Professor Jeffrey Hansen, focuses on the structure, function and relationship of a protein that, when mutated, causes Rett syndrome.

Clark will talk about a compound in pufferfish that once created a catatonic or zombie-like state among Haitian people. Clark works with Professor Karolin Luger, a Colorado State University Distinguished Professor in biochemistry, who studies nucleosome structure, which is the basic unit for compacting DNA.

This is the only Denver visit the two students are making this year. For more information, contact or (303) 376-2624.