Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The next generation of nuclear engineers will be raised on games

Massive multi-player experiences, and social media, are formative experiences the nuclear industry should leverage to recruit new talent

JoystickIt's no secret to the big three television networks why tens of millions of viewers age 18-35 are not watching the latest situation comedy hit or prime time drama. The reason is they are in front of a computer screen hooked up to a gaming device that talks over the Internet to many others involve in massive multi-player experiences. The competitive landscape includes sports, fantasy adventures, auto racing, and outright warfare.

The virtual game environments, and the social media networks that surround them, are as much a part of the "reality” of the players as their families, jobs, and relationships with society.

The question is why hasn't the nuclear energy industry harnessed these technologies as a way to motivate young people to seek a career in the field?

A review of accessible nuclear energy "games" on the Internet turned up a few accessible programs (list below), but none that match the vivid graphics, intense interactivity, and immersive power of anything available on an Xbox or similar device.

A modest proposal for the nuclear industry is to partner with the major engineering universities and game companies to build interactive game environments that are accessible to a first year college student. The objective would be to hook prospective engineering majors with an environment they are already at home in.

The strategy would be to offer puzzle games, with a compelling story line, that illustrate mechanical, chemical, electrical, or nuclear engineering challenges at the undergraduate level. Students learn at an accelerated pace when the educational experience is interactive and hands-on.

It's important that the games not focus solely on a complete nuclear reactor. Games that address challenges in mechanical, electrical, and chemical engineering, which support the industry, are also candidates for this strategy.

The attraction of solving the puzzle in teams is that it would parallel the experiences these young people have already had in high school with massive multi-player online environments. It would mimic social experiences they're already comfortable with.

Areva EPR By using games to illustrate the problem solving nature of engineering disciplines, the nuclear industry might have an easier time convincing undergraduates and people in technical schools to invest in a degree that leads to a job at a nuclear power plant.

In addition to the games, it would be important to build a social media environment using Facebook, Twitter, and similar tools to provide communication among the gamers and also to establish mentor relationships with nuclear energy educators.

A key competitive advantage would be to develop these nuclear engineering simulation games to run on iPads and other mobile devices. The generation now in high school is totally oriented to a mobile lifestyle. Desktop computing and land lines are grandpa's technologies.

To sum it up, the opportunity is there to make a claim on the attention span of the current 20 somethings in the country to get interested in nuclear energy, but only if the industry gets cracking now.

I’d be interesting in hearing from readers if anyone has tried this with other engineering professions.

Ted Talk

Games like World of Warcraft give players the means to save worlds, and incentive to learn the habits of heroes. What if we could harness this gamer power to solve real-world problems? Jane McGonigal says we can, and explains how.

Short list of nuclear energy games and online simulators

Nuclear Power Plant Simulator Game

Flash Nuclear Power Plant Simulator v.91 I2001-2003 Geoffrey Noles This game incorporates BASIC algorithms by Stephen R. Berggren and Ivan C. Smith. ... http://esa21.kennesaw.edu/activities/nukeenergy/nuke.htm

Nuclear Power Plant Demonstration

A nuclear power plant simulator game written in Flash 4. Learn the basics of how a nuclear power plant works and try your hand at operating the simulator. http://www.ae4rv.com/games/nuke.htm

Swedish nuclear reactor simulator

Interactive online demonstration: Play the role of a control-room operator at Sweden's Kärnobyl nuclear power plant, and try to keep the reactor ... documentation and source code available. http://www.ida.liu.se/~her/npp/demo.html

Shell - Energyville; Simulate providing all forms of energy to a city http://www.energyville.com/?gclid=CK-8zPDQuawCFQyFQAod5VSrrA

Areva EPR 1600 online simulator http://www.microsimtech.com/areva /

PCTRAN - Personal Computer Transient Analyzer http://www.microsimtech.com/pctran/

Consortium for Advanced Simulation of Light Water Reactors http://www.casl.gov/index.shtml

Nuclear core simulation for iPhone http://www.rdmag.com/News/2010/05/Energy-Nuclear-Simulation-iPhone-goes-nuclear/

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Anonymous said...

I believe you can also obtain free reactor simulator software from IAEA, http://www.iaea.org/NuclearPower/Technology/Training/Simulators/.

fortboise said...

Seems like a recipe for disappointment. Done well, nuclear power is really, really, really boring. And when it gets exciting, it seems to get a little too exciting.

Kiersten said...

The EnergySolutions Foundation recently finished the first phase of development for an online, multi-player, educational game that teaches middle school students science content aligned with national standards and allows students to explore career opportunities in the nuclear energy industry. We are currently in the process of inviting all nuclear utilities and related organizations to co-sponsor the remaining costs of the game. We've been impressed with the number of nuclear industry professionals who have volunteered their expertise to make this game a success. To get involved with the project or to learn more about the game visit http://corereaction.org.