Gaming to teach about air pollution (Day 244)

Air quality is something that teenagers and school children probably spend little time thinking about. In the area of Wasatch Front, Utah, US, this issue is particularly important due to weather inversion.

Weather or temperature inversions occur when there is an increase in temperature with height. This means that an inversion can trap pollutants below it causing higher pollution levels.

(L-R): Professor Roger Altizer and Kerry Kelly. Image courtesy of University of Utah College of Engineering

(L-R): Professor Roger Altizer and Kerry Kelly. Image courtesy of University of Utah College of Engineering

Educating young children about air quality and how the decisions we make as an individual and as a society affect pollution can be a challenge, so a chemical engineering research associate at the University of Utah, Kerry Kelly, came up with a video game idea to do just that.

Kelly wanted school students to start thinking critically about air quality, so working with Roger Altizer, a professor at the University of Utah’s Entertainment Arts and Engineering video game program, the web-based game “Bad Air Day: Play It Like UCAIR” was created.

When playing the game, players assume the part of mayor who is trying to collect votes by flying a paper air plane through a 3-D model of Salt Lake City, Utah. Before collecting votes, the mayor must decide whether to make policy decisions which would change emission levels such as: banning wood fireplaces; promoting the use of public transportation; and having residents raise their home thermostats.

Screenshot from "Bad Air Day: Play It Like UCAIR'". Image courtesy of University of Utah College of Engineering

Screenshot from “Bad Air Day: Play It Like UCAIR'”. Image courtesy of University of Utah College of Engineering

These decisions affect how polluted the air will be when flying the plane, so policy decisions and political actions for cleaner air makes it easier to fly, but on the other hand it could anger public voters if conveniences are taken away.

An expert in air quality, Kelly said: “I wanted them to learn that air quality is a challenge for the Wasatch Front, that there are real solutions and strategies we can consider and implement to improve air quality but that there are also trade-offs.”

“I’m hoping to inspire them to ask questions about air quality and what causes our poor wintertime air quality in Utah.”

Learning through gaming, especially on key issues like air pollution is perhaps one of the best ways to educate the younger generation by making it more fun and accesible.

I think it’s an inspiring idea from a chemical engineer and hopefully younger people will become more aware of the decisions they make and how in turn, they affect the local environment.

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