In a previous career I wrote simulators for the US military as a contractor. I was impressed with how much you can learn by simulating dangerous and/or expensive activities. Since then, the cost of simulation technology has dropped by several orders of magnitude making simulation available on even smartphones. In my mind, Angry Birds is a physics simulator that happens to be about Birds. 🙂
I read this article yesterday from Ars-technica where they were talking about the original F-1 rocket engines that powered the Saturn V rocket to the moon. Some folks at NASA recently did a project where they took a few of these 40 year old rocket engines and disassembled them. They then scanned the parts in 3d and made a CAD model of the engine. This then enables them to simulate running the engine in the computer. They can also make changes and see how the engine would react.
This story interests me a great deal because I am a space enthusiast but also I can see how this could spark an interest in school kids. Check out this quote from the article.
At the time, the F-1 was the largest and most powerful liquid-fueled engine ever constructed; even today, its design remains unmatched.[…] The power generated by five of these engines was best conceptualized by author David Woods in his book How Apollo Flew to the Moon—”[T]he power output of the Saturn first stage was 60 gigawatts. This happens to be very similar to the peak electricity demand of the United Kingdom.”
That’s just mind blowing how much energy we are talking about. Imagine having a simulation of that engine available for school kids to mess with. They could try manipulating the various shapes and see if they could optimize the engine for more power or greater efficiency. Along the way they would be learning about chemistry, physics, combustion, metallurgy, computational fluid dynamics, and rockets. Sounds like a great way to interest kids in STEM classes and create a new generation of scientists.
Education has to be more than just rote learning, it has to start with interest and simulation might be a good way to do this.