Computer Game Aims to Offer Real Energy Solutions
An artist's representation shows how a cost effective solar concentrator could help make existing solar panels more efficient. The dye-based luminescent solar concentrator functions without the use of tracking or cooling systems, greatly reducing the overall cost compared to other concentrator technology. Dye molecules coated on glass absorb sunlight, and re-emit it at a different wavelengths. The light is trapped and transported within the glass until it is captured by solar cells at the edge. Some light passes through the concentrator, and is absorbed by lower voltage solar cells underneath. Graphic not to scale.
Credit: Nicolle Rager Fuller, NSF

At the American Chemical Society's (ACS) 238th National Meeting this week in the nation's capital, an interesting thought experiment will focus the creative genius of hundreds of scientists on how best to find sustainable new sources of energy. The exercise will use a computer game format.

"This is a whole new trend in tackling problem solving," said April Orr, Assistant Director of Member Research and Technology for the ACS and the experiment's manager. "It leverages the intellectual power of chemists for the greater good. The idea is to get chemists to engage and think about how to solve future energy challenges. It is a computer game, but one with serious goals."

More than 12,000 chemists and other researchers are at the meeting.

Players will use their own computers to register on a Web site using an alias or an avatar. The computer asks players to consider a fictitious yet plausible scenario in which there is a rich abundance of cheap, efficient, and "green" energy sources in the year 2026, which happens to be the 150th anniversary of the Society, according to a statement released today. The game asks players to imagine the implications of this scenario of abundant, sustainable energy, including its benefits and challenges. Key questions include:

  • What are the implications of massive energy storage?
  • What inventions are possible?
  • Risks associated with expanded use of metal ion batteries?
  • Implications for mining and municipal solid waste disposal?
  • What if the entire network of wires becomes obsolete?

Players will submit their ideas in response to questions related to that scenario. A moderator will review their answers. Players can also submit so-called "imagination" cards that express how they feel toward certain ideas. Players choose "positive" imagination cards to rate a best case scenario and "dark" imagination cards to rate a worst-case scenario. Players and moderators then pick their favorite ideas.

The moderator then will rate players on the overall quality of their ideas, assigning points. The players with the most points win the game. Ideas from the game will be made available to the scientific community, policy makers, and others, and some could possibly be applied in real life to help the world respond to future energy challenges.

"Our mission as a leading scientific society is to engage our members in discussions and perhaps even solutions, about pressing global challenges," said Denise Creech, ACS director of membership and scientific advancement. "Chemists, after all, will be part of the solution to emerging challenges, like energy, whether it is one of abundance or scarcity."

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