Can teenagers fend off ecological disaster and save the planet?
In the virtual world of PowerUp, they can.
IBM has launched a free, 3-D online game that challenges teens to help save the planet "Helios" from sandstorms, floods, and "SmogGobs" before natural resources are depleted.
The virtual science game lets multiple players create avatars that race electric-powered buggies across the desert in search of heliostats and junkyard parts to engineer and rebuild wind turbines and solar panels. Players also are challenged to harness water power and make decisions about energy consumption on a planet that faces ecological ruin. They meet in an orientation center to chat with each other, as well as with nonplaying engineers who provide their experience and act as guides.
Accompanying lessons provide fodder for discussion of energy and other topics. An interactive module allows young people to learn about 3-D technologies and how to build virtual worlds.
Two hundred young people, between the ages of 12 and 16, helped create PowerUp, providing input and advice to IBM creators. The TryScience team from the New York Hall of Science worked with the Tech Museum in San Jose, Calif., and the Bakken Museum in Minneapolis on the activities and game content.
The game was launched Friday, as part of IBM's TryScience initiative, at the beginning of Engineers' Week 2008 in the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. The TryScience initiative and Engineer's Week encourage students to consider engineering and science careers.
"Innovation is the key to competitiveness in today's globally integrated economy, but just when we need it to skyrocket, interest in math and science has been declining in the United States," Stanley Litow, VP of corporate citizenship and corporate affairs and president of the IBM International Foundation, said in a statement. "American competitiveness demands more interest in math and science by students. Virtual worlds and 3-D are an unexplored resource in education. We asked our best researchers to incorporate the use of this technology into traditional educational curriculum."
IBM pointed out that U.S. jobs in science, technology, engineering, and math are forecast to grow 22% through 2014, and computer specialist occupations are expected to grow 30%. At the same time, reports show that American grade school students lag behind other developed countries in science and math.