3.8 Computer Models and Simulations

Chapter 8 of the book covers ITGS syllabus section 3.8 Spreadsheets, Modelling, and Simulations. Common applications of models and simulations are clearly explained, along with the complexities of models, their impacts, and their potential for errors. These link closely to social/ethical issues such as 1.1 Reliability. Practical exercises are included to help students understand the key concepts. The complex computational requirements of models and simulations is also covered (syllabus section 3.1 Hardware). The following resources are available to support the textbook:

  • Climate and weather models
  • Car crash models
  • Economic models
  • Disease spread and drug models
  • Misc computer models
  • Driving simulators
  • Flight simulators
  • High performance computing
  • Practical spreadsheet help


Textbook exercise - Computer specifications

Exercise 2.2: Computer Specifications

The Top500 site lists details of the most powerful supercomputers in the world, and is updated on a regular basis. Other supercomputer brands students might want to investigate include Cray and IBM.

The types of computer links further down this page may also be useful for this task.
Updated: 2014-10-02
Types of computer

Types of computer

Supercomputing Super Powers (BBC) provides a graphical breakdown of the fastest supercomputers by speed, country, and operating system, while the TOP500 Supercomputing Sites is a regularly updated list of world's fastest supercomputers. The Green500 list is a similar concept, but instead of measuring raw performance, measures performance per Watt.

Cray - The Supercomputer Company have many examples of specifications and applications of supercomputers - the site is an essential read for this topic. Titan supercomputer is the world's most powerful (Telegraph) discusses the Titan supercomputer, while Building Titan: The 'world's fastest' supercomputer is a more in-depth analysis of it, including examples of how it will be used. In June 2013 this record was re-taken by China's Tianhe-2 supercomputer. What Is A Supercomputer? and The supercomputer behind the US nuclear arsenal give a good overview of supercomputers and the kinds of specifications we can expect them to have as of 2019.

For smaller devices, Pocket marvels: 40 years of handheld computers (ComputerWorld) has an interesting slideshow showing the developments in processing power, storage capacities, screen sizes, and input devices over the past 40 years.

Updated: 2019-03-21
Climate and weather models

Climate and weather models


Models 'key to climate forecasts' (BBC) underlines the importance of climate models to modern science, while Supercomputing the Climate (video) that is a good introduction to the weather models and climate models. Hurricane Forecast Computer Models is another useful resource for understanding why models have inaccuracies.

How climate models work

Two articles by National Earth Science Teachers Association and How do climate models work? all explain how computer climate models work, with clear text and diagrams.

Development of climate models

In Pictures: Climate Models (BBC) shows graphically how climate models have developed over the past five decades, from relatively basic models of a spherical Earth to modern advanced models with many more variables and processes. New Supercomputer Enhances Reliability of Weather Predictions (PhysOrg) describes how new technological developments are driving better models.

Problems with climate models

Despite these advances in model development, the ARS Technica article Climate Models get Smarter, but uncertainly won't go away explains why model's results will always differ from reality.

Example models

The Greenhouse Effect model and Carbon cycle model from Gizmos are great examples to use in lessons. NetLogo Models Library: Climate Change is another useful example.

Updated: 2018-01-15
Car crash computer model

Car crash models

Car crash models can be used to test the strength of different car designs, the effects of different safety measures, and the potential injuries to passengers and pedestrians. Car crash simulation is a comprehensive article that covers many aspects of car crash models and simulations. The following new articles and videos cover car crash models from standard road cars to racing cars:

Updated: 2019-03-22
Financial computer model

Economic models

Economics models really jumped into the media spotlight after the global economic recession of 2008-2009. Models were (and are) widely used in the finance industrial - even to the extent that transactions can be made automatically without human intervention. The articles below discuss the social and ethical issues related to these models:
Updated: 2014-10-03
Computer model

Various models

Updated: 2019-03-22
Driving simulator

Driving simulators

Along with flight simulators, driving simulators are the canonical example of simulator software. They range from quite basic software driving simulators (video) that run on most modern computers, to full-blown simulators with dedicated full motion hardware. Racing teams also make extensive use of simulators, as demonstrated by the Red Bull F1 Simulator with Mark Webber, On Board with Lewis Hamilton in the F1 Simulator, and Trying out Fernando Alonso's Ferrari F1 simulator (video).

Updated: 2019-03-22

Help for practical spreadsheet projects

Basic computer models can be constructed relatively easily in class using a  spreadsheet. GCFLearnFree and its YouTube channel have excellent video lessons for Excel and a range of other office-style software. Motion Training's video tutorials for Excel are also very good. Dummies.com has text based tutorials on several specific aspects of Excel that often cause problems.
Updated: 2014-10-03
ITGS Keyword bingo

Lesson resources: Keyword Bingo

Keyword bingo makes a great lesson starter or revision activity. Give students one or two cards containing ITGS database key words, then read out the definitions. Students need to match one of their keywords (not all cards contain all key words). The first student to get all key words wins. This set of cards covers only key terms related to the Hardware and Software chapters of the book. Download: Student cards, teacher clues.
Updated: 2014-10-03
Patient simulators

Patient simulators and training tools

Patient simulators are computerised mannequins used to train medical staff. Unlike traditional first aid mannequins, patient simulators use computer technology to provide outputs (such as 'heart beats') and realistic responses to treatment. Patient simulators are available in several versions, including male, female, child, and baby.

The CAE Healthcare home page has extensive information about patient simulators, including high quality images, video examples and use cases for nurses, EMS, and the military. Robot patients help doctors polish their skills (BBC video) also shows these patient simulators in use.

Virtual patients: hi-tech training for the operating theatre explains how Anatomage, a new touch-screen virtual operating table, works. The system features a complete digital 'patient', and is being used to train staff at Saint Mary's hospital in London.
Updated: 2014-11-07
Computer models

Computer models for health care

Various computer models are used to help design new drugs and administer existing drugs and treatments more effectively: Other health models are used to improve our understanding of the human body: Finally, computer models may be used to predict the spread of a certain virus or bacteria, with a view to preventing it:
Updated: 2016-11-20
Distributed Computing

Distributed Computing

Distributed Computing, sometimes called Grid Computing, uses the combined processing power of many individual, geographically separate computers to solve large computing problems. Here are three examples of community distributed computing projects.

Folding@Home is a great example of using distributed computing techniques. In order to design better treatments for many common cancers and diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, Stanford scientists are studying how proteins 'fold' and 'misfold'. Unfortunately these biological simulations take a lot of computing power - more than is available to the scientists. To solve this problem they started the Folding@Home project - by downloading a small program you can have your computer perform calculations on one of these folding projects using 'spare' processor time. So far over 150,000 computers are involved in the project, bringing much more computational power than would be available in one location. Rosetta@Home is a similar project that aims to determine the 3D shapes of proteins.

Another example of a distributed computing project is SETI@Home. The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence collects huge amounts of data from radio telescopes scanning the skies, and uses distributed computing power to look for patterns in that data which may indicate signals generated by an intelligent species.

Finally, ClimatePrediction.net bills itself as the 'world's largest climate modelling experiment'. Users running the climateprediction.net software help compute climate predictions for the next century, including temperature and rainfall data.

Updated: 2014-12-14
Heat transfer computer model

Heat transfer model

Energy 2D is an interactive heat transfer model. Students can create structures made from different materials and test their thermal characteristics. There are versions for Windows, Mac OS, and Linux, so it should be accessible to all students.

You can read more about how I use it in ITGS.

Updated: 2016-07-07
Fire computer models

Fire spread models

Computer models can be used to predict the chances of wildfires breaking out, and the path they may take if they do. Wilder wildfires? Computing helps predict their path and fury gives a good overview of these models. Burning Question (The Atlantic) discusses why computer models of wild fires are becoming less accurate.

There are also several interactive computer models that students can use. Fire! is the most basic model, really little more than a visualisation of probabilities. However, it is useful for discussions on the accuracy of models. A Better Fire is a more advanced version that includes wind direction and strength, as well as forest density.

Updated: 2019-03-22