Home » Curriculum » Science

Category Archives: Science

LinCity-NG -I Finally Attained a Self-sustained Society

lincity-ng,energzie enducation through open source
One of my fiine Universities

Regular readers (or should that be “reader”?) of this blog know that one of my favorite open source games with educational potential is LinCity-NG.  This is a port of the classic game SimCity.  What makes it ideal for education is that you could build integrated units focusing on ecology and economics, as, in theory, it is possible to create a society that is self-sustaining economically and in balance with the environment.  I say “in theory” as thia has never been accomplished by me.  Until now, that is.

In order to succeed in attaining such a civilization, you must have one that is economically stable.  This means that your citizens have to be employed, fed and comfortable.  You also need a

lincity-ng,energize education
This Tip has been emptied by surrounding Recycling Centers.

decent technology level (called tech level in the game), which can be attained by constructing Monuments early on, Schools late and, eventually, Universities.  Once this has been attained, you will attain the ability to create four things essential to having a self-sustaining, ecologically-friendly society -Recycling Centers, Parks, Solar Power Stations and the aforementioned Universities.  Recycling centers cut back drastically on waste and can even be used to empty Tips (landfills in LinCity-NG) as they produce ore, steel and other goods through recycling.  Check out the screenshot and you’ll see a Tip that has been emptied by surrounding Recycling Centers.  This limits the waste of society to such things as air pollution.  To combat air pollution, build Parks around Coal fired power stations and other sources of air pollution to shelter residences.  (hint: holding CTRL and P will create a park with a pond.)

lincity-ng,christopher whittum
This simple Park fights air pollution.

Solar Power Plants generate MHz, which can be used to power light and heavy industry, textile mills and other facilities of this nature.  To power homes (KHz), you’ll need to connect these to Substations.  Once you have Solar Power Stations, you no longer need alternative, polluting energy sources, like Coal fired  power stations.  You also no longer need Coal Mines.  This greatly minimizes pollution in general, but especially air pollution.  The one caveat that I would offer is that Solar Power Stations can occasionally catch fire, so be sure to have Fire Departments nearby.

Finally, there are universities.  There has to be four schools for every university.  Also, universities are more expensive to run.  What you gain in exchange for this is the opportunity to more rapidly increase your tech level.

energize education
Solar Power Stations -your best choice for clean energy

So, I have shared my successes with LinCity-NG.  I hope that this well inspire others.  None of my previous ongoing games in LinCity-NG have attained this level of success.  I hope that you can attain it as well.

ExpEYES… Your Lab@Home

expeyes,energize education ExpEYES is a low-cost open source framework of computer hardware and software that provides a means to perform low-cost science experiments using computers.  ExpEYES offers formats designed for students from high school on.  Let’s take a look at what can be done with ExpEYES.

expeyes,energize educationAccording to its Web site, ExpEYES is a tool for learning science through exploration and experimentation, It includes integrated an oscilloscope and a signal generator and is powered via USB.  ExpEYES offers 12-bit analog resolution, accurate measurements and is physically compact, for easy relocation.  The software for ExpEYES is written in Python, an open source programming language.  The online manual presents 50 (yes, fifty!) experiments that users can duplicate and, perhaps tha coolest feature of all, others can be easily created and added to the list.

expeyes,energize education
Make your own AC generator with ExpEYES.


So, from where does this marvel of scientific exploration come?  ExpEYES was developed by the PHOENIX project of Inter-University Accelerator Centre (IUAC) of New Delhi.  The long-term goal of this project is to make the equipment and methods used in research available to the student community.  In science, experiments are performed, data is collected and analyzed.  Conclusions drawn.  The difference offered by ExpEYEs is the fact that the equipment is affordable.

Measuring water conductivity

So, what kind of experiments can a burgeoning scientist perform with ExpEYES?  According to the ExpEYES User’s Manual, users can conduct experiments involving electricity, magnetism, electronics, sound, mechanics, optics, heat and computer programming.  In terms of electricity, young scientists can perform experiments involving, among many other topics, voltage measurement, water conductivity and AC circuit study.  Regarding electricity and magnetism, possible experiments include creating a simple AC generator and making an electromagnet.  Some of the other experiments include amplitude and frequency modulation (electronics), sound velocity, using a stroboscope and hardware communication.

expeyes,energize education,open source experiments
What experiments could your students conduct with ExpEYES?


As potentially enriching as ExpEYES sounds, it is just one of several open source technology products created as part of the PHOENIX Project.  If you’re interested in learning more about this and other opportunities to cultivate the scientists and engineers in your school, you should check out the ExpEYES Web site.  Your students will thank you through their creations, if not through their words.

Thanks to Ajith Kumar for his support, the contributions that he provided and for suggested modifications.

ExpEYES is available for Linux and Microsoft Windows.  It is available in Canada and the UK.


ExpEYES Web site

The PHOENIX Project


ExpEYES junior user’s manual: experiments for young engineers and scientists.  n.d.). New Delhi: Inter-University Accelerator Centre. GNU General Public License.  Retrieved from http://www.iuac.res.in/~elab/expeyes/Documents/eyesj-a4.pdf.

Stellarium -open source planetarium

I came across this little gem while perusing the Ubuntu Software Center and decided to give it a shot.  Stellarium is an open source, free planetarium that runs right on your computer.  To be honest, I was really taken aback by Stellarium’s stunning appearance and visual quality.  For one thing, it doesn’t run in a window.  It launches into full-screen mode, which beautifully presents the eye-catching graphics.  I can discuss this further at another point.

stellarium,energize education thrugh opne source,energize education
Stellarium’s default appearance

As previously mentioned, Stellarium opens in full screen mode by default.  The user finds him or herself looking up at the night sky in the northern hemisphere.  Only the major heavenly bodies and cardinal compass points  are labeled.  The interface is very straightforward.  At the bottom of the screen, a panel provides information such as location (Paris, France by default), elevation, Field of View (FOV), Frames Per Second (FPS), date and time.  Clicking on a heavenly body brings up information about that body, such as its name, position and distance from Earth.  Configuration is handled through two docks/panels called toolbars in the lower left corner.  The bottom toolbar, or main toolbar, allows the user to turn visual effects on and off.  The side toolbar opens dialog boxes used to configure Stellarium.

stellarium,energize education,christopher whittum,whitshade
Stellarium displaying Constellation Art.

So, what does Stellarium have to offer in terms of features?  According to the Stellarium Web site, Stellarium includes a default catalog of over 600,000 stars (though additional catalogs containing up to 210 million are available)  There are optional connecting lines and/or illustrations (referred to as Constellation Art) that can be toggled to better visualize constellations.  Stellarium offers constellations for over 20 cultures and the stories behind those constellations.  Views of every planet, and their satellites, are provided.  Other features include powerful zoom, multilingual support, time controls, excellent graphics and integrated help.

stellarium,energize education,opne source planetarium,open source educational software
Stellarium’s toolbars

Arguably, one of Stellarium’s greatest strengths is the level of customization that it offers.  First of all, as I mentioned, Paris, France is the default location.  Paris is, however, one of hundreds of locations around the world from which users may choose for their session.  Additionally, if you’re bored with Earth, you can view the stars from such heavenly bodies as Mars, Saturn or the Moon.  One feature that the author thought was pretty cool was being able to toggle the visibility of the ground.  Remove the ground and you can view the whole night sky, northern and southern hemispheres, just as if you were in outer space.  Other features that can be controlled include equatorial and azumuthal lines, the flow and direction of time and visibility of nebulae.  Combine these with the many other features available and you have an incredible platform upon which your students can explore the universe.

Stellarium is available for Linux, Apple MacOS and Microsoft Windows.


Stellarium Home Page

Stellarium User’s Guide


Category: User’s guide.  (2014).  Retrieved from the Stellarium Wiki: http://www.stellarium.org/wiki/index.php/Category:User’s_Guide


QGIS -An Open Source Geographic Information System

energize education, qgis
The QGIS logo

Today I want to take a look at QGIS, a free, open source Geographic Information System. So, what is a geographic information system? The U.S. Government Accountability Office (February 2015) defines a geographic information system as “a computer system for capturing, storing, checking, and displaying data related to positions on Earth’s surface. GIS can show many different kinds of data on one map, such as streets, buildings, and vegetation. This enables people to more easily see, analyze, and understand patterns and relationships.” Imagine the kinds of classroom activities that you could develop for Science and Social Studies classes with this kind of software. It’s comparable to ESRI, but without the rather hefty expense that often comes with proprietary technology.

QGIS is actually comprised of several components. The first is the QGIS Desktop. This component allows users to create, view, analyze and share geospatial information. The QGIS Browser allows users to review and organize their data. QGIS Server allows users to share data and to choose which aspects of the data are viewable by others. The QGIS Web Client makes publishing maps online a breeze. They can also be enhanced with symbols and labels. The final component, QGIS on Android, is at the beta level of development, but experienced users are welcome to try it out.

qgis,energize education
A QGIS session

So what can you do with QGIS? You can create, edit, manage and export data using a variety of tools such as OpenStreetMap integration. There are digitizing tools that support OCR and GPS. Spatial data can be analyzed in terms of vectors, geoprocessing and geometry, among other criteria. QGIS also integrates 400 tools from GRASS GIS. Additionally, QGIS can share your work online as a WCS (World Coverage Service), a WMS (Web Map Service) or as a WFS (World Feature Service). In short, virtually anything that a user would want to do with a map, he or she can do with QGIS. Imagine the projects students could complete.

QGIS owes much of its functionality and versatility to the wide variety of plugins that are available. The core plugins installed by default include, but are by no means limited to, GPS Tools, Raster Terrain Analysis, interpolation and a Road Graph plugin. Furthermore, a real strength of this software, especially in terms of expandability, is the integration of the Python programming language. Python has been used to develop many of the external pulugins available through the QGIS community. As part of this integration, QGIS offers a Python console through the use of which new plugins can be developed. How’s that for growth potential?

qgis,energize education,energize education through open source
QGIS displays information about the habitat of the Asian Lynx.

Python and QGIS combine with OpenLayers, an open source mapping library, and APIs (Application Program Interface) to create some incredible maps. Maps can be generated that, with a click, can move from one location to another. Maps can be developed that zoom in and out as needed with a mouse click. Users can even toggle between different types of maps for the same regions. For example, QGIS was used recently by undergraduate students to analyze the habitat of the Asian Lynx in the Carpathian mountains. you can view some of their findings in the screenshot at left.

energize education through open source,qgis
QGIS running on Linux in GNOME

You’re thinking, ‘This is great! But how long does it take to learn to use QGIS or become proficient in it enough to teach my students?” The good news is that there is a large amount of documentation available to help new users install and learn to run QGIS. Most of the literature is available on the QGIS Web site and I have provided links directly to some of them below. Regarding the Python programming language, it is fairly easy to learn to use and there are plenty of free tutorials available online. As to using this application with students, you could argue that, because of Python integration, QGIS will grow with your learners.

QGIS is available for Linux, Microsoft Windows and MacOS X.

Thanks to Charles Cossé for suggesting this topic. All images have come from the QGIS home page.


QGIS Web Site

A Gentle Introduction to GIS


Dichte, A., Ehrminger, L., Garcia Travesi Reyes, S., Hoppe, T. and Winger, D. Gnilke, A., Hiltunen & Mund, J.P. (August 2015). Lynx habitat analysis in the Southern Carpathians. Creative Commons. Retrieved from http://www.qgis.org/en/site/about/case_studies/europe_lynx.html.

QGIS user guide. Release 2.8. (14 November 2015). The QGIS Development Team. GNU Venereal Public License. Retrieved from http://docs.qgis.org/2.8/pdf/en/QGIS-2.8-UserGuide-en.pdf.

U.S Government Accountability Office. (February 2015). Progress Needed on Identifying Expenditures, Building and Utilizing a Data Infrastructure, and Reducing Duplicative Efforts (Publication No. GAO-15-193). Retrieved from http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/668494.pdf.

LinCity-NG: Economics & Ecology

I want to look at a fun application entitled LinCity-NG. As the name would imply, it is an open source clone of Electronic Artis’ (EA) SimCity. LinCity-NG has evolved quite a bit since my first encounter with it ten years ago. It has an aesthetically appealing interface and is highly customizable in terms of features and game play.

LinCity-NG is also a wonderful way for students to learn about both economics and ecology. My reasoning for this is that this game requires users to build a civilization. In order for a civilization to grow it must first survive and then expand. Surviving means that you must have a successful economy with employment, resources and trade. These things fluctuate during the game and to succeed, you must be able to compensate for them. In terms of ecology, as you expand, you will encounter various types of terrain, such as wetlands, that you must work around as removing them is very expensive. You must also be aware that civilizations generate pollutants. These pollutants must be dealt with responsibly in order to avoid repercussions. Keeping these factors in mind, let’s take a closer look at LinCity-NG.

energize education,"energize education through open source,open source educational software,open source instructional software,free educational software,free instructional software,open source educational technology,open source instructional technology,free educational technology,free instructional technology,christopher whitttum,christopher d. whittum,lincity-ng
LinCity-NG Main Menu

When initially launched, LinCity-NG presents the user with a straightforward interface. The screenshot at left displays the main menu. Clicking the New option opens a menu allowing users to select a scenario. Available options include Beach, good times and bad times, among others. Personally, I like to start with an empty board and when I create my LinCity-NG academic unit (forthcoming), this will be required so that all students start at the same level in the game. If you’re experimenting with LinCity-NG, by all means try different scenarios. The titles are self-explanatory.

Once your game starts, you will be presented with a map of the terrain upon which a civilization must be built. There is a panel on the upper left-hand side of the screen that provides access to available actions and structures. In the lower left corner is what looks like the control buttons on a DVD player. These allow users to accelerate and pause the simulation or to run it at normal speed. Users can also access the main menu from here. In the lower right-hand corner, is a panel offering a map, some buttons below it and several tabs. Both tabs and buttons allow you to view various information about your civilization, such as economic standing and resource availability, among other things. The map is laid out in a rhomboid shape. Check out the screenshot at right for an idea of the initial layout.

energize education,"energize education through open source,open source educational software,open source instructional software,free educational software,free instructional software,open source educational technology,open source instructional technology,free educational technology,free instructional technology,christopher whitttum,christopher d. whittum
An empty map upon which to build your civilization

In the beginning, users can create only the bare minimum in terms of structures for their civilization. As your civilization grows, more options become available. This is what would make LinCity-NG an ideal platform for learning. All learners start at the same level. Each could be provided with a rubric identifying what their society must have in terms of services and industry at specified points in game time. For example, “By simulation year 60, your civilization should have Residences and Farms powered by Windmills.”

Looking at the panel in the upper-left corner, each button represents a category. The top button allows you to toggle between the Query tool (mouse pointer),the Bulldozer and Water. Clicking on anything with the Query tool will provide information about that item in the little map window in the lower-right corner. The next tool on the panel allows you to iniitally build Residential areas. You can choose from one of three options, each of which affects the population levels differently. The button below this could best be described as basic resources. These include at outset Market (where jobs are created and goods exchanged), Farm (for food) and Water well.

energize education,"energize education through open source,open source educational software,open source instructional software,free educational software,free instructional software,open source educational technology,open source instructional technology,free educational technology,free instructional technology,christopher whitttum,christopher d. whittum
One of the author’s bustling communties

The next button opens a menu that could be best described as social services. Initially, Monument (something to give the citizens pride in their community) is the only option available, but others include School, Fire Department and Sport (like a basketball court). Transportation is the next category. The only option available is Track (like a trail) at first, but others such as Road and Port can quickly be unlocked. Power sources are next and none of these are available at start up time. Windmills however can be readily earned to provide power to Residences and Farms, as I indicated above.

energize education,"energize education through open source,open source educational software,open source instructional software,free educational software,free instructional software,open source educational technology,open source instructional technology,free educational technology,free instructional technology,christopher whitttum,christopher d. whittum
You can zoom in and out with the mouse wheel. Cool, huh?

Resource sources are next. The options available at the beginning include Commune (a place where such goods as coal and steel are produced), Ore mine and Rubbish tip (landfill). Other choices that become available are Coal mine and Recycle (recycling center). Industries make up the final menu. Pottery is the only option available at outset (like all industries in the game, Pottery converts resources into goods). As the game progresses, users have access to Blacksmith, Mill, Light Industry and Heavy Industry. If you haven’t got all of that committed to memory, don’t worry. One of LinCity-NG’s greatest strengths is its integrated help. Just right-click on any of these options for more information about them.

I could write more on this stimulating application, but I leave it to you to explore LinCity-NG for yourself. Your students will be enrapt. There is one more academic aspect of LinCity-NG that I neglected to mention and that is creativity. Though you can use it to teach students about economics and ecology, one fun aspect for the educator is the opportunity to observe the worlds that students will create and how they vary. Student creativity is often one of the greatest rewards that educators can enjoy.

LinCity-NG download for Linux and Microsoft Windows

Sharp, G., Keasling, C. and Peters, J.J. (n.d.). LinCity-NG [software]. GNU General Public License.

Energize Education Tip of the Day!

LnCity-NG is an open source counterpart to SimCity. Users can create their own civilizations complete with inducstry, services and culture. Users have a first-hand opportunity to learn about the principles of economics, such as supply-and-demand and inflation versus recession. Best of all, users create a world of their own.

lincity-ng,energize education through open source,open source educational software,open source instructional software,free educational software,free instructional software,open source educational technology,open source instructional technology,free educational technology,free instructional technology,christopher whitttum,christopher d. whittum
The author’s LinCiity-NG session (you can see industry, housing, a school and a sports arena).