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Austin High students benefit from UT engineering program

     Math and science students at Austin High School are applying the knowledge they learn in calculus, physics and chemistry classes to real world problems thanks to the efforts of some University of Texas at Austin students and faculty.

     SimSite, a computer based site simulator developed by Dr. Robert Gilbert's students in geotechnical engineering, presents a hypothetical contaminated site and asks students to choose from a number of site investigation options. To help students evaluate their actions it models the costs and consequences of each decision. Gilbert's performance database for actual sites helps make the program realistic.

     This effort helps illustrate to high school students how the basic knowledge they gain in the sciences can help give them the ability to solve complex environmental problems that engineers face.

     Austin High students in a chemistry class worked with an experimental version of the simulation last spring. Gilbert and his students returned to Austin High this fall to work with the students and teachers. They worked with a physics class last week and will be working with a calculus class this week.

     Doctoral candidate Mickey McBrayer wrote the Windows-based computer program, and William Carter, a junior civil engineering major, composed the accompanying learning modules and is teaching them.

     “This project is valuable because it shows students how what they learn in a classroom gets used in the real world,” said Gilbert. “They get to see first-hand what engineering is all about. They learn that costs and time can be as important as technical issues in solving a problem. They quickly realize that there is no `right' answer at the back of a book in the real world, and that we have a long way to go as engineers and scientists before we will understand everything about the environment.”