Media Contacts

Melinda Rogers

Communications Specialist , University of Utah Health Sciences Office of Public Affairs

Jan 17, 2014 12:32 PM

A video game to help Utahns learn how to change their day-to-day behavior to improve the state’s air quality? There’s an app for that.

Or at least there will be soon. 

The University of Utah Program for Air Quality, Health and Society has been awarded a $40,000 grant from UCAIR to develop a prototype of a game that will encourage people to change their habits to help improve Utah’s dirty air. The project is launching this month, and includes a partnership between the University of Utah’s top-ranked Entertainment Arts and Engineering program, high school students from the Granite School District’s AMES Academy,  Breathe Utah, the Utah Division of Air Quality, and researchers from the University of Utah Program for Air Quality Health and Society.

“The idea is to get smart people interested in the subject of air quality together and to form ideas for a game,” said Kerry E. Kelly, a research associate with the University of Utah Department of Chemical Engineering and associate director of the University of Utah Program for Air Quality, Health and Society.   “There are so many ideas for options when it comes to how the game will come together creatively at the end of the project. We are excited to see our results and are looking forward to the learning opportunities students involved with this project will experience as a member of the team.”

Roger Altizer, director of game design and production at the Entertainment Arts and Engineering program, said the app students are designing will help people take steps in the right direction to reduce emissions. One example of a scenariothat could be featured in the game is a character that drives on a “red air” day. Game users will watch air quality decrease as a result of the decisionthey “chose” for their character, and other complications may arise, such as people moving away from the community.

“Video games not only enable us to teach complex topics, but they allow participants to ‘play’ with the factors that contribute to the poor air quality in our community,” said Altizer, who is overseeing the grant at the U. along with Kelly. “More than watching a video or reading a book, a game lets residents participate in the lesson, to learn in a way that is meaningful to them as an individual.”

Kelly said the game will be designed to be an interesting and fun tool for the general public, but the team of developers will also be working with teachers on a plan forincorporating the product into lesson plans about air quality and environmental issues in Utah.

“Because of Utah’s unique meteorology and topography, air quality is going to continue to be a problem for years to come. I think it's important to have young peoplewell-versed in some of our air quality challenges,” said Kelly. “The development of this video game is one way to continue working toward betterpublic awareness of air quality issues.”

The grant awarded to the University of Utah Program for Air Quality, Health and Society is one of several grants announced by UCAIR this month. UCAIR, or the Utah Clean Air Partnership, is an initiative set up by Gov. Gary Herbert in 2012 to fosterideas and collaboration among businesses and communities to work toward cleaner air in the state.

UCAIR on Jan. 16 announced it has awarded more than $350,000 in grants to 13 organizations for funding education, energy/transportation and home retrofit projects to improve air quality. The funding was provided through UCAIR’s Grants program.

“UCAIR is focused on educating, encouraging and empowering everyone to take actions that can improve our air quality,” said Ted Wilson, UCAIR executive director, in a statement announcing the grants. “We recognize that emissions-reducing and energy-efficient technologies are an investment, and our focus with this program is to help bridge the gap between having a great idea and fiscally being able to bring that idea to fruition. “

Kelly said a team of students who will work on the project is currently being assembled. The game is projected to be finished around December 2014.

About the Program

The University of Utah Program for Air Quality, Health and Society was established in December 2012. The multidisciplinary program explores all facets of air pollution, including its generation, health effects for people, societal implications and ways to reduce or mitigate its effects. The program seeks to position the University of Utah as a national leader in understanding and addressing theconsequences of air pollution for human health and welfare. The program is supported by the Senior Vice President for Health Sciences, the Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs,Vice President for Research, as well as the College of Engineering and the Southwest Consortium for Environmental Research and Policy.