Like a power-plant avatar, an animated figure strides over to close a valve in response to an engineer's controller. Liquid levels change dynamically within the transparent tank on the screen.
This 3D virtual model will soon be tied live to the first real-time simulator of next-generation power plant technology with carbon capture, which can lead the way to a cleaner planet.
"We're focused on safe, reliable and efficient operation of clean energy systems," said Stephen Zitney (E'83), founder and director of the Advanced Virtual Energy Simulation Training And Research (AVESTAR) Center.
"We offer comprehensive training on the operation and control of these systems. In addition, we're leveraging these simulators in education and R&D."
He added, "The universities see this as a great tool to attract students to science, engineering and energy applications. With the 3D virtual simulation, it's so realistic, it's like they have their own power plant and they're immersed inside."
Zitney's group is part of the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL), a facility with an expertise in fossil energy and one of 16 U.S. Department of Energy labs.
The simulator is the first to focus on 'integrated gasification combined cycle' technology with CO2 capture, a complex system that essentially joins a chemical facility with a power plant.
With more than 1,000 employees in Pittsburgh and Morgantown, NETL is reaching out.
"We're making this region a hub for high-tech energy research, getting students focused on energy applications and keeping them in this region," Zitney said.
Zitney appreciates Carnegie Mellon University's pioneering work and focus on energy issues. He regularly works with CMU faculty and students through his position at NETL.
"We want to let students know they have a national lab based right here," added Zitney, who guest lectures and researches in collaboration with Carnegie Mellon's chemical engineering department.
"I was in the first course that Larry Biegler ever taught at CMU. He's been a great mentor and friend to me over the years. I took my senior design course with Ignacio Grossmann. Then 25 year later, I was standing in front of the same class talking about energy applications. It was exciting."
NETL has also established the Regional University Alliance (RUA), a research collaboration with five universities, including Carnegie Mellon. The Alliance sponsors a number of CMU doctoral candidates studying energy-related issues.
"I've been fortunate to mentor some of the Ph.D. candidates," said Zitney. "CMU students are just so bright, the cream of the crop."
"I valued my time at CMU," he added. "I received an excellent education that provided the foundation for my entire career. I've always looked for ways to give back. Working for NETL, helping to establish closer ties with CMU, collaborating with the university, the professors that gave me my start — the circle's come all the way around."