Simulation – Overview

Computer simulation and modeling (SiM) generates information and knowledge about something that happens in the real world without having to test it in the real world. Simulation and modeling is an important area in science and engineering as well as in computer science. Without many of the computer science methods and algorithms there would be significantly fewer effective simulations.

In order to do a simulation, one needs to first build a mathematical model of the actual scenario. The model is an abstraction of the real world and it forms the basis for a program leading to the simulation. Simulations are often time consuming and require high performance computing environments like clusters or supercomputers.

SiM arises in many applications and common examples are listed below (more examples can be found in the NetLogo library).

  • Engineering (car crashes, engine design, spacewalks, construction of buildings,  bridges, and airplanes, pilot training)
  • Medicine and Health Sciences (spread of a disease, training physicians, surgery)
  • Physics and Chemistry (chemical reactions, physical processes, radioactivity, drug discovery)
  • Biology (animal migration, animal behavior, evolution)
  • Social Sciences (elections, crowd behavior, consumer behavior)
  • Environment (weather, climate, earthquake, pollution, flood damage, erosion, crop yield)
  • Games (many computer games including Sims, SimCity, FarmVille, Madden, Plague, Minecraft)

In almost all applications the knowledge generated through simulation and modeling increases quality, improves safety, and reduces costs.

  • Getting started on Simulations: Coin flips and die tosses
    • Two classic simulation examples are flipping coins and rolling dice. These situations provide simple, easy-to-understand situations that nevertheless provide valuable insight.
  • Simulations in the NetLogo Environment
    • NetLogo is widely used to teach simulation and modeling to students with little or no programming experience. We discuss three NetLogo examples, Wildfire, Segregation, and Virus on a Computer Network, and describe related activities for students.
  • The Monty Hall Game Revisited
    • The Monty Hall game is a version of an old paradox which has puzzled people for centuries.  While a theoretical argument for the winning strategy exists, students are often not convinced. A simulation provides experimental insight.
  • Monte Carlo Method
    • The Monte Carlo method is often mentioned in connection with simulations. It is commonly used method  to predict possible outcomes of an event probabilistically.