Campus & Community

Nuclear Weapons Data Visualization Reaches Finals of National Science Foundation’s "Vizzies" Award

A pair of web applications developed by a Stevens professor has reached the finals in the games and apps category for "The Vizzies," a competition cosponsored by the National Science Foundation and Popular Science“The Vizzies," a nickname for the long-standing Visualization Challenge, showcases the most beautiful visualizations from the worlds of science and engineering.

Alex Wellerstein, an Assistant Professor of Science and Technology Studies, developed NUKEMAP2 and NUKEMAP3D to help visualize the effects of nuclear weapons using map-based simulations. He developed the applications to make the effects of nuclear weapons more easily comprehensible for the general public, journalists, and students.

“Being told that a certain nuclear weapon emits 500 rem of radiation over a given radius of meters means little to the average person,” Wellerstein said. “But when you pair that with an illustration of the distance over a city they know well, along with a qualitative description of the effects of 500 rem, suddenly the ultimate meaning of this becomes clear to anyone, technical or not.”

NUKEMAP2 uses the Google Maps API to simulate both historical and present-day nuclear weapon detonations to any place on the planet, allowing for complex measurements of blast pressure, thermal and ionizing radiation, and long-range fallout, among other phenomena associated with these detonations. It also makes use of a global population density database to calculate potential casualties. By contrast, NUKEMAP3D uses large, dynamically-generated 3D models of mushroom clouds within the Google Earth web plug-in, helping to convey the vastness of nuclear mushroom clouds.

Wellerstein, whose research into nuclear weapons was recently featured in The Atlantic and The New York Times, believes that nuclear education has lagged since the end of the Cold War, leaving much of the common imagery of nuclear weapons either inaccurate or out of date. He created NUKEMAP to fill that gap and more effectively communicate to non-specialists the impact of these weapons.

Users can vote for NUKEMAP and see other finalists at "The Vizzies" Web site.

About Stevens
Stevens Institute of TechnologyThe Innovation University®, is a premier, private research university situated in Hoboken, N.J. overlooking the Manhattan skyline. Founded in 1870, technological innovation has been the hallmark and legacy of Stevens’ education and research programs for more than 140 years. Within the university’s three schools and one college, more than 6,300 undergraduate and graduate students collaborate with more than 350 faculty members in an interdisciplinary, student-centric, entrepreneurial environment to advance the frontiers of science and leverage technology to confront global challenges. Stevens is home to four national research centers of excellence, as well as joint research programs focused on critical industries such as healthcare, energy, finance, defense, maritime security, STEM education and coastal sustainability. The university is consistently ranked among the nation’s elite for return on investment for students, career services programs and mid-career salaries of alumni. Stevens is in the midst of a 10-year strategic plan, The Future. Ours to Create., designed to further extend the Stevens legacy to create a forward-looking and far-reaching institution with global impact.