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Sent to the Chronicle
Letter to the Editor:
Re: Colleges Can Help Bring the Power Grid Into the 21st Century by Rob Pratt and Steve Hauser (The Chronicle Review, July 2, 2004)
As the authors of this piece so eloquently state, the power grid is one of the critical infrastructures that serve as the foundation for US prosperity. It plays a vital role in the economy and, hence, knowledge about its operations, the underlying engineering structures, and management thereof, as well as its very survivability depends fundamentally on an educated workface that can comprehend the complexities of this grand network.
We at the Univerity of Massachusetts at Amherst have established the Virtual Center for Supernetworks (see: http://supernet.som.umass.edu) that addresses some of the concerns set forth in this article, principally, the education of students for the 21st century who not only can understand and appreciate the engineering issues involved (as well as the information technology ones) but also the human aspects! Indeed, it is the interaction of humans on the power grid, from the suppliers, the generators, the distributors, down to the very consumers in a supply chain context that is essential. Unlike the authors of this piece, however, we argue that one must also understand and mathematically model the human decision-makers and their interactions. Decision-makers may have entirely different concerns and even different degrees of environmental risk perceptions and it is their interactions with technology that needs to be captured through appropriate tools and understood.
Articles that have been written with students (graduate as well as undergraduate) on supernetworks and critical infrastructure networks, notably, "A Supply Chain Perspective for Electric Power Generation, Supply, Transmission, and Consumption," are available on the above site for the education of anyone interested! Support for this research was provided, in part, by the National Science Foundation and the AT&T Foundation. Undergraduate students involved in the research have been recognized by UMASS Leaders for the 21st Century awards in two consecutive years.
John F. Smith Memorial Professor
Virtual Center for Supernetworks
Isenberg School of Management
University of Massachusetts