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Exhibit tackles household sewage

A new pair of New England Aquarium exhibits produced by MIT's Sea Grant College Program stimulate visitors to think about the consequences each time they flush their toilets.

The first of the two interactive computer programs, "What Happens When You Flush," explains the sewage system and wastewater treatment through colorful drawings and animation, showing the route from household sewage pipes through the sewage treatment plant and on to Boston Harbor. The second, "What Can You Do," tells people steps they can take to help the harbor (other than not flushing at all) with information about water conservation, toxics and marine debris.

The exhibits are installed on Amiga computers and activated by push-buttons. Each station has two monitors, one of them overhead, so several people can watch at once. They are part of a major redesign of the Aquarium's Boston Harbor Room, which was unveiled to the public on October 16.

Aquarium staffers were so impressed by the whimsical artistry of the computer programs that, working with the design team's cartoonist, Ben Brigham, the Aquarium has carried the program's artistic theme throughout the redesigned room.

The installations are part of MIT Sea Grant's contribution to public education about coastal resources. MIT Sea Grant has also developed a classroom-based sewage-treatment program, "The Boston Harbor Sewage Stack." That program runs on Macintosh computers and is available to educators.

MIT Sea Grant's work with the New England Aquarium began several years ago with a computer installation that simulated circulation throughout the harbor. The collaboration was based on MIT's expertise in the innovative use of computers, on MIT Sea Grant's history of support for research on harbor problems (especially circulation), and on the Aquarium's need to educate visitors about the harbor. The programs are an effort to use public education to bring people to the intersection of research (what we know about the harbor) and conservation (what we can do to help).

The design team includes Mr. Brigham, drawings; J.F. Bertrand of the New England Aquarium (NEA), educator; David Bubier (NEA), senior exhibit designer; Alan Hankin (NEA), associate director of programs and exhibits; Kathleen Heide, former MIT Sea Grant communications director (now at Hatfield Marine Center in Oregon), story and development; Keith Kirkpatrick, programming, animation and bass guitar; and Carolyn Levi, MIT Sea Grant communications manager, text.

A version of this article appeared in the November 3, 1993 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 38, Number 12).

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