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Freshmen explore the Amazon with interactive exhibit

Interior of an exhibit on indigenous peoples of the Amazon rainforest, designed and built by Terrascope students.
Interior of an exhibit on indigenous peoples of the Amazon rainforest, designed and built by Terrascope students.

Freshmen in Terrascope--a new program that lets first-year students learn basic science and engineering concepts through the study of Earth--designed and built interactive museum exhibits based on their year-long study of the Amazon rainforest.

The 38 students began their Terrascope experience with subject 12.000 (Solving Complex Problems) in earth, atmospheric and planetary sciences, in which they split into self-managed teams to study the Amazon rainforest and propose environmental monitoring systems and steps that could be taken to reverse environmental degradation.

Some of the students also participated in an IAP course on "Designing Museum Exhibits to Illustrate Earth System Science and Engineering," where they visited local museums and science centers, worked with professionals in Boston-area museums and laid the groundwork for exhibits to be developed in the spring semester.

In 1.016 (Introduction to Earth System Engineering and Science), a spring civil and environmental engineering subject, the students split into teams to design and build their own exhibits.

During spring break, the students traveled to Brazil, where they stayed in a research station in the heart of the rainforest; explored the region around Manaus; and talked with local experts to learn about social, economic and political issues involved in protecting and managing the forest. The trip served both as a capstone for their work in 12.000 and as the basis for much of the information used in 1.016 and later presented in their own exhibits.

The students displayed those exhibits in Room 16-168 and the first floor of Parsons Laboratory (Building 48) on May 9 and 12. The exhibits included a full-size research station based on an actual station in a remote region of the Amazon; a hut similar to the residences of a tribal people there; and interactive displays on the ecosystems and life of the Amazon.

Professor Kip Hodges of earth, atmospheric and planetary sciences taught 12.000 in the fall; Professor Rafael Bras of civil and environmental engineering and Ari Epstein, a lecturer in the School of Engineering, taught the IAP class and 1.016 in the spring.

Terrascope is an educational program of MIT's Earth System Initiative (ESI), located in Room 16-168. Students in Terrascope take all the normal core courses and also must enroll in both 12.000 and 1.016 and participate in related activities that frame the science core in the context of the Earth system.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on May 21, 2003.

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