Summer Engineering with SEE and Birch Aquarium

By Robert Raad, Birch Aquarium Exhibits Department

A new collaboration utilizing contemporary technology between UC San Diego Students and Birch Aquarium at Scripps

This summer, an interdisciplinary cohort of undergraduate and graduate students embarked on a program, the Summer Engineering Experience (SEE) at EnVision, headed by Jesse DeWald (EnVision Maker Studio Staff Director), where they worked to develop solutions to the challenges of communicating climate science in a museum setting.

Utilizing the tools and expertise at EnVision Arts and Engineering Maker Studio at UC San Diego, a group of students from diverse disciplines–including arts, engineering and cognitive science–successfully launched two prototype museum installations in collaboration with Birch Aquarium at Scripps.

Engaging with current Scripps Institution of Oceanography research, two teams of students created sensory interactive exhibits aimed at activating the general public with issues related to climate science.

Albedo–a measure of optical reflectance or brightness–is communicated through a tabletop interactive experience where users can manipulate the amount of ice cover in Antarctica. Here, as ice recedes and exposes more rock or ocean water, albedo decreases, leading to more energy absorption (less energy reflection) which then leads to more warming and ice melt.

With the finished albedo prototype, museum users have the opportunity to see the immediate cause and effect of a changing Antarctic landscape. Moreover, the installation is formatted into a culturally hardwired experience–air hockey.

The second exhibit item successfully completed in the SEE program, Professional Pathways, utilizes RFID (radio-frequency identification) technology. Here, a guest visit is complemented with particular insights from their preferred selection of engineer, climatologist, or biologist.

Within the finished Professional Pathways prototype, museum users can move through the museum, interacting with existing exhibits as they learn additional insights from the perspectives of their choice.

As the Summer Engineering Experience at EnVision concludes, a new group of students will have the opportunity to further evolve each prototype for permanent museum installation.

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Scripps Institution of Oceanography UC San Diego