New Spring Terrascope Class Debuts

By Ari Epstein, Lecturer, Terrascope

This spring marked the debut of a new, completely revamped Subject 1.016, the core spring-semester offering of the Terrascope freshman learning community. The new version of the class, now called “Communicating Complex Environmental Issues: Building Solutions and Communicating Ideas,” empowers freshmen to conduct effective small-group research and engages them directly with faculty early in their MIT careers, while fostering the strong sense of community and the emphasis on hands-on work that are hallmarks of the Terrascope program.

In the fall Terrascope class, “Solving Complex Problems” (12.000), freshmen develop a solution to a complex problem linked to environmental or Earth-system issues. For example, this year’s problem had to do with mitigating global climate change by reducing levels of carbon in the atmosphere. In the process students become knowledgeable about multiple aspects of the problem, including not just the scientific and technical issues, but political, economic, social and cultural ones as well. In the spring class, students break into small groups, working under the guidance of MIT faculty members, to do hands-on research and design work on specific projects directly related to the year’s theme problem. Faculty advisors are drawn from departments throughout the Institute, as appropriate to the year’s Terrascope problem.

At the end of the semester, the teams join together in Lobby 13 to create a unique Bazaar of Ideas, a festive gathering in which students can show off the work they have done, both to the MIT community at large and to an expert panel invited specifically for the event. Individual teams design and construct working devices, prototypes, models or demonstrations, which they use (along with more conventional text/graphic panels and other displays) in presenting their work to attendees. The class as a whole constructs a physical setting and layout for the space, designed both to attract and inform visitors and to provide the best possible intellectual backdrop for the work they are presenting. Along the way, they learn key techniques in brainstorming, design development, prototyping, construction and presentation. This year’s projects and faculty advisors included:

  • Nikita Consul and Jaclyn Wilson working on a aquifer-based<br />
    carbon-sequestration systemThe “upside-down lake” energy-storage system for ocean-based wind-energy farms. Faculty Advisor: Professor Alex Slocum, Department of Mechanical Engineering.
  • Carbon-intensive building materials. Faculty Advisor: Professor John Ochsendorf, Departments of Architecture and Civil and Environmental Engineering.
  • Modeling and testing an aquifer-based carbon-sequestration system (shown in photo). Faculty Advisors: Professor Alison Malcolm, Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences; Professor Charles Harvey, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.
  • Multi-player games for teaching technical and political issues related to carbon emissions and climate change. Faculty Advisor: Dr. Philip Tan, MIT/Singapore GAMBIT Game Lab.
  • Museum exhibits to teach concepts in carbon sequestration. Faculty Advisor: Dr. Ari Epstein, MIT Terrascope Program.

The Bazaar of Ideas, held during the last week of classes, was very successful; panelists and general visitors alike were impressed at the extent of the research work done by Terrascope freshmen and the level of sophistication they had reached in their understanding of their research topics. The students reported great satisfaction not only with the research experience, but with the teamwork and presentation skills they had acquired over the course of the semester.