By Caroline Frischmon

Did you know that the biggest contributor to landfills in the U.S. is wasted food? We don’t eat about 40% of what’s produced in the country each year, but there’s a better solution than landfilling all this food. Anaerobic digestion turns the waste into fertilizer and methane, which is used to generate electricity and heat.

 I’ve spent the last few months developing an interactive exhibit on anaerobic digestion with two other SCL members, Kara and Carlise. Originally, we expected it to debut at the Minnesota State Fair, but COVID-19 got in the way of those plans. Regardless, we are continuing to develop the exhibit knowing it will eventually make its way to public events and museums. 

I remember feeling overwhelmed while writing the exhibit proposal for the fair. My major, Bioproducts Engineering, covers anaerobic digestion extensively, so while I knew the topic well, I also had to filter out a lot of extraneous information into bite-size, visual chunks. I turned in the proposal minutes before boarding a plane for Spring Break with the feeling that the bulk of the planning was now done. All that was left was working out some details with Carlise and passing it off to Kara to design the graphics.

I may have been more aware at that point of the impending pandemic than I was for how little we really had planned for the exhibit. Once we returned from spring break to a new “Work from Home” reality, I tried jumping right in with Kara and Carlise. We were quickly at a loss for how to move forward. I still had far too much information than what could fit on an exhibit board designed to hold a viewer’s attention for less than a minute. 

We ended up taking a step back and creating succinct learning goals at each audience level: elementary school student, high schooler, and adult. This exercise helped me realize I had designed the exhibit around predetermined activities and then tried to squeeze learning goals into those plans. Taking the step back helped us reevaluate what exactly we wanted participants to learn from the exhibit. We then designed interactive activities around those established learning goals rather than the other way around. 

Now we are well on our way to completing an interactive experience focused on the most important aspects of anaerobic digestion. Hopefully, the finished product will find its way to a public event soon, pandemic willing.

© 2020 Regents of the University of Minnesota. All rights reserved. The University of Minnesota is an equal opportunity educator and employer. Privacy Statement