Terrascope, the newest freshman learning community at MIT, is designed to enhance the first-year experience by emphasizing the role of interdisciplinary collaboration in tackling complex, real-world problems. In addition, the program uses the Earth system as a context to explore the relationships among disparate concepts introduced in the rest of the first-year curriculum, particularly the Science Core. The theme for Terrascope in 2002–2003 was the Amazon rain forest. During the fall semester, students in 12.000 Solving Complex Problems were asked to design a strategy to characterize Amazon ecosystems and to develop a plan to ensure their preservation. During the spring semester, in 1.016 Introduction to Earth System Engineering and Science, the students worked to develop interactive, museum-style exhibits to illustrate important concepts arising from the work done in 12.000. During the Independent Activities Period, some of the students took the optional subject 1.991 Designing Museum Exhibits to Illustrate Earth System Science and Engineering as a practicum in preparation for 1.016. Throughout the year, students in the Terrascope program were assigned academic advisors drawn from the Faculty and staff of Course 1 and Course 12.

Program Highlights

Students in 12.000 were divided into 10 teams, each responsible for a different aspect of the overall design problem. These teams were coached by upperclass undergraduate teaching fellows—drawn from across the Institute—and by professional mentors that included many MIT alumni as well as nonalumni scientists with expertise in the ecology of the Amazon region. At the end of the semester, the students presented their final design in two ways. On December 6, 2002, they gave a two-hour lecture on the design, which was webcast live for the benefit of off-campus mentors and parents. The design also was described in detail in a content-rich web site. After the oral presentation, they received feedback on the design from a panel of experts who had been invited especially for the occasion. The panel included Tom Lovejoy (president of the H. John Heinz III Center for Science, Economics and the Environment), Paul Ferraro and Marcelo Cavalcanti (Raytheon Corporation engineers who played major roles in the design of a new generation of environmental monitoring systems for the Brazilian Amazon), and Larry Linden (of Goldman Sachs & Co., who has been active in the design of World Wildlife Fund preservation strategies for the Amazon).

"Designing Museum Exhibits to Illustrate Earth System Science and Engineering" was an intensive, week-long experience in which they visited local museums and science centers, worked with professionals in the Greater Boston museum community, and developed topics for exhibits to be developed in the spring semester.

In 1.016, teams of students designed, developed, and built exhibits that drew on their knowledge of the Amazon rain forest and their understanding of how non-specialists can learn about complex scientific topics. In the process, they exercised and further developed the team-building and project-management skills they had acquired during 12.000. The final exhibits included the following: the recreation of a remote Amazonian research station; full-size models of huts built in the style of some of the Amazon's indigenous peoples; interactive exhibits illustrating the interdependencies of organisms within the rain forest; a simulated journey through various levels of rain forest vegetation; a comparison of life in Boston and Manaus, Brazil; an exploration of the effect deforestation has on the Amazon's water cycle; and a multipart exhibit about the Amazon River itself.

As part of the Terrascope experience, during spring break the students traveled to Brazil, where they stayed in a research station in the heart of the rain forest, explored the region around Manaus (the capital of the Brazilian state of Amazonas), and talked with local experts to acquire a greater understanding of the Amazon rain forest and the social, economic, and political issues involved in protecting and managing the forest. The trip served both as a capstone experience for their work in 12.000 and as the basis for much of the information they presented in the 1.016 exhibits.

Throughout the year, the Terrascope experience was augmented by a variety of cocurricular activities that included weekly luncheons, colloquia by faculty and students from Course 12 and Course 1, and "cultural nights" to familiarize students with the lifestyles and customs of peoples of the Amazon region.

Staff and Enrollment

The program directors are Professors Kip Hodges (EAPS) and Penny Chisholm (CEE and Biology). The subjects were taught by Professors Rafael Bras and Kip Hodges and by Dr. Ari Epstein. Debra Aczel is the program administrator and Ruth Weinrib is the administrative assistant.

Terrascope enrolled 42 students (20 male and 22 female). Terrascope students have declared the following majors: 19 in the School of Engineering, with the highest concentration in Courses 1-E, 3, 6.2, and 16.1 (3 each); 14 in the School of Science, with highest concentrations in Courses 7 and 12; 2 in the School of Management; and 1 in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences. The remaining 4 students have not designated their majors.

Kip Hodges, Codirector and Professor of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences
Penny Chisholm, Codirector and Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Biology

More information about Terrascope can be found on the web at http://web.mit.edu/terrascope/www/.


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