Panoramic picture of Champlain from ECHO

Lawrence Hall of Science Visits ECHO Lakes Aquarium and Science Center

Designing compelling 3D visualizations and museum demonstrations cannot be accomplished without meaningful connections between project partners. As part of understanding a context and geographic place, two members of the Lawrence Hall of Science, Sherry Hsi and Frank Kusiak, ventured out to Burlington, VT to see Lake Champlain and the ECHO Lake Aquarium and Science Center. Julie Silverman, Molly Loomis, and Phelan Fretz were wonderful hosts as we engaged in a synergistic design process we like to call “walking in each others’ shoes” to build shared understanding and collaboration between project partners. We learned so much from their considerable experience in informal science interpretation and demonstrations about Lake Champlain.

This post is the first of several that will focus on our visit to ECHO. We loved ECHO’s lake public program demos and that’s where we’ll start our account of our visit.

Panoramic picture of Champlain from ECHO
A beautiful morning on ECHO’s deck. You can clearly see New York’s Adirondacks and several islands in Champlain.


ECHO offers a wide variety of lake-centered demos.  Julie and Molly made sure we saw a variety of their offerings both new and well established.  ECHO’s staff is very creative in terms of utilizing props, backdrops, and space.  ECHO staff member, Bridget, presented a prototype demo, “The O-Fish-al Story,” where she used basic shapes to connect younger audiences with the variety of fish inhabiting Lake Champlain.  We especially liked her use of the aquarium’s glass as a canvas to illustrate her points and tell a compelling story.  We wonder if this can’t also be used to introduce other lake concepts by illustrating the dynamism of a lake ecosystem while incorporating a compelling story.

Picture of Bridget Performing the "O-Fish-al Story"
Bridget using the aquarium’s glass as a canvas for her demonstration, “The O-Fish-al Story”

Nina, an ECHO floor educator, presented “Build Our Basin” where visitors help recreate the Champlain watershed with rolled up newspaper, a green tarp, toy props, and sprinkles on top (sorry, no cherry).   Suitable for a wide range of ages, “Build Our Basin” allows visitors to explore the local geography and how their behaviors at home can impact the health of the lake.  After giving an overview of the local geography and allowing the kids to spray the tarp to see how the water flowed into the basin, Nina had the visitors place objects that symbolized land use and human behavior. The most compelling component was the sprinkles as they represented phosphorous used in fertilizer and detergents.  As the kids sprayed the tarp, the sprinkles partially dissolved and the kids could see the sprinkle’s dye running into the basin.  We’re hoping this experience could be extended or augmented by the iDig Watersheds Sandbox.

Build a Basin Demo Picture
Nina created a compelling, low tech Champlain watershed and showed the impact of humans on the lake’s ecosystem.

Lastly, we saw a wonderful demo about the importance of Champlain’s wetlands and the animals that live and feed in this ecologically vital area.  The use of props, such as brown and blue bedsheets, fake plants, and plush animal toys allowed visitors to readily identify with the demo’s content.  The sheets and plants illustrated the wetland’s ability to filter water and the animal toys allowed visitors to explore an animal’s behavior in a wetland.  It was simple effective and scalable in terms of audience size and active participation.

We learned from our partners at ECHO how simple materials can be used to create compelling demonstrations with minimal expense.  Such lessons are important to all
partners who want to see our Lake 3D demos become widely adopted.

Upcoming posts:  Exhibits, the State of the Lake, and the Champlain Basin Program

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