We know how to make science education fun: all you need is a dumpster, a zany professor, and cutting edge math and science collaboration. The playful and imaginative tone of the Dumpster Project is integral to our educational mission. We think that learning should be a fun experience that has real-world applications – and that’s exactly what the Dumpster Project is aiming for.
Here’s the plan: the Dumpster Team and Huston-Tillotson students are developing a sustainability program for a variety of grade levels based on the broad topic of “less is more.” Professor Dumpster will provide an entertaining context for the program by taking up residence in the dumpster for a full year beginning in fall of 2013. During that time he’s going to need a whole lot of help to make the dumpster habitable in the Texas heat…and that’s where the students come in.
Through a series of three program design challenges, students will help Professor Dumpster monitor the conditions of his dwelling space and outfit the dumpster with everything he needs to live comfortably.
Challenge 1) Water: How will Professor Dumpster drink, cook, bathe, and use the toilet? Professor Dumpster will need potable water filtered from local surface and capture, a passive solar-heated shower, and a way to wash dishes and clothes. He will need a way to recycle used water as efficiently as possible. Data about his water production (filtered/captured), water consumption (gal/day) and water quality (contaminants pre- and post-filtration) will be continuously monitored and delivered as part of the ‘Dumpster Data Dashboard’ on the dumpsterproject.org website.
Challenge 2) Energy: How will Professor Dumpster cool his ‘home’ (and charge his iPhone)? Professor Dumpster will need electricity to light his home, power his computer, charge his smart phone and cook food. There are many options for generating energy, such as a composting toilet that generates energy from waste (recently developed by Cal Tech as part of the Gates Foundation’s Reinvent the Toilet Challenge) microbial fuel cells or solar cells. However, some of these are subject to specific conditions (clouds prevent solar panels from functioning) meaning he will need a way to store energy or have multiple means of producing energy. Switching to alternative light sources, such as halogen or LEDs might help. Data about his energy use, generation, and storage will be continuously monitored.
Challenge 3) Health: How will Professor Dumpster stay healthy in a dumpster? Professor Dumpster will need ventilation, heating, and cooling systems that use as little energy and space as possible. The inside air quality will need to be monitored to ensure safe living conditions ( a build up of CO2 could be toxic); likewise, acid may accumulate on surfaces in the dumpster from the skin cells he naturally sheds. Data about interior and exterior temperature and air quality will be continuously monitored; cultures will be grown from swabs inside his dumpster to monitor bacterial health threats.
Designing Professor Dumpster’s living experience will give students the opportunity to learn and apply Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) content and practices. The program elements will be made available via the project website and mobile device applications.
The Dumpster Project will raise awareness and encourage active participation around issues related to consumption, waste, and sustainability. It’s our goal to translate student engagement with the project into a longer-term interest in sustainability fields such as STEM, design, and planning. The online curricula includes resources such as a podcasts, videos, and data, and will remain available after the life of the project.