Luke Anthenat: Engineering and Technology Exhibits for the Illinois Distributed Museum (Sp20)

            This Spring I began an internship with the Illinois Distributed Museum as a sort of research assistant. The point of the Illinois Distributed Museum is to act as a gathering point for the collective knowledge of the University of Illinois. Hosted within the main library archive, the IDM hopes to share information and stories about innovation and innovators related to the university, from whipped cream to the LED and everything in between.

            My work for the IDM was fairly straightforward, over the course of the semester I was to select four examples of innovation from the university and write short informative labels about them which would mimic the labels found in traditional museums. My exhibits were meant to showcase information, pictures, scholarly sources, and additional links and locations for readers who might be interested in learning more about the topics that I wrote about. At first, I found the idea of writing for future audiences daunting, and while I am still by no means comfortable with it, I have slowly gotten more adjusted to it as I have worked on my four exhibits.

            For my internship I wanted to try and focus my exhibits on innovations within fields that I am more familiar with, such as engineering and technology. My first exhibit was on an invention called “The Smart Ice Management System”. The system was an experimental method for airline pilots to receive real time data which could help them to counter the effects of ice build-up on the outside of planes. This exhibit was interesting to work on, but a lack of available information made it a little difficult when it came to the early stages of information gathering. My second exhibit was on “Quantum Dot Imaging”, which is an experimental imaging system within biomedical engineering. Quantum dots are incredibly small balls which could be put into a patient’s body, either through injection or ingestion, and would emit light that could be photographed by doctors. In theory these dots would allow for better quality pictures than current methods of internal imaging and would aid future health care professionals in early discovery of potentially life-threatening diseases and conditions. My third exhibit was about “George W. McConkie and his Eye Tracking Research”. A professor at the university of Illinois, McConkie used eye tracking software in the hopes of learning how humans learn and retain information while reading. My fourth and final exhibit was on the “Krannert Performing Arts Center”, which has been described as having some of the best acoustics in the world and has hosted some of the most famous musicians and performers in the world.

            Midway through my internship, the world was struck with the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus, and almost all aspects of life were changed. From my perspective as a student, I was forced to return home to my parents’ house and continue my schooling through and online format. There is no easy way of saying this, but online schooling is largely ineffective, and I cannot help but feel as though the second half of this semester was just one long and not very funny joke. From the beginning, my internship was conducted online, so my ability to do my work was largely unchanged, however, what I felt was a severe decrease in my overall motivation. After speaking with the other interns for the IDM, it seems as though many of us were faced with this same issue. While at school, we are under the watchful eyes of professors and university staff, but at home, we are more or less on our own, and as a result, my found my willingness to do work decrease drastically. Beyond motivation, I found myself struggling to write about events and places in a town that I was no longer living in and therefore felt less of a connection to. While writing my exhibit on the performing arts center I found myself spending hours looking at pictures of the interior and exterior of the incredibly beautiful building and wishing that I could go there and see it again, all the while knowing that it was closed indefinitely.

            As a whole, this internship experience has made me realize how valuable it is to have access to things like museums online for everyone to see. My hope for the future is that more museums and public spaces will begin to adopt accessible online practices and backups in the event that the future sees public spaces become less public again.

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