The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Project Showcase

Digital Media Lab Operations Change Due to COVID-19

The Digital Media Lab has modified its offerings due to COVID-19.  You can find information about these specific changes on the services pages.  Please contact DML staff with any questions, 

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Here are a selection of projects the Digital Media Lab have collaborated on. 

The goal of this project is the develop a learning activity that could be used in a makerspace or classroom that introduces food deserts and sustainable gardening solutions, then participants will design solutions for a sustainable garden.  While this is designed for small groups, individuals may use it for individual learning.   

This project is a work-in-progress.  If there are any concerns about methodology or accessibility, please email Dennis Spencer,, for feedback.   

Companion Activity

A companion learning activity, Food Insecurities:  Food Deserts and Sustainable Solutions,  is available in which participants learn about food deserts and design a sustainable garden in their local area.  


Student will build a minimally viable product related to one type of a sustainable gardening solution, a self watering system or hydroponics. 


Students will build one type of sustainable gardening and present their project to the group.  They will need to determine what plants to grow, lighting, and the electronics to processes to manage growth (ph sensor, moisture sensor, etc).  Optional: Students are asked how they would scale their solutions to work in a community garden.      

  • Title of Lesson:  Sustainable Gardening Options
  • Grade Level(s) :  Higher Education
  • Essential Question:  What are the pros/cons of the two sustainable gardening solutions?


Students will be able to learn about sustainable horticulture, programming, engineering, electronics.

Description of Lesson

  1. Review videos 
  2. Split into groups and determine the type of gardening solution to build.
  3. Ask students to write instructions for mapping code.  Review existing code and implement into their system. Build unit and test.
  4. Develop presentation about the benefits of the chosen solution and how to scale and present cost.  


  1. What resources do you already have?
  2. What materials can be repurposed for this project?
  3. What type of plants will you grow?
  4. Will the plants be grown indoors or outdoors?
  5. What types of lights are available for indoor growing?
  6. How could either solution be scaled to support a larger garden?


1 project per 2 persons.  Presentations are 3-5 minutes.  


  • Self watering system:  $140 parts, plant
  • Hydroponics: ???  reservoir, pump, nutrients, plants, cups, medium to grow, ph sensor, Arduino


  • Critical Thinking
  • Design
  • Collaboration
  • Computational Thinking
  • Technology Literacy


Implemented in small groups.  Challenges are learning programing concepts/writing, solder electronics,  lack of time, intimidation of programming/electronics.  


Students will have a functioning proof of concept and present their solutions and, through that, demonstrate their understanding of the subject matter.  




Simple Plan

Automatic Watering System for Plants Using Arduino
Cost:  Around $50.  Nutrient materials not included in price. 


  1. Arduino
  2. Relay
  3. Pump
  4. Reservoir
  5. Moisture Sensor 
Moderate Plan

Aquabot: Arduino Gardening System
Cost:  Around $140

Parts - Links to parts are available on the tutorial web page.  

  1. Arduino Uno
  2. Small water pump
  3. Corrosion resistant soil moisture sensor
  4. Non contact liquid level sensor
  5. Jumper wires
  6. Switch
  7. Barrel jack
  8. A 9v and 12v power supply
  9. USB type A to B cable
  10. A small electronic beeper (piezoelectric alarm)
  11. A waterproof box
  12. Electrical tape
  13. Tubing to conduct the water from the pump. The pump I suggested comes with plenty
  14. Reservoir

The goal of this project is the develop a learning activity that could be used in a makerspace or classroom that introduces food deserts and sustainable gardening solutions, then participants will design solutions for a sustainable garden.  While this is designed for small groups, individuals may use it as a template for individual learning.   

This project is a work-in-progress.  If there are any concerns about methodology or accessibility, please email Dennis Spencer,, for feedback.  

Companion Activity

A companion learning activity, Food Insecurities:  Build a Solution,  is available in which participants learn to build a sustainable gardening solution.   

Activity Objective

Students will evaluate sustainable gardening options and design a sustainable community garden to combat food deserts.  

Activity Description

Students investigate food insecurities in a local community, who they affect and the impacts thereof, solutions, barriers.  Students will then explore sustainable gardening options and then design a community garden.  

  • Title of Lesson:  Sustainable Solutions for Food Deserts
  • Grade Level(s) :  Higher Education
  • Essential Question:  How do we combat food deserts?
  • Budget Required: $0

Interdisciplinary Content Standard/ Learning Objective

Students will be able to learn about food related health issues, sustainable horticulture, community engagement, and project planning.

Description of Lesson

  1. General schedule:
    1. First Hour:  Research food deserts, sustainable solutions, and develop user profiles based on local community demographics.
    2. Second Hour:  Design a community garden for local community.  Teacher can provide locations.  
    3. Third Hour:  Groups will share out their proposals with class.     
  2. Students will research: 
    1. Food deserts and the impacts they have on individuals and communities. 
    2. Sustainable gardening solutions like hydroponics, irrigation systems, aquaponics, vertical gardening, square foot gardening.  
    3. Local demographics
  3. Students will develop user profiles to help decision making regarding community engagement.
  4. Preselected sites will be presented to the student to evaluate if and how they would design a community garden using sustainable gardening methods.  
  5. Students present their community garden proposal explaining rationale for design.  Students share how its sustainable and provide a strategy for community engagement.  
  6. Prompt Examples
  7. Gardening
    1. What methods of growing should be utilized?  
    2. What type of food should be produced?
    3. What is the sustainable plan?  Who manages site/volunteers? System maintenance?  
  8. Construction
    1. What location logistics should be considered?
    2. What resources will be needed to build the garden?
    3. How will building costs be minimized?  
  9. Community Engagement
    1. How do students get to know our community?
    2. How do students engage with the community?
    3. How we students get community to embrace initiative (assist growing/eat food stuff)?  


1 presentation per group of 3 students.  Presentations are 5-10 minutes.  

Team Roles:

  • Gardening
  • Construction 
  • Community Engagement 

Implementation Strategy

The lessons will be formatted for small groups.  Challenges are internet availability, device availability, students feeling intimidated by scope of project and time constraints.     


Students will present their solutions and, through that, demonstrate their understanding of the subject matter.  

Skill Types

  • Data analysis
  • Critical Thinking
  • Communication
  • Design
  • Collaboration


Food Deserts

Sustainable Gardening

Today is the day the Digital Media Lab hosts the visiting students from the United Arab Emirates. The two-week program in the DML will focus on some of the United Nations Sustainability Goals.

Avery Forbes, a student from the Makespace Leadership course (hosted in the DML space), demonstrated the Gravity Light she built and explained some of the ‘maker principles’ that helped in the design process.

A Gravity Light is a gravity-powered light-emitting device for use in developing nations. A bag containing weights such as stones or heavy books is attached to a cord and slowly descends over some time. The process drives a motor that produces electricity, which powers the light.

"We are developing Artificial Intelligence (AI) based applications to help students, staff, and faculty with the resources of the Digital Media Lab. The applications can communicate with patrons and students and answer some easy questions like our hours and the location of books. We are also testing AI integration into Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality applications.

 We used the IBM Watson AI platform to do the work, and our intern has been testing out the AI functions."

  Yuntian Hu - DML

Yuntian Hu - Digital Media Lab

IBM Watson 2

"Education USA Academy is a short-term academic program that provides English language courses, college preparatory content, tours of diverse colleges and universities, and cross-cultural activities to 15- to 17-year-old students from around the world."

Groups will be learning about 3D Printing and Virtual Reality at the Digital Media Lab

Dr. Steve Acquah, adjunct professor of Chemistry, coordinator of the UMass Amherst Digital Media Lab, and director of GEOSET (Global Educational Outreach for Science Engineering and Technology), established the Sir Harold W. Kroto and Steve F.A. Acquah GEOSET Award to continue the late Nobel Laureate’s legacy in research and outreach. The award will be given to a chemistry major who has demonstrated excellence in science communication through digital media.



Dominique Carey won the 2019 award


The Digital Media Lab (DML) is pleased to announce Edwood Brice ’19 as the winner of the Lenovo Mirage Solo Virtual Reality Competition. Celebrating the release of Avengers: Endgame, the competition invited students to submit a 30-second video describing how they envisioned virtual reality (VR) technology and applications that could enhance student life on campus. The DML awarded Brice with a Lenovo Mirage Solo VR headset.

“3D printing greatly expands the vocabulary for our students in mold-making and casting.  By introducing 3D scanning and printing into the course, we can take the same form and print multiple copies, change the scale and color, alter the form within the computer, and even invert the form to print a mold directly, which can then be cast into using a whole range of different materials” said Robin Mandel.

Faculty:  Robin Mandel, Assistant Professor
College:  College of Humanities & Fine Arts
Courses: ART360: Mold-making and Casting, ART 461: Advanced Sculpture


Robin Mandel and Dennis Spencer capturing a 3D scan of an artist created artifact

“This project-based course focuses on the theoretical and practical issues related to designing instruction for digital learning environment. It is designed to show future teachers how to use 3D printers as instructional tools for supporting constructivist learning experiences that are centered around design, creativity, and innovation" said Torrey Trust.


Faculty:  Torrey Trust, Assistant Professor

Affiliation:  Department of Teacher Education & Curriculum Studies,

Course:  EDUC 693: Instructional Design of Educational Technology

 Torrey Trust Class

A 3D printed frog dissection kit. The internal organs are removable.

A structural engineering activity in which 3D printed structures were attached to a shake table and tested with various types of supports and weights in order to evaluate their seismic performance.

Faculty:  Paula L. Sturdevant Rees, Lecturer
Affiliation:  Water Resources Research Center, College of Engineering, Science and Engineering Outreach initiative or SENGI


Students watch an earthquake simulator at a SENGI event.