Crowd Sourcing at the State Fair

If you’re thirsty for knowledge beyond the nuances of mini donut beer versus funnel cake beer and corn dogs against the Pronto Pups at this year’s Great Minnesota Get-Together, University researchers of Minnesota you have been covered. Since 2014, more than 100,000 attendees at the fair have contributed to 251 studies on topics ranging from texting while driving to concussions in children to erectile dysfunction.

Cancer researcher Logan Spector and epidemiology researcher Ellen Demerath developed the idea after each of them got jobs at the U and realized that the St. Paul campus. Paul was against the fairgrounds. They quickly observed the level of loyalty and esteem that the fairgoers seem to maintain for the U.

“It seems to be part of being Minnesota, that affiliation with the fair and the U,” Demerath says. “It’s a unique recipe we have because of the contiguous nature of the fair and the U. This is probably our secret sauce.”

Spector and Demerath decided to try a pilot studio in the university building on Dan Patch Avenue. When more than 600 families eagerly participated in a collection of saliva for genetic analysis, only one question remained: why had no one done it before? Other universities have a presence at fairs, but nothing comes close to the magnitude of the research now being done on Cosgrove Street.

“It’s a unique recipe we have because of the contiguous nature of the fair and the U. This is probably our secret sauce.”

Ellen Demerath, researcher in epidemiology U of M

There has always been an educational element at the Minnesota State Fair, says Demerath, who points to Machinery Hill, where farmers have gathered for a long time to see the best new machines and tractors. Still, he was surprised when 15 minutes before opening the doors the first year in the Driven to Discover (D2D) building, his permanent home in Cosgrove, “only a sea of ​​legs could be seen.

“We had to slow them down,” he says. “There was a flood of people when we opened the doors. Of all the things you can do at the fair, you wouldn’t think it would be research! But the Minnesota people consider the fair to be as educational as a place to eat a corn dog. “

Enthusiasm runs in both directions. Researchers from the U and other institutions are fighting for D2D booths while there is still snow on the ground. These coveted half-day spaces are golden opportunities, they say, because they can often recruit as many participants as they need for a study in a day or two compared to the weeks it would take under normal circumstances. And the people at the fair tend to offer a more diverse demographic segment than other recruitment methods. All the main researchers surveyed after the 2019 fair said they were very satisfied or satisfied with the experience. The data collected at the fair have contributed to 88 expert-reviewed articles, 31 dissertations and theses, and 25 posters and conference presentations.

In 2019, Dr. Hyun Soo Park set up a large stage with high-definition cameras in one corner of the building that turned out to be the studio of the day’s success, with a steady line of people waiting their turn to create a 3D avatar. Park was not interested in creating new video game graphics; he was working on an artificial intelligence system that would help robots interact with humans. Previous research built a database of how robots should respond to human facial cues, and their team wanted to expand this work to record full-body gestures. Finally, robots can use the reaction database to obtain information about human behavior, including the diagnosis of mental disorders. The challenge of this type of research? You need a lot of subjects.

The Park team scanned 160 fairground visitors to D2D in 2018 and tripled it in 2019. In 2020, it released the dataset. Since then, it has been used for other projects, including an initiative with the Toyota Research Institute.

At the opposite corner of the building, each participant wore virtual reality glasses as a partner helped them navigate through a maze of a virtual building, based solely on a partner’s directions ( by visual cues or an audio component). It would have taken three weeks to complete the participating part of the now published study on virtual reality audio and visual signals on campus, says researcher Evan Rosenberg, but he only had to make two changes to D2D. Studies average 160 subjects per six-hour interval in D2D.

“It was fun,” says participant Tiffany Senkow.

“We left on time!” Add Maryam Nikpasand.

Friends say they wanted to support the investigation. For others, there is a different motivating factor. M U students Wade and Tiana Krueger participated in a study that analyzed the perceptions of dietitians in supermarkets. They said they would return — for another brown and gold drawstring backpack.

“It’s a great opportunity for people to come into our building to relate to U and research and earn their trust in science with a positive experience,” says Annie Hotop, D2D’s research director. “They see that research is not so scary and the importance it has for the times we live in.”

Last September, Demerath made a presentation of the D2D model at the Society of Clinical Research Associates. The U team examined the top 100 U.S. fairs last year to assess interest. The majority of respondents (92 percent) said they thought a university research association would be beneficial to their fairs and 79 percent asked for more information about the U / M State Fair U association. But so far no one has duplicated it; D2D remains as unique at the Minnesota State Fair as the buttery sculpture of Princess Kay of the Milky Way.

If you visit this year, you can photograph your ear to do a study on earwax, run your hands to detect foodborne diseases after visiting an animal exhibit, examine yourself to detect arterial diseases peripheral or become a citizen scientist looking for fresh water. sponges around Minnesota, to name a few research opportunities.

Along with the eternal gratitude of the researchers, you may leave with a new recognition for the research. Oh, and that backpack.

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