Sustainability Experience Center

The nine-acre Sustainability Experience Center lies on the edge of Penn State’s University Park campus and provides a living laboratory for students, faculty, and the community to research and learn about sustainability. The site allows different projects to explore food, energy, water, land and community systems. The site is home to the campus Community Garden and five ongoing research and outreach projects hosted by various departments and colleges in the university.

The Eco-Machine™, an ecological treatment system that can purify wastewater while producing biofuels and valuable agricultural products, is a joint gift of the Classes of 2000 and 1950. The system uses bacteria and plants to purify wastewater, making it safe to be released back into the environment or used for irrigation. At the same time, recent research at the site has found that the aquatic plant duckweed can also be supported within this system. Duckweed is rich in protein and contains all the essential amino acids, making it a possible food source for both people and livestock and also a potent agricultural soil amendment that can replace or offset conventional fertilizers while producing much less nutrient runoff.

Another highly visible project at the Sustainability Experience Center is the MorningStar Solar Home, a 100% renewable-energy powered home that produces all the energy needed for its operation (plus some extra for electric vehicles). MorningStar is currently used by teachers and faculty across Penn State as an immersive learning destination for teaching and learning about sustainability, features a host of sustainable building practices, and includes solar, wind, and geothermal energy systems. It is also used for research in the topics of energy efficiency, renewable energy, and smart grid systems.

Built for the 2007 Solar Decathlon by a team of more than 800 students and faculty, the Solar Home was designed to provide a tangible example of sustainable design and energy strategies that are relevant to our climate in Pennsylvania. The home was first assembled at Penn State and engineered for transport to Washington, D.C. During the decathlon, thousands of visitors toured the competing homes while the student teams used their homes to score points in 10 decathlon contests including engineering and marketability. The Penn State team scored fourth place in the field of 20 international universities. At the close of the decathlon, students disassembled MorningStar and transported it back to Penn State, where it stands permanently for the benefit of Penn State and Pennsylvania’s communities. The home was the subject of Penn State’s entry in the 2022 Solar Decathlon focused on retrofitting existing buildings.

SEC Virtual Programming Opportunities

In lieu of in-person activities at the site, we encourage you to utilize this great resource in any of the following ways, on their own or in combination:

  • Writing a Sustainable Future: SEC Creative Writing Project
    This module is available to individuals and to faculty to use as part of their classroom experience. Participants will first take a ‘written tour’ of the Sustainability Experience, learning about the different projects at the site as well as the site’s history. Participants are then asked to complete a 30-minute exercise to respond to a writing prompt. There is even an option to have students upload and share their writing projects to the Sustainability Institute. View module here.
  • Virtual Tour Video Modules
    Each video module offers a virtual tour of one of the unique elements of the SEC. Each tour is led by the SEC Interns and the Research Project Leader. Click on a leaf in the image to access a video tour for that element.
  • Tours
    The Penn State campus and nearby facilities offer a variety of public maps for walks and nature exploration that observe social distancing guidelines. These maps feature a sustainability tab that highlights the Sustainability Experience and LEED Buildings on campus. We hope you take some time to get outdoors and engage in developing a sense of appreciation for the sustainable practices in operation at Penn State. View tours here.
  • SustainPSU Staff or Intern Virtual Visit
    We recognize that interactive engagement is some of the best teaching and learning and would be happy to work with you to coordinate a time in which a SustainPSU staff member, intern or SEC Project Leader can join your class/group virtually to tell you more about the SEC and how they can become involved with the Sustainability Experience Center and/or sustainability at Penn State. Email us at to start the conversation.

Please know that factors well beyond our control weighed heavily in our decision-making efforts, and that we are doing our best as part of the community to continue the work of sustainability education and experience.

Please contact Krista Bailey with Penn State Sustainability with any questions you may have related to SEC outreach opportunities: For questions related to SEC operations and research, please contact Meghan Hoskins with Penn State Sustainability: