Fair app highlights U programs

Nearly 500 people downloaded the scavenger hunt app during the first half of the fair.

A Minnesota State Fair attendee uses the Health Quest iPhone app to learn more about University Academic Health Center programs and research on Saturday. Created by University students, the app took participants on a scavenger hunt throughout the fair.

Juliet Farmer

A Minnesota State Fair attendee uses the Health Quest iPhone app to learn more about University Academic Health Center programs and research on Saturday. Created by University students, the app took participants on a scavenger hunt throughout the fair.

Tyler Gieseke

At the Minnesota State Fair, few of the attendees likely connected the fried food and rollercoasters to health research.

But a new scavenger hunt app from the University of Minnesota Academic Health Center did just that.

The Health Quest app aimed to show how AHC programs and research are relevant to life across the state.

Downloads of the app — which was available to iPhone and iPad users — numbered nearly 500 during the first half of the fair, according to AHC data. About 200 people actually completed the scavenger hunt during that period, using either the app or a paper version of the clues.

The usage was “about what we expected,” said Justin Paquette, project manager for the app and assistant director of public relations and digital content for the AHC.

Christine Funk, who completed the scavenger hunt with her daughter, a University freshman, said the app was “very easy to use.”

Funk won an iPod Shuffle after finishing the scavenger hunt, which asked app users to identify mystery fair staples with hints about how they relate to University research. Once they solved the clues, they sent in photos of the mystery objects to win prizes.

The app’s design team chose common fair items such as sheep and cotton candy so participants could complete the scavenger hunt by visiting attractions they would likely see anyway, Paquette said.

A clue for “rollercoaster,” for example, said University neurologists have found that brain characteristics can explain why some people like risk and others don’t.

The app was designed in-house by the AHC communications team, Paquette said, which helped keep costs down.

University student interns, like journalism senior Brian Johnson, were involved in the testing and marketing efforts.

Johnson, a digital journalism intern at the AHC Office of Communications, said he helped market the app through social media, a “goofy” YouTube commercial and the University’s State Fair booth.

Talks are underway to create another State Fair app for next year — one that encompasses University-wide programs and possibly extends to Android users, Paquette said.

“I think an app would be even stronger if it was a broader University approach,” he said.

Funk said the scavenger hunt was a rewarding experience and something she would do again.

“It’s a really fun way to move about the fair,” she said.