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UW Office of Research and Economic Development Launches Science Blog for Public

September 9, 2014

Interested in hearing about the adventures of a University of Wyoming plant sciences' graduate student who spends her summer in the field studying cheatgrass? Want to learn how on-screen visuals sway opinions during political campaigns? Want to travel the world with UW's King Air research aircraft as it investigates phenomena such as cloud formation or lake-effect snow? 

A new University of Wyoming research blog at http://research.uwyo.edu/ is designed to bridge the gap between what UW faculty and students do in their labs -- indoors and out -- and what the public understands about the university’s research efforts.

The blog, which officially launched today (Sept. 9) through UW’s Office of Research and Economic Development, includes six channels or categories: discoveries, cool labs and studios, student research and creativity, the inside story, innovation, Bill’s Blog (a regular blog by Bill Gern, UW’s vice president for research and economic development), and the media vault.

“He (Gern) really wants to make research less mysterious to students and to the general public,” says Bryan Shader, UW’s special assistant to the vice president of research and economic development, and a Department of Mathematics professor. “He wants to give people a glimpse behind the scenes so that they can understand what our researchers are doing in the lab; what makes them tick; and understanding why students are in the lab.”

Shader says the blog plan includes posting videos as well as news releases on faculty research that originate from the UW News site.

“Ultimately, we want the blog to be kept fresh, without flooding people with too much information. If we have one new blog posting at each channel, that’s six new stories a week,” Shader says. “We do have faculty and students willing to write regular blogs, and are looking for more faculty members who will contribute from time to time.”

A description of the blog’s six channels is as follows:

Discoveries -- This channel now includes a post about students in the UW Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics who participated in an exercise to understand realistic stock market behavior for agricultural commodities. Specifically, the group looked at the impact of agricultural subsidy payments on market behavior.

Cool labs and studios -- This channel currently has a story about the UW King Air research aircraft’s 2013 work  in Exeter, on the United Kingdom’s southwestern peninsula. The King Air studied convective weather systems in southern England as part of the Convective and Precipitation Experiment (COPE).

“There are so many cool things in our labs that the average person doesn’t get the opportunity to see,” Shader says. “Lab by lab, we want to recognize the people in the labs and show off the cool ways they use technology.”

Shader points to the Department of Music, for example.

“Instruments are their primary tool,” he says. “What techniques allow a pianist to caress emotion out of a piano? How should singers in a chorale be positioned to produce the richest sound? How do instruments and music reflect culture?”

Student research and creativity -- This channel provides a forum for students to discuss their research and creative activities. Currently, there are blog entries on research that students are conducting in the 3-D CAVE (Cave Automatic Virtual Environment) and the development of the Dry Creek computer cluster, which will run on recycled energy from an IT-Pac that is powered by methane gas at the Dry Creek sewage plant in Cheyenne.

“I would love if the ‘cool labs and studies’ or the ‘student research and creativity’ blogs piqued the interest of students around the state and in the region by showing them some of the co-curricular activities and projects in which UW students are involved,” Shader says. “UW students are actively engaged in learning and in working with faculty.”

Inside story -- This channel provides personal glimpses of researchers, including what gets faculty excited about their research and a graduate student’s point of view of what it’s like to work in a lab. Currently, this channel has an entry from Kristin Landreville, a UW assistant professor of communication and journalism, who discusses her interest in how social media affects political races. Another entry, from Andrew Kniss, a UW associate professor of plant sciences, and his colleagues, looks at what drives them to study the management of problematic weeds.

Innovation -- This channel will look at the role of innovation on campus, technology transfer, economic development and ways that faculty and students can become involved in research. A blog entry about a 3-D mouse invented by Amy Banic, a UW assistant professor of computer science, and her student, Anh Nguyen, which will be posted soon, will be this channel’s initial entry.

Media vault -- This is the place for “cool clips,” videos and photos that show the results of UW research in action, Shader says. Currently, 10 videos are available for viewing. Topics include supercomputing, artificial intelligence, wind power and wildlife research.

A beta-version of the blog was sent to select UW faculty members last spring with the intent to receive faculty feedback on what they like or dislike about the blog.

“We wanted to test the waters before we went live to the rest of campus,” Shader says. “We want to make sure we’re happy and everything is functioning.”

Troy Axthelm, a UW master’s student in computer science, built the blog using a WordPress program.

“The big goal is we want this to be easy (to use),” Axthelm says. “We’re open to customizing it for people’s needs.”

The plan includes making the blog available for cellphone use, Axthelm says. Other features, such as “Ask a UW researcher” channel that will allow students and teachers across Wyoming to pose questions that will be answered by UW faculty and students, will be added as the blog matures.

Shader says it’s important to make the blogs conversational and understandable to people without science backgrounds.

“Anything we do for the general public and for our stakeholders to let them know who UW is and what UW does is good,” Shader says. “The blog is just a way to give an inside story of what’s going on at UW.”

Photo:
An entry about research that students are conducting in the 3-D CAVE (Cave Automatic Virtual Environment) can be found on the “student research and creativity” channel that is part of a UW research blog designed to help the public understand the university’s research efforts.


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Chad Baldwin

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