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Virtual scavenger hunt created to promote Ontario university research

Contest’s aim is “to let the public know about the important research that tax dollars pay for”.

by Cassandra Hendry

A virtual scavenger hunt has been ongoing through the month of February, inviting the public to get a taste of the diverse research projects under way at Ontario’s 21 publicly funded universities. “Most people probably don’t even know what’s going on and it’s exciting stuff,” said Abby Goodrum, vice-president, research, at Wilfrid Laurier University and chair of the committee for Research Matters, a public awareness campaign of which the scavenger hunt is a part, organized by the Council of Ontario Universities.

Each weekday in February on the Research Matters website, a new video clue from one of the 21 universities has been released that discusses a specific researcher and their current project, said Stacy Costa, the fourth-year anthropology and semiotics student at the University of Toronto who designed the contest. Using the video, that particular university’s website and a bit of online sleuthing, players can unlock a code word each day that they can then use to complete a final phrase at the end of the month (the contest ends on Friday, Feb. 28). Contestants could win daily and grand prizes, including five $500 cash prizes reserved for student participants.

Among the research projects featured in the video clues is one by Bradley Young, a professor in the faculty of health sciences at the University of Ottawa, who is studying elderly athletes and the effects of exercise on their bodies. Another example is Frances Wilkinson, a psychology professor at York University, who is researching how people who suffer from migraines have increased sensitivity to flickering light at all times, not just when they have a migraine.

Dr. Goodrum at Wilfrid Laurier explained that the point of the campaign is twofold: to highlight the innovations of researchers at Ontario’s universities, while being transparent with stakeholders. “It’s about accountability and communication – letting the public know about the important research that tax dollars pay for,” she said.

By using the Internet and the game-based scavenger hunt model, Dr. Goodrum said she’s hoping to attract university students who may not know about the research happening at their university or others. To do that, the Research Matters team contacted U of T professor and puzzle specialist Marcel Danesi, who directed them to his student Ms. Costa to design the scavenger hunt for the website. When choosing researchers to be featured in the puzzle, Ms. Costa said she picked people who were doing unique work that anybody, not just other researchers, could relate to.

“There’s a huge misconception about research being only done in a lab or only related to science, when really that’s not the case at all,” she said. “It’s really refreshing to see research being taken out of the lab.”

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