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Your research coming soon to TV

Atlantic region uses cable network to publicize research successes

BY ALLISON LAWLOR | APR 07 2008

It may not be prime-time television but this spring Atlantic universities are bringing more stories about the best research taking place on their campuses to the region’s cable network.

Building on the momentum of a pilot project launched last fall, up to six new half-hour shows produced by the Association of Atlantic Universities will begin airing in May. In one episode, television viewers will get a look inside the Centre for Marine Simulation at Memorial University, where everything from ship navigation to marine engineering is tackled using models and simulators.

“The bottom line is universities have to do a much better job of communicating to the public the value and meaning of the research on our campuses,” said Peter Halpin, executive director of the Association of Atlantic Universities, which represents 17 institutions in the region. “Ask people what kind of research is going on at universities,” he added, “and most wouldn’t know.”

At a meeting organized by the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada four years ago, Mr. Halpin heard a unanimous message from university research communications specialists across the country that the public needs to know more about the impacts of campus research. When he came across the opportunity to air free, unfiltered, commercial-free regional content on Atlantic cable and satellite network ASN – required by CRTC to air some free educational content – he knew he had hit on something.

“Communicating research is expensive,” said Carl Breckenridge, Dalhousie University’s vice-president, research. “We have to think of the best and most inexpensive way to communicate our research. This [the series] is an experiment.”

When the series, called The Life Changers, launched last fall with six episodes, Dalhousie aired two segments focusing on its two major research areas: health and ocean studies. One episode took viewers inside the Brain Repair Centre where Ivar Mendez, an internationally recognized neurosurgeon, explains new therapies and research and conducts robotic telementoring to colleagues. The other episode focused on Dalhousie’s Ocean Tracking Network, a marine research initiative bringing together more than 30 institutions worldwide.

The episodes provide a detailed and relatively inexpensive way to communicate the value and bene- fits of Dalhousie’s research to the public, but more importantly to government and the private sector, said Dr. Breckenridge.

Each episode costs close to $15,000 to produce, with the AAU funding about half the cost and the participating university picking up the rest. Besides giving the university regional exposure, the episodes can be used by the institution for publicity and recruitment purposes.

AAU received $20,000 from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council and the Canada Foundation for Innovation to promote the series last fall, and Mr. Halpin hopes to get more federal funding for the new episodes.

“I think they’ve been successful,” said Mr. Halpin, adding that the audience wasn’t as large as he’d like. A survey found that 1,800 adults watched each half-hour show and that the episodes posted on AAU’s website received 1,200 hits. Hosted by George Jordan, a Halifax-based veteran broadcaster, the episodes air in rotation on Sundays from 12:30 to 1 p.m.

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