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New website connects Alaska scientists to the public

Posted: April 27, 2011 - 9:46pm

A new experimental website launched this week, exploring ways to connect Alaska scientists with the public through video.

Frontier Scientists (frontierscientists.com) highlights video clips to aid in sharing first-person accounts from a variety of specialists studying the North. Supportive materials like reports, Twitter feeds and blogs also help tell the stories of research within categories including grizzlies, petroglyphs, paleo-Eskimos, Cook Inlet volcanoes, Alutiiq weavers and climate change.

The project’s leader is Greg Newby, chief scientist of the Arctic Region Supercomputing Center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. He said the site was developed as a way to connect easily to those who are interested or have a stake in the research.

“The basic takeaway ... is telling the general public, visitors, teachers, policy-makers, about Alaska-focused science that’s going on,” he said.

The scientists remain the focus and authority of the project. Visitors can ask questions and follow what they’re doing. Support from the National Park Service allows them to show their work in their specific locations.

Videos of those goings-on are already developing online with additional broadcasts on 360 North, according to the project’s director, Elizabeth O’Connell. A videographer in Bend, Ore., she creates videos for the site and has extensive field experience in Alaska.

“As a videographer, I thought it would be a good thing to have shorter media for tourists and for people today in general who have a shorter amount of time to absorb,” she said. “In the interest of people who come here in science research, it has more in-depth bits of information too.”

She said to help ensure the scientific accuracy, the scientists working on the projects have editorial control and proof the scripts for the videos.

She said there are already completed videos of the petroglyphs and paleo-Eskimos. She is finishing videos for the volcanoes and Alutiiq baskets.

She said the next work will be done with the grizzlies in Denali and climate change research around Fairbanks.

O’Connell noted there are some projects in Southeast Alaska they are interested in possibly adding, like work from a bear biologist in Glacier Bay and research videos from Icy Bay.

Newby said this website is a one-year experimental draft funded by the National Science Foundation.

“Proof of concept is the whole purpose here,” he said.

He explained if the site is successful, it may be developed more after a year.

“In the long run, this is part of place-based education, which is where there’s a science story and people get that story when they’re in that place,” he said. “They can research that place while they’re there.”

There are still developments ahead while it’s under the current year-long exploratory grant. Newby is working on developing Frontier Scientists for smartphones and mobile devices.

Newby and O’Connell say they are looking for more Alaska scientists to expand the categories’ coverage.

• Contact reporter Jonathan Grass at 523-2276 or at jonathan.grass@juneauempire.com.

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