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October 1, 2009

UW among leading universities behind Futurity, a Web site on research

News and Information

A group of leading research universities has launched Futurity (www.futurity.org), an online research channel covering the latest discoveries in science, engineering, the environment, health, and more. The UW is one of 35 partners supporting the project.

“The nation’s research universities, including the UW, have been instruments of innovation and change for decades,” said Norm Arkans, associate vice president for media relations and communications at the UW. “They are the envy of the world and account for great advances in knowledge and discoveries that improve the quality of life around the globe. To bring together in one place the collective results of scientific inquiry and scholarly research will be of great benefit for anyone interested in advances in knowledge occurring every day at America’s colleges and universities.”

Bill Murphy, one of Futurity’s cofounders and vice president for communications at the University of Rochester, says universities are affected by the challenges facing newspapers today. News holes are shrinking, he notes, and coverage of research-related stories has been hit particularly hard.

“In light of this shifting news landscape, universities are looking for ways to share important breakthroughs with the public. Futurity gives our partners an opportunity to communicate in a new and direct way — and to remind the public why research matters.”

Futurity cofounder Michael Schoenfeld, vice president for public affairs and government relations at Duke University, says the site serves another vital role. It allows the public to see how federal, state, and private funding are being put to use by universities to address critical challenges.

“It’s not often you see high-powered universities working together in such a collaborative way,” says Schoenfeld. “That fact alone indicates the project’s significance. Universities are the world’s laboratories. They host the brightest minds working to answer some of today’s most urgent questions. The breadth and caliber — and the collective force — of the research featured on Futurity is truly extraordinary.”

All of the stories on Futurity are edited to stir the imagination, says Murphy. “We want the stories to engage readers, to raise questions, and to make readers want to learn more — and to come back for more.”

Since launching a beta version in March, Futurity has continued to add membership and readership.

Lisa Lapin, assistant vice president for communications at Stanford University, says Futurity is looking for new ways to extend the site’s reach. “We’re active on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. We’re also in partnership talks with major Internet news providers. Today’s online environment is perfectly suited for this type of direct communication. There’s something very authentic about universities working together to share knowledge.”

Lapin says the site is designed to encourage interaction. Stories include links to published reports and supplemental materials that allow readers to explore topics in more detail. The site is available in a mobile-friendly version, and visitors can comment on stories and sign up for a daily e-mail update.

The UW, like all the current partner universities, is a member of the Association of American Universities, a nonprofit organization of leading public and private research universities.

Futurity has featured a number of studies by UW scientists in recent weeks, including research on organic circuits that lead to a new generation of cheaper, thinner and more flexible electronics.