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. Emory University is one of 35 partners supporting the project.
Futurity gives the public direct access to exciting research breakthroughs in a way that offers broad appeal, says Nancy Seideman, Emory’s executive director of media relations and associate vice president of communications.
“Futurity allows major research universities like Emory and its peers to build a bridge between the academic community and the public,” Seideman says. “It gives us a dynamic portal with clear writing and a lot of multimedia that communicates the cutting-edge, interdisciplinary research that is shaping our understanding of ourselves and our world.”
Futurity has featured a number of studies by Emory scientists in recent weeks, including a discovery by Emory paleontologist Anthony Martin of dinosaur burrows in Australia. His research was covered by numerous outlets including National Geographic.
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.
Emory, like all the current partner universities, is a member of the Association of American Universities (AAU), a nonprofit organization of leading public and private research universities. Lapin says Futurity may revisit membership criteria down the road but needs to keep the numbers manageable while they fine-tune the approach.
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