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'Lia' Shines Light on Science Education

Photonics.com
Apr 2004
BOSTON, April 29 -- Lia, a spunky, animated 14-year-old, is the star of a new project being developed by Boston University’s (BU) Photonics Center and College of Communication, to get young people, especially girls and minorities, interested in science and technology and inspire them to pursue educational and career opportunities in these fields.

The BU groups have joined with Boston-based children’s media firm Fablevision to form an educational programming and technology collaboration.

Lia is an acronym for Light In Action, an indication of how fundamental the science of light is to the series. Her science savvy is inspired by research underway at BU’s Photonics Center, where Leigh Hallisey, Lia's co-developer, is marketing and communications manager.

Garland Waller, assistant professor of broadcasting at BU's College of Communication and co-developer of the Lia project, said, "I know from my years of working as a producer that children do not watch or read material that is not interesting. It's still just so much spinach if it's the same old lecture.

"We developed Lia out of a concern that children, particularly young girls, unconsciously move away from science and math as they grow up," Waller said. "We thought an interesting young girl -- not a Barbie or a science nerd -- would reach this audience. We also thought the technology being developed at the Photonics Center, with its focus on the study of light, was the perfect source of material to spark interest in a young audience."

Hallisey said Lia products will be at the forefront of photonics technologies.

"Not only does this mean that the digital talking backpack or the pair of color-changing 'chameleon' jeans that Lia has in the program could be available on the shelves at Target, but that kids will understand the cool science behind them," she said.

Generating interest in science and technology among young children is seen by many as an essential step toward halting or perhaps reversing the drop in interest in technical fields found in today’s high school graduates. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, a 2001 analysis of bachelor’s degrees by field of study in the US showed declines between 1996–97 and 2000–01 in engineering and engineering technologies (down 7 percent), biological sciences (down 5 percent) and physical sciences (down 8 percent).

A 2003 publication by the National Science Foundation’s Division of Science Resource Statistics found that although women are more likely than men to complete high school and enroll in college, they are less likely to choose science and engineering fields at all levels of education and employment.

BU’s interest in helping stem these trends is evidenced in the support provided to the Lia project, including an Innovation Grant from the Office of the Provost and a Technology Development Award given by the new ventures program of BU’s Community Technology Fund.

"We hope that Lia will generate an enthusiasm for school science classes that will stay with the girls and carry them into careers in science and technology in later years," said Carol Simpson, a BU associate provost and professor of earth sciences.

Fablevision, founded in 1996 by brothers Peter and Paul Reynolds, uses media, storytelling and technology to reach and inspire learners of all ages. Staffed by a group of creative media professionals and educators, Fablevision collaborates on projects with academic and research groups, museums, publishers and broadcasters.

"We are pulling together the best of all the media worlds in order to help kids achieve in science and technology, something that no one else is doing," said Garland Waller. "The model of Sesame Street, where Harvard and Children’s Television Workshop worked together to teach kids to read is the closest parallel. We’re taking creative programming concepts and packaging them with knockout educational opportunities."

The Lia property will be the first of several "edutainment" properties to be spun out of the Boston University-FableVision collaboration.

The Photonics Center at Boston University identifies and develops technologies based on the practical applications of light. Through a jointly managed program with Beacon Photonics, the Center provides an entrepreneurial environment for emerging photonics technology companies, helping them move quickly and successfully from idea to market.

For more information, visit: www.bu.edu/photonics



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