Science-savvy 'Lia' stars in new TV series developed by BU photonics, communication school

04/22/04

Aimed at 8- to 12-year-old girls, series will entertain while upping 'tweens' interest in science

(Boston, Mass.) -- Lights. Camera. Lia!

A spunky, animated 14-year-old, Lia is the girl-star of a new science "edutainment" project being developed by Boston University's Photonics Center and College of Communication. The BU groups have joined with Boston-based children's media firm Fablevision to form an educational programming and technology collaboration that ultimately will use television, the Internet, software, and published materials to bring techno-savvy Lia to "tween" girls, aged 8 to 12. The developers' goal is to create an excitement and enthusiasm for science and technology among this young audience, possibly even spurring them to pursue education and careers in technical fields.

"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," says Garland Waller, assistant professor of broadcasting at BU's College of Communication and co-developer of the Lia project.

"We developed Lia out of a concern that children, particularly young girls, unconsciously move away from science and math as they grow up. 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."

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 co-developer, is marketing and communications manager.

"In terms of merchandising, what sets Lia apart from everything else out there for kids is that 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," says Hallisey.

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 U.S. showed declines between 199697 and 200001 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 range of support provided 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," says Carol Simpson, BU associate provost and professor of earth sciences.

Source: Eurekalert & others

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