National Academy of Sciences taps techno-savvy Lia as animated star of new website

03/21/05

Lia concept, content developed by BU’s College of Communications and Photonics Center

(Boston) -- She's got the deductive skills of CSI's Sara Sidle, the curiosity of Eliza Thornberrys, and the spunk and smarts of Harry Potter's pal, Hermione.

But she's all Lia, a science-savvy, teen-aged Latina operative in a secret global organization dedicated to using technology to tackle the world's problems. Recently, she learned she'll also be moonlighting as the animated star of the National Academy of Sciences' (NAS's) soon-to-be-launched website, iWASwondering.org.

Lia, who was developed by Boston University's Photonics Center and College of Communication and Boston-based children's media firm, FableVision, will be featured as the science-savvy host of what will be NAS's portal to its Women's Adventures in Science (WAS) book series. The 10-biography book series, expected to debut with the website in September 2005, will be published by Joseph Henry Press, the trade imprint of NAS's publisher the National Academies Press, and Scholastic, Inc., the international children's publishing and media company based in New York City.

"We see our teaming up with BU's Lia Project and FableVision as a powerful way to reach kids in a format that will excite them," says Stephen Mautner, executive editor of National Academies Press. "It's a great opportunity to make science entertaining and educational."

Lia, an animated 14-year-old girl-star, is the central figure in an educational programming and technology collaboration designed to bring the excitement and enthusiasm of science to "tween" girls, aged 8 to 14. Formed in 2004, the BU–FableVision collaboration is pursuing a multi-media strategy for Lia, one that will embrace television, the Internet, museums, classrooms, and book and other materials. The developers hope to create an excitement and enthusiasm for science and technology among members of this young audience, possibly even spurring many of them to pursue education and careers in technical fields.

"To my knowledge there is not another university in the country doing anything like this," says Lia co-creator Garland Waller, assistant professor of television at BU's College of Communication. "The Lia Project tackles math, science, and technology, but the creator of the concept is not an entertainment company; it is the university itself. With Lia, the university can influence content and yet still reach kids where they live, study, and play."

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

"What sets Lia apart from everything else out there for kids is that everything she's involved with will be at the forefront of photonics technologies," says Hallisey. "This means that Lia's life could easily include such things as a digital talking backpack, invisible dyes to detect counterfeit money, or jeans that can be programmed to change color. It also means that Lia will be able to apply technology -- like proving scientifically to her parents that food in the fridge is way past its prime -- to everyday questions.

"The Lia Project is just an irresistible package of cutting-edge technology from BU Photonics Center, expertise from BU faculty across many disciplines, and real educational content from the Joseph Henry Press's biography series."

The new NAS website that will be hosted by Lia is being designed, produced, and programmed by FableVision.

"We called the site 'iWASwondering'," says Paul Reynolds, FableVision's president, "because our goal is really to convey the essence of the scientific method. Science is not all about lab coats and petri dishes. Wondering, predicting, discovering, and sharing are activities that are central to the scientific method and that are easy to embrace and emulate."

Generating interest in science and technology among young children is seen by many as an essential step in addressing the drop in interest in technical fields found in today's high school graduates. A 2003 publication by the National Science Foundation's Division of Science Resource Statistics found that women are more likely than men to complete high school and enroll in college but are less likely to choose science and engineering fields at all levels of education and employment.

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 diverse group of creative media professionals and educators, FableVision collaborates on projects with academic and research groups, museums, publishers, and broadcasters.

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

The College of Communication includes programs in journalism, film and television, mass communication, advertising, and public relations. It is one of 17 schools and colleges that make up Boston University, the fourth largest independent university in the United States.

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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