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New website highlights Utah science

Published October 22, 2012 10:48 am

Media • Writer says the goal is "to engage people who don't … gravitate to science."
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

A multimedia website highlighting science in Utah goes live Monday, providing a new outlet for science journalism.

Explore Utah Science is the brainchild of Salt Lake City writers Julie Kiefer and Kim Schuske, who landed a grant from the National Association of Science Writers to develop their idea for a site that "uncovers science stories that matter to Utahns."

"In these tough times for media we are providing employment for freelancers out there," Kiefer said of the site at http://www.exploreutahscience.org.

For the inaugural content, Schuske, who left the lab to be a science communicator, has produced a radio piece on managing wolf populations, which may be returning to Utah.

Kiefer profiles Hogle zookeeper Bobbi Gordon with a-day-in-the-life treatment, while arboreal enthusiast Ross Chambless wrote the anchor piece on the pine bark beetle infestation in Little Cottonwood Canyon.

Chambless is a recent graduate of the University of Utah's environmental humanities program and is now the planting coordinator with TreeUtah.

The site will feature fresh stories on Mondays and Thursdays, and some of the material will be pitched to broadcast partner KCPW, 88.3 FM, for airing.

"With the way science literacy is headed these days, this is a welcome development," said Lee Siegel, a U. science news specialist who serves on Explore Utah Science's advisory board.

Both founders have day jobs doing outreach for U. research units. But the site is structured to be independent, although some of its content will highlight U. science and technology.

"We can't ignore the University of Utah because it's such a research power house, but we've built in mechanisms to deal with conflicts of interest," said Kiefer, who works for the U.'s Brain Institute.

Kiefer will avoid editing stories related to neuroscience and Schuske will avoid editing ones connected to the U. biology department, where she once held a faculty appointment as a research assistant professor.

The producers are angling for sponsors to help sustain the site after they exhaust their $35,000 seed grant. So far they have landed Utah attorney Patrick Shea, who has long championed bringing science into the public arena.

Explore Utah Science is divided into sections devoted to news, original topical features, education and the arts.

One of the site's features is a radio story Schuske produced on paintings by Hogle Zoo's four orangutans.

"We want to engage people who don't automatically gravitate to science; that's why we created the arts page. There are different ways to think about science," Kiefer said.

The main science section is organized around the themes of technology, environment, energy, science and society, health, life and space.

The site also features a blog, a calendar for science-related events (don't miss Moab's Pumpkin Chuckin' Festival on Saturday), a Spanish-language section and an e-newsletter. Those who sign up will receive a weekly digest on Thursdays.

bmaffly@sltrib.com