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A former University of Montana research professor hopes to help scientists bridge the communication gap with the public by launching a weekly radio program highlighting their work.

Katie George, producer of the new “Cores of Discovery” program on Montana Public Radio, said that while there’s a good deal of research taking place at UM, much of it goes unnoticed by the public, and she wants to change that.

“The program is really designed to take researchers and talk about what they do every day, so the general public understands their work,” said George. “We’d like to get more funding for education and research, and we can also inform Montana’s legislators in the process.”

George’s program made its debut last Friday with Tony Ward, an associate professor with the Center for Environmental Health Sciences, who discussed asbestos exposure in Libby. The program follows this Friday with Diana Six, a forestry professor who will discuss the effects of the mountain pine beetle on the whitebark pine ecosystem.

During the past month, UM has been on a mission to publicize the scientific research taking place on campus, from studies on brain function to monitoring the global environment.

Earlier this month, the university held the first in a series of panel discussions among researchers, who shared their scientific studies with the public. It also announced last week the hiring Scott Whittenburg to serve as the school’s new vice president of research and creative scholarship.

“We’re looking to enhance our visibility,” said David Forbes, who has served as interim VP for research and creative scholarship. “There’s a lot research and scholarship that takes place both on this campus and off, but no one really knows about it.”

The university’s labs buzz with research activity. Professor John Gerdes is conducting studies on the role the central nervous system plays in various diseases, while Regents Professor Steve Running continues to look at climate change and the global carbon cycle.

Faculty members also span the globe to conduct their research. Joel Harper, a glaciologist at UM, published a paper this month on the Greenland ice sheet and its relationship to sea level rise, while the School of Forestry and Conservation contributed to a new study on tree-leaf litter in tropical forests and the role it plays in regulating organic carbons stored in soil.

“We’ve made the decision in our new strategic plan that discovery and creative scholarship will be among our key focuses,” UM President Royce Engstrom said. “We want to increase the impact of what we do as a university in the area of research and creative scholarship.”

For George, who holds a Ph.D. in biochemistry and once produced the “Science is Cool” program for Montana Public Radio, the new program looks to offer snapshots of UM’s many research pursuits.

Getting scientists to discuss their work in layman’s terms, she said, may be the biggest challenge of all.

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“I tell them to talk for an eighth-grader so everyone can understand what they do,” she said. “The experimental methods, they have big words, and defining them to the general public isn’t always easy. But I have a good ear, and the audio technician at MTPR is awesome and is very engaged in this project.“

“Cores of Discovery” programs air at 2:06 p.m. every Friday on Montana Public Radio. The following are upcoming episodes:

• Nov. 30: Diana Six, effects of mountain pine beetle on whitebark pine ecosystem.

• Dec. 7: Rich Hauer, director of the Institute on Ecosystems.

• Dec. 14: Solomon Dobrowski, ponderosa pine seedling survival in the Bitterroot and Missoula valleys.

• Dec. 21: Maury Valett, water quality in the Flathead River.

Reporter Martin Kidston can be reached at 523-5260, martin.kidston@missoulian.com or @martinkidston.

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