RiAUS, Hostworks set up Australia’s Science Channel online to boost STEM interest, uptake

25 Jun RiAUS, Hostworks set up Australia’s Science Channel online to boost STEM interest, uptake

This article first appeared in the Adelaide Advertiser on June 25, 2016

FOUR years ago the former head of new media at Fox Studios in Sydney took some time out to cycle around the world and think of interesting ideas.

The former, national award winning science journalist and serial CEO has an informed take on what works when it comes to technology.

“Science is cool,” says Will Berryman. It’s a good start.

Dr Paul Willis, a palaeontologist, has shown his worth on eight Antarctic expeditions and has authored tomes on dinosaurs, rocks and fossils.

He’s a former Eureka prize winner for science communication and, in a nice touch, was Australian Skeptic of the Year in 2002.

All they needed for good things to happen, was to come together.

Dr Willis, director of Adelaide’s Royal Institution of Australia (RiAUS), took the lead with a call to Mr Berryman, who now oversees digital solution provider Hostworks (Kidman Park based and one of the country’s best-kept tech secrets) – and Australia’s Science Channel was born.

Launched this month at riaus.tv, following a year and a half of fine tuning, the partnership is set to change the way we think about and engage with STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects, Dr Willis said.

Science, directed and delivered from Adelaide, is about to become sexy.

“Our mission is to engage Australia with science, bring people to science and science to the people,” he said at his CBD Science Exchange HQ.

“I wasn’t long into the job when I came to the fact that if we have a national remit, what is the most effective way for a small organisation to talk to and communicate with a national audience?

“The obvious answer is to get with the times, do it online. We have millions of dollars’worth of equipment which means our auditorium is effectively a broadcast studio, we can live stream for high definition cameras and produce high quality video online.”

Thus, four years ago he suggested an online TV channel. “We didn’t make the headway I wanted to until we met Will Berryman,” Dr Willis said.

“He was fully supportive because of his background in science broadcast – he saw the opportunity if Hostworks worked with us to build an online TV channel dedicated to science, that they could use it to test ideas and products before they took them to market.

“They are happy to be our digital roadies and we are their digital guinea pigs.”

The science channel is the first hub in Australia to focus on publishing science content in an engaging, digestible, and accessible format he said.

The online platform houses video (static and live broadcasts), audio and written content from Australia’s top universities, research and scientific organisations and private institutions. A major issue plaguing STEM adoption is access to materials Mr Berryman said.

“Without the necessary resources it is almost impossible to educate yourself or teach others. Teachers, parents, and professionals will now have better means to further push the STEM agenda.”

Clearly, a look at the science channel is a must. It’s free, and full of interaction possibilities and videos stretching the imagination, implausible or otherwise.

There’s the video of the wannabe astronaut, a comedian by day and a performer at this year’s Fringe who (genuinely) fancies a stint on Mars and articulates some of the practical barriers to long-term population there. Can mankind reproduce on Mars he asks, its gravity of 38 per cent (of Earth) a hurdle too far?

There’s the question we’ve all posed at some point. Can you go back in time to, in this case, shoot your grandfather … the answer is unsurprising but the process is genuinely enlightening.

The key to producing a streaming platform with a reach already of 2.5 million users lay with the technical side, said Dr Willis, with Hostworks donating about $500,000 in expertise and equipment and getting the platform up and running.

Finding solutions to developing new products and identifying problems from running such a channel has been the payback for a Hostworks team that has grown from two to 16 staff (mostly web designers and software developers) on the back of its science output and is the digital force behind the annual Tour Down Under cycling epic.

Hostworks specialises in supporting high transaction websites – Tour de France and 2014 Fifa World Cup have been clients – and on-demand or live video and audio streaming such as the science channel.

A 24/7 operation, it works behind the scenes to provide strategic direction and technical support to ensure customers’ online presence is always available.

Advising on data centre migration and transitioning to cloud is a key feature of the Findon HQ which boasts an enormous cloud storage. And it’s ever evolving.

“Four out of five products that have been born out of working with RiAus we are selling to market,” said Mr Berryman.

“Science is attractive at the moment for young people. I think there is a disconnect in the wider community around STEM topics.

“The majority of people still like to talk of STEM as boffins rather than looking at the pragmatic value.

“STEM trades are similar to what we do in our business, science is crucial to businesses and how they run it.”

Dr Willis said: “The way the channel is structured we are a content creator and a content aggregator, universities across country are making great science content and we have set it up so we aggregate that content in.

“The name of the game online is not capturing and keeping an audience, it’s collaborating with others to build a bigger audience.”

Indeed, innovation has been omnipresent since Dr Willis took over at RiAUS in 2011, two years after it was founded. Its inaugural World Vasectomy Day in late 2013 was eye catching, and watering, in its remit and intent.

“The structure of online broadcasting means we can take risks that normal TV and media would not take,” he said.

“No one else in the world would dedicate six hours of broadcast material to exploration of things like family planning, men’s health and world population problems based around 17 guys getting vasectomies live on stage. That’s dangerous stuff but we can do it.

“We had a fantastic reception. It was out of the box and shows the potential.

“I’ve done thousands of interviews in my time but the most difficult interview I’ve done is with a guy as he is having a vasectomy that is being broadcast and put up on a screen behind you so that his testicles are bigger than me. So we have fun with all this stuff.”

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