Reported by Joanne Lu.
The stars of Google are smiling on South Carolina. More specifically, they’re smiling on Dr. Brian Helmuth, biological sciences professor at the University of South Carolina, who was recently named a Google Science Communication fellow.
The only inaugural fellow from the Southeast, Helmuth will join 20 other professors to launch Google’s latest effort to promote scientific communication, specifically on the topic of climate change, the first in their proposed series of subjects.
Google’s very interested in teaching professors throughout the U.S. in how to communicate complex subjects using the technology that Google has invested in, including what they call “computational thinking.”
As Helmuth explains it, computational thinking is taking complex problems–subjects that initially seem chaotic–and breaking them down into their constituent parts. The parts are then reassembled and communicated in a way that makes sense. Helmuth likes Google’s example of a restaurant dish:
You can taste it, identify the individual parts, break it down into its constituent parts, essentially re-create the ingredients of that dish. What you then do is put it back together again into a recipe–essentially in Google-speak, you’re putting that into an algorithm–that you can then hand to somebody else to re-create that dish.
With the help of Google technology, that is what Helmuth and his fellowship collegues will be doing to the subject of climate change–an issue that eludes much of the general public, but makes sense to those in the field.
Our goal is to look at where climate change is most likely to impact ecosystems and least likely, and then hand that to people who can do something with that information. So we don’t tell people what to do, but we try to give that information to people like policy makers, people like resource managers, who can make those kind of decisions. But we need to do that in a way that makes sense to someone who doesn’t study climate change for a living.
Helmuth says Google will teach the fellows how to employ the technology in their research, but what they do with it is really up to them.
I want to first of all figure out how to take my science, communicate that to people in South Carolina and the rest of the nation as far as understanding the impacts of climate change on communities. I want to use that for my students here at South Carolina. And I also work a lot with K-12 teachers in the Columbia area. So I want to take the tools I learn from Google, figure out how I can turn those into lesson plans.
The fellows will attend a three-day seminar at Google’s Mountain View, Ca. headquarters this summer to learn the technology and brainstorm ideas, after which they can apply for grants to put their ideas into practice. For more information on the fellowship, visit Google’s official blog.