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Bridging the academic divide

Date 12 Nov 2007

A new partnership has been launched to connect North East residents with the scientific expertise on their doorstep.

Newcastle and Durham Universities have formed a partnership with the Centre for Life as part of the £12m North East Beacon project, iKnow. The project also involves mobile phone network Three, artist Antony Gormley and community groups.

The iKnow project will hand out 100 hand sets, each with free airtime, so young people can build a virtual social network with academics via photo-messages and video-clips.

Dr Tom Wakeford, of Newcastle University, said: "Our project targets the iPod generation, with the aim of re-igniting an interest in science among young people, but it also expands much further than this. "iKnow will be an excellent opportunity for academics to communicate with a wide range of people, including those who often expect little or no contact with Universities.

"This has the potential to transform public engagement from an activity often at the margins of academic life to one at the heart of our Universities' culture."

Linda Conlon, Centre for Life's chief executive, said: "Engaging with the public is what we do on a daily basis so we're really looking forward to working with Newcastle and Durham universities on the Beacon project.

"It will use familiar everyday technologies to engage with groups of people who currently don't have much idea of what universities do or what they are for. I believe the Beacon has the potential to strengthen relationships with local people, better understand their needs and concerns and demonstrate the relevance of universities in the 21st century."

Hewlett Packard and Intel are also working with academics to adapt IT products so people can record their local environment using mobile phones with built in global positioning systems.

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