Professor Peter Reich: Connecting people to climate research

By Jon Jeffryes

Openness of information inhabits a central place in the work of the University of Minnesota Libraries. The Libraries partner with faculty, staff, and students to connect their research findings to the widest possible audience in an effort to advance knowledge.

Sharing and advancing knowledge is also a goal of Peter Reich’s, a Regents Professor and Distinguished McKnight Professor in Forest Ecology at the University of Minnesota, whose research focuses on climate change issues.

Reich works with library services such as the University Digital Conservancy (UDC), an online collection of papers sponsored by the Libraries that makes his research available to any researcher and often connects with Google Scholar results to provide full-text links. (See a recent Continuum post featured the work of two Libraries staff members working with researchers to make their published journal articles available in the UDC.)

But Reich also leverages innovative communication vehicles like MinuteEarth — a YouTube channel of short entertaining videos he collaborates on — to reach a larger spectrum of the public.

Removing information ‘dead ends’

Professor Reich’s UDC collection recently surpassed 10,000 file downloads since statistics started gathering in September 2015. On average more than 500 files are downloaded each month. Researchers from around the world are able to access the full text information from Reich’s collection stored in the UDC.

Reich said he makes his work available in multiple locations and doesn’t just rely on researchers finding the work in print journals or their electronic counterparts.

“Although the information superhighway is wide and fast it also has dead ends and corners and traffic jams,” Reich explains. “You’ve gone to all this trouble to do the work, if you want to make it available to people it just seemed that those additional paths, like the UDC, are worth having, too .”

As our earlier post mentioned, Libraries staff help negotiate with the publishers of the articles to be able to post the materials into the UDC. It can often be a time consuming process of trading emails and phone calls and submitting forms for approval. Libraries staff can also advise researchers on steps to take before they publish materials to retain their rights to post works publicly. As evidenced from the popularity of Reich’s collection, the benefits are apparent.

‘A hybrid between art and science’

Reich’s commitment to sharing his research findings expands beyond the UDC and library services. He also shares research more informally and with a wider general audience via YouTube. Reich describes this video series, MinuteEarth, as “a form that’s a hybrid between art and science.”

Inspired by the success his son, physicist and filmmaker Henry Reich, achieved with MinutePhysics, Professor Reich,and his other son, Alex, were interested to see if they could collaborate with Henry on a similar project focused on the environment.

“If I give a talk,” Reich explains, “I talk to 40 or at most 400 people.” Conversely, MinutePhysics was “reaching hundreds of thousands.” 

Through a collaboration with his sons and several other crew members, the team began creating short, engaging, animated videos for MinuteEarth on a wide range of environmental science topics including ecology, hydrology, food science and more. The videos have reached more than 100 million viewers in the past three years and include:

Reich sees the videos as a contribution to the land grant mission of the University of Minnesota. He hopes the videos “get the broader public more engaged with science and in particular environmental science.”

‘Sharing research through things like the UDC would be important’

Whether it’s other researchers finding his articles in the UDC or a classroom using the MinuteEarth videos to illustrate a lesson, Reich is committed to connecting his research to the public.

“Science is one way — and an important way — we learn about the world. If you do great research and you never tell anyone about it, you might help yourself understand the world but it’s not going to advance knowledge and society,” he said. “So sharing research through things like the UDC is important, and although the audience is different, MinuteEarth builds on the same idea.”

The Libraries offer a variety of services to assist researchers in connecting their research to the public. They include:

To learn more about these services or brainstorm other approaches contact your subject librarian.

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