TV series to focus on U research

The University-produced series is expected to premiere in April.
University professors Kirk Allison, left, Patricia Simmons and Margaret Werry, right, talk about stem cell research while filming the University-sponsored television program “Driven to Discover: The Research Series” on Friday at the Rarig Center. The show discusses past and present research from the University.
March 01, 2010

Film crews at the Rarig Center are finishing up work on a new series that will highlight research from the University of Minnesota.
The University is producing a TV series called “Driven to Discover: The Research Series,” with half-hour episodes featuring past and present research at the University.
The series is expected to air on the Big Ten Network and on the ResearchChannel, as well as on a Web site being created for the show.
“A half-hour show on research could be really boring, but with this series, we’re informing but also entertaining,” said series producer Paul Pecilunas.
Each episode will be split into four segments: a feature of a University researcher, the historical aspects of the research, a panel discussion on related topics and a section called “The Art of Research,” which will incorporate art that is related to the topic of the episode. A tentative performance by local hip-hop artist Dessa Darling is in the works for this portion of the second episode, Pecilunas said.
The goal of the series is to inform the public about the University’s research but also to spur discussion, said Patricia Simmons, a Board of Regents member and moderator for the panel discussions.
“What I really like about the series is the spontaneity,” she said. “The discussions aren’t scripted. It’s just people talking with each other.”
The plan for the first episode is to focus on research regarding the heart, especially the research of Doris Taylor, who was able to grow a beating rat heart in her laboratory in January 2008. The second episode will feature research in the area of industrial technology, and the third will feature student researchers at the University.
The show’s Web site is scheduled to go live April 6 and feature the first segment of the first episode.
Though it shares the same name as the University’s advertising campaign, the Driven to Discover TV series is only loosely related.
The advertising campaign recently had to be scaled back due to a lack of funds, so the Office of Information Technology is paying for the TV series out of pocket, Pecilunas said.
“They gave us the moniker and, like a lot of other people at the University, are waiting to see what happens with the series and where it goes,” Pecilunas said.
The production team currently has the funding from OIT for three pilot episodes. A half-hour show usually costs at least $60,000 to create, Pecilunas said, but the Driven to Discover series costs about $10,000 per episode since it is being produced internally by University staff and students.
Raising student awareness about the series is a big part of the project right now, said production assistant and student Emily Mahon.
“This is connected to you personally because it’s research from the U,” said Mahon, a communication studies junior. “Even though it’s an educational show, it’s done in a more interesting way.”
There is currently a Facebook page for the series, and Pecilunas said they hope to create a fan base and incorporate the series into University life by posting links to the featured research and related events.
Eventually, the University will try to sell the series to PBS and the Minnesota Broadcasters Association, Pecilunas said. If the first three episodes go well, he said they hope to find the funding to create more episodes.
“We as people have a responsibility to engage and learn,” Simmons said. “We want these shows to provoke conversation. That’s what a university is for.”

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