Community Productions

2007: Widgets and Digits: Technological History, Research And Invention At The U Of I


Urbana University High School students took a first-hand look at the ideas and thought processes of 15 leading University of Illinois researchers to create a radio documentary, Widgets and Digits: Technological History, Research and Invention at the University of Illinois.

Students in the Uni High Class of 2010 conducted the interviews to find out about technological expertise and cutting edge research on campus. They learned about research into a development of a “smart” hearing aid, a roll-up electronic newspaper, computing with light instead of electrical current, screening infants for hearing problems, computer speech recognition and other projects.

Those interviewed were

  •     Beckman Institute director Pierre Wiltzius;
  •     Professors Tony Leggett and Klaus Schulten, physics;
  •     Marc Snir and Paul Saylor, computer science;
  •     Monica Fabiani and Denise Park, psychology;
  •     John Rogers, materials science and engineering;
  •     David Goldberg, industrial and enterprise systems engineering;
  •     Eric Jakobsson, medical information science and molecular and integrative physiology;
  •     Paul Lauterbur, chemistry;
  •     Jennifer Cole, linguistics;
  •     Research scientist emeritus Allen Avner;
  •     former computer employee Harold Lopeman; and
  •     Mimosa Acoustics founder Patricia Allen, a tenant at the U of I research park.

Uni High student Ruth Welch, executive producer for the program, said she was surprised to find herself identifying with some of the researchers. “I tend to struggle with getting excited about science,” she said. “But Dr. Wilthius was inspiring. He talked about what it was like to search for an answer to a problem for eight or nine months and then all of a sudden, to have everything click. As a high school student in pre-calculus math, I could identify with that. It doesn’t matter that he’s doing quantum physics and I’m doing algebra, it was really powerful.”

Maria Gao and Maritza Mestre were producers and narrators for the program, and AM 580’s Dave Dickey and Uni teacher Jenny Yi Kim directed the project. Editors were Alexx Engles, Katherine Allen, Linda Ly, Sinda Agha, and Rachel Harmon.

The program looks at the researchers’ childhoods, role models, education, research, obstacles and advice for those who want to invent or do cutting edge research.