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SFU story creates media frenzy - Worms in space!

July 12, 2007

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By Stuart Colcleugh

Issuing press releases can be a bit like chumming for salmon, says Carol Thorbes, a media relations officer with SFU’s public affairs and media relations department (PAMR).

"Sometimes we’ll alert the press to a good SFU story and barely get a nibble. Other times, we’ll get a feeding frenzy."

Last month, reporters from around the world took the bait following Thorbes’ release on SFU’s microscopic ‘worms in space’ which biologists Bob Johnsen and David Baillie sent into orbit as part of a six-month experiment aboard the International Space Station.

Scores of media queries poured into PAMR, beginning with the sometimes hard-to-hook Globe and Mail, as the weather-delayed return of the C elegans worms on the shuttle Atlantis approached.

Stories ran in the Vancouver Sun (front page), The Province and Canadian journals from Halifax to Dawson Creek, by way of Ottawa, the Toronto Star and the Toronto Sun.

Items showed up on CTV News and CBC TV and radio—on a half-dozen different programs. The saga appeared on a string of radio stations, and in numerous blogs, reporting on the research assessing the effects of space radiation on the tiny creatures for the benefit of future human lunar and Martian expeditions.

From abroad, PAMR got a call from the Metro paper in London, England, looking for Johnsen and Baillie. BBC Radio 5 in London also came looking for them. And the Australian Broadcasting Corporation ran the story too.

Closer to home, the Chilliwack Progress turned the tale into a ‘local’ story—leading off with the fact that Johnsen is a Cultus Lake resident. The frenzy was so intense, Thorbes arranged a full bells-and-whistles press conference for June 26, when the worms arrived safely ‘home’ at SFU’s Burnaby campus. Five cameras and more than a dozen reporters showed up.

But the most memorable enquiry came from a BBC reporter in London, "who wanted to speak to Simon Fraser," laughs PAMR office manager Fiona Burrows, who resisted the urge to say "I’ll try and dig him up."

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