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Pittsburgh-made show on sleep science wins 2 Emmys

| Friday, Oct. 30, 2015, 5:43 p.m.
A still from the 'Scientastic' show that won an Emmy, about the science of sleep.
"scientastic"
A still from the 'Scientastic' show that won an Emmy, about the science of sleep.
Dr. John Pollock, a biology professor at Duquesne University, with his two awards for the show 'Scientastic' after the Mid-Atlantic Emmy ceremony in Philadelphia.
NATAS (Mid-Atlantic) Top Guns Corporate Photography Ltd.
Dr. John Pollock, a biology professor at Duquesne University, with his two awards for the show 'Scientastic' after the Mid-Atlantic Emmy ceremony in Philadelphia.

A locally produced television special that helps kids learn about science in a fun way has received two Mid-Atlantic Region Emmy Awards from the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.

The show, “Scientastic — Are You Sleeping?,” deals with the nationwide prevalence of sleep deprivation and how it affects people. It shows what happens when 14-year-old Cassie stays up all night to study for a math test the next day. She later realizes that her lack of sleep hurt her performance on the test and notices that others also suffer when they don't sleep enough.

Curious, she goes to the library to do some research. As the questions multiply, Cassie and her brother visit experts at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium, Phipps Conservatory, Meadowcroft Rock Shelter, the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh and a UPMC sleep lab.

The program aired in April 2014 on WQED-TV and was distributed nationally by American Public Television to more than 100 public television stations. The Emmy awards were received in September for Children/Youth/Teen Program or Special and for Music Composition/Arrangement.

Dr. John Pollock, a biology professor and neuroscience researcher at Duquesne University, is the show's creator and executive director. Pollock is director of the Partnership in Education at Duquesne, which produced the program in conjunction with Planet Earth Television.

“The central goal (of the ‘Scientastic' series) is to let people know that there is science going on around them and that they can understand it,” Pollock says. “We're trying to portray real-world skills that everybody should have and feel comfortable using.”

The character of Cassie shows by example that it's OK for kids to investigate things they're curious about.

In addition to Pollock, the show's production team included executive producer David Caldwell of Planet Earth Television, director Leo Eaton and concept developers Patricia Maurides and Brinley Kantorski.

The show's original music was created by lyricist Mike Erskine-Kellie, composer Rick Witkowski and Pollock.

Students from the Pittsburgh Creative and Performing Arts School and Winchester Thurston School appeared in the production.

Biologist and educator Kantorski of Moon was a good fit for the show's concept-development team. “I was there to make sure that the science we were presenting in the show was accurate and understandable for the target audience and that it was interesting,” she says.

Kantorski, who is the director of education and curriculum at the Partnership in Education, says that the show is effective because of “the relatability of the situations the characters are in. There's no doubt about it, the American public is not getting the amount of sleep that's healthy for us,” she says.

The Partnership in Education produces science educational materials for kids, focused mainly on health topics. Many of its products, including games, videos, teaching materials and DVDs of “Scientastic — Are You Sleeping?” are available through its website, thepartnershipineducation.com. An interactive ebook is in the works.

Funding for the project was provided by the Science Education Partnership Awards from the National Institutes of Health with the U.S. Department of Education and from the National Science Foundation, UPMC and other sources.

Cynthia Bombach Helzel is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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