November/December 2001 // Spotlight Site
Research Matters at Harvard University
by Stephen Downes
Note: This article was originally published in The Technology Source ( as: Stephen Downes "Research Matters at Harvard University" The Technology Source, November/December 2001. Available online at The article is reprinted here with permission of the publisher.

Research Matters, an attractive website located at Harvard University, is the best of an oft-neglected class of university websites, the research reports site.

From a deceptively simple home page, readers can browse through the wealth of research performed by Harvard professors. Most readers will select from one of the major topic areas that dominate the front page: mind, body, society, earth, space or technology. More diligent readers will scroll down to find current news, to search or to subscribe to the Research Matters newsletter. More diligent readers will scroll down to find current news or to search for items. No matter what your interest in the sciences, you'll find something of interest on this site.

Each of the major topic areas is presented in magazine format with a list of highlighted story summaries and attractive photos. Click on "Full story" below any summary to view a short article. Most articles are linked to the original publication, be they from The Harvard University Gazette, Harvard Medical School's Focus, Harvard Public Health NOW, the Kennedy School of Government Communications Office, the Divinity School Communications Office, or any of Harvard's other publications. Research Matters does not duplicate Harvard's other publications; it pulls them together into a friendly format.

The articles themselves form the core of the site. They are also where it shines. Research Matters is full of endlessly fascinating topics, such as "Rules for music wired into the brain" and "Fireflies seen in a new light: The secret of their flashes is a gas." More importantly, these articles are accessible. They would make great reading for high school students or interested laypeople. At the same time, the articles are authoritative and linked to deep research.

Most articles also contain a list of "Related Links." These links mine the Research Matters database to provide background information on the author, centers or institutions mentioned in the story, and other articles on the same topic. Usually only four or five related links are provided, but because they are precisely on topic, a reader can find enough to provide a great deal of background.

For the most fun, however, select one of the "Browse" links available on every page. For example, clicking "Research Topics" lists dozens of areas of interest. Clicking "Research Programs" lists Harvard's major institutes and centers of research. For a who's who of Harvard research, click on "Researchers" to view their affiliations and recent articles (short bio links would be nice here as well). And to learn how Research Matters works, click on the "FAQ."

Research Matters is an elegant website. It is simply constructed yet rich in detail, well illustrated yet quick loading, light and easy to read and yet connected to some of the most advanced research anywhere. Universities would do well to examine—and emulate—Harvard's Research Matters.

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