Dr. Rebecca Britt Receives Alabama Water Institute Grant

May 10, 2023

Dr. Rebecca Britt, associate professor of journalism and creative media, was recently awarded the Alabama Water Institute (AWI) Innovation Grant for her project titled “Addressing water contamination threats using entropy and network theory via capacity building: Utilizing big data to develop an architecture for engineering and the social sciences.” The grant is a collaboration between the College of Communication and Information Sciences (C&IS) and the College of Engineering and is funded by AWI.

Britt and her team will use social entropy and network analysis to examine discussions on social media about health hazards related to water contamination. They will focus on conversations involving citizens and various organizations, including those related to health, citizen engagement and politics. The goal is to identify key global discussion points on this issue.

“Organizations, local citizens, scientists and the mainstream media all contribute to the conversation of the risks associated with water contamination,” Britt said. “This has an impact on informal learning. It’s a global conversation that happens in many ways, from the use of slang to more scientific conversation.”

Information from Britt’s research will be used to create a Big Data repository that includes a social graph and predictive techniques for tracking the progression of discussions on social media regarding water contamination. This valuable resource will cater to the needs of both engineers and social scientists, providing comprehensive data sets that can be utilized and leveraged by researchers from various fields.

The study lays the groundwork for how environmental health risks are understood, including the perceived severity and their scope. Britt and the research team aim to identify the sources of communication for these events, particularly by examining the role of opinion leaders, and track how they evolve over time. This comprehensive research will span a period of five years, analyzing contributions from global social media platforms to assess the risks associated with these issues.

“We hope other scholars will benefit from the data sets produced,” Britt said. “We anticipate scholars from many epistemological and methodological traditions will be able to use this data and invite them to converse with us.”

UA’s College of Communication and Information Sciences faculty and students conduct cutting-edge research that creates knowledge and provides solutions to global issues across the full communication and information spectrum. To learn more about the College’s research initiatives, visit cis.ua.edu/research.

To learn more about research at the Alabama Water Institute, click here.