The Breakthroughs

Research Breakthrough: In January 2019, a pair of BU engineers, Xin Zhang and Reza Ghaffarivardavagh,  published a paper arguing it’s possible to cancel noise using an open, ring-like structure. Their prototype was capable of silencing sound while allowing for the free passage of air.

Public Relations Breakthrough: The acoustic silencer has since received an extraordinary amount of media attention. As of April, it’s been the focus of more than 100 feature articles, not including Chinese media or upcoming broadcast opportunities. The story has received more than 53,000 unique page views on BU Research and 80+ comments. BU’s social media efforts resulted in nearly 1,000 interactions (likes, shares, and comments) and reached 13,000 people—and the video associated with the story has been viewed more than 300,000 times.

Other notable highlights include placement on, a news service for science and technology insiders, where the story garnered almost 20,000 social shares; and in popular outlets like Fast Company, BBC Mundo, Business Insider, and Gizmodo. At Gizmodo alone it generated more than 35,000 unique page views and more than 80 comments. 

The Players

The Research Team: This story began like so many others playing out right now around BU: in a lab, with a talented team who cared deeply about solving a real problem.

From the team’s shared enthusiasm came a number of assets that contributed to widespread interest later. First, they set out to create something with real-world application. Second, the team took photos and videos to document their process. And third, when they realized they had something worth sharing, they prioritized promotion and responded to questions and requests as quickly as possible.

The Center Director: Dr. Thomas Bifano, Director of the Boston University Photonics Center, flagged the upcoming research for BU’s PR and editorial teams prior to the journal publication. He highlighted both the newness of the discovery as well as the real-world application, flagging that “it could change the way industrial sound cancelling is done.”

The MarCom Team: The editorial team from BU Research and the PR | Social Media team reached out to the researchers, who promptly replied with an embargoed manuscript of the paper and their availability to meet with MarCom for an intake meeting to learn more. BU Research published an article following the journal publication. Photos taken by BU Photography of the device and team, along with the researchers’ own multimedia assets, helped create a compelling story.

The Outreach

Once the research was out in the world, BU’s PR | Social Media team moved into distribution mode to ensure the story reached broad and diverse audiences, including:

  • A Chinese social media push, which included translating the story, sharing it on Weibo and WeChat, and conducting targeted outreach to Chinese media outlets
  • Outreach to Futurity, which features research from top universities and the Association of American Universities (AAU), asking that they share the story with a search engine optimized (SEO) headline to increase discoverability
  • Media outreach
  • Social media outreach: sharing the research on the BU thought-leadership channel, re-sharing media hits and influencers’ posts, and targeting audiences interested in 3D printing, noise reduction, soundproofing, engineering, acoustics, and more
  • SEO research to employ strategic words and phrases throughout the piece that would help the story gain traction through organic search
  • Sharing the news on EurekaAlert, a science news distribution source

The Takeaways

  1. Capture your project as you go. Take photos and video in the lab as you produce work.
  2. Make your research as concrete as possible. Practice talking about the real-world problem you’re trying to solve in terms that a family member could understand. Zero in on real-world applications that apply to a broad audience. A physical device or product is often helpful to entice interest.
  3. Connect with PR and BU Research early and often. This includes reaching out prior to publication—as soon as your manuscript is submitted or selected. The team honors embargoes and will never publish anything in advance, but being able to coordinate with lead time is crucial. It’s also helpful to connect the journal with a member of the PR team directly.
  4. Respond to media inquiries promptly. Media deadlines are short. Researchers should, whenever possible, make themselves available to answer questions in a timely manner.
  5. Remember, you have professional PR coaches at your fingertips. Connect with BU’s PR team when you receive media interview requests for guidance and assistance.
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