The Breakthroughs

Research Breakthrough: Boston University mechanical engineers borrowed techniques from kirigami paper-cutting art to create soft robotic grippers that safely grasp different objects. By cutting sheets of plastic in specific shapes, and then bending them in a specific way, the plastic morphs into a gripper that can securely pick up objects of various size, weight, shape, and fragility.

Public Relations Breakthrough: The research garnered coverage in multiple engineering- and technology-focused publications, including IEEE Spectrum, CNET,, and more. On social media, the research video performed exceptionally well, reaching:

The Players

Research Team: Douglas Holmes, BU College of Engineering associate professor of mechanical engineering, studies how materials change shape when they are bent or warped by external forces. In a paper published in Science Robotics, Holmes and BU PhD student Yi Yang demonstrate how they were inspired by kirigami, the traditional Japanese art of paper cutting (cousin of origami paper-folding art), to design soft robotic grippers. Holmes and Yang hope that this research will make a significant contribution to the emerging field of soft robotics.

Video Team: Devin Hahn, the senior video producer on this project, had worked with Prof. Holmes on a previous video about his research, so when the kirigami paper was nearing publication, Holmes reached out to Hahn directly to see if there might be video potential. Because the kirigami research is very visual, as well as somewhat unusual, it seemed perfect for our social video format, which is designed to share well on social media platforms. Hahn partnered with Aaron Hwang, one of his undergrad production assistants and a mechanical engineering major, to write the script for the video, and to shoot supplementary material in Holmes’s lab with Yang’s assistance. Hwang’s mechanical engineering expertise made the project go smoothly. The video was put together quickly, using a combination of footage provided by Holmes from his lab, and the supplementary footage shot by the video team.

Editorial Team: To accompany the video, editors from BU’s online research publication, The Brink published a short piece describing the research and linking to the new paper. This article was also circulated in the daily BU Today newsletter the week the paper went live.

The Outreach

Once the research video was published, BU’s Public Relations | Social Media team coordinated a comprehensive share strategy across all social media platforms including BU’s thought leadership Twitter and Facebook channels to ensure the story reached broad and diverse audiences. The approach included:

  • Outreach to Futurity, which features research from top universities and the Association of American Universities (AAU). Futurity republished The Brink piece for their readers.
  • Outreach to AAU, who promoted the video on their Twitter account, reaching over 18,000 followers comprised of research funding agencies, media publications and reporters, leading research universities, and individuals and organizations interested in discoveries and perspectives from higher education institutions.
  • Sharing the news on EurekAlert, a science news distribution source operated by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Media requests stemmed from the posting, including one from Deutsche Welle (DW), Germany’s international broadcaster. DW shared a version of the video on their science and technology-focused Twitter handle, providing a nice opportunity for additional social amplification to their 30,100 followers. To date, the video has received over 468 total views on EurekAlert.
  • Social media outreach: sharing the research across the main University social accounts and on the BU thought-leadership channels.
    • BUExperts on Twitter: shared media hits and influencers’ posts, and used paid targeting to reach audiences interested in soft robotics, engineering, computer science, and other related subjects.
    • The video caption was also translated for a share across BU’s Chinese social media handles.
  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO) on YouTube to employ strategic words and phrases in the video’s description and title that would help the story gain traction through organic search. Targeted hashtags, links, and keywords were also included.

The Takeaways

  1. Connect with PR | Social Media and The Brink. Have an idea for a research story or video? Let us know about it. This includes reaching out prior to publication—as soon as your manuscript is submitted or selected. The teams honor embargoes and will never publish anything in advance, but being able to coordinate with lead time is crucial. While the topic of robotics is of broad interest and the research was delivered in a short, impactful video, it was also appropriately timed to a new paper publication, which allowed the PR | Social team to leverage additional channels such as EurekAlert for  promotion.
  2. Capture your work as you go. Only have access to your smartphone or laptop? No problem. There are easy steps you can take to improve the quality of your photos and video recording. Being able to provide BUPX with footage of your research team in action, in the lab or in the field, can make the difference between being able to create a video or not. So either reach out to the video team before you do the visually interesting part of your research so they can be there to capture it, or capture it yourself using whatever camera technology you have on hand.
  3. Multimedia elevates messaging. Multimedia assets such as research videos are a powerful way to communicate about the complexities of science as they provide the audience with a bird’s-eye view of it happening. It also enhances the ability of a viewer to recall the research presented while efficiently introducing the information in a digestible format. A few things to keep in mind when creating videos intended for social sharing:
    • Start with a smart hook. What is the most thought-provoking or important aspect of the research to communicate to the audience? Does it tie into any current news trends or moments in time?
    • One takeaway. Make the video worth the viewer’s time.
    • Story. Plainly told, but in an active, energetic tense.
    • Voice. Give the script a smart, engaging character.
    • Reiterate the impact. Quote, discovery, or future implications. It is critical to communicate how the initiative/discovery will impact your audiences’ daily lives, and clearly answer the “so what?” or “why should I care?” question that they are asking.
  4. Keep it accessible and of broad interest. Video formats are a dynamic way to make researchers and their discoveries accessible and interesting. Simply put, people love to see science in action! Videos convey not only the sense of wonder and discovery that happens in the lab or in the field, but they also have the power to project a viewer’s imagination into the future and make them see the potential impact of your research on the real world. As you conduct your research, it may be helpful to think about any visually unique aspects of the work and how they might come across in a video.