Supporting access to useful scientific knowledge

At the PULSE lab, we seek to bridge the gaps between researchers and other publics. To do this, we 1) study technology like social media and the people who use it, 2) design tools to support researchers doing public outreach, 3) and explore how different publics make sense of research knowledge.

Our projects fall under many umbrellas, but they all follow the same broad goal: promoting scientific knowledge in a way that is understandable, useful, and credible to diverse, overlapping publics.

At the PULSE lab, we seek to embody the following principles:

  • Open access. We're a science communication lab, so we publish blog posts of all our projects, and provide access to papers (where legally possible).
  • Evolution. None of us are perfect, but our goal is to constantly improve. We seek to foster a culture of feedback, internal peer review, and support in order to make us all better researchers.
  • Integrity. We want to do good research! This means seeking impactful questions, following honest research practices, and developing sound methodology.
  • Support. This lab is meant to be a place for students to learn how to do research. This can only happen in an environment of inclusivity, empathy, support, and kindness to each other.


Spencer Williams

Lab director

Phoebe Huang

Project leader, AI moderation

Hongdi Xu

Project leader, Social Media and Science Communication

Maxwell London

Capstone student, Scientific credibility

Keri Mallari



Check out the projects and research areas in our lab!

Social Media and Science Communication

Social media and other platforms online are key sources of scientific knowledge. How can we support science communication across participatory platforms like social media?

Scientific Credibility

Trust in science is on the decline. How can we provide access to scientific knowledge in ways that are considered credible?

Simulating Online News Selection

There's a lot of research on how people decide what to read online. How can we synthesize that research, simulate social media ecosystems, and predict how people decide what to read?

How to get involved

There are several ways for University of Washington students to get involved; as a co-pilot, volunteer, research capstone student, or PhD student. If interested, please email Spencer Williams at sw1918@uw.edu. Make sure to include the following information:

  • Your resume/CV
  • A list of related classes you've taken (for co-pilot, volunteer, capstone)
  • An overview of your previous research experience (for volunteer, capstone, PhD)
  • Why you want to work at this lab, and what projects you're interested in. There are lots of great labs at UW, so why this one?


Are you interested in trying out research, but don't have any background? Co-pilots are members of the lab that can help out whenever they want, without a minimum number of hours per week. They are generally assigned to a specific project, but are free to move between projects if they want. Co-pilots...

  • Have no minimum hourly requirement.
  • Can help out whenever they want.
  • Require no experience with research.
  • Are perfect for those who want to try out research in a low-stakes way.


Volunteers are lab members with a longer-term stake in the lab. They have more privileges than co-pilots, but have more responsibilities as well. Volunteers include former co-pilots, independent studies students, and students with previous experience working in other lab settings. Volunteers are expected to devote more hours to the lab, in order to gain the experiences and skills that would be expected from a seasoned lab member. Volunteers...

  • Have a minimum 8 hour per week requirement.
  • Have priority in being trained over co-pilots.
  • Are eligible to lead projects, and get authorship on publications.
  • Are involved in interviewing and hiring new lab members.

Research capstone

Informatics students in the UW iSchool have the option of completing research capstones, which involve taking on a (usually) 2-quarter commitment to lead a research project (this can be an offshoot of an existing project, or something totally new!). This is another great way to get involved with the lab for graduating informatics students. Research capstone students...

  • Have the same general duties and responsibilities as volunteers.
  • Are eligible to shift to volunteer status if they want to continue with their projects, seek publication, etc.

PhD student

PhD students generally have the highest priority for training, resources, funding, etc. I can't admit PhD students directly, but you can take a look at the iSchool's doctorate in information science for information on how to apply. I am also open to co-advising PhD students with faculty from other departments at UW. PhD students...

  • Lead large-scale, long-term projects.
  • Are a good option for people who want high-level training in research, to become a professor, research scientist, etc.
  • Generally take 5-6 years to complete.

Project leader

Project leaders are, as the name implies, in charge of projects. They will generally be first author of papers coming out of their project, and are largely responsible for hiring co-pilots and volunteers for that project. Students interested in working on a specific project will need permission from both the lab director, and that specific project's leader. PhD students are project leaders by default. Project leaders...

  • Are in charge of their project, including hiring, team management, and external comms.
  • Are either very experienced lab members, or exceptional applicants who want to develop strong research skills (e.g. to prepare for a PhD).
  • Are meant for people who want to develop their own research directions, or take over projects they've invested significant time into.


Meta-summaries Effective for Improving Awareness and Understanding of COVID-19 Vaccine Safety Research (2022). Spencer Williams, Joy Lee, Brett Halperin, Joshua M. Liao, Gary Hsieh, Katharina Reinecke. Scientific Reports
Paper | Blog

An HCI Research Agenda for Online Science Communication (2022). Spencer Williams, Ridley Jones, Katharina Reinecke, Gary Hsieh. CSCW 2022: ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work
Paper | Blog

The Effects of User Comments on Science News Engagement (2021). Spencer Williams, Gary Hsieh. CSCW 2021: ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work
Paper | Blog