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[SHANGHAI] From this week, residents of the Chinese city of Shanghai will be able to improve their science knowledge by reading text messages sent to their mobile phones.

The Shanghai Association of Science and Technology (SAST) is running the 'Messaging Science' initiative with technical support from the Shanghai Communications Administration and three major telecommunications companies in the city.

Chen Jifang, SAST's vice-president, says the increasing popularity of text messages in China means that sending them could have a much bigger impact than traditional methods of science communication such as exhibitions.

SAST spent six months preparing the initiative, calling on its 100,000 members in Shanghai to contribute interesting science facts based on published information.

Zhu Hui of SAST's public science education department says that the scientists, university students and others have provided nearly 2,000 messages so far in 20 categories including biology, aerospace, weather and health.

Professional science writers have edited the messages to make them more interesting, readable and, in some cases, humorous.

The aim, initially, is to send 30 free messages on diet, nutrition and exercise to about 30,000 SAST members during the two-week Spring Festival, which starts on 27 January. SAST hopes the recipients will forward the information to their friends and family.

The association will use a survey to assess the response to the first set of messages, including how frequently they were forwarded.

It will also encourage Shanghai citizens to contribute new messages to the programme, and has plans to award a prize for the best message at the city's annual Science and Technology Festival in May.

The test batch will be sent to members with mobile phones from the three companies participating in the scheme: Shanghai Mobile Communications Co, and China Unicom Group Shanghai Co and the Shanghai Telecommunications Co.