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'The Martian' Food-Growing System: It's at UA

Mon, 10/05/2015 - 12:33pm
Extra Info: 

The UA's Biosphere 2, which is home to a sister lunar greenhouse, will host an event exploring what it takes to grow food on the moon. Visitors can view the greenhouse and accompanying exhibit, as well as interact with the researchers behind it.

What: 'What If We Could Grow Food on the Moon?'When: Oct. 10, 3-7 p.m.Where: Biosphere 2Story Contacts: 

Emily Litvack

UA University Relations, Communications



A team of University researchers can already "farm" on the red planet with a fully functional prototype greenhouse that produces sweet potatoes and strawberries.

"So, I've got to figure out a way to grow three years' worth of food here — on a planet where nothing grows," says Mark Watney, the botanist who ends up stranded on the red planet in Ridley Scott’s new film, "The Martian."

Watney, whose character is played by actor Matt Damon, later engineers a way to grow potatoes on Mars and remarks, "I am the greatest botanist on this planet."

Despite never saying it explicitly in the novel on which the film is based, author Andy Weir has revealed that "The Martian" is set in the near future; the NASA crew lands on Mars in November 2035.

But UA scientists already have figured out how to grow food on the freeze-dried planet, including sweet potatoes and strawberries — roughly 20 years ahead of Mars' "greatest botanist."

About the Project

At the UA Controlled Environment Agriculture Center, or CEAC, near Campbell Avenue and Roger Road in Tucson, a team of researchers has spent the last seven years building and maintaining a fully functional prototype lunar and Martian greenhouse. The project, a NASA Steckler Space Grant collaboration, brings together some 20 researchers from different disciplines to grow crops that could grow on Mars and the moon, all inside of one big aluminum-framed, plastic-covered cylinder.

The team includes Roberto Furfaro, systems engineer and principal technical investigator; Gene Giacomelli, horticultural engineer and co-principal investigator and director of the CEAC; Timothy Swindle, principal investigator; and Susan Brew, program manager of the UA-NASA Space Grant program. The collaborators include Phil Sadler of Sadler Machine Co. in Tempe; Erica Hernandez, NASA Space Grant intern; and Connor Osgood and Martina Mitchell, as well as aerospace companies Thales-Alenia and Aero-Sekur of Italy.

How It Works: Hydroponics

While Watney is forced to engineer his system by recycling his own vacuum-sealed fecal matter and chemically synthesizing water, the lunar and Martian greenhouse at the UA relies on a complex hydroponics system to provide fresh water that, when combined with nutrients, supports the plants.

Hydroponics, or the recirculation of plant fertilizer and water to grow plants in the absence of soil, is the driving force behind the greenhouse. The hydroponics system and controlled-environment greenhouse provide yields 10 times of those in an open field, so the notion of feeding a crew of astronauts for hundreds of sols — Martian days, spanning 24 hours and 39 minutes — isn't just sci-fi.

This kind of ingenuity already is being applied to earthbound issues, such as enhancing global food security.

As a controlled environment, the greenhouse is computer automated to provide the optimum air temperature, humidity, water, light and nutrients.

"We have a wide array of sensors that monitor all of the environmental conditions in there," said Hernandez, a UA senior in plant sciences. "We have a controller that we can program and make changes to the day-to-day routine that the plants experience, and just being able to collect all of that data and really understand the behavior of the system through that data is very interesting for me."

The result: nearly 100 percent harvestable, top-quality product.

And because all materials are known and controlled, consumers of the food don't have to worry about unexpected disease or food-borne illness pathogens — which is good news for earthlings and Martians.

Reaction to 'The Martian'

Giacomelli read Weir's book and saw the film.

"It was particularly interesting when they began discussing what we do for our research," he said.

Giacomelli said that when he first began reading the book, he couldn't help but feel that Watney "really should have been a horticulturalist. I mean, think about it. Did Weir really think NASA needed a botanist as a crew member because they were to find plants on Mars?"

He was quick to point out some of Watney's fallacies, too, because growing Martian food "is our day job. It's what we do here every day."

In response to Watney saying his potatoes soon will be "ripe," Giacomelli said, "The potatoes swell in size but don't ripen like a fruit or many vegetables."

There is another passage in which Watney says he can urinate directly onto the plants.

"The plants will take their share of water and the rest will condense on the walls," Watney says.

Said Giacomelli: "Major mistake! Water the plants with unprocessed urine, and the high salt content will kill them. Plus, the plants need nitrate-nitrogen, which is two biological steps away from urea-nitrogen that dominates the urine." 

He quipped, "Actually, it was the capability of Watney's duct tape that kept the potential reality alive for me. I know duct tape can do all."

After getting past a few liberties the story takes in growing plants, Giacomelli said he "was finally converted to the possibilities of 'The Martian.' I did really enjoy the book." He said he was impressed by the science and engineering presented in the story.

"This (lunar and Martian) greenhouse is being supported by NASA so that someday people will live and work on another planet. When they do, they need food," Giacomelli said, adding that it was "phenomenal to hear the challenges that Mr. Watney had growing his crops. We had the exact same challenges."

Category(s): Science and TechnologyEmily LitvackOctober 5, 2015University Relations - Communications

How the UA Delivers 'Martian' Food

Thu, 10/01/2015 - 4:37pm
October 5, 2015 Martian Food-The UA Controlled Environment Agriculture Center Video of Martian Food-The UA Controlled Environment Agriculture Center

Gene Giacomelli, director of the University of Arizona's Controlled Environment Agriculture Center, or CEAC, shared the same challenges in growing crops as the fictitious botanist stranded on Mars in the new movie "The Martian."

The NASA-funded research is designed to develop systems for growing plant food in harsh environments such as distant planets. The CEAC created a prototype environment that provides the perfect combination of heat, light and humidity for plants will grow. Red and blue LED grow lights, producing an intense magenta cast, optimize energy and plant growth and are central to plant survival where resources are scarce.  

The CEAC lunar greenhouse uses a hydroponic system to deliver water and nutrients directly to plant roots. Giacomelli theorizes that the soil on Mars could be used in a closed environment to support plant growth, if given the proper hydration and nutrient supplements.

Giacomelli says the film's stranded scientist, played by actor Matt Damon, is fortunate to have a background in mechanical engineering and botany — a rare combination "except for people coming through our educational program here at the University of Arizona's Controlled Environment Agricultural Center."

Category(s): Science and Technology

UA Launches B.S. in Environmental Engineering

Thu, 10/01/2015 - 12:41pm
Story Contacts: 

Reyes Sierra

UA College of Engineering


The College of Engineering’s newest degree program focuses on sustainability and prepares students for jobs of the future.

When a West Virginia storage tank spilled thousands of gallons of chemicals into the Elk River in January 2014, environmental engineers were among the first to respond. When a breach at an abandoned gold mine sent millions of gallons of acidic mine waste into the Colorado River in August of this year, environmental engineers again were called into action to monitor and mitigate the damage.

And with new reports from NASA that underground aquifers are emptying at a record pace, environmental engineers will be the ones who create technologies for ensuring adequate water supplies for human and industrial consumption. 

Environmental engineers are in high demand: The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 15 percent increase in employment of environmental engineers over a 10-year period ending in 2022.

The University of Arizona is responding with a new Bachelor of Science to train them.

"The very fabric of our nation’s economic and environmental sustainability hinges on a precarious balance of water supply reliability and security in the face of climate change and increasing urbanization," said Shane Snyder, professor of chemical and environmental engineering and a renowned expert in water reuse technologies.

"This new program will train students for the jobs of the future. It will teach them how to develop and implement sustainable engineering solutions."

The new major, launched this fall, is open to eligible freshmen and sophomores at the UA. The application deadline for students in the college is Nov. 6.

The college’s well-established graduate programs in environmental engineering are ranked in the top 25 percent by peer institutions, according to U.S. News & World Report. Now undergraduates can fully tap into the expertise of faculty and top-tier research projects in environmental engineering as well as chemical engineering. 

"The UA is a great place to study environmental engineering. I have seen how environmental engineers can have a positive impact on the world, and the College of Engineering has put me on a path where I can do the same," said Jeannie Wilkening, a chemical engineering senior who has done research with environmental engineering faculty. 

The program is based in the college’s Department of Chemical and Environmental Engineering, one of only a few departments at U.S. universities to integrate these two closely connected fields.

"Most environmental engineering programs are housed in civil engineering departments, which emphasize infrastructural challenges," said professor Reyes Sierra, director of the new program. "Chemical engineers have a proven track record in developing biochemical and other process technologies, which are critical for targeted treatment systems."

Jim Field, former chair of the department, added, "Our students will graduate with a particular skill set employers are going to appreciate."

Students in the new program won’t just learn about the latest advances in water reuse or safe removal of hazardous wastes. They will directly on these issues at research facilities such as WEST, a large-scale pilot treatment and research plant located off campus and operated jointly by the University and Pima County.  

"One of the most exciting aspects of our new program is that the students will be some of the first doing research at the new Water & Energy Sustainable Technology facility," Sierra said. "To our knowledge, this level of engineering engagement with real wastewater, in real time, is not available at any other environmental engineering program in the United States."

Students also may participate in the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences UA Superfund Research Project, with nine projects on hazardous waste risk and remediation in the Southwest. Other research opportunities for environmental engineering students at the UA include the BIO5 Institute, Institute of the Environment, Lowell Institute of Mineral Resources, Semiconductor Research Corporation Engineering Research Center for Environmentally Benign Semiconductor Manufacturing, and Arizona Research Institute of Solar Energy.

Category(s): Science and TechnologyJill GoetzOctober 1, 2015UA College of Engineering

New Name for Arizona Health Sciences Center

Wed, 09/30/2015 - 3:31pm
Now known as the University of Arizona Health Sciences, the academic health center becomes more clearly identified with the UA.

The Arizona Health Sciences Center has a new name — the University of Arizona Health Sciences — in a move to clearly identify Arizona’s academic health center as an integral part of the UA, one of the nation’s premier research universities.

"Our goal is to strongly identify our academic health center as a key part of the University of Arizona, which not only benefits the UA and its health sciences enterprise, but also our affiliated centers and units," said Dr. Joe G.N. "Skip" Garcia, UA senior vice president for health sciences.

"Communicating our strong connection to the University of Arizona leverages the emotional ties and pride associated with the University," Garcia said. "And we know that many individuals, especially those in other states, often were unaware the Arizona Health Sciences Center was part of the University of Arizona. Our new name — the University of Arizona Health Sciences — is much more descriptive and definitive, and simply makes good sense."

The renaming effort brings the overall UA Health Sciences’ name in line with the five UA health colleges.

The University of Arizona Health Sciences, the statewide leader in biomedical research and health-professions training, includes: the UA College of Medicine – Tucson; the UA College of Medicine – Phoenix; the UA College of Pharmacy; the UA College of Nursing; and the UA Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health. With main-campus locations in Tucson and the growing Phoenix Biomedical Campus in downtown Phoenix, the UA Health Sciences reaches across the state of Arizona, the Southwest and beyond to provide cutting-edge health education, research, patient care and community outreach services.

A major economic engine, the UA Health Sciences employs nearly 5,000 people, has nearly 1,000 faculty members and garners more than $126 million in research grants and contracts annually.

Category(s): HealthGeorge HumphreyOctober 1, 2015UA Health Sciences

UNAM Center for Mexican Studies Launched

Tue, 09/29/2015 - 7:49pm
The UA's collaboration with the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, the largest university in Latin America, has entered a new stage.

The University of Arizona's collaboration with the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, or UNAM, on a Center for Mexican Studies, which was announced earlier this year and formalized in June with a signed agreement, has entered its next phase.

A delegation from UNAM visited campus for four days of academic and cultural activities related to the inauguration of the UNAM Center for Mexican Studies in Tucson. UNAM, a public research institution based in Mexico City that is the largest university in Latin America, already has four full-time representatives based on the UA campus at 939 N. Tyndall Ave., working for the center under the direction of Claudio Estrada.

Estrada, UA President Ann Weaver Hart and Francisco Trigo, UNAM's institutional development secretary, were among those in attendance at a dinner held at Old Main on Monday evening that introduced the center’s advisory committee.

"The center reflects the University of Arizona's commitment to partnership," Hart said in addressing the guests, who included UA deans Jeffrey Goldberg (College of Engineering), John Paul Jones III (College of Social and Behavioral Sciences), Charles Cairns (interim dean, College of Medicine), Mary Wildner-Basset (College of Humanities), Joaquin Ruiz (College of Science) and Jory Hancock (College of Fine Arts). 

"We mean partnership in the broadest human sense," Hart said. "We have different talents, similar interests and a remarkable set of resources."

Hart traced the universities' relationship to 1980, noting that it has included collaboration ranging from astronomy to the arts. In presenting a symbolic key to the center to Trigo, she said the UA has decided to move its Mexico City office — a fixture since 2007, when it was established through the College of Science — onto the UNAM campus there.

Collaborative research has been a focus of the Mexico City office from the beginning. In 2013, the office established a binational consortium to research arid-lands issues facing the Southwest and Mexico. The consortium, a partnership between the UA and UNAM, is funded by Mexico's National Council for Science and Technology, also known as CONACyT, which is the country's equivalent of the National Science Foundation in the U.S.

In recent years, the Mexico City office also has focused on facilitating technology transfer initiatives.

UNAM has had a presence for years in San Antonio, Chicago and Canada, according to Trigo. He said those offices initially were isolated from universities, and recent affiliations have been based on college campuses. These include UNAM satellites in Beijing, Paris, London, Costa Rica and Spain, as well as branches at the University of Washington and California State University, Northridge.

The UA becomes UNAM's 11th location outside Mexico.

"The center will begin on solid ground because of the relationships that already exist between our faculties," Trigo said, praising the UA's Mike Proctor, vice president for global initiatives, for his work in helping to establish the center.

Category(s): Campus NewsSeptember 30, 2015University Relations - Communications

UA's Vet Med Meets Critical Need

Tue, 09/29/2015 - 6:32pm
September 30, 2015 University Of Arizona Veterinary Medicine Program Video of University Of Arizona Veterinary Medicine Program

The new home for the University of Arizona’s Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree program will be its newest campus: UA Oro Valley.

The campus, near the intersection of Oracle Road and Hanley Boulevard, also will support a new UA initiative tied to One Health, a worldwide effort to address disease threats to humans and animals simultaneously and improve the health of both populations. The UA will use supercomputer-driven predictive analytics to detect and diagnose emerging threats to human health.

The innovative Doctor of Veterinary Medicine program is expected to save Arizona students and families up to a quarter of a million dollars in tuition compared to any other program they could choose. It is much needed in the state, according to Dr. Michael Ames, a veterinarian and UA alumnus from Douglas, Arizona.

Category(s): Campus NewsHealthScience and Technology

Losing Individuality: The Electron's Identity Crisis

Tue, 09/29/2015 - 5:23pm
According to a UA theoretical physicist, electrons in high magnetic fields stop looking like the "hard balls" we imagine them to be — and start looking like one big blob.

Electrons are the negatively charged subatomic particles we all came to know and love in secondary school.

J.J. Thomson discovered them in 1896. They whizz around the nucleus in a cloud, forming a universally recognizable symbol for "science," and they are the tiny, unsung workhorses behind much of modern tech, from radiation therapy to microscopes.

Although we grew up picturing electrons as individual, solid balls, a recent theoretical study of electron behavior in high magnetic fields, by University of Arizona physics professor Andrei Lebed, is challenging that perception.

His recent study, accepted into Physical Review Letters and funded by a $250,000 National Science Foundation grant, found that while this familiar "hard ball" idea of electrons works in a vacuum, electrons behave differently — and undergo some curious changes — when placed in tilted, high magnetic fields.

Soviet theoretical physicist Lev Landau developed the Landau-Fermi liquid theory in 1956. His theory essentially states that electrons can change mass and become anisotropic but should still be thought of as hard balls that scatter on one another. Together, this sea of hard balls could be referred to as "Fermi-liquid." In 1962, Landau was awarded a Nobel Prize for this and other work.

But according to Lebed, this does not hold up for electrons in a tilted, high magnetic field.

Instead, they start showing collective behavior, losing their individuality and blending into a liquid blob. Sometimes the electrons will disappear completely. New particles will replace them in the form of Luttinger bosons, named after the Luttinger liquid theory, which may explain this collective behavior of electrons.

Only a few laboratories — maybe six or seven — in the world have the capacity to run the kind of experiment Lebed's paper proposes. In particular, testing his findings would require a tilted magnetic field something along the order of 30 Tesla.

Six years ago, the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory in Tallahassee, Florida, the largest and highest-powered magnet lab in the world, conducted an experiment similar to the kind Lebed proposes.

"It's very possible that some features of our own theory have already been observed in this experiment," Lebed said.

Although his own end of the research project wrapped up in late August, Lebed is working to partner with some of these experimental labs across the globe in the hope of putting his theoretical findings to the test.

Category(s): Science and TechnologyEmily LitvackOctober 6, 2015University Relations - Communications

UA Events for Arts and Humanities Month

Mon, 09/28/2015 - 9:49pm
What: Humanities WeekWhen: Oct. 5-9Where: Multiple locationsCreative disciplines will be celebrated throughout October, exploring different cultures, languages and ideas.

National Arts and Humanities Month was established by Americans for the Arts to encourage a nationwide celebration of arts and culture in October.

"Every stroke of the brush, stitch of the needle or moment of the memoir uniquely marks our society and contributes to our national character," President Barack Obama wrote about National Arts and Humanities Month. "This month, we recognize the ways the arts and humanities have forever changed our country, and we recommit to ensuring every American has the opportunity and the freedom to question, discover and create."

The University of Arizona is hosting dozens of events offering an exploration of contrasting cultures, international languages and divergent ideas.

"Humanities celebrates and expands our ways of understanding the world we live in," said Mary Wildner-Bassett, dean of the UA College of Humanities. "We celebrate to encourage community members to connect to the work and joys of humanities ideas as a lifelong participation in their personal and local civic lives."

UA alumnus Alberto Ríos, Arizona poet laureate, will kick off Humanities Week on Oct. 5 with a discussion about his experience working on the Spanish libretto for Arizona Opera's "Arizona Lady," which was written in 1953 as a love letter to the Southwest. Nine other Humanities Week events will be held, all in the Rubel Room at the UA Poetry Center, located in the Helen S. Schaefer Building, 1508 E. Helen St.

At the conclusion of his talk, Ríos will read from his new book, "A Small Story About the Sky." Presented in partnership with Arizona Opera, "Arizona Lady" opens to Tucson audiences on Oct. 10.

Also during Humanities Week, Malcolm Compitello, head of the UA Department of Spanish & Portuguese, will present "Los Indignados: Spain and the Occupy Movement." Compitello will discuss the origins of the Occupy Movement, which was motivated by a number of acts of resistance to political and economic abuses around the world.

Other UA events scheduled during National Humanities Month include:

Oct. 3: "Listening to the Trees," which is part of the UA's Po-e-tree series, will be held to share the wisdom of the trees through the works of celebrated poets. Participants are asked to meet at Old Main, where Poetry Center docents will direct the group to the Po-e-tree site. The event, and other Po-e-tree events, coincides with the Oct. 30 Moon Tree celebration at the UA.

Oct. 4: The Double Reed Day Concert will be presented at 2 p.m. at Holsclaw Hall, 1017 N. Olive Road, in the Fred Fox School of Music. Presenting are guest artist and oboe player John Dee and faculty artist and pianist Tannis Gibson. Dee is the Bill A. Nugent Endowed Professor of Music Performance and oboe professor at the University of Illinois. He was principal oboe of the Florida Philharmonic Orchestra and Florida Grand Opera for more than 20 years, and also oboe professor at the University of Miami and the Harid Conservatory of Music.

Oct. 5: Andrew R. Wilson, a professor of strategy and policy at the United States Naval War College, will present his talk, "Civil-Military Relations in China: Implications for U.S.-China Relations," at 4 p.m. The lecture, to be held in Room 314 of the Modern Languages Building, 1423 E. University Blvd., is part of the UA's East Asian Studies Colloquium Series.

Oct. 7: David Gramling, an assistant professor of German studies, will present "Man vs. Machine: Translation in the Digital Age," at 5 p.m. at the UA Poetry Center.

Oct. 7: Don Traut, a UA music theory professor, will present "Can’t Get You Out of My Head!" with ethnomusicologist Dan Kruse and Andrew Lotto, a speech, language and hearing professor. The presentation on "ear worms," or involuntary musical imagery, is part of the Confluencenter for Creative Inquiry's Show & Tell @ Playground series. The 6 p.m. event will be held at the Playground Bar & Lounge, 278 E. Congress St. 

Oct. 9: Tony Bennett, one of the most eminent singers in American popular music, is the season opener for the UApresents 2015-2016 season. The performance will be held at Centennial Hall at 8 p.m.

Oct. 14: At 5 p.m., the Poetry Center's A Closer Look Book Club will host a conversation about Rudolfo Anaya's "Bless Me, Ultima."

Oct. 16: Friday Night Art will be held from 5-7 p.m. at the UA Museum of Art, 1031 N. Olive Road. The event will include a telescope viewing and educational activities with the National Optical Astronomy Observation. Also, the Confluencenter's senior fellow/pianist Paula Fan will present "Le Travail de Peintre," transporting the audience to Paris in the Golden Twenties.

Oct. 17: "Rome Poems — An Evening of Poetry" will be held at 5 p.m. at the Poetry Center. The event is being held in conjunction with the "Rome: Legacy of an Eternal City" exhibition at the UA Museum of Art.

Oct. 23: Albert Welter, head of the Department of East Asian Studies, will present his talk, "The Future of China’s Past: Looking Into the Meaning of China’s Rise." The 1:30 p.m. event will be held in the Kiva Room of the Student Union Memorial Center, 1303 E. University Blvd.

Oct. 27: Jerome Rothenberg, an internationally celebrated poet, translator and performer with more than 90 books of poetry and 12 assemblages of traditional and avant-garde poetry, will present a 7 p.m. reading at the Poetry Center. The event is co-presented with the American Literary Translators' Association.

Oct. 30: Jack Roosa, son of Apollo 14 astronaut Stuart Roosa, is among those who will speak during a celebration of the campus Moon Tree, an American sycamore grown from a seed that traveled to the moon on the Apollo 14 space mission. The special program will be held at 4:30 p.m. in the Kuiper Space Sciences Building auditorium, 1629 E. University Blvd. The celebration will be followed by a 6 p.m. screening of "Desert Moon" and a star party on the UA Mall. Events are free and open to the public. 

Also, the UA is hosting the American Literary Translators' Association conference Oct. 28-31. Hundreds of literary translators, writers, students, readers, teachers, publishers and other professionals will attend the conference, which is dedicated exclusively to the work of literary translation.

"The translator is a mediator of understanding across cultures and across cultural boundaries," Wildner-Bassett said. "Translation is not simply replacing one word with another. It includes cultural and personal nuance that shapes understanding, opinions and attitudes to make global intercultural understanding possible."

Category(s): Arts and HumanitiesOctober 2, 2015University Relations - Communications

Tech Launch Arizona and Its Personal Touch

Mon, 09/28/2015 - 5:13pm
September 28, 2015 Pyun and TLA Video of Pyun and TLA

Tech Launch Arizona works with University of Arizona research units to bring their inventions to market, including biochemist Jeff Pyun's group that is developing processes to use sulfur to create battery technology and polymers. The new plastic has promise as something that can be produced easily and inexpensively on an industrial scale — a discovery that could provide a new use for the sulfur left over when oil and natural gas are refined into cleaner-burning fuels.

Paul Eynott, a licensing manager with TLA, works extensively with UA researchers in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. Eynott says the department is one of the most prolific sources of commercially viable products and processes on campus.

At the UA, commercialization of research is more than boardroom meetings and disclosure statements.

"The trust that's created is outside the practice statements and outside the confines of the University," says Eynott, who recently pulled an all-nighter working with Pyun and UA lawyers to file a patent application for a process Pyun was presenting the next day. 

Eynott and Pyun will even get together for golf.

"We'll talk about science and disclosure," Eynott says, "and I can guarantee you we'll get more invention disclosures from a round of golf than sitting at meetings."

Category(s): Science and Technology

President Hart Signs Sustainability Agreement

Mon, 09/28/2015 - 5:01pm
In response to growing concerns that global changes in the climate are projected to have more severe and damaging effects, the UA has signed a commitment to reduce carbon waste and help drive environmental vitality.

In an expansion of the University of Arizona's commitment to building a sustainable future, UA President Ann Weaver Hart has signed a nationwide, solution-oriented pledge to increase the reduction of the institution's carbon waste while contributing to initiatives meant to drive environmental vitality.

The UA is one of fewer than 50 higher-education institutions across the nation that are pre-signers of Second Nature's Climate Commitment, which was initiated in response to growing concerns that climate change around the globe will have stronger negative effects into the future. On Monday, Second Nature announced the pre-signers and the addition of a new commitment, the Resilience Commitment. 

"Building upon decades of important research in environmental sciences that have had global impact, the University of Arizona is committed to actively supporting resiliency in our environment," Hart said.

"The UA is also committed to teaching students tools and ways of thinking that are critical for environmental stewardship," Hart said. "This dual responsibility — studying and being sensitive to changes within our various ecologies and training the next generation of environmentally minded professionals — is particularly important in the context of the UA's land-grant mission." 

In 2007, the UA signed the American College and University Presidents' Climate Commitment, promising to track its greenhouse gas emissions and reduce its carbon footprint.

Hart's signing represents a continuation of that earlier commitment and marks a new investment in efforts to enhance campus resilience through the Resilience Commitment.

One aspect of the Resilience Commitment is to integrate resiliency teachings into curricula, research and campus operations, educating and training an ethical and prosperous civil society, according to Second Nature. Already, the UA offers nearly 500 courses — and also full degree programs — on environmental studies and sustainability that address timely issues.

"I'm proud to be part of a university that takes climate leadership seriously, as an academic leader and as a leader in Tucson and in Arizona," said Ben Champion, director of the UA Office of Sustainability.

Also with the signing, the UA commits to a three-year process to develop and implement a resiliency assessment. The University will then implement an action plan for adapting to the changing climate. Plans already are underway to work closely with the city of Tucson's Climate Change Advisory Committee, a group that advises Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild and city council members on community-wide climate change planning. Through the partnership, the UA will help provide solutions to challenges associated with climate change in Tucson while modeling ways that institutions can prepare for other changes and future conditions.

"Signing the Climate Commitment is just one way the UA is working to shape a sustainable future through teaching, research and partnership," Hart said, "and I am very pleased to be part of this national effort."  

The signing builds on the UA's nationally and internationally regarded strengths in climate research, outreach and education, and also its efforts to train the next generation of climate scientists and leaders. Such strengths stem from the work of: 

  • The Institute of the Environment, which links cutting-edge knowledge with contemporary global issues, helping societies better understand natural systems around the globe to build a sustainable world.
  • The Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research, the first laboratory in the world dedicated to tree-ring research.
  • The Center for Climate Adaptation Science and Solutions, a regional center that links research-based knowledge with decision-making in the investigation of climate conditions. The center works to strengthen and support risk management, adaption and resiliency in the context of global change.
  • The Climate Assessment of the Southwest, or CLIMAS, which works to improve the Southwestern region's ability to respond to climatic events and climate changes through the promotion of participatory, iterative research on the nature, causes and consequences of climate change and variability.
  • The Center for Mediterranean Archaeology and the Environment, or CMATE, which combines differing perspectives and methodologies in an effort to assemble a continuous, high-resolution chronology of the Mediterranean region spanning multiple millennia, intended to inform past human and environmental interactions.
  • Biosphere 2, a one-of-a-kind research laboratory whose mission is to serve as "center for research, outreach, teaching and lifelong learning about Earth, its living systems and its place in the universe."

Researchers also have investigated ways climate change impacts the economy and other parts of our everyday lives.

Earlier this year, Derek Lemoine, assistant professor of economics in the UA Eller College of Management, co-developed a new statistical framework that makes it possible to understand just how much climate change could impact markets across the globe. Lemoine collaborated with Sarah Kapnick, physical research scientist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration at the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory. Their paper, "A Top-Down Approach to Projecting Market Impacts of Climate Change," was published in Nature Climate Change.

On its main campus, the UA has greatly enhanced its built environment to be more environmentally responsive and responsible, and it has influenced others to do the same. This summer, the Pac-12 Conference office announced that it officially had joined the Green Sports Alliance, following the lead of conference institutions such as the UA.

The Student Recreation Center became the first building campus to receive LEED platinum certification from the U.S. Green Building Council — the highest level in sustainable design and construction. Later, Árbol de la Vida and Likins residence halls each received LEED platinum certification. Earlier this year, the Old Main renovation project was certified LEED silver. Also, the Arizona Biomedical Collaborative – Phoenix Biomedical Campus was certified LEED gold.

Several other UA buildings are being vetted. The new Environment & Natural Resources Phase 2 was built with a sustainable future in mind and is positioned to become the greenest building on campus. 

To help curb emissions, UA Parking & Transportation maintains numerous programs that support biking, walking, ride sharing and reliance on public transportation, including Tucson's streetcar. "An active community feasibility study for a new community-wide bike share program is underway, and the UA would be a key hub for that new bike share network," Champion said.

Among the student body, undergraduate and graduate students increasingly have become involved in sustainability initiatives on and beyond campus.

In the 2014 Student Sustainability Survey, more than 70 percent of students who responded said they support improving the environment through sustainable building and landscaping choices on campus. Administered by the UA's Division of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management, Academic Initiatives & Student Success, the survey results also indicated that the vast majority of students surveyed find it important to conserve water, recycle, minimize waste and conserve energy.

One such student-led group is Compost Cats, which works with campus and community partners to collect organic waste to produce and sell compost. Earlier this year, Rothschild and city council members approved an agreement to provide $66,000 a year in funding over the next three years to expand the composting program more broadly across Tucson.

In March, the UA held its first Zero Waste Basketball Game, participating in a national competition among universities implementing diversion and recycling programs at some of the largest events on their campuses. The UA's first Zero Waste Football Game is scheduled for Nov. 14. 

Champion said the zero waste initiatives are part of "a large and growing partnership" involving his office and Arizona Athletics, Facilities Management, Students for Sustainability's Greening the Game team, Compost Cats, ZonaZoo, the Arizona Student Unions, the Residence Hall Association and others.

Such initiatives contribute to the University's nationwide reputation as a green campus. Earlier this year, The Princeton Review named the UA as one of the best higher-education institutions in the nation for undergraduate education, also rating the University highly in sustainability in "The Best 380 Colleges: 2016 Edition."

"I am especially proud that the University is engaging our students in the pursuit of solutions to the wicked problems posed by climate change," Champion said. "The University is working to make sure that the next generation of professionals is prepared to launch their careers as leaders toward a resilient and sustainable society."

Category(s): Campus NewsOctober 5, 2015University Relations - Communications

UA's Vet Med Program to Have Home in Oro Valley

Mon, 09/28/2015 - 12:04pm
Story Contacts: 

Chris Sigurdson

UA University Relations


The new campus also will support One Health, a worldwide initiative to address disease threats to human and animal populations.

University of Arizona President Ann Weaver Hart announced Monday that the new home for the UA’s Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree program will be its newest campus: University of Arizona Oro Valley.

The campus also will support a new UA initiative tied to One Health, a worldwide effort to address disease threats to humans and animals simultaneously and improve the health of both populations. The UA will be using supercomputer-driven predictive analytics to detect and diagnose emerging threats to human health.

Hart said most serious human diseases developed as animal diseases and the most catastrophic diseases today — Ebola, H1N1 and Avian Influenza — have immediate linkages to animal diseases.

"The University of Arizona Oro Valley campus will serve to integrate programs related to veterinary and human medicine, public health, social sciences, ecological and environmental sciences, all focused on addressing today’s complex health challenges," Hart said. "With the DVM program, the University is matching degree output to state need. And with the One Health research analytics initiative, we are using UA knowledge and innovation to help address pressing new health challenges that defy traditional modes of analysis and problem solving."

Oro Valley’s nearby Innovation Park, home to global bioscience businesses Sanofi and Ventana Medical Systems, was a significant factor in the selection of the facility.

"This campus will bring hundreds of students and their families, as well as university faculty and staff, to our community, enriching our diversity, adding to the talented workforce, and bolstering our momentum as a desirable community in which to live, work, play and learn," said Oro Valley Mayor Satish Hiremath.

The new campus is scheduled to provide a dedicated facility for clinical veterinary training in 2017. The innovative DVM program is expected to save Arizona students and families up to a quarter of a million dollars in tuition compared to any other program they could enroll in. It specifically focuses on preparing graduates for jobs in the bioscience industries.

"The University of Arizona veterinary medical education program promises to be rigorous and unique among American programs. Students will be able to start as soon as they have their prerequisites and attend year-round. Both translate into reduced costs and a faster time to degree, putting graduates in the workforce sooner. This is good for our students and Arizona’s economy," said UA Vice President for Veterinary Sciences Shane Burgess, dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Oro Valley campus researchers also will apply data analysis techniques pioneered in the UA’s iPlant initiative to model interactions among humans, animals and the environment, and enhance disease detection and treatment.

"The goal is to take data from many, many sources and use advanced analytics to predict their onset, prevent their spread and ultimately protect people and animals from health threats," said Senior Vice President of Research Kimberly Andrews Espy. "This program is the next step in harnessing information technology to improve health science research."

The Oro Valley facility is slated for major renovation over the next year and is planned to be operational in 2016.

Category(s): Campus NewsTeaching and StudentsSeptember 28, 2015University Relations – Communications

UA Alumnus Part of ESPN 'GameDay' Crew

Fri, 09/25/2015 - 5:39pm
Extra Info: 

For details about the game, go to

What: UA vs. UCLAWhen: 5:22 p.m. kickoff SaturdayWhere: Arizona StadiumCamera operator Randy French has made the most of his opportunities with ESPN, which hired him straight out of school and has rewarded his technical expertise.

For a guy who says his career has been all about timing, Randy French caught another cool break this week.

The University of Arizona alumnus, who has been a camera operator with ESPN since his graduation in 2008, is part of the crew for the sports network's "College GameDay." He will be on the job early — very early — Saturday morning when the show broadcasts live from the UA Mall to a nation of college football fans.

After finding out last Sunday that "GameDay" would be heading to Tucson for the lead-up to the UA-UCLA game Saturday evening, French says he could barely contain himself.

"I was almost shaking," he says. "I couldn't believe we were coming."

French, 30, graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from what was then the media arts department (and is now the School of Theatre, Film & Television). Midway through his sophomore year, he switched majors from computer science and management information systems.

"It was definitely a follow-your-passion moment," he recalls. "What I really liked to do was make movies and play with cameras. All the times that I operated cameras for student films, all that experience drew ESPN to me. That's what they were looking for in a skill set. They wanted someone who could operate a camera in a studio environment."

That was his first big break. A second one came in 2011, when "GameDay" was looking for someone already on the ESPN staff who could operate a Steadicam, a brand of camera stabilizer mount that helps produce a smooth shot. Essentially, it combines the steadiness of a tripod, the fluidity of a dolly shot and the flexibility of a hand-held camera.

After joining ESPN, French trained himself on how to use the Steadicam, and the extra effort paid off in opportunity.

"It's very heavy, maybe 50 or 60 pounds," he says of the equipment. "It takes a physical toll and you need stamina. It's an intricate piece of technology. You can't just grab it and operate it."

Add the unpredictable weather of a football season that starts in the summer and ends in the winter, and you've got a demanding job — but one that French wouldn't trade for anything. The staging and production of "GameDay" resembles that of a rock concert, with more than 60 people and a half-dozen trucks involved. The different-town-different-week schedule is like a road show.

"This has been easier," he says of the UA stop. "I know exactly where I'm going (in Tucson)."

French arrived in town on Thursday for two days of shooting on and around campus, compiling footage that goes into the mix for "GameDay." When the three-hour show goes live, as it will at 6 a.m. Saturday, he puts on heavy-duty headphones to help filter out the crowd noise, and he's ready for anything.

"When we were at Alabama for 'College Football Live' on a Friday night, one person asked my name, and by Saturday morning everyone knew it — and was chanting it on 'GameDay.' That was memorable," French says.

"You can't beat this environment. At a college, people are fans of the team and the college. The fact that we're here, the hype (for the game) is greater.

"I've been waiting for this for five years."

Category(s): SportsDoug CarrollSeptember 25, 2015University Relations – Communications

UA Program Helps With Children's Health

Fri, 09/25/2015 - 5:20pm
Extra Info: 

Pinal County parents can sign up to have personnel from the UA Cooperative Extension screen their child for free by calling 520-836-5221.

Story Contacts: 

Cathy Martinez

UA College of Agriculture and Life Sciences



Esther Turner

UA College of Agriculture and Life Sciences



Robyn Powers

UA College of Agriculture and Life Sciences



Over the last four years, more than 10,000 children in Pinal County have been screened for vision, hearing and developmental indicators through a program led by Cooperative Extension.

Ninety percent of a child’s brain is developed by age 5, which is why it is so important to monitor the progress of infants, babies and toddlers as they grow.

Are they hearing well? Do they see clearly? Are they developing fine motor skills and speech on pace with their peers? 

Parents in Pinal County are learning the answers to these formative questions about their children — and finding out what to do if help is needed — through an early childhood health program led by University of Arizona Cooperative Extension, which is part of the UA College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Over the last four years, more than 10,000 children in Pinal County have been screened for vision, hearing and developmental indicators through the program. More than 1,100 of those children — up to 5 1/2 years of age — were referred for diagnosis and treatment, which is on par with national averages.

"Parents are a child's first and best teacher," said Cathy Martinez, a UA Cooperative Extension associate agent.

"A lot of times, parents see kids as adults in miniature, but just because they are able to walk and talk does not mean they are fully developed," Martinez said. "They come with a different set of capabilities. We are helping parents understand what's typical in terms of development, and giving them games and activities to play that help in that process."

The program is funded by Arizona's First Things First, a voter-created, statewide organization that funds early education and health programs to help children be successful once they enter kindergarten.

The program includes hearing and vision screenings that can be completed in about five minutes in public settings such as day-care centers, libraries, schools and community events. Cooperative Extension also offers individual developmental screenings with parent and child that can take from 20 to 45 minutes, often in the family home.

Hearing checks, in particular, are critically important because babies, toddlers and preschoolers are prone to ear infections, which can leave fluid in the ears that doesn’t drain for months, muffling sound. Untreated hearing loss can result in problems with speech development.

"We have activities for each age group and each stage of development," Martinez said.

Covering the County

Pinal County is the third largest in Arizona, stretching from Pima County to Maricopa County across an area about the size of the state of Connecticut and with a population of about 390,000.

Eight percent of children in the county are age 5 and younger. Because of a shortage of speech, occupational and physical therapists in the state, it can be difficult to reach children and families to deliver early intervention programs in the wide tracts of rural areas in the county.

The goal of the program is to help prepare children for success in school and life. Little changes can make a big difference.

A grandmother thought her "little angel" was just a clumsy 3-year-old, running into the coffee table and tripping over things. Then the girl's vision was tested "and sure enough she could barely see," said Esther Turner, program coordinator with UA Cooperative Extension in Pinal County.

"With her vision corrected, that little angel's life has been changed. She's experiencing things she never was able to see before — and is no longer walking into the furniture," Turner said.

Martinez, Turner and instructional specialist Robyn Powers are based in Casa Grande. Together, they cover a lot of miles, attend many events and ask plenty of questions.

The screening tool they use is known as ASQ-3, which stands for Ages and Stages Questionnaires, developed by Brookes Publishing Co. It includes numerous questionnaires spanning the months from birth through age 5 1/2. The program is easy to use and highly regarded by pediatricians, Turner said.

"We go in person with a bag of tricks and puzzles and blocks and all kinds of toys," Powers said. "We play with the child and the parent — observing and asking the questions." 

Parents also can answer the ASQ3 questions online, keying in the birthdate of their child and completing the appropriate questionnaire.

"Parents know their child the best," Turner said, noting that they observe whether a baby can roll over or whether a toddler can form two-word sentences.

Understanding What's Typical

"Sometimes there's a bit of fear that something could be wrong with their child," Turner said. "Certain things come very naturally, and some things children and parents need help with. Our program staff makes tools available — easy and fun activities they can do to help a child in an area that’s a challenge."

Many of the activities are simple, like giving a baby plenty of opportunity to try out different toys, or teaching a 3-year-old use child-size safety scissors that strengthen muscles in hands and fingers. Encouraging children to play dress-up not only stimulates the imagination but also builds fine motor skills as they button buttons, zip zippers and try on shoes.

"Kids understand a lot of language long before they can ever speak it," Martinez said. "If you say, 'Pick up the ball,' they can do it even though they cannot say 'ball' yet. We’re helping parents understand 'What is a 2-year-old capable of?'"

Screenings are recommended twice a year up to age 3 and annually after that. All screenings and home visits are free.

"We don’t diagnose — we screen for indicators," emphasized Turner, who reminds parents that these types of developmental screenings also are available through their child's pediatrician.

"This is the first step," Powers said. "If we have a concern, we can help guide the conversation that the parent will have with the pediatrician and with the folks who can get them help."

Added Turner: "We encourage them to look into resources available through Arizona’s First Things First program. They are true champions of our children."

Category(s): Social Sciences and EducationDonna KreutzOctober 1, 2015UA College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

HiRISE Images Show Signs of Liquid Water on Mars

Fri, 09/25/2015 - 12:47pm
Story Contacts: 

Ari Espinoza

UA Lunar and Planetary Laboratory


Former UA undergraduate Lujendra Ojha discovered possible water-related streaks on the red planet's slopes.

New findings from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, or MRO, provide the strongest evidence yet that liquid water flows intermittently on present-day Mars.

Researchers measured the spectral signatures of hydrated minerals on the planet’s slopes where mysterious, possibly water-related streaks are found. Lujendra Ojha first discovered the streaks in 2010 when he was a University of Arizona undergraduate.

The streaks, known as recurring slope lineae, or RSL, darken and appear to flow down the planet's steep slopes during warm seasons when temperatures exceed minus-10 degrees Fahrenheit and then fade during cooler times.

Ojha was using images from the orbiter's High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment, or HiRISE, which is managed at the UA. HiRISE observations have now documented RSL at dozens of sites on Mars. The new study pairs HiRISE observations with mineral mapping by the same orbiter's Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars, or CRISM.

Ojha, now a graduate student at the Georgia Institute of Technology, is lead author of a report on these findings published Monday by Nature Geosciences.

"We only found the hydrated salts when RSL were widest, which suggests that either RSL or the processes that form RSL is the source of hydration. In either case, the detection of hydrated salts on these slopes means that water plays a vital role in the formation of these streaks," Ojha said.

Alfred McEwen, director of the UA Planetary Image Research Laboratory, said, "The presence of water on Mars today, however fleeting, raises the possibility of present-day life near the surface of Mars, so the RSL should be a key target for future exploration."

Ojha and his seven co-authors interpret the spectral signatures as caused by hydrated minerals called perchlorates. The hydrated salts most consistent with the chemical signatures are probably a mixture of magnesium perchlorate, magnesium chlorate and sodium perchlorate. Some perchlorates have been shown to keep liquids from freezing even when conditions are as cold as minus- 94 degrees Fahrenheit. On Earth, naturally produced perchlorates are concentrated in deserts.

McEwen, HiRISE's principal investigator, and CRISM principal investigator Scott Murchie of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory are co-authors of the new report.

Category(s): Science and TechnologyAri EspinozaSeptember 28, 2015UA Lunar and Planetary Laboratory

Everyone's Favorite Crawl Space

Wed, 09/23/2015 - 7:52pm
September 23, 2015 2015 Arizona Insect Festival Video of 2015 Arizona Insect Festival

The Arizona Insect Festival, held in the Grand Ballroom of the University of Arizona's Student Union Memorial Center, provides a weekend-afternoon celebration of southern Arizona's bugs and the scientists who study them. The annual festival is put on by the Department of Entomology in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Insects play unique and diverse roles in maintaining healthy ecosystems (such as litter decomposition), enhancing crop productivity, pollinating native plants and impacting the urban environment. Information about them is more accessible than ever. Now there is eButterfly, an online tool that lets butterfly enthusiasts report, organize and access information about butterflies and share it instantly with other fans.

The festival highlights insect-related research conducted by UA scientists from a range of academic departments, including entomology, ecology and evolutionary biology, and neurobiology.

Category(s): Science and Technology

UA Author: Understanding Mexico Requires Context

Wed, 09/23/2015 - 7:21pm
Extra Info: 

For the full agenda of "UNAM at UA" events, go to

What: "UNAM at UA"When: Friday and Sunday through TuesdayWhere: UA campus locationsRegents' Professor Oscar Martínez, who grew up in Ciudad Juárez, examines his native country's economic challenges in his new book, "Mexico's Uneven Development."

As a boy growing up in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, Oscar Martínez always wondered why life there was so different from the sister city of El Paso, Texas, on the U.S. side of the Rio Grande.

For Martínez, the stark contrast between Juárez and El Paso symbolizes the differences on a larger scale between Mexico and the U.S. — complex differences that can't be explained without their history, according to Martínez's new book, "Mexico's Uneven Development: The Geographical and Historical Context of Inequality." 

"People need to have a better understanding of the kind of country Mexico is," says Martínez, a Regents' Professor of History at the University of Arizona, who wrote his doctoral dissertation on the history of Juárez.

"This book shows that Mexico has been through a number of transformations," he says. "Governments have come and gone, but underdevelopment is a constant. More than half the population is poor. It's a mystery I've sought to answer."

Martínez will participate in a panel discussion on the UA's longtime collaboration with the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, or UNAM, at 9:45 a.m. Monday in the Special Collections Room of the UA Library. It's part of "UNAM at UA," four days of academic and cultural activities related to the launch of UNAM's Center for Mexican Studies in Tucson.

The main objectives of the center are to strengthen academic collaboration with the UA and to deepen and expand the development of joint research projects in social and natural sciences, engineering, and the humanities, among other fields. The center also aims to develop student mobility programs, conduct activities related to teaching Spanish and Spanish certification, disseminate Mexican cultural activities and participate in a UNAM initiative to assist migrants.

Martínez, who has been at the UA since 1988, has focused his research over the years on the political, economic and social history of the U.S.-Mexico borderlands. The new book is his third, after "Troublesome Border" (2006) and "Mexican-Origin People in the United States: A Topical History" (2001).

Explanations often advanced for Mexico's problems include government incompetence, corruption and cultural deficiencies, but Martínez says those don't go nearly deep enough. He says Mexico has been hindered in its development by five "foundational factors," which he identifies as natural environment, natural resources, population dynamics, relations with other countries, and the structure of production and governance.

Simple geography, he says, is central to explaining how Mexico and the U.S. evolved differently. Lacking the waterways of the Mississippi River and the Great Lakes, and with smaller coastal cities than those in the U.S., Mexico was limited in its economic development and also its political and social integration.

"Mexico is one-fifth the size of the United States, its location is less favorable, its shape is more contorted, its topography is much more mountainous, its resource endowment is significantly smaller, its coastlines have far fewer good harbors, and its rivers and lakes have almost no navigation possibilities," Martínez writes. "These basic physical differences provide a logical starting point for understanding the divergent economic trajectories of each country."

Agricultural production, he says, has suffered in Mexico because of climatic conditions, uneven rainfall patterns and the fact that little more than 10 percent of the land is suitable for cultivation.

It's also unfair, Martínez says, to compare Mexico's development to the swift economic rise of China, Taiwan, Japan, Singapore and South Korea — countries that benefited from inexpensive labor and access to global shipping lanes.

Martínez says steps that might improve living conditions in Mexico could include mandated wage increases, expansion of social programs, state support for domestic research and development, subsidization of homegrown manufacturing companies, aid to farmers hurt by trade policies, and legalization of drugs in order to lessen corruption and lawlessness.

Category(s): Campus NewsUniversity Relations – CommunicationsSeptember 23, 2015

App Makes Athletes Think About Concussions

Wed, 09/23/2015 - 4:28pm
Story Contacts: 

Pete Brown

UA College of Engineering


UA engineering and biomedical researchers are building a virtual-reality experience targeting concussion awareness, to encourage NCAA football players and other student-athletes to report the real thing.

Sports-related concussions have sparked a national debate, multiple lawsuits and new concussion-management protocols in the NCAA and NFL in the last few years. Despite all the attention to concussion and its risks, many student-athletes either don’t recognize the signs of concussion — or won’t report them if they do.

But give these players just 10 minutes with an app that puts users on a virtual athletic field and shows them the immediate and delayed side effects of concussion, and it just might change their behavior and attitude toward head injury.

"The more student-athletes know about concussion and the risks of hiding symptoms, the more confident they’ll be in making the right choices," said Ricardo Valerdi, associate professor of systems engineering at the University of Arizona College of Engineering. "And the right choice is simple: Don’t play through a suspected concussion."

Valerdi, with Dr. Hirsch Handmaker and Jonathan Lifshitz at the UA College of Medicine–Phoenix, is building the app for the NCAA Mind Matters Challenge, part of a $30 million joint initiative with the U.S. Department of Defense to educate student-athletes and soldiers about concussions. The app is designed as a tool for athletic training programs.

"The mindset we have to overcome in educating athletes about concussions begins early in their lives," said Handmaker, research professor of radiology, whose CACTIS Foundation and Conquering Concussions organizations work to advance diagnosis, treatment and education on head trauma injuries.

Athletes want to conquer fear and get back in the game to show how tough they are and protect their status on the team. "This mentality, unfortunately, results in underreporting of head blows, which can lead to serious short- and long-term consequences from a second concussion before the brain has been allowed to heal," Handmaker said.

The investigators have made it to the second round of the contest, securing $100,000 to build a prototype and earning a chance to see the app released to athletes. They will present their prototype this winter to NCAA officials, and the winning approach to concussion education will be made available to some 400,000 NCAA student-athletes.

Double Vision on Demand

The free app, which uses the Google Cardboard open-source virtual reality platform, will be compatible with any smartphone. Google Cardboard is a foldout cardboard mount with lenses, magnet and fasteners. Assembled, with a smartphone slipped inside, it becomes an instant virtual-reality headset. 

"You’re a soccer goalie. You see the field in your headset, hear the crowd on your headphones. You just got hit, but exhibit no side effects that are obvious to your coach or trainer. Then an avatar coach enters your field of vision and says, 'You have just experienced a concussion. This is what it feels like.' Suddenly, your vision gets blurred, you experience double vision," Valerdi announced, commentator-style.

"It’s the penalty kick — the game is on the line. The pressure is on," continued the avid sports fan and founder of Science of Sport, which uses baseball, soccer and other sports to teach middle-school students STEM-related subjects.

It’s in game-changing moments like this that student-athletes often choose, or feel pressured, to play through a concussion. The app’s avatar coach may offer advice not just on identifying symptoms but also on reporting possible concussion symptoms and getting more information.

Concussion is a traumatic brain injury that occurs when a sudden blow — usually, but not always, to the head — disrupts brain function. While approximately 10 percent of concussions cause loss of consciousness, most produce less-visible effects, including short-term memory loss and loss of concentration, headache, nausea, dizziness, blurred and double vision, and ringing in the ears. The symptoms may subside quickly.

'A Really Big Headache'

David Roberts III knows how insidious concussion can be.

During the fourth quarter of a UA football game at Stanford on Nov. 6, 2010, the former Wildcats wide receiver was leaping for the ball when he was hit by a defensive back. His head was driven into the ground.

"I couldn’t answer the same question my trainer, Randy Cohen, asked me over and over," Roberts recalled. "I couldn’t name the president of the United States." But later that night, Roberts said, "other than a really big headache, I felt like I was back."

He passed the concussion test every Wildcats football player takes as a baseline before his first season and any time a concussion is suspected — and yet team trainers and doctors still held him out of the next game.

"Theoretically, I should have played the game against USC the following week," said Roberts, a UA aerospace and mechanical engineering graduate. "But my trainer wouldn’t allow it, and my UA doctors agreed."

Watching that game from the Arizona Stadium sidelines was not easy.

"I’m a California guy — I grew up watching USC. But in the end, I’m glad the University didn’t pressure me to play," Roberts said.

Roberts played football the rest of that season and his senior year before receiving his bachelor’s degree in 2012. He feels no ill effects from the concussion, he said, and enjoys his job at Boeing.

"I knew nothing about concussion as a kid growing up," he said. "If you got hit playing football, people would say, 'Oh, you just got your bell rung.' 

"It’s pretty amazing to think a kid might be able to put on a simulator and experience what it feels like to have a concussion, so that if he does get hit, he thinks, 'I know what this is.'"

Unlike Roberts, many players with concussion keep playing, even at a high level sometimes, putting other players at risk because of delayed reaction time associated with concussion — and putting themselves at risk of reinjury.

"Our message is this," Handmaker said. "In addition to increasing their health risk, athletes are hurting their teams by playing while impaired."


Category(s): HealthSportsJill GoetzSeptember 23, 2015UA College of Engineering

Xtronaut Kickstarter Campaign Blasts Off

Tue, 09/22/2015 - 3:46pm
Extra Info: 

Watch a video about the beginnings of Xtronaut.

The UA's Dante Lauretta, principal investigator for OSIRIS-REx, is crowdfunding a board game to teach its players the fundamentals of space exploration.

It was 2013, and University of Arizona professor Dante Lauretta, principal investigator for the OSIRIS-REx asteroid sample return mission, was sitting in a faculty meeting.

At the time, an OSIRIS-REx educational program had just been lost to federal budget cuts. Historically, the budgets for NASA missions include a portion set aside for education and public outreach, or EPO. But when the OSIRIS-REx EPO funds were wiped out that year to consolidate U.S. education spending within the Department of Education, Lauretta had to rethink EPO.

He got creative. In front of him was a memo from UA President Ann Weaver Hart, encouraging faculty to take advantage of a new Tech Launch Arizona initiative to create spinoff companies and commercialize inventions.

"I thought, 'If we can't do this work through the educational program, I can start a company around it,'" Lauretta said. With that thought and some all-important help from TLA, his private company, Xtronaut Enterprises, was born.

Xtronaut, a two- to four-person tabletop game of strategy for players age 7 and older, allows players to develop space missions and explore the solar system. The game is based on real planetary missions and rocket science, incorporating challenges that scientists navigate regularly.

"Our goal is to inspire the next generation to achieve great things," Lauretta said. "The game was built around overcoming some common misconceptions." 

Chief among these misconceptions is that the rocket is what lands on the target, such as the asteroid Bennu or the planet Mars. In reality, the rocket is generally used up within the first half-hour of a mission; it is merely the vessel for launching a spacecraft. Teaching these fundamental principles of rocket science, Lauretta said, is what Xtronaut is all about, adding, "Well, and it's really fun to play."

The online crowdfunding campaign to support Xtronaut's production ends on Oct. 12 and has raised about $20,000.

After the campaign ends, Lauretta and his team of fellow rocket scientists and engineers will collect and incorporate feedback from funders, update the graphics on the prototype — as of now, they are mostly designs Lauretta hand-created using basic clip art — and fulfill all of the orders. Any additional funding will be invested in future product development. 

In the meantime, the company is carving out its place in education and public outreach. On Sept. 12, it celebrated one year to the launch of OSIRIS-REx by hosting "Bennuval!," an outer space-themed festival in downtown Tucson that combined space exploration, art, music, comedy and acrobats. Xtronaut will host the festival again next year.

The company also is working with Cox Communications and the Boys & Girls Clubs to bring a 15-week after-school science club to metro Phoenix in early November. Boys and girls between the ages of 7 and 17 will participate in weekly science-themed activities, and playing the Xtronaut board game will be one such activity. 

"It's been two long years with Xtronaut trying to get something to happen, but we're finally finding our place," Lauretta said.

Category(s): Teaching and StudentsEmily LitvackSeptember 24, 2015University Relations - Communications

UA Wheelchair Athletes Go for the Gold

Mon, 09/21/2015 - 7:00pm
September 21, 2015 UA Disability Resource Center-Adaptive Athletics Video of UA Disability Resource Center-Adaptive Athletics

The most successful and comprehensive program of its kind, the University of Arizona's Adaptive Athletics Program includes six competitive teams as well as an adaptive fitness center. In its 40-year history, Adaptive Athletics has sent 27 athletes to the Paralympics and has won a number of national titles. UA wheelchair tennis player Dana Mathewson competes worldwide and has her sights set on the 2016 Paralympics in Rio de Janiero.

An eight-kilometer road race, Jim Click's Run 'N' Roll — one of the oldest and most popular fitness events in Tucson — is held on the UA campus annually and benefits Adaptive Athletics. Click, a Tucson auto dealer, founded the race, which will be held this year on Oct. 4. For more information or to register, visit the race's website.

Category(s): Sports

UA Professor Contributes to Year of Poe

Mon, 09/21/2015 - 6:38pm
What: Paul Hurh: “The Raven and the Tomahawk: Poe, Poetry and the Rise of Popular Criticism” When: 7-8:30 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 24Where: UA Poetry Center, 1508 E. Helen St.Story Contacts: 

Paul Hurh

UA Department of English


Paul Hurh has been studying Edgar Allan Poe for more than half his life, and now he is collaborating on a series of local events and activities exploring Poe's work.

Recently, Paul Hurh was selecting quotes by Edgar Allan Poe to be paired with Poe-inspired food and drink that will be served at Tucson restaurants and bars.

One of the final selections came from a letter Poe wrote defending the horror tale: "Whether the articles of which I speak are or are not in bad taste is little to the purpose. To be appreciated you must be read, and these things are invariably sought after with avidity." Poe’s continuing popularity and the popularity of horror today, from Stephen King to "The Walking Dead," show how accurate Poe’s claim was — a thought that Tucson restaurant patrons may ponder over their "Quoth the Raven" Ice Cream or Tell-Tale Heart Margaritas. 

Hurh, an associate professor in the University of Arizona Department of English, has been studying for more than half his life. That expertise is coming in handy these days as he collaborates with Literacy Connects on "Big Read Connects Tucson," which is presenting a series of events and activities throughout the year to celebrate and explore Poe and his work (

"Paul Hurh is a brilliant scholar who has written the definitive book on American terror as a concept and feeling," said Lee Medovoi, head of the UA Department of English, housed in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences. "Nobody wrote more terrifyingly than Edgar Allan Poe. While people all over Tucson are reading Poe's stories, Professor Hurh will be traveling across town talking and discussing Poe's disturbing and uncanny genius for narrative with the public."

Big Read Connects Tucson is a community collaboration presented by Literacy Connects through a Big Read grant. The Big Read (, a program of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with Arts Midwest, hopes to broaden an understanding of world, community and self through the joy of sharing a good book or the work of a great poet. The program has been cited as a potential contributor to the finding that the number of adults who read literature is increasing for the first time in decades.

Hurh’s well of Poe knowledge runs deep. When the organizers from Literacy Connects asked him if Poe had any local connections, he shared the little-known fact that Poe was an avid amateur astronomer.

"One of his last works was a long treatise on his theory of the cosmos — a strange mash-up of science and poetry where he tries to make the claim that the universe is a kind of poem," Hurh said.

The result is an event on Jan. 30 at the UA Poetry Center called "Starlight POEtry" and an event (date to be determined) at the Flandrau Science Center and Planetarium that will involve stargazing and poetry.

Hurh also shared Poe’s love of cryptology with the organizers, and now there is a section on the Big Read Connects Tucson website where visitors can try their hand at deciphering crytograms that Poe published.

"Cryptology was a ploy to get readership for his journal," Hurh said. "Poe invited anyone to send in a cryptogram as a sort of challenge — 'I bet you can’t stump me.' He would then show off his expertise in the next issue."

"Paul is a terrific partner," said Dana Pitt, who is on the Literacy Connects Awareness/Capacity Building Committee.

The Poetry Center and the UA College of Education also are program partners and are offering many fun activities throughout the year. Currently, the Poetry Center is presenting streaming POEtry on the Tucson streetcar, as well as an Edgar Allan Poe mural. The College of Education is offering events for children and teens through its Worlds of Words program.

Hurh will be involved in Poe events throughout the year. First up is a talk at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Poetry Center, titled "The Raven and the Tomahawk: Poe, Poetry and the Rise of Popular Criticism."

Hurh said that in his day, Poe was best known as a literary critic, which is an aspect of Poe that is often overlooked. According to Hurh, Poe ushered in a new era of literary criticism that was more scientific, changing the way people thought about literature.

"He obtained this reputation as 'the tomahawk man,' because he would just eviscerate these authors in his reviews," Hurh said. "He didn’t make a lot of friends in the literary circle. But he understood how important healthy criticism is to healthy poetry."

In his talk, Hurh will share stories of Poe as a literary critic, including "the Longfellow war, as it's come to be known," when Poe wrote an article accusing Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the esteemed poet, of plagiarism. An anonymous reply by "Outis" claiming that actually Poe was the plagiarist resulted in several heated responses by Poe.

"It’s this crazy ramble about plagiarism, but what’s more crazy is that most scholars now accept that Outis was actually Edgar Allan Poe," Hurh said. "He had single-handedly created this controversy where it seemed like people were arguing about literature, and ironically, that got a lot of people involved. Poe understood popular culture better than anyone of his day with the possible exception of P. T. Barnum, and, like Barnum, he didn’t hesitate to manipulate it to his benefit."

Category(s): Arts and HumanitiesLori HarwoodSeptember 21, 2015College of Social and Behavioral Sciences