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Dining Goes Global at the UA Student Unions

Tue, 08/18/2015 - 11:50am

This fall, the University of Arizona Student Unions will debut a wide variety of new restaurants, along with innovative nutritional guidelines, dietary resources and even a mobile kitchen.

Students and faculty got to sample a portion of the new offerings over the weekend at the Student Union Memorial Center during the Wildcat Welcome 2015 Bigger.Better.Bash!

"This summer was the perfect time for us to look at everything we're doing and make it better across the board," said UA Student Unions executive director Jason Tolliver. "The needs and expectations of today's student are much different than a few years ago. It's up to us to deliver on those expectations."

Fifteen outlets saw their menus tweaked, altered or completely overhauled this summer as a result of a comprehensive survey that asked students and faculty what they wanted these restaurants to serve.

"We can't wait to have all of these ideas finally come to fruition," said Sara Rohde, assistant director of the UA Student Unions.

The most ambitious plan is the new globally inspired menu at Pangea. With international music playing throughout the space, a "Taste of Travel" slideshow that will spotlight photo contest winners in partnership with UA's Global Initiatives, and an always-changing menu drawing from Asian, Russian, French and Italian flavors, the all-you-care-to-eat buffet at the Student Union has been reinvented to give students the feeling as if they're studying abroad.

"We wanted to make sure people have a wide variety of choices when they dine with us," said UA executive chef Michael Omo. "The number of choices and the quality of the ingredients is just at a higher level."

Elsewhere in the Student Union:

  • IQ Fresh is debuting a healthy Mediterranean-inspired menu.
  • The Cellar will have 10 flat-screen TVs and two projection screens in the courtyard that will broadcast NFL Sunday Ticket and all of the UA football and men's basketball away games to accompany their burgers and shakes served until 1 a.m.
  • Sabor, the Student Union's Mexican restaurant, has added tableside guacamole service to its menu.
  • The U-Mart convenience store will be renovated later this fall, with a separate space dedicated solely to ice cream.

In addition, the Park Student Union underwent a major facelift this summer, with a completely remodeled top floor and new furniture throughout the building.

The UA Student Unions' influence reaches beyond the two unions on campus. Today, more than 40 restaurants and shops accept Wildcat Meal Plans through student and faculty CatCards, including the brand-new Slot Canyon Café at the new Environment & Natural Resources Building, which held its soft opening Aug. 14.

Also new this year is the RoadRunner Mobile Kitchen, the UA's first food truck, which will appear at special events throughout the school year, including homecoming and Cat Crawl. The UA Student Unions also will update the RoadRunner's location through its Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts.

Students and staff interested in organic foods will have an opportunity to shop at the Main Campus Farmers' Market on the second and fourth Wednesday of every month. This fall's first Farmers' Market is scheduled for Sept. 16 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the UA Mall.

Staff at the UA Student Unions also has taken a closer look at the kinds of foods they serve, as well as the nutritional information they provide.

Omo and registered dietitian Christine Carlson helped spearhead the revamped menus and additional options for students with special dietary requirements.

Many restaurants now feature a variety of gluten- and nut-free options, and the UA Student Unions' website provides information on nutritional content and flags potential allergens.

"This is a responsibility we take very seriously," Omo said. "Our biggest push is to raise the bar on food quality, which takes nutritional content and flavor into account."

Omo and Carlson also reached out to the UA athletic department to launch the "C.H.A.M.P." program for student-athletes, which stands for carbohydrates, hydration, anti-inflammatories, mental focus and protein, with the portions tailored to each athlete's needs.

For students and faculty in a hurry, UA Student Unions is releasing a free app called Tapingo to allow customers to order and pay ahead of time. Tapingo can be used at more than a dozen locations, including On Deck Deli, Einstein Bagels and Highland Market, to deliver food direct to dorm rooms or other locations around campus.

With nearly 1,000 student employees and thousands of customers, UA Student Unions is a central component of Wildcat life.

"It's for students, by students," Rohde said.

Editor: dougcarrollWriter: Nick PrevenasByline: Nick PrevenasByline Affiliation: University Relations - CommunicationsHeader image: YesNo Image: Subheading: Students and faculty have the opportunity to take advantage of many new food options and dietary resources through the UA Student Unions.Include in UANow: 0Include in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: noUANow Image: Includes video: 

Curcumin Shows Potential to Prevent Colorectal Cancer

Mon, 08/17/2015 - 3:16pm

Researchers at the University of Arizona Steele Children's Research Center have made another promising discovery about curcumin — the bioactive ingredient in turmeric — as a potentially viable means to prevent inflammation-associated colorectal cancer and balance the microbiota of the gut.

"The microbiota of the gut is becoming recognized as a major player in health and disease," said Dr. Fayez K. Ghishan, professor and head of the UA Department of Pediatrics and director of the UA Steele Children's Research Center. "This is the first study to implicate the role of curcumin in modulating the microbiota of the gut and preventing colon cancer."

Colorectal cancer — cancers of the colon and rectum — is the third-highest cause of cancer-related mortality in the United States. Individuals with Inflammatory Bowel Disease — Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis — have a higher chance of developing colon cancer.

The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2015 approximately 93,000 people in the United States will be diagnosed with colon cancer and 40,000 will be diagnosed with rectal cancer, and 50,000 will die from the disease.

Genetic components, environmental factors, inflammation and gut microbiota have been implicated as causing colorectal cancer and its progression. Diet, dietary supplements, exercise, control of body weight and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, have been proposed as the primary means to prevent colorectal cancer.

Curcumin has been shown in a number of studies to have anticancer effects and to enhance the effects of chemotherapy or radiotherapy.

Ghishan and associate professor Pawel Kiela, along with their research team at the UA Steele Center, have investigated the anti-inflammatory and anticancer properties of curcumin for several years.

In their latest study, Rita-Marie McFadden, Dorrance Fellow and then-Ph.D. candidate, studied the effects of dietary supplementation with curcumin on the development of colorectal cancer and on the changes in the composition of gut microbiota in mice with inflammation-associated colorectal cancer.

Under the guidance of Kiela and Ghishan, McFadden worked with a team of researchers at the UA Steele Center and Northern Arizona University. She was first author on their study, "The Role of Curcumin in Modulating Colonic Microbiota During Colitis and Colon Cancer Prevention," published in the journal Inflammatory Bowel Diseases in July.

"Our research showed that specific doses of curcumin greatly reduced or prevented tumors from forming in mice with colitis-associated colon cancer," McFadden said. "Moreover, this was associated with an increase in the diversity of bacteria within the colon, demonstrating how diet and microbial populations can play a significant role in disease prevention and treatment, especially during the switch from chronic inflammation to the onset of cancer. This is especially promising for patients with chronic inflammatory bowel disease who are at a high risk for developing colon cancer."

In the research model, the investigators used genetically modified mice, which lack an anti-inflammatory protein interleukin 10, or IL-10, and thus spontaneously develop intestinal inflammation. They then were treated with azoxymethane, a chemical carcinogen capable of selectively inducing the formation of colon cancer.

The study showed that suppression of the mucosal inflammation was not necessary to see the chemopreventive effects of curcumin. In fact, at a dose of 0.5 percent in the diet, curcumin treatment led to a complete prevention of tumor formation. Moreover, in healthy and IL-10-deficient mice, long-term curcumin supplementation helped maintain bacterial richness and microbial diversity, the hallmark of a healthy gut. This was associated with the expansion of Lactobacillales — represented mainly by genus Lactobacillus, which also includes known probiotic strains of bacteria. The relative abundance of the Lactobacillales order was decreased in mice with intestinal inflammation and cancer, and dietary curcumin restored this order to control levels.

This finding may be highly relevant for the protective effects of curcumin, as Lactobacillus strains have been used successfully in preventing colorectal cancer in animal models and have been shown to protect against DNA damage, and Lactobacillus genus has been associated with stopping cell division and inducing apoptosis — a form of cell death — in colon cancer cell lines.

"Curcumin is a safe supplement and may have significant clinical value both in the general population and in those with inflammatory bowel disease in which increased occurrence of colorectal cancer has been documented," Kiela said.

Editor: dougcarrollWriter: Darci Slaten Byline: Darci Slaten Byline Affiliation: UA Department of Pediatrics and Steele Children's Research CenterHeader image: YesNo Image: Subheading: UA researchers say the bioactive ingredient in turmeric could balance the microbiota of the gut, a major player in health and disease.Include in UANow: yesInclude in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: noIncludes video: 

Exploring the Private Lives of Hummingbirds

Mon, 08/17/2015 - 11:01am

In July, while workers were wrapping up construction of the new University of Arizona Environment and Natural Resources Building, or ENR2, they discovered someone else wrapping up a little construction of her own. That someone was a hummingbird, and she had built her nest on a data cable dangling directly in front of a security camera.

A live feed was quickly launched on the UA Planning, Design and Construction website. In the weeks that followed, the world watched as twins were hatched, mouths were fed and wings were tested. Media outlets picked up on the story. Last week, the fledglings took to the sky. Staff believe the birds are either an Anna's or black-chinned hummingbird.

In light of hummingbirds’ prevalence here, William Mannan, a UA professor of wildlife ecology, answered a few questions about the tiny birds, their beefier avian cousins and Tucson’s diverse urban wildlife.

Q: How do hummingbirds choose where to build a nest?

A: They pick places where there’s a support system. Almost everyone has hummingbirds nesting in their mesquite tree or pine tree. The site is often just a little, teeny branch that hangs down, and it supports that tiny cup nest they make.

Q: When it comes to building a nest, how do birds adapt to urban environments?

A: Birds that live in urban environments are not what you would call adapted to urban environments. They’re doing what they normally do. It’s just that urban environments provide the resources and the conditions that they recognize as nest sites. In general, and I would say this is true for most birds, their urban environments can be very rich. For example, they can offer lots of food and lots of shelter.

Q: How do hummingbirds fare in Tucson?

A: I don’t believe the adults are often killed by predators. My sense is they’re too little and too quick. For example, the species I work with, Cooper’s hawks, don’t pay any attention to hummingbirds. The hummingbirds are too little, and the hawks couldn’t catch them anyway. Also, there is a lot of food for hummingbirds here, feeders and flowering plants. Obviously there’s plenty of water relative to the desert, and there are places to nest. A place to nest could be anything that matches their perception of what a nest site is. In ENR2, a little wire hanging down that was stable triggered something that said, "This is a good place to build a nest."

Q: How do other birds fare here?

A: Electrocution, being hit by cars and flying into windows are major sources of mortality for urban birds. Tucson Electric Power has done a really good job of reducing the number of large birds that are electrocuted. I work with TEP on that. Poisoning also is a potential problem, if people use poison to get rid of pack rats or other pests. The bottom line is that urban areas can be positive and negative for species that live here.

Q: What should people consider when they come across a nest or a fledging?

A: Most birds need to be left alone. If you bother some birds during incubation, before their eggs are hatched, the adults may abandon the nest. That often happens to quail that nest in town especially if they put their nest right by an entrance to a building, and people have to go in and out. If you flush a bird out enough times, it will abandon its nest. The admonition we give people is to just leave them alone as best as you can.

One of the issues we have with the hawks we study is that the fledglings end up on the ground pretty regularly for a day or so, and that’s when people "rescue" them because they think they’re orphans even though mom and dad are sitting right overhead taking care of them. So, we’ve really tried to educate people not to pick them up. It has nothing to do with the smell of humans. That’s a myth. Instead, it has to do with this: If you take them to a rehabilitation center, the fledglings are not going to go through a critical developmental period that they need to go through to learn to fly and hunt.

Q: One last question: There seem to be a lot of hummingbirds in Tucson. Is that correct?

A: There are a lot of hummingbirds in this part of the world. Ramsey Canyon is a mecca for birders to go to look at hummingbirds. The Southwest United States and Arizona, in particular, are places where birders from all over the world come. We live in a very rich place from the standpoint of urban animals. People have varying opinions about some of them, coyotes, raptors, bobcats and the mountain lions that live outside of town. But really, we live in a fascinating place from an urban wildlife standpoint, so I think this is a pretty special place to live.

Categories: Science and TechnologyThis is a Wildcat Corner feature: Images: Byline: Robin TricolesEditor: dougcarrollInclude in UANow: yesDate of Publication: Monday, August 17, 2015Medium Summary: While workers were wrapping up construction of the new Environment and Natural Resource Building, they discovered a hummingbird nest, complete with occupants. William Mannan, a UA professor of wildlife ecology, talks about the tiny birds, their beefier avian cousins and Tucson’s diverse urban wildlife.Feature on Front: NoShort Summary: UA professor William Mannan answers questions about the tiny birds and their cousins.Send to Never Settle Site: 0UA in the News Spotlight: Includes video: 

Rethinking the Cost of Climate Change

Mon, 08/17/2015 - 10:15am

From the environment to the economy, climate change affects various facets of our everyday lives.

Now a new statistical framework makes it possible to understand just how much climate change impacts markets across the globe.

A newly released paper, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, outlines methodology for using historical climate and economic data to predict how climate change will affect gross domestic product, a common economic performance measure, of countries around the world.

"A Top-Down Approach to Projecting Market Impacts of Climate Change," is co-authored by Derek Lemoine, assistant professor of economics in the UA Eller College of Management, and Sarah Kapnick, physical research scientist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration at the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory.

"If you want to think about the economics of climate change, one of the major questions is 'What are the costs of climate change?'" Lemoine said. "The worse it is, the more we should be doing about it."

As a result of Lemoine and Kapnick's research, two primary insightful findings were revealed.

First, data shows that nearer-term climate change could raise the average rate of economic growth in more affluent countries, while reducing the growth rate in poorer countries.

"Nearer-term climate change may not be that bad — in terms of GDP — for richer countries," Lemoine said. "What countries should be asking is, 'How much do we care about inequality around the world?'"

The second major finding was the correlation between climate variability and economic variability in many countries. When climate change makes weather in regions across the globe more variable, the variability of economic growth also increases.

"As the world warms ... that can actually make GDP more variable, which is a largely unexplored consequence of climate change," Lemoine said.

Rather than using the standard, bottom-up approach of analyzing and aggregating individual sectors, the new prediction framework utilizes a top-down, macroeconomic approach. Kapnick said this offers a new, credible avenue for estimating climate impacts.

"It frees us from making various assumptions about individual sectors of the economy for each country," she said. "This new methodology can be applied to any climate model output. It allows for an independent assessment of economic impacts of climate change from current methods (and) provides another tool in our toolbox for estimating climate change impacts."

Lemoine explained that while the framework uses historical temperature and rainfall data, it does not account for factors such as ecological disruptions or rising sea levels, which could end up being more important than the types of GDP impacts they focus on. For this reason, he envisions that their framework could be used as a starting point on which additional assumptions can be added to develop thorough climate change models and influence climate change policies.

"The major benefit is that we are not introducing a lot of new assumptions," Lemoine said. "With that baseline, anybody else can layer on whatever assumptions they want to make it more comprehensive or long-term."

Uncovering the true costs of climate change is a complicated challenge, but using historical data to predict future impacts offers an empirically grounded model to approaching the task, Lemoine said.

"It's a really hard question because there are a lot of links in the system," he said. "We are really just letting the data speak and projecting that forward to predict near-term climate change impacts."

Editor: dougcarrollByline: Amanda BallardByline Affiliation: University Relations - CommunicationsHeader image: YesNo Image: Subheading: A new methodology co-developed by a UA economist uses historical data to predict how climate change will impact markets across the globe.Include in UANow: yesInclude in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: noUANow Image: Includes video: 

Wanted: Young Engineers With Drive

Fri, 08/14/2015 - 6:39pm

Last week, a dozen undergraduate students from across the country gathered for the pinnacle of their 10-week research program at the University of Arizona: navigating a slow-moving, ByWire XGV vehicle through an empty parking lot.

The Research Experiences for Undergraduates, or REU, program at the UA, funded by the National Science Foundation, helped the students develop applications to remotely control the Cognitive and Autonomous Test vehicle, or CAT. The program has been hosted for three years by Jonathan Sprinkle, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at the UA.

Sprinkle said the students for the program were chosen from 350 applicants.

"We look for students who have the potential for research," he said. "The research they’ve done here has been with almost no previous experience in the area of control systems."

One student team, consisting of UA senior electrical engineering major Alberto Heras and Lykes Claytor, a senior computer science and mathematics major from Wofford College in South Carolina, focused on an issue pervading the surface streets of Tucson: traffic.

Driverless vehicles would be useful for more than passengers' texting and eating during the morning commute, they said.

Heras said that a standard solution for traffic — increasing the width of roads — can change the density of cars on the road but not the management of them, and management is what has a greater effect on congestion.

Heras and Claytor propose platoons — lines of cars where one leads and the rest follow, communicating via radio technology. Then, roadside units, or RSUs, on a grid system would monitor and regulate the speed and position of platoons based on data from intersections. RSUs would fire off important messages to platoon leaders, which would take less computational power — and less money — than sending it to each car on the road.

"None of this is so different than a lot of technology already available and used in regular cars," Heras said. "It’s just being applied in a different way. A big part of doing research is familiarizing yourself with something others may have already been studying for years. You read a lot of papers and learn a lot that way."

Then comes the application aspect.

"That’s the fun part,” Claytor said. “That’s what we love doing."

Video Thumbnail: Category(s): Teaching and StudentsYouTube Video:  NSF Takes the Wheel With Reasearch Experiences for Undergraduates Video of NSF Takes the Wheel With Reasearch Experiences for Undergraduates Feature Sticky: OffFeature on Front: NoMedium Summary: The UA hosted an autonomous-car research program for undergraduate students from across the country, challenging them to create applications to control a vehicle remotely.UANow Image: Date of Publication: Friday, August 14, 2015Send to Never Settle Site: 0Includes video: The story include video

UA's Largest Incoming Class Has Diversity, Distinction

Fri, 08/14/2015 - 4:59pm

Preliminary enrollment data show that the University of Arizona will welcome approximately 42,100 students for the fall and is on track to exceed several of its enrollment goals. 

With classes starting today, the UA has enrolled more than 8,100 freshmen, up from 7,944 enrolled at about the same time during the fall of 2014. The UA also enrolled more than 2,100 transfer students.

"This is the largest freshman class we have ever had," said Kasey Urquidez, the UA's vice president for enrollment management and dean of undergraduate admissions. "This is an exciting time for our University as we grow and increase opportunities."

The UA received the highest number of freshman applications at more than 35,300, up from more than 33,600 last year. Prior to 2014, applications maxed out at about 26,000, Urquidez said.

Also, more than 40 percent of the new freshmen are ethnically or racially diverse, according to applications. Official enrollment figures are not available until the 21st day of class.

Preliminary data also indicate increases in the numbers of students choosing to study science, technology, engineering and mathematics, known as the STEM fields. About 34 percent of UA undergraduates have declared a STEM major this fall.

Under the charge of the campuswide Never Settle strategic plan, and with funding from the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust through the Association of American Universities' STEM Undergraduate Education Initiative, the UA has introduced numerous new initiatives and programs over the last several years to reform STEM education and learning.

Incoming freshman Kathia Antillon, a National Merit Scholar, said she chose the UA because of its strengths in STEM. 

Antillon will study chemistry, psychology and Spanish. She is on the research track and plans to be involved in the Honors College; Blue Chip Leadership, a nationally renowned foundational engagement program; and the Arizona's Science, Engineering and Mathematics Scholars Transfer, or ASEMS-T, Program.

Having transferred in with credits she accrued from Rio Salado Community College while in high school, Antillon is a member of the first cohort of the ASEMS-T Program. Earlier this year, Arizona's Science, Engineering and Mathematics Scholars received funding from the Sherman Fairchild Foundation to expand its traditional STEM training program specifically for transfers.

"Everyone I have come in contact with has been really helpful," said Antillon, a native of Avondale. " I am really excited to begin my time at the UA, and I know that these next four years will be great."

Preliminary figures also indicate strong academic quality among students, Urquidez said.

The estimated freshman SAT is 1126, with an average high school GPA of 3.4.

The Honors College is expecting nearly 1,500 incoming freshmen and transfers, with 18 percent being first-generation students. Of the transfer students, 42.6 percent are first-generation. The college's average freshman SAT is 1310, with an average high school GPA of 3.83.

Alex Stoken, a native of Tempe, was named a 2015 Presidential Scholar by the U.S. Department of Education — one of the nation's highest honors for high school students.

Stoken said he chose to attend the UA because of its faculty expertise in research related to string theory and supersymmetry.

"I felt that the UA is the perfect blend of both amazing campus experiences and cutting-edge research in areas that really interest me," said Stoken, who is majoring in physics and mathematics.

"The opportunity to study under such experts and learn from them as they make new discoveries is a dream come true," he said.  

And with the workforce increasingly demanding diversified skill sets beyond the traditional markers of academic success, Urquidez pointed to numerous UA programs and initiatives designed to "ensure that our students are workforce ready and have a strong return on investment" after studying at the UA.

Of note, the 100% Engagement initiative — a major component and newly formalized policy under Never Settle — promises all undergraduate students an opportunity to gain hands-on experience in their chosen field before they graduate. Beginning this fall, students will be able to graduate with an "Engaged Learning Experience" notation on their official transcript.

"I chose the University of Arizona because of the countless opportunities available," said Riley Campillo, a neuroscience and cognitive science major from Folsom, California.

Campillo learned about the Student Alumni Ambassadors program during orientation and said she already has made connections with individuals in her programs.

"I believe that a huge part of having a successful experience in college is making connections with various people and having the willingness to share advice and knowledge," Campillo said. "It is exciting to be a part of a group of teachers and students who are excited to grow together."

While searching for schools in the U.S. and the United Kingdom, twin brothers Andris and Marton Szep took specific interest in the UA, partially because of its highly ranked Eller College of Management.

Also, their parents previously worked in Tucson and hold fond memories of the city and the UA, Andris said.

Now, both are UA Honors College freshmen pursuing studies in Eller with a second major in physics.

Since Andris began developing mobile apps for personal and business use in 2011, selling them through the App Store, he has been keen on continuing that work in the global marketplace.

"When creating an iPhone app, I do all of the designing, programing, publishing, managing and marketing," he said. "For me, this was the first time I got deeply involved in marketing, management and in business, and since this area interested me especially, I decided to pursue it further." 

Andris said the UA is the ideal institution to help expand his expertise in application development and business management. He already is impressed with the school, crediting UA recruitment and outreach counselor Jenni Keatseangsilp and his pre-business honors adviser, Elise Romero, for their support with his transition. 

Marton's interests are in business management, and he intends to pursue a degree in management information systems with his studies in physics.

"Physics is a great way to exercise the brain — in my opinion, it needs math skills, knowledge, creativity and lots of logic," Marton said.

"It will also be great to spice up the business-oriented environment with something pretty different," he said. "I have had glimpses into the world of business, but so far I have never actually been part of that world. Now I will finally be able to be part of it."

Editor: dougcarrollByline Affiliation: University Relations - CommunicationsExtra Info: 

Major points about the fall 2015 class:

  • Overall enrollment is more than 42,100
  • The average incoming grade-point average is 3.4 (based on a 4.0 scale)
  • More than 8,100 freshmen were enrolled, and more than 2,100 transfer students
  • Most popular home states for UA freshman are Arizona, California, Illinois, Colorado, Washington state and Texas
  • Freshmen ethnic diversity is more than 40 percent; and over 47 percent among transfer students
  • About 34 percent of the freshman class declared a STEM major
  • The most popular majors among freshmen are pre-business, engineering, pre-physiology, biology and psychology
Header image: YesNo Image: Subheading: Based on preliminary data, the UA is welcoming more than 42,100 students for the fall of 2015. Include in UANow: yesInclude in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: noUANow Image: Includes video: 

UA iSchool Project to Test Artificial Intelligence

Fri, 08/14/2015 - 4:47pm

Kelland Thomas, professor and associate director of University of Arizona's brand-new School of Information, recently began a research project to build a robotic jazz musician that tests the bounds of artificial intelligence.

His MUSICA project — which stands for MUSic Improvising Collaborative Agent — received a $2.3 million research grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, a branch of the Department of Defense, to be utilized over the course of five years.

Jazz music and DARPA may seem an unlikely pairing, but the endgame has little to do with music. It's about collaboration. The project will address the question of whether information systems, such as computers, are capable of collaborating with humans. If Thomas' MUSICA program can effectively build a computer system that improvises in real time with a human musician, the answer may be yes.

Paul Cohen, program manager at DARPA, commented, "I'm very concerned that we treat computers as servants, and because we treat computers as servants, we're not exploiting everything they could do for us."

Because "being able to view machines as colleagues" is a central goal of DARPA's Communicating With Computers program, "It was sort of a no-brainer that (this) kind of work would be selected," Cohen said.

According to Cohen, computers not only process large amounts of data in ways that a human cannot, they also do not have biases.

He points to economic policymaking as an example. The number of variables to consider, the amount of literature to pore over and the polarizing nature of some political systems make it a job for computers, he said.

MUSICA, which ultimately aims to create a robotic collaborator, taps into that potential. It uses jazz music as a vehicle for testing a computer’s ability to be a colleague rather than a servant. Cohen and Thomas agree that addressing some of the greatest challenges of our time — curing cancer, investigating climate change and ensuring global food security — could require this technology.

Information systems helping us get our jobs done better is not novel. 

For example, Uber, which owns not even a single taxicab, has been wildly successful by brokering information.

"Information systems match people who have a need with people who have a capacity," Thomas said.

If computers themselves had agency to make informed decisions using open-access data, it could be a slam-dunk for humans, too.

As for taking the jobs of human musicians, Thomas promises that his robot will do no such thing. In fact, he has enlisted the help of some musician friends to come into a studio for a jam session. He will record video and transcribe and analyze their playing to use as a model for the robot, which will look fairly unimpressive to the untrained eye — like a big, clunky processor.

Asked if the robot will have musical preferences of its own, Thomas responded, "It'll be interesting to see if it develops something like taste. I anticipate that these kinds of things may emerge and surprise us, but that remains to be seen."

He said the MUSICA project represents the potential of the UA's School of Information.

MUSICA "combines artificial intelligence, music and engineering," Thomas said, "and the big idea is that we need to move to an educational model that is intrinsically interdisciplinary. The iSchool is poised to contribute to great research that gets at the heart of important problems of the 21st century."

Editor: dougcarrollWriter: Emily LitvackByline: Emily LitvackByline Affiliation: University Relations - CommunicationsHeader image: YesNo Image: Subheading: Are computers capable of collaboration with humans? Professor Kelland Thomas plans to find out with the MUSICA project, funded by a $2.3 million research grant.Include in UANow: yesInclude in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: noUANow Image: Includes video: 

EPVSensors Takes a Closer Look at Glaucoma

Fri, 08/14/2015 - 12:32pm

University of Arizona startup company EPVSensors recently licensed a novel design for a non-invasive eye tonometer that measures intra-ocular pressure through a closed eyelid for glaucoma detection.

The tonometer was developed by an interdisciplinary team of faculty and students at the UA, and EPVSensors will be using the technology to develop several diagnostic devices targeting the eye care and home diagnostics market.

EPVSensors was founded by the technology's inventors: Eniko Enikov, associate professor in the UA College of Engineering and a member of the BIO5 Institute, and Dr. Gholam Peyman, retired professor in the ophthalmology department of the UA College of Medicine – Phoenix.

"We started developing the the technology at the UA around 2008 or 2009, so it’s been about six years now," Enikov says. "We’ve had lots of help from students over the years, as well."

EPVSensors worked with Bob Sleeper, technology licensing manager at Tech Launch Arizona, to license the tonometer. TLA is the unit of the UA that creates social and economic growth by bringing inventions stemming from University research to market.

Today, EPVSensors is ready to take the next step to make the device available to glaucoma patients around the world.

Glaucoma is a condition that causes damage to the optic nerve, which can lead to permanent loss of vision. The tonometer tests for elevated pressure within the eye, a known cause of glaucoma. Normally, such a test requires a visit to an eye doctor, who numbs the eye and uses specialized instruments to measure direct pressure applied to the cornea with the eye open.

And while other tonometer devices are available, Enikov's and Peyman’s invention is the first that measures eye pressure through the eyelid, with the eye closed.

"Ultimately, it would be ideal if consumers could use it on their own at home," Enikov says. "We hope that the final version will be available over the counter with a perscription."

The device also includes a telemedicine component. As patients with glaucoma must measure their condition frequently — sometimes every hour — this  design can transmit its data directly to a doctor, allowing for remote monitoring of the condition. This reduces office visits, lowers costs, and speeds decisions regarding care and medication management.

On the path to market, EPVSensors will need to secure FDA approval, for which it will need to test 150 subjects. At this point, it has tested the desktop device on 12 people.

Funding also will be a key element in moving forward. EPVSensors has received federal STTR funding to subcontract a faculty member from the UA Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering to further help develop a new handheld version of the tonometer.

"At the UA, there is a great focus on solving real-world challenges, especially in medicine," says Doug Hockstad, senior director of technology transfer at TLA. "We’re excited to see technology like this moving out into the world where it can positively affect people’s lives."

According to the World Health Organization, glaucoma is the second-leading cause of blindness worldwide. The condition currently has no cure, although medication and surgery can mitigate further vision loss. Once diagnosed, patients must have their intra-ocular pressure monitored for life to ensure the condition is properly managed. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, glaucoma accounts for more than 10 million visits to physicians each year.

Peyman is a retina surgeon and a member of the Ophthalmology Hall of Fame. He has been granted 150 U.S. patents, including intra-ocular drug delivery, surgical techniques and the revolutionary vision correction procedure known as LASIK.

Editor: dougcarrollWriter: Paul TumarkinByline: Paul TumarkinByline Affiliation: Tech Launch ArizonaHeader image: YesNo Image: Subheading: UA-developed technology may lead to a breakthrough in glaucoma detection and treatment.Include in UANow: yesInclude in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: noIncludes video: 

Keeping Arizona's Talent at Home

Fri, 08/14/2015 - 12:16pm

In any competition, a winning strategy is to have all of your best players in the game.

The same goes for Arizona's workforce.

In an attempt to ensure that the most talented college graduates stay in Arizona and are better prepared to meet employers' needs, the University of Arizona established its Institute for Career Readiness and Engagement. Created to connect students with experiences and employers, the institute is funded by the Office of the Governor's Workforce Development Grant and is a crucial component of the UA's 100% Engagement initiative.

"We really need a highly skilled workforce if we want to remain competitive globally," said Mary Murphy, the institute's director. "We can't just educate the same old way we have in the past because our information and knowledge is so vastly, swiftly moving forward."

With more than two decades of experience in education and workforce development, Murphy is a firsthand witness to the shifting needs of employers in the state. Before joining the UA, she coordinated workforce development and policy programs for former Arizona Govs. Fife Symington and Jan Brewer.

In her newest role, she works to expand the reach of the UA into Maricopa County by developing relationships and identifying new engagement opportunities for students.

"The institute exposes students to a variety of different career paths within our state in an effort to keep our talent in Arizona," Murphy said. "It's about finding opportunities to engage and transport their education to the working world. It's really, really valuable applied learning."

The UA's 100% Engagement initiative is an important component of the University's Never Settle strategic and academic business plan that promises all undergraduate students an opportunity to gain real-world, hands-on experience in their chosen field before they graduate. More information about the initiative is available through the Office of Student Engagement's website at

The Institute for Career Readiness and Engagement was created in 2014 to support this initiative. In addition to connecting students with internship and job opportunities, it also expands on the UA's early career coaching programs.

In a competitive job market, college students can use all the help they can get to secure a head start on their careers, Murphy said.

One of the ways the institute connects students with potential employers is through Industry Treks. During the first Industry Trek, held in January, students from Tucson took a shuttle to Phoenix to visit Vanguard, Go Daddy, the Greater Phoenix Economic Council, the Translational Genomics Research Institute, Quicken Loans, the Arizona Legislature and others.

Murphy said that these partners have been receptive to working with the institute.

"Everyone is really thrilled and on board and can't wait to participate," she said. "It's been very positive."

During the upcoming academic year, Murphy said the institute will expand its efforts to expose students to new opportunities for applying their classroom learning.

The institute has these treks scheduled for fall:

  • Sept. 11: Engineering and Aerospace Trek to Boeing and Honeywell
  • Oct. 2: Sports and Hospitality Trek to Arizona Biltmore and Phoenix Suns
  • Oct. 9: Information Technology Trek to General Motors and Infusionsoft
  • Nov. 6: Nonprofit Trek to Goodwill and Southwest Human Development

For more information about the upcoming Industry Treks, call UA Career Services at 520-621-2588 or visit

Editor: dougcarrollByline: Amanda BallardByline Affiliation: University Relations - CommunicationsHeader image: YesNo Image: Subheading: The UA's Institute for Career Readiness and Engagement was created to connect students with employers and engagement experiences while supporting the state's workforce needs.Include in UANow: yesInclude in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: noUANow Image: Includes video: 

UA Grad to 'Pilot' OSIRIS-REx Spacecraft

Fri, 08/14/2015 - 4:46am

Although it's unmanned, OSIRIS-REx, NASA's spacecraft scheduled to bring back a sample from an asteroid, is not without a pilot.

In fact, it takes nearly a dozen people — all highly skilled and experienced in deep space navigation — to steer the probe to its target, retrieve a sample and ensure its safe return to Earth. One of these people is Daniel Wibben, who graduated from the UA in June with a Ph.D. in systems engineering.

Wibben had not yet defended his dissertation when he was offered a job with KinetX Aerospace, a company specializing in deep space navigation based in Tempe, Arizona.

Fascinated by all things related to space, Wibben said he always has been intrigued by "the unknown and the ability to go out there and learn something that no one has seen or learned before."

"I wanted to work in space (exploration)," he said, "and when you're in the U.S. and want to work in deep space, you want to work with NASA. I'm not aware of any other university where you have the opportunity to work in the heart of a space mission as a student, so once I found out the UA offered that opportunity, I wanted to grasp it." 

As an undergraduate student, Wibben volunteered in the Space Systems Engineering Laboratory, or SSEL, led by Roberto Furfaro, an assistant professor of systems engineering in the UA College of Engineering. SSEL was founded in 2010 to provide engineering and science support to the UA's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory in present and future robotic missions for solar systems exploration. Currently, SSEL provides students and faculty to work on the OSIRIS-REx mission.

Upon completion of his master's degree in systems engineering, during his doctoral studies, Wibben was part of both SSEL and the Science Processing and Operations Center, or SPOC. At SPOC, the OSIRIS-REx science and engineering teams author commands for the scientific instruments and prepare to process and analyze science data received from the spacecraft.

"Through my job at the SPOC, I was able to connect with a lot of people from many different backgrounds in academia and industry, and I always enjoyed working with them," Wibben said. "I wanted to continue working on this mission and really see it through, and in my new position at KinetX, I get to do exactly that."

"In a sense, the people at SSEL are the glue of the mission," Furfaro said. "In systems engineering, we develop mission requirements and define the architecture of the system at SPOC. We model the behavior of the system, then we do verification and validation to make sure everything works as it should. To perform these tasks, we use tools from industry, and we also develop our own processes and software code."

At SPOC, Wibben's job entailed writing more than 1,400 science requirements of the mission and working with other team members "to make sure they're understood, they're clear, and they can ultimately be tested, so we can say at the end of the day we can meet this requirement."

At KinetX, Wibben was able to hit the ground running because of his diverse and practical experience gained at the UA. For example, he will use a combination of heritage codes from other space missions and specialized spacecraft navigation software for which he already had built add-ons during his time at SSEL.

"The connections I made during my time at the UA, interfacing with many people in industry, really helped quite a bit," Wibben said. "In addition, many of the skills I acquired during the research for my dissertation translated well. The simulations I'm running right now use an open-source software that I used as a student. I can jump right into this piece."

Part of Wibben's new job is writing code and scripts that will help make the navigation team's job easier, but many of the tools already have been developed, so he has to learn to use and manipulate the software in case the team gets misleading information from the spacecraft.

"Much of this job is knowing whether to go in and what to fix in order to make it work," he said. "We also are running simulations right now to optimize fuel use for our outbound cruise."

"In our lab, the students learn how to program and how to implement guidance and navigation algorithms," Furfaro said. "Although they're using established software in many cases, they have to develop a lot of modifications on their own. That is the training they're getting here."

On average, Furfaro advises eight doctoral students in SSEL. Currently, four graduate students are working on the OSIRIS-REx mission. Wibben is one of two who have recently graduated. In addition, three undergraduate students are gaining practical experience with SSEL. Three other students who graduated from Furfaro's group with master's degrees were hired by SPOC to continue working on the mission.

"I'm a big believer in space exploration and in training the future generation of students," said Furfaro, who serves as systems engineer for SPOC and has multiple students, graduates and undergraduates working with him on the mission. His lab follows other interests in addition to OSIRIS-REx, such as spacecraft guidance and control, intelligent systems for space exploration and remote sensing from space, said Furfaro, also the technical principal investigator of the UA's Lunar Greenhouse Project.

Ed Beshore, deputy principal investigator of the OSIRIS-REx mission, added: "We frequently discuss the importance and role of students in our programs, and colleagues from our partner organizations have commented that, as a group, ours is one of the best set of student employees and young engineers that they have ever seen."

"The opportunity to work on a mission at the UA is very unique," said Wibben, who anticipates staying with the OSIRIS-REx mission all the way through, certainly through sample collection, and working with KinetX on future missions, which will rely on similar tasks. 

"I'm very grateful for what I got to do as a student at the UA. I got a job (in the) industry doing what I do." 

Editor: dougcarrollWriter: Daniel StolteByline: Daniel StolteByline Affiliation: University Relations - CommunicationsHeader image: YesNo Image: Subheading: Daniel Wibben, who spent his undergraduate and graduate years as a member of the team planning the OSIRIS-REx asteroid mission, was hired by an Arizona-based space navigation company to help steer the spacecraft to the asteroid Bennu and back. Include in UANow: yesInclude in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: noUANow Image: Includes video: 

Printing the Future of Engineering

Fri, 08/14/2015 - 3:45am

Hao Xin opens the door to his lab and points to an object that looks like some kind of strange, synthetic sponge made by an alien race much more advanced than ours.

"This is a prototype of a Lüneburg lens that we made," Xin says.

A lens?

Never mind the fact that it's neither transparent nor made of glass, but of a porous yet weirdly symmetric-looking, plasticky substance of oddly unappealing, pale gray color. Move your eyes closer, and your mind gets lost in a dazzling array of a myriad of tiny branchlets connected to each other at right angles, forming a thicket that gets denser toward the center of the object.

"This lens is not made for light," Xin says, "but for electromagnetic waves in the terahertz range, which is between microwaves and radio waves."

Now things make a bit more sense. Unlike light visible to humans, which is pretty picky and travels only through air, water or transparent things (for the most part), terahertz waves pass through anything from synthetics to textiles to cardboard. Because many biomolecules, proteins, explosives or narcotics absorb terahertz radiation in telltale ways, waves of this range can be used to detect such substances in airport security lanes, for example. 

Xin, a professor in electrical and computer engineering who heads the Millimeter Wave Circuits and Antennas Laboratory at the University of Arizona's College of Engineering, is harnessing the possibilities of three-dimensional printing to create materials and structures that not too long ago would have been written off as science fiction.

"By using 3-D printing and new design approaches, we are able to come up with components such as antennas, wave guides, lenses and holographic devices that are better than existing technology and haven't been possible to make before," he says.

As computers, communication devices and other IT applications get smaller and can do ever more amazing things, engineers have to overcome ever greater challenges in designing and building the components that make them work.

Some applications require the invention of new materials. Some require new ways of manufacturing. And some require both.

Xin's group is one of the first to adopt 3-D printing approaches to make so-called metamaterials, engineered materials with properties not found in nature. Unlike conventional materials such as metals or plastics, metamaterials consist of assemblies of elements made from conventional materials, usually in repeating patterns. Their special properties arise not so much from the properties of their ingredients, but from the shape, geometry and orientation of their subunits. They can be designed to affect electromagnetic waves, sound and even the shockwaves of an earthquake in ways that would be impossible to achieve with traditional materials.

"Traditionally, it has been very difficult to make those three-dimensional, periodic structures," Xin explains. "Oftentimes, someone produces a two-dimensional prototype of a three-dimensional object to demonstrate some desired property, but those aren't very practical, nor do they have all the properties they need in order to work for application in question."

Xin's team has successfully created highly complicated structures using 3-D printing, such as the Lüneburg lens, which has applications ranging from microwave antennas to radar calibration devices.

"A Lüneburg lens makes a fantastic antenna that can be used for wireless communication and radar installations," Xin says, "but traditionally it is built manually, which is not cost-effective, and you can't make it very precise. Now we can make it at much lower cost and more precise."

Xin's lab also uses 3-D printers to make a range of conventional things, such as regular antennas and integrated circuits. It is one of the first to apply the approach to metamaterials to build innovative electromagnetic applications, and it has support from the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Air Force Office of Research, Raytheon and even Google.

Earlier this year, the team made waves when it published the first successful attempt at designing what many consider the holy grail of metamaterials: a negative refraction metamaterial that not only bends electromagnetic waves (in this case, microwaves) backward but also does not diminish energy in the process. All previous designs suffered from the fact that the waves lost a large portion of their energy when passing through the material.

Xin's accomplishment could bring negative refraction metamaterials closer to applications aiming at manipulating electromagnetic radiation in new ways.

One of them is a so-called phased array, a sophisticated assembly of antennas capable of focusing and pointing a beam of electromagnetic radiation. Used in radar applications for a long time, such arrays form a vital part of the next generation of wireless communication such as the 5G network.

"Unlike rotating radar antennas that you see at airports, which are limited to rotating speeds based on mechanical parts, a phased array doesn't move and has no moving parts that can fail," Xin explains. "Plus, the antenna can scan as fast as microseconds and in any direction you want.

"But for traditional phased arrays, the manufacturing cost and the mechanical assembly are quite expensive, and sometimes problematic. So if we use a 3-D printer where we can print a vertically integrated phased array, it is cheaper and offers better performance in a smaller footprint."

Therein lies the main advantage of 3-D printing over traditional assembly, according to Xin: It becomes possible to build extremely complex and intricate structures consisting of different materials in three-dimensional space rather than by stacking two-dimensional components, each made from one material.

"Take the way we design electronic components, for example," Xin says. "Traditionally, everything is printed on a flat circuit board, and if you need vertical integration, you have to make another board, and another, and then you connect them together. That is a costly process."

On the other hand, 3-D printing allows putting one material with one property in one location, and a material with a different property in another location, Xin explains.

"It doesn't matter how complicated the structure you're building," he says. "You can even think more futuristically. Your smartphone is essentially a three-dimensional block made of metal, glass, semiconductors and plastics. Of course, today we can't yet do this, but if 3-D printing technology becomes sufficiently advanced, we may be able to print the whole cellphone at once."

Editor: dougcarrollWriter: Daniel StolteByline: Daniel StolteByline Affiliation: University Relations - CommunicationsHeader image: YesNo Image: Subheading: 3-D printing is revolutionizing the ways engineers think about and make highly complicated devices, with applications ranging from wireless communication to air traffic control to earthquake-proof buildings. Include in UANow: yesInclude in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: noIncludes video: 

UA Part of NSF-Funded Urban Water Initiative

Wed, 08/12/2015 - 6:26pm

The National Science Foundation has granted a consortium of 14 academic institutions, led by Colorado State University and including the University of Arizona, and key partners $12 million to fund an urban water initiative.

Gary Pivo, professor of urban planning in the UA College of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture, will serve as deputy director of the national Urban Water Innovation Network, or UWIN. The mission of UWIN is to create technological, institutional and management solutions to help communities increase the resilience of water systems and enhance preparedness for responding to water crises.

"This support from NSF will help a global network of faculty, students and community partners decode the mysteries of cities and foster transitions to more sustainable urban futures," Pivo said. "Cities are complicated human and natural systems that are far too understudied, even though most of us depend on them for our livelihood and quality of life."

Other UA faculty involved include Thomas Meixner from the UA College of Science; Shirley Papuga, Phillip Guertin and Michael Crimmins from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences; and Adam Henry from the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences.

According to the 2014 Global Risks Perception Survey by the World Economic Forum, water crises are the top global risk to the viability of communities throughout the world. The vision of UWIN is to create an enduring research network for integrated water systems and to cultivate champions of innovation for water-sensitive urban design and resilient cities.

The network will establish six highly connected regional urban water sustainability hubs in densely populated regions across the nation to serve as innovation centers, helping communities transition to sustainable management of water resources. Strategic partnerships and engagement with other prominent U.S. and international networks will extend UWIN’s reach to more than 100 cities around the world. Key UWIN partners and collaborators include the Water Environment Research Foundation, the Urban Sustainability Directors Network and the Network for Water in European Regions and Cities.

"A sustainable water supply is a constant concern for those of us who live in the desert, but as population increases, it is fast becoming a global issue," said Janice Cervelli, dean of the College of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture. "CAPLA is proud to lead a project that strives for more diffuse water security."

The UWIN consortium also includes Arizona State University; Princeton University; the University of California, Berkeley; the University of Oregon; and the University of Pennsylvania. Mazdak Arabi, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Colorado State, will serve as the director of UWIN.

Editor: dougcarrollByline Affiliation: University Relations – CommunicationsHeader image: YesNo Image: Subheading: Urban planning professor Gary Pivo of the College of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture will serve as deputy director of the national Urban Water Innovation Network.Include in UANow: yesInclude in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: noUANow Image: Includes video: 

The Making of OCAMS

Wed, 08/12/2015 - 2:25pm

The OSIRIS-REx Camera Suite, or OCAMS, soon will be delivered to the Lockheed Martin spacecraft assembly facility in Littleton, Colorado, to be integrated into the spacecraft structure.

OCAMS is a set of three cameras designed to support NASA's mission to the asteroid Bennu through all of its phases, from approach to sample collection.

UA instrument scientist Bashar Rizk said the overall design principle of the three cameras, which have been designed, constructed and tested over the past four years at the UA's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, is not unlike that of the human eye.

"The three OCAMS cameras differ from each other, but they belong to the same family," he said. "They use identical detector assemblies — 'retinas,' if you will — to record the images they acquire. They each possess mechanisms actuated by identical motors — think 'muscles' — and they share the same unified electronics controller that serves as their 'brain.'"

Together, the three visual siblings greatly increase the spacecraft’s ability to successfully navigate, explore and sample Bennu. By supplying OCAMS under a $40 million contract from NASA, the UA provides a sizable contribution to the OSIRIS-REx mission, in addition to leading the mission and serving as its headquarters.

Video Thumbnail: Category(s): Science and TechnologyYouTube Video:  OSIRIS-REx : OCAMS Video of OSIRIS-REx : OCAMS Feature Sticky: OffFeature on Front: NoMedium Summary: Scientist Bashar Rizk talks about the UA-built cameras for the OSIRIS-REx mission, designed to work in a fashion similar to the human eye.UANow Image: Date of Publication: Wednesday, August 12, 2015Send to Never Settle Site: 0Includes video: The story include video

To Find 'Perfect Match,' It Took Years

Wed, 08/12/2015 - 1:20pm

"As I became comfortable with my new surroundings and learned more about the USAID Program Office, I began to realize that my skill set is a perfect match," Leishara Ward says. (Photo courtesy of Leishara Ward)

I wasn't ready.

The end came so quickly. 

I finally found my groove, was feeling comfortable living in Africa again, and was halfway to the top of the learning curve for my internship with USAID when it dawned on me that I had less than a week left. I knew it would sneak up on me and tried to prepare early, but there I was on my last day with the impossible task of clearing out my inbox, saying goodbye to all of my newfound best friends, and frantically trying to finish my projects before the shuttle left for the day. 

I was, without a doubt, totally and completely unprepared for the end.

My family had arrived a few days earlier, and I found myself wanting to show them all of the exciting things that I had discovered during my six weeks in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. At the same time, I was attempting to close up shop and say kwaheri. It was an emotionally challenging few days, and I left feeling not quite finished, like a half-baked brownie, still gooey on the inside.

This summer gave me a sense of what it is like to actually work in the Foreign Service. I felt the freshness of arriving at a new post, the transition to working in an unfamiliar office and adapting to different work styles and internal processes, and got a small taste of the expat lifestyle, including weekend excursions. The whole experience was wonderful.

The goal of this summer abroad was to familiarize myself with the internal workings of an USAID mission in Africa so that I could decide if this really is the organization that I want to work with — and, if so, where I would fit in.  More than once I found myself thinking: "Oh yes, I am in the right place."

It first happened when I had been in country barely a week. The other interns and I were invited to a small going-away party for an American Foreign Service Officer who was moving to a new post. As we entered the residential compound and began mingling with the other guests, I found myself in utter shock and disbelief. I had gone to this tiny gathering on the other side of the world expecting to meet only strangers, and was totally taken aback when I looked into the face of a former coworker. Thirteen years ago, we had processed refugees together for the U.S. Resettlement Program with an organization based out of Nairobi, Kenya. Like me, he had spent the last decade living and working stateside while he pursued a master's degree, and eventually he had made his way back to East Africa with the Millennium Challenge Corp. He had been in Dar es Salaam for only a couple of months when I ran into him.

A week later, I met a fellow returned Peace Corps volunteer from Kenya who had served only a year ahead of me. Although we didn't know each other in Kenya, we knew the same people, understood the same jokes and had a similar, decade-long pause in our international development careers. Like me, she had put her overseas aspirations on hold in order to raise a family and was just getting back into it.

Meeting these two gave me confidence that it's not too late for me. I can still build a career in the field that I've longed to work in for the past 12 years. They reminded me that I used to be very familiar with this African way of life, which eased the culture shock I was experiencing after so many years away.

As I became comfortable with my new surroundings and learned more about the USAID Program Office, I began to realize that my skill set is a perfect match. My work experience as a state transportation planner prepared me to work with long-term strategic planning, budgeting, contract management and program cycles. My international experience taught me how to work in cross-cultural environments, especially in East Africa. This internship showed me that my seemingly unrelated set of skills could be merged to create an awesome career that I can’t wait to begin.

I am still in East Africa for another week before heading home to Tucson. My children and I have traveled to Kenya with their father to meet his family and visit my old Peace Corps village where they are learning about Africa and gaining valuable experiences that will shape their perspectives on themselves and the world around them. This is the kind of life that I imagined for them, and I am excited to finally be able to start giving it to them.

Leishara Ward with her family (right). (Photo: John de Dios/UANews)

Leishara Ward, who is in the Master's in Public Administration program in the School of Government and Public Policy while working toward a certificate in collaborative governance, was one of four students selected as a 2015 UANews student columnist. The columnist initiative was launched in June by UANews and provided students the opportunity to share insights about the work and research they did over the summer in various parts of the United States and abroad. It was the UA's 100% Engagement in action, and the students' experiences will prepare them to be real-world ready upon graduation.

Categories: Teaching and StudentsThis is a Wildcat Corner feature: Images: Tags: 2015 UANews Student ColumnistStudentsStudent LifeByline: Leishara Ward, 2015 UANews Student Columnist |Editor: dougcarrollInclude in UANow: 0Date of Publication: Wednesday, August 12, 2015Medium Summary: After working for the USAID Program Office in Tanzania this summer, Leishara Ward found that her skill set is a perfect match for the work. Feature on Front: NoShort Summary: After working for the USAID Program Office in Tanzania this summer, Leishara Ward found that her skill set is a perfect match for the work. Send to Never Settle Site: 0UA in the News Spotlight: Includes video: 

Astronomers Discover 'Young Jupiter' Exoplanet

Wed, 08/12/2015 - 12:16pm

A team of astronomers that includes UA researchers Travis Barman and Katie Morzinski has discovered a Jupiter-like planet within a young star system.

The new planet, called 51 Eridani b, is the first exoplanet discovered by the Gemini Planet Imager, or GPI, a new instrument operated by an international collaboration headed by Bruce Macintosh, a professor of physics in the Kavli Institute at Stanford University. A million times fainter than its star (51 Eridani), 51 Eri b shows the strongest methane signature ever detected in the atmosphere of an alien planet, which should yield additional clues about how the planet formed.

"51 Eri b is the first young planet that probably looks like Jupiter did billions of years ago, making it currently our most important corner piece of the planet formation jigsaw puzzle," said Barman, a UA associate professor of planetary sciences and a leading theorist on the GPI team. "The current properties of 51 Eri b may hold a record of its formation history, and future studies of its atmosphere will hopefully unlock new information about planet formation in general."

The team’s results were published in the online edition of Science on Thursday.

A Clear Line of Sight

The GPI was designed specifically for discovering and analyzing faint, young planets orbiting bright stars. In contrast, NASA's Kepler mission indirectly discovers planets by the loss of starlight when a planet blocks a star.

"To detect planets, Kepler sees their shadow, GPI sees their glow," Macintosh said. "What GPI does is called direct imaging. The astronomers use adaptive optics to sharpen the image of a star, and then block out the starlight. Any remaining incoming light is then analyzed, the brightest spots indicating a possible planet."

After GPI was installed on the 8-meter Gemini South Telescope in Chile, the team set out to look for planets orbiting young stars. They have looked at almost a hundred stars so far.

"This is exactly the kind of planet we envisioned discovering when we designed GPI," said James Graham, professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and project scientist for GPI.

As far as the cosmic clock is concerned, the star 51 Eridani is young — only 20 million years old — which is exactly what made the direct detection of its planet possible. When planets coalesce, material falling into the planet releases energy and heats it up. During the first hundred million years, it radiates that energy away, mostly as infrared light.

Once the astronomers zeroed in on the star, they blocked its light and spotted 51 Eri b orbiting a little farther away from its parent star than Saturn does from our sun. The light from the planet is very faint — more than 3 million times fainter than its star — but GPI can see it clearly. Observations revealed the planet is roughly twice the mass of Jupiter. Other directly imaged planets are five times the mass of Jupiter or more.   

When GPI takes images, it does so across many wavelengths of light simultaneously, allowing astronomers to detect the presence of different gasses in a planet’s atmosphere. The first images taken with GPI immediately revealed obvious signs of abundant methane gas in the atmosphere of 51 Eri b — the strongest methane signal measured among the exoplanets discovered so far. 

Methane is an important molecule in Jupiter’s atmosphere, and it is natural to expect it in gas giants orbiting other stars. The few planets imaged so far, however, are a bit peculiar and appear to contain only small amounts of methane. 51 Eri b is the first that truly looks methane rich and "Jupiter-like." Of course, it’s not exactly like Jupiter. The planet is so young it’s still shining with energy released from its formation — a temperature of 700 degrees Fahrenheit, hot enough to melt lead.

"Many of the exoplanets that astronomers have imaged before have atmospheres that look like very cool stars," said Macintosh, who led the construction of GPI and now leads the planet-hunting survey. "This one looks like a planet."

Said Barman: "The presence of methane is an important indicator of low temperature, and low temperature is one indicator that 51 Eri b is close to the mass of Jupiter. We have been searching for evidence of methane since the first exoplanet was discovered, as it implies conditions similar to what we see in the atmospheres of our own giant planets in the solar system. To have found such an extraordinary example of a methane-rich atmosphere so early in our survey with GPI is really encouraging."

The Key to the Solar System?

One of the best ways to learn how our solar system formed and has evolved is by studying younger star systems in the early stages of development. In addition to expanding the universe of known planets, GPI will provide key clues as to how other solar systems form.

"The exoplanets that are easiest to detect are so close to their stars that they are scorched. But the exoplanets we can detect with GPI are cooler worlds, allowing us to study the pristine atmospheres of still-cooling planets like 51 Eri b," said Morzinski, an assistant astronomer at the UA’s Steward Observatory. "Direct imaging gives us access to planets that are most similar to the giant planets in our own solar system."

Astronomers believe that the gas giants in our solar system formed by building up a large core over a few million years and then pulling in a huge amount of hydrogen and other gases to form an atmosphere.

But the Jupiter-like exoplanets that have so far been discovered are much hotter than some models have predicted. This suggests that they could have formed much faster, as material collapses quickly to make a very hot planet. This is an important difference. The core-buildup process also can form rocky planets like the Earth; a fast and hot collapse might only make giant gassy planets. 51 Eridani b is young enough that it "remembers" its formation.

There are hundreds of planets a little bigger than Earth out there, Macintosh said, but there is so far no way to know if they are really "super-Earths" or just micro-size gas and ice planets like Neptune — or something different altogether. Using GPI to study more young solar systems such as 51 Eridani, he said, will help astronomers understand the formation of our neighbor planets, and how common that planet-forming mechanism is throughout the universe.

Editor: dougcarrollByline: Bjorn Carey, Stanford University Byline Affiliation: and Mari N. Jensen, UA College of ScienceHeader image: YesNo Image: Subheading: An international team of scientists that includes the UA's Travis Barman and Katie Morzinski has discovered a new exoplanet using the latest planet-hunting tool, the Gemini Planet Imager. Include in UANow: yesInclude in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: noIncludes video: 

Fellow Challenged Perceptions of 'Indian'

Tue, 08/11/2015 - 6:18pm

I have been back in Tucson for about 60 hours now.

My travel day was intense — probably more stressful than the original road trip to the East Coast. Operating on no sleep and learning that my shuttle driver had overslept, thus making me late to my early morning flight, was frustrating. With the flight rescheduled, I nodded off about 20 times for five minutes at a time … on my bags … in the airport. Yes, I was that person.

After a 22-hour travel day, I was reunited with my sister Cydney. Although I was incredibly sad to leave the East Coast and all of the wonderful people I had met, it was so great to see her smiling face again. We spent the subsequent day doing nothing together. It was nice to reflect and recoup after an intense last week of the Peabody Essex Museum's Native American Fellowship and my crazy travel day.

Already, I am very much missing the other three fellows — Alexandra Nahwegahbow, Halena Kapuni-Reynolds and Jordan Dresser. After living and working with them for 10 weeks, we became family, so much so that we had "family dinners" almost every Sunday evening after going to Devereux Beach for our "Sunday Funday Beach Days."

Fellows (from left) Jordan Dresser, Alex Nahwegahbow, Ashley Tsosie-Mahieu and Halena Kapuni-Reynolds. (Photo: Kathy Tarantola)

We also traveled to Boston together twice, once as a part of our fellowship program and another time on our own to do a "museum crawl," attempting to go to as many museums as possible in one day. We made it to only three.

During my fellowship at PEM, I found an equilibrium between serious work (see my previous column) and seriously fun work.

The bulk of my work for the summer involved the upcoming Native Fashion Now exhibition, featuring designs by contemporary Native American artists from what is now the United States and Canada. There are around 150 total pieces in the exhibit, including the typical items you’d expect to see — boots and shoes, dresses and skirts, and pants and T-shirts — and other, less traditional objects, such as an arrow quiver bag, parasols and skateboard decks.

Native Fashion Now, which consists of six galleries, may be surprising for some, namely those who expect to see stereotypical Indian imagery in every item in the exhibit. The exhibit includes the work of Patricia Michaels (Taos Pueblo) of Project RunwayOrlando Dugi (Diné ), Alano Edzerza (Tahltan), Elizabeth James-Perry (Aquinnah Wampanoag), Pat Pruitt (Laguna Pueblo) and groundbreaking Native designers such as the late Lloyd Kiva New (Cherokee), often praised as the father of contemporary Native fashion.

Because all of the pieces were created after 1950 (excepting an outfit styled by fashion maven Iris Apfel), with the vast majority designed in the past five years, a cosmopolitan atmosphere permeates the overall exhibition. With materials as diverse as holographic lambskin, Mylar, stingray leather, Tahitian pearls and vinyl, Native Fashion Now designers deviate from the feathers, beads and buckskin that a mainstream audience may expect in anything "Indian." Instead, these designers elevate Native fashion to a provocative and revered art form, thus broadening and challenging perceptions of "Indian."

A low-tech prototype of PEM's Native Fashion Now moodboards. (Photo: Karen Kramer)

I was tasked with choosing mannequins for each of the ensembles in the show. During my second week of work, I went through PEM's mannequin inventory accumulated from former fashion exhibitions: "Rare Bird of Fashion: The Irreverent Iris Apfel" (2009-2010) and "Future Beauty: Avant-Garde Japanese Fashion" (2013-2014). After learning the differences in mannequin brands and studying how the forms were positioned, I helped my supervisor, Karen Kramer, select the mannequin that would best display each full outfit. 

With misguided images and ideas of Native peoples embedded in the social fabric of mainstream society, Native Fashion Now designers, through the vehicle of PEM, use their own fabrics, materials and creativity to express themselves, compelling viewers to rethink their ideas of contemporary Native peoples, communities and cultures.

Native Fashion Now is on view at PEM Nov. 21 through March 6, 2016. It then travels to the Portland Art Museum, the Philbrook Museum of Art in Tulsa and the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of the American Indian in New York City.

Also as a part of my fellowship, I was fortunate to travel with my supervisor to New York City one weekend. It was my first time there, and it was a whirlwind experience. We started off at the Museum of Arts and Design to see the "Ralph Pucci: The Art of the Mannequin" exhibition. We then ventured over to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for the "China: Through the Looking Glass" fashion exhibition. The Met's exhibit was huge. There were so many incredible items on display, including to-die-for Valentino and Yves Saint Laurent dresses, exquisite headpieces tailored to 100 of the ensembles, and a dress made entirely of porcelain.

The PEM group (from Left) : Michelle Moon, Ashley Tsosie-Mahieu, Halena Kapuni-Reynolds, Alex Nahwegahbow, Jordan Dresser and Karen Kramer outside of PEM. (Photo: Kathy Tarantola)

All of the places we visited were sources of inspiration and research for the Native Fashion Now exhibition.

I was able to put my writing and editing skills to use for the Native fashion exhibit. A companion Native Fashion Now book will be released along with the exhibition. I reviewed the final versions of the book and made suggested edits, many of which were incorporated into the final version. I also wrote the first draft of the exhibit's tombstones, which are identification labels providing the most basic information about an object. I assisted in writing the first draft of the extended text labels, which provide more information about each gallery and interpret objects within the galleries.

Alex Nahwegahbow, Karen Kramer and Ashley Tsosie-Mahieu. (Photo: Kathy Tarantola)

Being trusted to do some of these major tasks gave me a strong sense of empowerment. Going to work every day was so fulfilling, knowing that I was making important contributions toward the Native Fashion Now exhibition. Although this was a short summer fellowship, in learning from Kramer about all things curatorial I truly experienced what it is like to be an assistant curator.

My experience at PEM is one that I’ll remember always. Not only a fantastic learning and professional experience, it was a time of growth and renewal. No matter how big or small the task, it was an honor to be a part of this exciting — and what I think will be a transformative — exhibition and educational experience.

Ashley Tsosie-Mahieu, a doctoral student in the UA's American Indian Studies program, was one of four students selected as a 2015 UANews student columnist. The columnist initiative was launched in June by UANews and provided students the opportunity to share insights about the work and research they did over the summer in various parts of the U.S. and abroad. It was the UA's 100% Engagement initiative in action, and the experiences will prepare the students to be real-world ready upon graduation.

Categories: Teaching and StudentsThis is a Wildcat Corner feature: Images: Tags: 2015 UANews Student ColumnistByline: Ashley Tsosie-Mahieu, 2015 UANews Student Columnist |UANow Image: Editor: dougcarrollInclude in UANow: 0Date of Publication: Wednesday, August 12, 2015Medium Summary: As the Peabody Essex Museum's Native American fellow, Ashley Tsosie-Mahieu contributed to a major exhibition and a new publication. Feature on Front: YesShort Summary: Ashley Tsosie-Mahieu contributed to a major exhibition and new publication. Send to Never Settle Site: 0UA in the News Spotlight: Includes video: 

Looking for the Missing Link in RNA Molecules

Tue, 08/11/2015 - 3:46pm

There is a theory that RNA, instead of DNA, is the original building block of all life, yet many RNA molecules remain mysterious.

Now, with an award of more than $2.5 million from the National Science Foundation's Plant Genome Research Program, three scientists are setting out to study the true nature of a class of largely understudied RNA molecules known as lncRNA.

Long non-coding ribonucleic acid molecules, or lncRNA, are a large group of RNAs that do not provide genetic code for proteins, as RNA initially was understood to do.

Instead, these strange molecules appear to function in numerous biological processes at the cellular level, often affecting tissues in many organisms.

"About 50 years ago, the idea emerged that the first molecule of life was RNA, before DNA and before protein," said Eric Lyons, iPlant Collaborative co-principal investigator and assistant professor in the UA's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. "RNA was discovered to be able to not only carry genetic information, but also to catalyze biochemical reactions. It's similar to DNA, but it's more flexible."

DNA molecules only carry genetic information and are not known to work on cellular processes at all. Lyons explained that RNA's flexibility allows it to adopt more complex structures — and hence more diverse functions — than DNA.

"RNA isn't just this intermediary of genetic information flowing from the genome into proteins," Lyons said. "RNA has a huge role in the regulation of nearly all cellular processes, including the activity of individual genes, chromosomes and whole genomes."

"This is an underappreciated class of genetic elements," said Mark Beilstein, also an assistant professor in the School of Plant Sciences at the UA's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. "While the field of genetics has focused in large part on the functions of genes, investigations into the biology of lncRNA molecules are just now gaining steam. Uncovering the functions of lncRNA molecules is an important next step in elucidating how information flows from genomic DNA to RNA and proteins responsible for carrying out the work of the cell."

The NSF grant will enable the researchers to investigate lncRNA functions in several different plant species, seeking to identify and classify the molecules and to understand their roles in plant cellular processes.

Different lncRNA molecules are genetically expressed at different times in a plant's life cycle, including in response to stressors such as drought or soils with high salt content.

"We want to know whether plants under stress make lncRNA molecules to redesign the plant's gene expression program in response to that stress," Lyons said.

If the researchers can untangle the functions of lncRNA, Lyons said, "it could have huge economic implications for how we could modify plants to be better suited to survive different environmental stresses. As we begin to understand the importance of the regulation of the cell by RNA, we start to see our world expand immensely."

The research project is expected to take four years, over the course of which "we hope to gain a greater understanding of this potentially important class of molecules, their biology and their function in the cell nucleus," said Brian Gregory, an assistant professor of biology at the University of Pennsylvania and a leading expert in RNA regulation of cellular processes.

Gregory will use a new technique developed in his lab called PIP-seq to isolate lncRNA molecules from the nuclei of plant cells, and visualize genetic material that never has been observed before.

Beilstein, a comparative evolutionary biologist at the UA, will unravel and identify the different groups of lncRNA molecules as they are isolated from the study plants. The inter-relation of the lncRNA may give clues to help the scientists understand how the molecules have evolved their current structure and function.

Lyons will provide for the team's data management.

The iPlant Collaborative is the pre-eminent NSF-supported project to develop scalable infrastructure for the life sciences. The research team will leverage iPlant's big data storage and computational support for the array of genetic information they will collect as they identify lncRNA molecules.

"We're going to need scalable data management, visualization and analysis platforms to organize data and make it broadly available to the wider research community," Lyons said. The final dataset will be integrated with publicly available data, opening the doors for future science discoveries.

Throughout the project, teams of postdoctoral researchers will rotate through the three research environments and work with each of the three scientists to learn how different specialties of science help advance discoveries beyond the potential of any one scientific field.

"That hybrid of skills and ability to communicate readily across different team environments will be essential for the next generation scientific workforce," Lyons said.

The researchers also will instruct a class at both the UA and Penn, involving the students in real scientific discovery by teaching them how to assist with the project's data analysis.

"This project is a great example of people coming together around iPlant core technology, building extensions that answer one need but that are in turn used as foundations for other endeavors," Lyons said.

Editor: dougcarrollWriter: Shelley LittinByline: Shelley LittinByline Affiliation: iPlant CollaborativeHeader image: YesNo Image: Subheading: A UA-led research team will use the iPlant Collaborative’s big data management tools to unravel the secrets of little-understood lncRNA molecules, which may be involved in cellular regulation.Include in UANow: yesInclude in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: noIncludes video: 

Intern's Work with Tech Company to Continue

Tue, 08/11/2015 - 12:21pm

The summer of 2015 at Aztera has been quite an experience of growth for me.

I learned on the job, and gained a deeper understanding of the intricacies and fine details required to run a successful business. I helped acquire an Unmanned Aerial Systems, or UAS, company, which has turned out to be one of the most promising opportunities I have ever worked on. I visited an army base, Fort Huachuca, for the first time and took a classified tour of the world’s largest operational UAS training facilities.

Our CEO, Manny Teran, gave me the nickname "Oppenheimer" — which does not make sense, seeing as I am not a nuclear physicist, nor does the name Oppenheimer contain fewer syllables than Andrew — but I roll with it. I even had my own intern, which gave me the opportunity to be a leader and a mentor on my own projects.

Having the chance to help develop our new UAS company has been an absolute blessing in disguise. It gave me the opportunity to actually work directly in the aerospace industry, something that was new for most of our team. This allowed me to apply my (albeit limited) engineering knowledge, in conjunction with developing a strategic business model, to transition our crazy-cool technologies out of purely military applications and into the commercial sector. I met and worked with some incredibly diverse and inspiring people during the company’s startup-survival mode so far, and I hope to meet many more during the rest of the journey.

Working at Aztera has also introduced me to a workplace environment full of strong community, friendship, jocularity and drive.

I often found myself laughing and joking with co-workers and superiors, an aspect many are not fortunate to have during their career. Every Thursday is something special. A different employee at Aztera brings in a home-cooked meal — or, if cooking is not their forte, they order from a restaurant — for the entire staff to eat for lunch. “Lunch Club,” as it is called, seemed like a funny idea to me before I started working this summer, but it has shown me how important it is to promote communal activities and a connected culture among employees within a workplace. If I am ever lucky enough to be at the helm of my own successful company, hopefully I can implement a similar culture.

The true value of my internship was not the paycheck, and not the resume bullet point — but I knew that going into the summer. The true value was my collection of business cards and my ever-expanding network. The true value was the opportunity to be involved in real, exciting, technological and often entrepreneurial business development. What I learned during this internship will loop directly back into, and fuel, my own motor as an aspiring entrepreneur.

As I look back on my summer, I am thankful for the opportunity I had, and I am excited for the future — a future that now holds many more opportunities than it would have had I just sat on a couch daydreaming all summer. Dreams are crucial to success, in my opinion. If you dream it, it will become a reality (within the limits of physics). However, a dream requires action, or else nothing will happen and it shall remain merely a thought, an imagination.

The best way to dream is to dream while doing. Take what you are learning and accomplishing in real time, while the passion is raw and adrenaline is high, and apply it to near-term and long-term goals. Then watch yourself stroll down the very path you imagined, on the way to your own predetermined definition of success and happiness.

My very own experiences are the ammunition behind these statements, and each step I take as I pursue my goals verifies that I should keep dreaming.

Luckily, I will continue to work at Aztera during the academic year as my undergraduate journey comes to an end. I will continue to help head the UAS business development efforts, with the opportunity to work on other promising new technologies as well. One step at a time, I will continue pursuing my dream of making an impact on society through starting my own private space company, and I cannot wait to see where my next opportunity emerges. I hope you have enjoyed reading my columns as much as I enjoyed writing them, and I suggest you take a step back and realize the full potential of your dreams as well.

Photo: John de Dios/UANews

Andrew Granatstein, an Honors College student studying aerospace engineering who is also a student in the McGuire Entrepreneurship Program, was one of four students selected as a 2015 UANews student columnist. The columnist initiative was launched in June by UANews and provided students the opportunity to share insights about the work and research they did over the summer in various parts of the United States and abroad. It was the UA's 100% Engagement in action, and the students' experiences will prepare them to be real-world ready upon graduation.

Categories: Science and TechnologyTeaching and StudentsThis is a Wildcat Corner feature: Images: Tags: 2015 UANews Student ColumnistStudentsStudent LifeByline: Andrew Granatstein, 2015 UANews Student Columnist |Editor: dougcarrollInclude in UANow: 0Date of Publication: Wednesday, August 12, 2015Medium Summary: After a successful summer, intern Andrew Granatstein will continue on with Aztera. Feature on Front: YesShort Summary: After a successful summer, intern Andrew Granatstein will continue on with Aztera. Send to Never Settle Site: 0UA in the News Spotlight: Includes video: 

Making Engagement Work Online

Mon, 08/10/2015 - 3:46pm

Can the University of Arizona's initiative of 100% Engagement mesh with UA Online? 

Vincent Del Casino, the UA's vice provost of digital learning and student engagement, and Melody Buckner, director of digital learning, think the two are a good fit.

"Our online students need as much in terms of experiential education as our face-to-face students do," Del Casino says. "Whatever we're putting into the main campus, we're building into UA Online."

Visual discussion boards are one tool that is being used to enhance online classrooms.

"We are morphing our educational mode to be what people are doing in real life, which is through technology," Buckner said, noting that engagement takes many forms in the Digital Age.

Video Thumbnail: Category(s): Teaching and StudentsYouTube Video:  UA Online-Commitment to 100% Engagement Video of UA Online-Commitment to 100% Engagement Feature Sticky: OffFeature on Front: NoMedium Summary: Online learning need not be a barrier to student engagement. With UA Online, there are aspects of technology for which engagement is natural, say Vincent Del Casino and Melody Buckner.UANow Image: Date of Publication: Monday, August 10, 2015Send to Never Settle Site: 0Includes video: The story include video

The All-Seeing Eyes of OSIRIS-REx

Mon, 08/10/2015 - 2:51pm

Soon after the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft blasts into the sky over Cape Canaveral, Florida, in September 2016 and glides through space while Earth is shrinking to a mere dot in the black void, it will rely on a sophisticated set of electronic eyes designed and made by UA scientists and engineers for all tasks during its mission.

Later this month, the OSIRIS-REx Camera Suite, or OCAMS, will be delivered to the Lockheed Martin spacecraft assembly facility in Littleton, Colorado, to be integrated into the spacecraft structure, ahead of schedule.

OCAMS is a set of three cameras designed to support the mission to the asteroid Bennu through all of its phases, from approach to sample collection.

"The camera suite on board the spacecraft is similar to a lookout perched in the crow’s nest of a tall ship," said OCAMS instrument scientist Bashar Rizk, who has been with the OSIRIS-REx team nearly from the beginning in 2006. "This scout must observe Bennu as we approach, survey and recon the asteroid, and tell the ship’s navigator where the hazards are located."

The design of OCAMS will allow the mission to image Bennu from spotting the target asteroid over an initial distance of more than a million miles all the way to monitoring the sampling process 10 feet from Bennu's surface, Rizk said.

Rizk said the overall design principle of the three cameras, which have been designed, constructed and tested over the past four years at the UA's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, is not unlike that of the human eye.

"The three OCAMS cameras differ from each other, but they belong to the same family," he said. "They use identical detector assemblies — 'retinas,' if you will — to record the images they acquire. They each possess mechanisms actuated by identical motors — think 'muscles' — and they share the same unified electronics controller that serves as their 'brain.'"

Together, these three visual siblings greatly increase the spacecraft’s ability to successfully navigate, explore and sample Bennu. By supplying OCAMS under a $40 million contract from NASA, the UA provides a sizable contribution to the OSIRIS-REx mission in addition to leading the mission and serving as its headquarters.

OSIRIS-REx will be the first U.S. mission to return samples from an asteroid to Earth. The spacecraft is scheduled to bring back a sample of at least 60 grams (2.1 ounces) for study.

OSIRIS-REx carries five instruments that will remotely evaluate the surface of Bennu. The mission will help scientists investigate the composition of the very early solar system and the source of organic materials and water that made their way to Earth, and improve the understanding of asteroids that could impact our planet. The spacecraft will reach Bennu in 2018 and return a sample to Earth in 2023.

Scooping up a sample from a space rock hundreds of millions of miles from Earth is no small feat. The complexity of the mission is one of the reasons the spacecraft is fitted with three cameras. The other is redundancy: The cameras can provide backup if the need arises.

"Our mission tries to attempt a lot of things at the same time," Rizk said. "Navigation, mapping, reconnaissance, sample site selection, sampling — we do it on the same trip, so we need to understand what is going on at the asteroid at all times, so we can make decisions in real time when we're there. The most important goal of these cameras is to maximize the chances of successfully bringing back a sample."

Here are the basics on the three cameras and their respective functions:

  • PolyCam: Similar to a scout's spyglass, this instrument is essentially an 8-inch telescope that doubles as a microscope. It will be the first to spot the asteroid from a million miles away. Once closer, PolyCam will help identify dangerous areas on the asteroid’s surface by spotting and mapping large boulders and rocks, and characterize a dozen prospective sample sites in detail. It has a focus mechanism that converts it from a telescope into a microscope, "allowing our scout to scrutinize the tiniest rocks and pebbles on the asteroid to ensure that they are small enough to fit into the sample head," Rizk said. "It is this dual nature —telescope turned microscope — that gives the PolyCam its name, because it's the polymath among the three OCAMS instruments."
  • MapCam: The medium-resolution Mapping Camera, or MapCam, will search for potential hazards to the spacecraft, such as small rocks trapped in Bennu's orbit, or outgassing plumes. MapCam will map the entire surface of Bennu from a safe distance of three miles, watching Bennu spin through a whole asteroid day every four hours and 20 minutes.
  • SamCam: Once a suitable sampling site has been identified, the Sampling Camera, or SamCam, continuously documents the spacecraft's final trip onto the asteroid's surface and the sampling sequence. OSIRIS-REx is equipped to make three attempts at scooping up a sample of material from Bennu's surface. SamCam watches as the spacecraft’s sampling arm touches the surface and jets of nitrogen gas blow pebbles and dust into the sampling chamber. During sampling, SamCam wears "safety goggles" in the form of one of three filters that are placed in front of the lens. "Some of the filters carried by the cameras have power like reading glasses," Rizk said. "SamCam has one that allows it to look as closely as six feet from the sample canister to make sure the sample is in there before it gets sealed in the return capsule."

PolyCam's optics and structure were made through a joint program between the UA College of Optical Sciences and LPL, while SamCam and MapCam were made exclusively by LPL. Only the detectors itself were acquired from outside the UA, Teledyne DALSA's custom division in Waterloo, Ontario, while Space Dynamics Laboratory of Utah State University Research Foundation in Logan, Utah, provided the detector read-out assemblies. LPL engineers and technicians also completed the final assembly of all OCAMS components, ensured their functionality and calibrated them.

Now that OCAMS is being delivered to be readied for its journey into space, it leaves a lasting legacy for the UA: PolyCam's focus mechanism has been patented as LPL's first patent, and while the team that built the cameras has done its work, an engineering center will remain at LPL to take on outside work from companies such as Raytheon and others.

"It has been a good collaboration," Rizk said. "One of the advantages of the University is that it pools expertise, in this case Steward Observatory, LPL and the College of Optical Sciences, to accomplish things no single unit could accomplish on its own."

OCAMS benefited from the UA's long and rich heritage in space science and space hardware. Its design was informed by DISR, the Descent Imager/Spectral Radiometer carried by the Huygens probe, which landed on and provided the first images from the surface of Saturn's moon Titan as part of the Cassini mission. For that project, Rizk worked with Peter Smith, who would later become principal investigator of the Phoenix Mars Lander mission, and also with Chuck Fellows, who would later become program manager for OCAMS. Also leading an experiment on Phoenix was Bill Boynton, who is currently the OSIRIS-REx mission instrument scientist.

"Peter and Bill assembled a high-powered crew of engineers for Phoenix, many of which are on the OCAMS project," Rizk said. "We're like a family, we have many ties and shared technical experience. That's very important on a project like this."

The UA's involvement in the Huygens probe led to several Mars missions, such as Pathfinder, the Phoenix Lander and HiRISE — and now OSIRIS-REx, Rizk said.

"What really carries over is the people working on those things," he said, "and their combined lab facilities, expertise and acquired experience."

The OCAMS team is led by Fellows, deputy program manager Cat Merrill, Rizk and Christian d'Aubigny, who serves as the deputy instrument scientist and lead optical engineer.

"I have especially enjoyed working with our students," Rizk said. "At least a dozen undergraduates have been working on this project, and they get to do everything from systems engineering to mechanical engineering, from electronic engineering to testing, all the way to business management."

Editor: dougcarrollWriter: Daniel StolteByline: Daniel StolteByline Affiliation: University Relations - CommunicationsHeader image: YesNo Image: Subheading: Introducing PolyCam, MapCam and SamCam, the three UA-built cameras that will guide the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft to its target asteroid, Bennu, and document the sampling mission.Include in UANow: yesInclude in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: noUANow Image: Includes video: