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Science Lecture Series to Explore Life in the Universe

Tue, 01/20/2015 - 10:48

For its 10th anniversary, the University of Arizona College of Science's popular spring lecture series will present seven free lectures exploring various aspects of life in the universe.

The first lecture will be on Monday, Jan. 26, at 7 p.m. in Centennial Hall on the UA campus.

Life as we know it produces complex order. Earth's many life forms are diverse and continually changing through birth, growth and evolution. The series will investigate questions including: What is life? How do we recognize it?

To understand life in the universe, we ask: What environments produce life and which attributes make something alive? How does life change? Is there life in our solar system or on one of countless exoplanets? Is there a connection between life on Earth and life elsewhere — or are we alone?

All "Life in the Universe" lectures are free and open to the public. The lectures will be held at Centennial Hall, 1020 E. University Blvd., on the UA campus. Parking is available on a pay-per-use basis in the Tyndall Avenue Garage, 880 E. Fourth St.

The scheduled lectures:

Jan. 26 — What is Life?

Guy J. Consolmagno, SJ, planetary scientist, Vatican Observatory Research Group

Throughout history, our definition of "life" reflects our assumptions about how the universe works – and why we ask the question. The ways different human cultures, ancient and current, have talked about life provide some sense of how we have defined life and illustrate the aspects of life that fascinate us. Many cultures used life as an analog to explain the movement of winds and currents or the motions of the planets. Today we use those mechanical systems as analogs for life. Ultimately, we may not really know what life is until we have discovered more than one independent example of it on places other than Earth: We need many diverse examples before we can generalize. But without a definition of what we're looking for and why we're looking, we may have a hard time recognizing life when we find it.

Feb. 2 — Planet Formation and the Origin of Life

Dante S. Lauretta, professor, planetary sciences/Lunar and Planetary Laboratory

It is generally accepted that planets or their satellites are required for life to originate and evolve. Thus, to understand the possible distribution of life in the universe, it is important to study planet formation and evolution. These processes are recorded in the chemistry and mineralogy of asteroids and comets and in the geology of ancient planetary surfaces in our solar system. Evidence can also be seen in the many examples of ongoing planet formation in nearby regions of our galaxy. Finally, the variety of observable extra-solar planetary systems also provides insight into their origins and potential for life. These records will be discussed and compared in order to summarize our current understanding of planet formation and the accompanying processes that may lead to the origin of life throughout the universe.

Feb. 9 — Life on Earth: By Chance or By Law?

Brian J. Enquist, professor, ecology and evolutionary biology

Life on Earth is amazing and multifaceted. Ultimately all of life has descended from one common ancestor and has been guided by evolution by natural selection. On the one hand, the evolution of modern-day diversity and ecosystems may have been contingent on the initial chemical building blocks of life and the historical events that have characterized our planet over geologic time. On the other hand, there are numerous aspects of life pointing to regular and deterministic processes that shape the complexity and diversity of life. This talk will touch on those examples where the laws of chemistry and physics, in addition to evolutionary rules, have resulted in general properties of life. These properties ultimately determine how long we live, the diversity of life, the function and regulation of ecosystems and the biosphere, and how life will respond to climate change.

Feb. 16 — Complexity and Evolvability: What Makes Life So Interesting?

Anna R. Dornhaus, associate professor, ecology and evolutionary biology

Life is particularly fascinating in its ability to create complex and ever-changing forms out of simple building blocks. How does such complexity arise, and what are the conditions that allow never-ending evolution of new and more intricate forms of life? We now know that one of the main processes that allows this is that life consists of modules that interact with and feed back on one another. In the history of life on Earth, new levels of complexity have often arisen out of new types of such interactions, and continued evolution has been driven by life interacting with other life. We even find that man-made systems can develop a "life" of their own when such feedback interactions among many modules occur. Life, it seems, is more about rules of interaction than special materials. We have only begun to understand the power of this algorithmic nature of life.

Feb. 23 — Searching for Life in the Solar System

Timothy D. Swindle, professor and head, planetary sciences/Lunar and Planetary Laboratory

When Renaissance scholars figured out that the planets are, like Earth, orbiting the sun, an immediate assumption was that they are inhabited worlds. In the last 50 years, spacecraft have determined that life on the surfaces of planets and moons in the solar system is rare — if it exists at all. However, there are places where a search for life in the solar system may still be fruitful. Although the current surface of Mars is a hostile environment, early Mars may have been much more clement to life. Jupiter's moon Europa is almost certainly barren on the surface, but it has an 'ocean' of liquid water underneath a crust of ice where some terrestrial organisms might be able to thrive. Finally, Saturn's moon Titan would not be suitable for life from Earth, but has rain and seas of liquid hydrocarbons, raising questions about whether life needs liquid water or just needs some abundant liquid.

March 2 — Amazing Discoveries: A Billion Earth-like Worlds

Laird M. Close, professor, astronomy/Steward Observatory

One of the most fascinating developments in the last two decades is humankind's discovery of alien worlds orbiting stars near our sun. Since the first such discovery in 1995 there has been a truly exponential growth in the detection of these new planets. Scientists have been puzzled and surprised by the diversity and extravagance of these new extra-solar systems. For example, we now know the most common type of planet is actually missing from our own solar system. Recently, the space-based NASA Kepler Mission has discovered thousands of new worlds and suggests that one in five sun-like stars may harbor an Earth-like planet. We will take a grand tour of some of these amazing new worlds, specifically noting where life might already exist beyond our solar system. The latest developments and difficulties of direct imaging for life on an exoplanet will be discussed.

March 9 — Intelligent Life Beyond Earth

Christopher D. Impey, University Distinguished Professor, astronomy

One question rises above all others when it comes to our place in a vast and ancient universe: Are we alone? With a billion habitable locations in the Milky Way galaxy and more than ten billion years for biological experiments to play out, a search for intelligent life beyond Earth is well-motivated. Unfortunately, the single example of life on Earth gives no clear indication of whether intelligence is an inevitable or an extremely rare consequence of biological evolution. The search for extraterrestrial intelligence, or SETI, is more appropriately called the search for extraterrestrial technology. So far, the search for intelligent aliens by their electromagnetic communication has met with half a century of stony silence. It's challenging to define life — and even more difficult to make general definitions of intelligence and technology. We'll look at the premises and assumptions involved in the search, the strategies used and the profound consequences of making contact.

Funding for the UA College of Science Spring 2015 Lecture Series is provided by: Arizona Daily Star; Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona; Galileo Circle; Godat Design; Holualoa Companies; Hugh and Allyn Thompson; Marshall Foundation; Miraval Resort & Spa; Raytheon; Research Corporation for Science Advancement; Tucson Electric Power; Vantage West Credit Union; and Ventana Medical Systems Inc.

Editor: dougcarrollByline Affiliation: UA College of ScienceWhat: 'Life in the Universe' Lecture SeriesWhere: Mondays, Jan. 26 to March 9, at 7 p.m.When: Centennial Hall, 1020 E. University Blvd. Visitor pay parking is available in the Tyndall Avenue Garage, 880 E. Fourth St.Extra Info: 

All lectures are free and open to the public. To learn more, visit the College of Science Spring 2015 Lectures website,


Header image: YesNo Image: Subheading: This year marks the 10th anniversary of the popular UA College of Science Lecture Series. Kicking off on Jan. 26, the series will explore life in our universe on biological, planetary and cosmic scales. Include in UANow: yesInclude in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: noUANow Image: Includes video: 

Classroom Innovator: Paul Blowers

Fri, 01/16/2015 - 11:55

The classroom of the future has arrived at the University of Arizona.

In October, the UA Science-Engineering Library Collaborative Learning Space was introduced as part of a pilot project intended to reform instruction and improve learning.

The space paralleled other improvements since the launch of the UA AAU Undergraduate STEM Education Project at the end of the spring semester in 2013. It was deemed a success by Gail Burd, senior vice provost for academic affairs.

Designed with input from UA administrators, faculty, librarians, space planners, technology specialists and students, the space featured robust Wi-Fi capabilities, allowed for clicker usage and contained dozens of roundtables with movable chairs. It was equipped with audio speakers, projection screens and sliding whiteboards.

Consider how Paul Blowers, a University Distinguished Professor of chemical and environmental engineering, used the surroundings to teach his Chemical Engineering 201 course.

Blowers opened one class session with a brief talk about an airbag recall affecting millions of drivers in the U.S.

"There are engineers trying to solve this problem, trying to figure out how relative humidity causes this problem," he told his students. "You may be solving this problem in the future."

After then sharing a number of entry-level positions open to students who would soon graduate, Blowers involved students in an active review for their next exam: They had to calculate the conversion of certain compounds, such as chloroform.

The students were encouraged to think aloud, collaborate and share with their neighbors — and also to challenge answers presented by their peers and Blowers himself. Blowers interjected intermittently, often to ask clarifying questions or to offer bits of information to guide students in their thinking.

Structured this way, the aha moments came more regularly for students, and they happened in real time.

"Teaching in the pilot space enables an experience that is so vastly different," Blowers said. 

Video Thumbnail: Category(s): Teaching and StudentsYouTube Video:  Classroom Innovation-Paul Blowers Video of Classroom Innovation-Paul Blowers Feature Sticky: OffFeature on Front: NoMedium Summary: Step inside the environment of a UA engineering professor as he uses an experimental space to enhance learning. The first in a periodic series on classroom innovation.UANow Image: Date of Publication: Friday, January 16, 2015Send to Never Settle Site: 0Includes video: 

Three Nearly Earth-Size Planets Found Orbiting Nearby Star

Fri, 01/16/2015 - 09:33

NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope, despite being hobbled by the loss of critical guidance systems, has discovered a star with three planets only slightly larger than Earth. The outermost planet orbits in the "Goldilocks" zone, a region where surface temperatures could be moderate enough for liquid water — and perhaps life — to exist.

The star, EPIC 201367065, is a cool red M-dwarf about half the size and mass of our own sun. At a distance of 150 light-years, the star ranks among the top 10 nearest stars known to have transiting planets. The star’s proximity means it is bright enough for astronomers to study the planets’ atmospheres, to determine whether they are like Earth’s atmosphere and possibly conducive to life.

"A thin atmosphere made of nitrogen and oxygen has allowed life to thrive on Earth. But nature is full of surprises. Many exoplanets discovered by the Kepler mission are enveloped by thick, hydrogen-rich atmospheres that are probably incompatible with life as we know it," said Ian Crossfield, the University of Arizona astronomer who led the study.

A paper describing the find by astronomers at the UA, the University of California, Berkeley, the University of Hawaii, Manoa, and other institutions has been submitted to Astrophysical Journal and is freely available on the arXiv website. NASA and the National Science Foundation funded the research.

Co-authors of the paper include Joshua Schlieder of the NASA Ames Research Center and colleagues from Germany, the United Kingdom and the U.S.

The three planets are 2.1, 1.7 and 1.5 times the size of Earth. The smallest and outermost planet, at 1.5 Earth radii, orbits far enough from its host star that it receives levels of light from its star similar to those received by Earth from the sun, said UC Berkeley graduate student Erik Petigura. He discovered the planets Jan. 6 while conducting a computer analysis of the Kepler data NASA has made available to astronomers. In order from farthest to closest to their star, the three planets receive 10.5, 3.2 and 1.4 times the light intensity of Earth, Petigura calculated.

"Most planets we have found to date are scorched. This system is the closest star with lukewarm transiting planets," Petigura said. "There is a very real possibility that the outermost planet is rocky like Earth, which means this planet could have the right temperature to support liquid water oceans."

University of Hawaii astronomer Andrew Howard noted that extrasolar planets are discovered by the hundreds these days, although many astronomers are left wondering if any of the newfound worlds are really like Earth. The newly discovered planetary system will help resolve this question, he said.

"We’ve learned in the past year that planets the size and temperature of Earth are common in our Milky Way galaxy," Howard said. "We also discovered some Earth-size planets that appear to be made of the same materials as our Earth, mostly rock and iron."

Kepler’s K2 Mission

After Petigura found the planets in the Kepler light curves, the team quickly employed telescopes in Chile, Hawaii and California to characterize the star’s mass, radius, temperature and age. Two of the telescopes involved — the Automated Planet Finder on Mount Hamilton near San Jose, California, and the Keck Telescope on Mauna Kea, Hawaii — are University of California facilities.

The next step will be observations with other telescopes, including the Hubble Space Telescope, to take the spectroscopic fingerprint of the molecules in the planetary atmospheres. If these warm, nearly Earth-size planets have puffy, hydrogen-rich atmospheres, Hubble will see the telltale signal, Petigura said.

The discovery is all the more remarkable, he said, because the Kepler telescope lost two reaction wheels that kept it pointing at a fixed spot in space.

Kepler was reborn in 2014 as "K2" with a clever strategy of pointing the telescope in the plane of Earth’s orbit, the ecliptic, to stabilize the spacecraft. Kepler is now back to mining the cosmos for planets by searching for eclipses or "transits," as planets pass in front of their host stars and periodically block some of the starlight.

"This discovery proves that K2, despite being somewhat compromised, can still find exciting and scientifically compelling planets," Petigura said. "This ingenious new use of Kepler is a testament to the ingenuity of the scientists and engineers at NASA. This discovery shows that Kepler can still do great science."

Kepler sees only a small fraction of the planetary systems in its gaze: only those with orbital planes aligned edge-on to our view from Earth. Planets with large orbital tilts are missed by Kepler. A census of Kepler planets the team conducted in 2013 corrected statistically for these random orbital orientations and concluded that one in five sunlike stars in the Milky Way galaxy has Earth-size planets in the habitable zone. Accounting for other types of stars as well, there may be 40 billion such planets galaxywide.

The original Kepler mission found thousands of small planets, but most of them were too faint and far away to assess their density and composition and thus determine whether they were high-density, rocky planets like Earth or puffy, low-density planets like Uranus and Neptune. Because the star EPIC-201 is nearby, these mass measurements are possible. The host star, an M-dwarf, is less intrinsically bright than the sun, which means that its planets can reside close to the host-star and still enjoy lukewarm temperatures.

According to Howard, the system most like that of EPIC-201 is Kepler-138, an M-dwarf star with three planets of similar size, though none are in the habitable zone. 

Editor: dougcarrollByline: Mari N. JensenByline Affiliation: UA College of ScienceExtra Info: 

•           A nearby M-star with three transiting super-Earths discovered by K2


•           Kepler K2 Mission website

•           Astronomers answer key question: How common are habitable planets? (November 2013)

Header image: YesNo Image: Subheading: A multinational, multi-institution team of researchers led by UA scientist Ian Crossfield has found a star with three planets, one of which may have temperatures moderate enough for liquid water — and maybe even life — to exist.Include in UANow: yesInclude in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: noUANow Image: Includes video: 

UA-Led HiRISE Camera Spots Long-Lost Space Probe on Mars

Thu, 01/15/2015 - 16:16

The UK-led Beagle 2 Mars Lander, thought lost on Mars since 2003, has been found partially deployed on the surface of the planet, ending the mystery of what happened to the mission more than a decade ago.

Images taken by the HiRISE camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, or MRO, and initially searched by Michael Croon of Trier, Germany, a former member of the European Space Agency’s Mars Express operations team at the European Space Operations Centre, have identified clear evidence for the lander and convincing evidence for key entry and descent components on the surface of Mars within the expected landing area of Isidis Planitia, an impact basin close to the equator.

This finding shows that the Entry, Descent and Landing, or EDL, sequence for Beagle 2 worked and the lander did successfully touchdown on Mars on Christmas Day 2003.

"We've been looking for all the past landers with HiRISE, this is the first time we found one that didn't send a signal after it landed," said Alfred McEwen, principal investigator of the HiRISE mission and professor in the UA's Lunar and Planetary Lab. "If the landing sequence works correctly, the probe sends a radio signal, and you can use that to pinpoint where it is coming from, even if it broadcasts only very briefly. But in the case of Beagle 2, we didn't get anything. All we had to go by was the target landing area."

Since the loss of Beagle 2 following its landing timed for Dec. 25, 2003, a search for it has been underway using images taken by the HiRISE camera on the MRO. HiRISE has been taking occasional pictures of the landing site in addition to pursuing its scientific studies of the surface of Mars. The planned landing area for Beagle 2 at the time of launch was approximately 170 x 100 kilometers (105 x 62 miles) within Isidis Planitia. With a fully deployed Beagle 2 being less than a few meters across and a camera image scale of about 0.3 m (10 inches), detection is a very difficult and a painstaking task. The initial detection came from HiRISE images taken on Feb. 28, 2013, and June 29, 2014 (Images ESP_037145_1915 and ESP_030908_1915). Croon had submitted a request through the HiWISH program, which allows anyone to submit suggestions for HiRISE imaging targets.

"He found something that would be a good candidate at the edge of the frame," McEwen said. "But contrast was low in the first image, and it was difficult to convince yourself something special was there."

The team acquired several more images, which showed a bright spot that seemed to move around.

"That was consistent with Beagle 2," McEwen said. "Because its solar panels were arranged in petals, each one would reflect light differently depending on the angles of the sun and MRO, especially if the lander was resting on sloping ground."

The imaging data may be consistent with only a partial deployment of Beagle 2 following landing, which would explain why no signal or data was received from the lander, as full deployment of all solar panels was needed to expose the RF antenna, which would transmit data and receive commands from Earth via orbiting Mars spacecraft.

The HiRISE images reveal only two or three of the motorized solar panels, but that may be due to their favorable tilts for sun glints. According to the UK Space Agency, if some panels failed to deploy, reasons could include obstruction from an airbag remaining in the proximity of the lander due to gas leakage, or a damaged mechanism or structure or broken electrical connection, perhaps due to unexpected shock loads during landing. The scenario of local terrain topology, including rocks blocking the deployment, is considered unlikely given images of the landing area, which show few rocks, but this cannot be ruled out. Further imaging and analysis is planned to narrow the options for what happened. Slope and height derived from the HiRISE images show that Beagle 2 landed on comparable flat terrain with no major hazards.

The discovery benefited from an additional image clean-up step that the HiRISE team has been testing, which removes very subtle electronic noise patterns that have to do with the way the instruments work on the MRO. Sarah Sutton, a HiRISE image processing scientist at LPL who was involved in processing the images that revealed the marooned lander, pointed out that this process is an additional step to make the images "just a little bit clearer."

"We have to be really careful not to modify the science data," said Sutton, who received her bachelor's degree in mathematics from the UA. "We do not make any enhancements or modify the images. All we do is eliminate subtle artifacts from high-frequency electronic noise. The untrained eye would not see it, but I see it.

"When we look at objects that are at the limit of the resolution of HiRISE, like Beagle 2, every bit of image clean-up helps." 

Beagle 2 was part of the ESA Mars Express Mission launched in June 2003. Mars Express is still orbiting Mars and returning scientific data on the planet. Beagle 2 was successfully ejected from ESA’s Mars Express spacecraft on the Dec. 19, 2003 — 5.75 days away from Mars and Mars Express’ engine firing and orbital injection.

Beagle 2 inspired many in the general public and led indirectly to the UK becoming a leading member of ESA’s Aurora program and the UK-led ESA ExoMars mission. This rover will explore Mars in 2019, drilling up to 2 meters (6 feet) beneath the soil to explore the geochemistry and mineralogy of Mars and search for potential evidence of past life.

Animated overlay of HiRISE images showing the Beagle 2 landing site at different times. Lander components show up differently, depending on the angle of sunlight.   Editor: dougcarrollWriter: Daniel StolteByline: Daniel Stolte, University Relations - Communications and UK Space Agency Extra Info: 

Find out more about the discovery process in this video created by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. 

Header image: YesNo Image: Subheading: On Christmas Day 2003, a kitchen table-size lander descended onto the surface of the red planet on a mission to study the Martian surface and potential clues for life. The probe never called home, and no one knew what happened to it. Until now. Include in UANow: yesInclude in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: noIncludes video: 

UA Receives $2 Million for Autism Spectrum Disorders

Thu, 01/15/2015 - 12:19

The Steele Children's Research Center at the University of Arizona College of Medicine – Tucson has received a four-year, $2 million grant from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to continue its Arizona Developmental Disabilities Surveillance Program.

The surveillance program, which has conducted autism spectrum disorders surveillance in Arizona since 2000 as part of the Autism and Developmental Disability Monitoring Network, is part of a multisite effort to track such disorders and also intellectual disabilities among U.S. schoolchildren.

The UA pediatrics team reviews thousands of special education and clinic records each study year to report on the number of 4- and 8-year-old children with autism spectrum disorders and/or intellectual disabilities and on the demographic and behavioral characteristics of the affected children. In study year 2010, the surveillance program reported that approximately one in 64 8-year-olds living in Maricopa County had autism spectrum disorders, an increase from one in 154 children in 2000.   

The study is led by co-principal-investigators Dr. Sydney Pettygrove, an epidemiologist and assistant professor in the UA Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, and Margaret Kurzius-Spencer, an assistant professor in the UA Department of Pediatrics and the Steele Center.
"We will continue this intensive effort to monitor the prevalence of ASD and ID among 4- and 8-year-old children," Kurzius-Spencer said. "Our goals are to improve understanding of these disorders and to carry out education and outreach activities, working in tandem with our community partners."

The UA is one of 10 Autism and Developmental Disability Monitoring sites across the country to receive funding in the current grant cycle. The data are collected systematically at these sites and are used by the CDC and others to compare autism spectrum disorders occurrence in different regions, to identify changes in prevalence over time and to improve the understanding of the impact of autism spectrum disorders on the community.

Co-investigators on the project include:

  • Dr. Sydney Rice, an associate professor and developmental pediatrician in the Division of Genetics and Developmental Pediatrics at the Department of Pediatrics and the Steele Center.
  • Jennifer Andrews, coordinator for the Division of Genetics and Developmental Pediatrics at the Department of Pediatrics.
  • Gondy Leroy, an associate professor of management information systems.
  • Paul Hsu, an associate professor in the Division of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the UA Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health. 

Autism spectrum disorders are lifelong developmental disabilities characterized by repetitive or restricted behaviors or interests and marked impairment in social communication and interaction.

These disorders, which begin in early childhood and last throughout a person's life, include autistic disorder, pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified and also Asperger disorder.

"Our next study year will be the definitive work on how the change from the DSM-IV to the DSM-5 criteria affects the prevalence of ASD and will allow us to continue to examine disparities in early screening and identification of ASD," Pettygrove said.

Editor: dougcarrollByline Affiliation: Arizona Health Sciences CenterHeader image: YesNo Image: Subheading: The UA Steele Children’s Research Center has received funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to continue identifying Arizona children who have autism spectrum disorders. Include in UANow: 0Include in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: noUANow Image: Includes video: 

'Molecular Truck' Could Deliver New Treatment

Wed, 01/14/2015 - 17:42

University of Arizona researchers have developed a novel drug and delivery system to treat inflammation and ulcerations in the colon.

The system, a carrier drug the research team has termed a "molecular truck," shows promise in treating ulcerative colitis, one of the two forms of inflammatory bowel disease, or IBD.

The development and testing of the molecular truck was completed by Eugene A. Mash Jr., a professor in the Department of Chemistry and BiochemistryCollege of Science; pediatric gastroenterologist Dr. Fayez K. Ghishan, head of the Department of Pediatrics and director of the UA Steele Children’s Research CenterCollege of Medicine – Tucson; and Pawel Kiela, an associate professor in the Department of Pediatrics and a Steele Center researcher in the area of gastroenterology.

"This drug has the potential to be a major advancement in the treatment of infants and children with ulcerative colitis, who have difficulty taking available medications," Ghishan said.

The study was published in the August 2012 issue of ACS Medicinal Chemistry Letters. Now the invention is patent-pending, and the researchers are working closely with Tech Launch Arizona on the intellectual property and commercialization aspects of the technology. The team's work is an example of interdisciplinary research with market potential, fulfilling key objectives of the University's strategic and financial plan, Never Settle.

A modified version of Olestra serves as a molecular truck for delivery of 5-aminosalicylic acid to the colon.

"We need to find investors and funding to establish a company to complete the developmental and pre-clinical work necessary to bring this new drug to the market," Ghishan said. 

IBD is chronic inflammation in the intestinal tract. The two most common forms are ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. In ulcerative colitis, the inflammation affects the inner lining of the colon (the mucosa), where painful ulcers may develop. With Crohn’s disease, inflammation may affect the entire digestive tract.

Approximately 1.4 million Americans have IBD, and as many as 70,000 new cases are diagnosed in the United States each year. IBD can occur at any age but is most often diagnosed between the ages of 15 and 30. An estimated 50,000 children in the U.S. have IBD, a number that has been increasing in recent years.  Symptoms include severe abdominal pain, diarrhea, vomiting, cramping, fatigue and weight loss. There is no cure, and long-term management can be challenging. 

Aminosalicylates are one of five types of medications used to treat IBD. These compounds contain 5-aminosalicylic acid (5-ASA, mesalamine, mesalazine). Examples are sulfasalazine, balsalazide and olsalazine. These drugs are given either orally or rectally to decrease inflammation. 

Sulfasalazine can cause nausea, heartburn, headache, skin rashes and bone marrow suppression. Although mesalamine, balsalazide and olsalazine have fewer reported side effects, many patients cannot benefit from these drugs because of allergic reactions that cause cramps, abdominal pain and worsened diarrhea.

What’s more, all of the aminosalicylates are available only in large tablet or capsule forms that can be difficult for children to swallow. 

"As is often true in science and medicine, concepts and ideas from one area inspire discoveries in another area," Mash said.

In previous research, Mash had developed a new contrast agent for magnetic resonance imaging that selectively damaged tissue in the GI tract. He consulted with Ghishan and Kiela on a new carrier drug design, and they established four objectives:

  • The drug should be administered orally in the form of a suspension, meaning that it can be added to anything liquid or frozen.
  • The drug should deliver a highly concentrated payload directly to the needed areas of the GI tract.
  • The carrier would pass through the GI tract with little or no absorption or breakdown.
  • The drug would have few, if any, side effects. 

"Since our new drug can be delivered in more palatable forms, it has the potential to increase patient compliance and advance IBD treatment for infants and children," Ghishan said. 

"Our next area of research is to focus delivery of the drug to specific regions of the colon damaged by inflammation. This should lower the drug dosage necessary to achieve the desired outcome."

Editor: dougcarrollByline: Darci SlatenByline Affiliation: Arizona Health Sciences CenterHeader image: YesNo Image: Subheading: System developed by UA researchers shows promise in treating ulcerative colitis in infants and children who have difficulty taking available medications.Include in UANow: yesInclude in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: noUANow Image: Includes video: 

Plunging Into Saturn's Moon

Wed, 01/14/2015 - 15:21

Ten years ago, on Jan. 14, 2005, the first man-made object touched down on an alien world in the outer solar system. To this day, it remains the only one. After a seven-year journey to Saturn, the European probe Huygens detached from NASA's Cassini spacecraft and embarked on a 21-day solo cruise toward Titan, a haze-shrouded moon orbiting Saturn.

Plunging into Titan's atmosphere, the probe survived the hazardous 2 1/2-hour descent to touch down safely on Titan's frozen surface. During descent, a suite of cameras and spectrometers aboard recorded the first detailed images of the moon's surface enshrouded in a thick atmosphere of nitrogen laced with methane and tarlike hydrocarbons.

To highlight the 10th anniversary of the Huygens landing, the European Space Agency has published a movie showing the landing in more detail than ever. Erich Karkoschka, a senior staff scientist in the University of Arizona's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, who was a member of the descent imager instrument team during the Cassini/Huygens mission, produced the animation.

"Huygens took about 300 images on the descent," Karkoschka said. "All the image files combined were about two megabytes, less than one image you would take today with your digital point-and-shoot camera. That was the upper limit of data Huygens could uplink to the orbiting Cassini spacecraft, which would then send them to Earth."

Karkoschka said each image had to be compressed to the average size of a plain-text email message to meet the requirement.

"For this animation, I tried to get rid of the compression artifacts as best as possible, and then I arranged the images together in a mosaic. Once that was done, I could make a movie together of what Huygens saw during its descent."

As the probe hurtled toward the moon's surface, dangling from a parachute and snapping pictures, it spun around its axis, completing 10 turns per minute at one time, then slowing down as it approached the frozen surface.

Just before touching down, Huygens rotated very slowly, turning once every minute, all the while scanning the surroundings with electronic eyes arranged in different viewing perspectives. Karkoschka's movie ends showing the probe from an imaginary bird's-eye view, in the actual location where it is today, long after its batteries have drained, a silent visitor sent from a tiny blue world 746 million miles away.  

Video Thumbnail: Category(s): Science and TechnologyYouTube Video:  Huygens Descent Onto Saturn Moon Titan 2005 Video of Huygens Descent Onto Saturn Moon Titan 2005 Feature Sticky: OffFeature on Front: NoMedium Summary: Erich Karkoschka of the UA's Lunar and Planetary Lab created an animation to highlight the 10th anniversary of the first (and only) landing in the outer solar system. Copyright: Erich Karkoschka/University of ArizonaUANow Image: Date of Publication: Wednesday, January 14, 2015Send to Never Settle Site: 0Includes video: 

Mediterranean Diet How-To Guide

Tue, 01/13/2015 - 12:12

The Mediterranean diet is not merely about eating but about healthy living.

Beginning this month, the University of Arizona is hosting a series of events — a reception with celebrity chefs, an international conference, a workshop series and a study-abroad opportunity for students — to explore and share current research associated with the Mediterranean diet.

"We're showcasing the foods and helping people translate dietary recommendations to actual strategies — taking science to the plate — showing people what you can do, how to do it and where to find it," said Melanie Hingle, UA assistant professor of nutritional sciences and public health. 

Based on research and empirical findings advanced by researchers and educators, including Hingle and other faculty from the UA Department of Nutritional Sciences, here is a how-to guide for adopting Mediterranean-style eating habits inspired by the traditional dietary patterns of Greece, southern Italy and Spain.

The Mediterranean diet, explained

The Mediterranean way of eating focuses on fresh and antioxidant-rich vegetables and fruits, olive oil, unrefined whole grains, beans and nuts, along with lesser amounts of fish, lean meats and dairy, and the moderate consumption of red wine.

Often called a diet, it is actually a dietary pattern.

The pattern gained international acclaim after research by American scientist Ancel Keys and his wife and collaborator, Margaret Keys. The Keys' research suggested that the diet's low saturated-fat content could help explain the low incidence of cardiovascular disease in cultures around the Mediterranean Sea as compared to other regions.

How to eat Mediterranean

With balance in mind, the Mayo Clinic suggests that those following the Mediterranean diet should:

  • Base every meal on fruits, vegetables, mostly whole grains, beans, nuts, legumes and seeds.
  • Choose unrefined, unprocessed, whole foods.
  • Focus on seasonally fresh and locally grown foods.
  • Eat meats and sweets less often.
  • Limit the consumption of red meat to no more than just a few times monthly.
  • Eat moderate portions of cheese, eggs and yogurt.
  • Eat more fish and seafood (at least twice weekly).
  • Use mostly plant fats, especially olive oil, for cooking and on salads.
  • Enjoy red wine in moderation.

Health benefits abound 

With its focus on a high consumption of plant fats, which come mostly in the form of olive oil, and a relatively low consumption of meats, the Mediterranean diet has been found to confer protection against obesity, an important risk factor for many chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

Research also indicates that the dietary pattern can reduce the incidence of Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases. 

The dietary pattern has received significant attention in scientific community since the 1990s, particularly after research findings indicated that a diet too heavily reliant upon refined carbohydrates could have negative health effects.

Social and cultural benefits

In addition to the individual health benefits, researchers have found that the Mediterranean diet can aid in regional health.

The diet also has important social and economic implications, as it encourages the support of local agriculture, regional food industry and shared meals.

In 2010, the UNESCO Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage agreed to include the Mediterranean diet on the Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. UNESCO first recognized Greece, Spain, Italy and Morocco as countries where the dietary pattern maintains an important presence, later recognizing Portugal, Cyprus and Croatia.

Physical activity is an important complement  

Common foods include the flavor and color-blasted likes of white bean stew, baked falafel, vegetable and garlic calzones, grilled salmon, fish served in tomato-olive sauce, barley and roasted tomato risotto and also salads topped with artichokes, cucumber, tomatoes, olives and the ubiquitous feta cheese.

In addition to preventing disease and lowering cholesterol, following a Mediterranean-style diet also has been associated with increased levels of physical activity. Research has not established how these behaviors are linked but suspect that they function together as part of a lifestyle, not just an eating pattern.

Either way, regular physical activity appears to contribute to the observed benefits of the Mediterranean diet.

Credit: Bach-Faig A, Berry EM, Lairon D, Reguant J, Trichopoulou A, Dernini S, Medina FX, Battino M, Belahsen R, Miranda G, Serra-Majem L, Mediterranean Diet Foundation Expert Group: Mediterranean diet pyramid today. Public Health Nutr 2011, 14:2274–2284.

Contact: Melanie Hingle, UA assistant professor of nutritional sciences and public health, 520-621-3087 and

Categories: HealthSocial Sciences and EducationThis is a Wildcat Corner feature: Images: Tags: ResearchEducationOutreachFacultyByline: University Relations - Communications |UANow Image: Editor: dougcarrollInclude in UANow: yesDate of Publication: Friday, January 16, 2015Medium Summary: Is it a diet or a dietary pattern? Doesn't matter. It's good for you, and it can reduce risk factors associated with heart disease and cancer. Feature on Front: YesShort Summary: Here's how to adopt the Mediterranean diet. Send to Never Settle Site: 0UA in the News Spotlight: Includes video: 

UA to Spotlight Fresh Approach to Health

Mon, 01/12/2015 - 13:25

The Mediterranean diet has seen growing global popularity as researchers find that the dietary pattern can help prevent or reduce obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer.

Responsive to that popularity, the University of Arizona Department of Nutritional Sciences is hosting a series of events meant to explore and share current research related to the dietary pattern, which focuses on fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans and nuts, along with lesser amounts of lean fish, meats, dairy, olive oil and red wine.

"We want to emphasize how this pattern of eating has been demonstrated to contribute to disease prevention," said Donato Romagnolo, a professor in the Arizona Cancer Center and the nutritional sciences department, which is housed in the UA College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. 

National Geographic Blue Zones speaker Rudy Maxa, a Washington Post reporter and columnist, and five Tucson-area celebrity chefs will kick off the Jan. 28 opening-night reception, "A Food, Wine and Healthy Living Event," at the Tucson Museum of Art.

The 6-8 p.m. event is open to the public and will feature food prepared by the chefs, award-winning wine provided by the Arizona Wine Growers Association and live flamenco and Spanish guitar.

Then the UA will will host the Jan. 29-30 "Health Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet – Bringing Science to the Plate (With an Arizona Twist!)" scientific conference at the Student Union Memorial Center.

Supported in part by a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the conference is geared toward public health and nutrition professionals, nurses, physicians, physical therapists and chiropractors, and it is offered for continuing professional credit. The event is also open to students and features a student showcase.

A full agenda and registration for the conference are available online.

Promoting the health benefits of the Mediterranean lifestyle is just one of numerous initiatives sponsored by the UA Department of Nutritional Sciences to advance optimal health and well-being for Arizonans and to focus on ways of preventing and treating chronic diseases. 

After the conference, a four-part, hands-on cooking series will be offered to the public during February and March at the UA Cooperative Extension's Garden Kitchen, "The Many Faces of the Mediterranean Diet: Four Evenings," featuring the cuisines of Spain, France, Morocco and Italy. Information is available online

Also, the Mediterranean Diet and Health course will be offered for academic credit during summer 2015 (one week in Tucson and three weeks in Verona, Italy) for students through the UA Global Initiatives Study Abroad Program.

Much of the interest in the Mediterranean diet stems from evidence that it can reduce the risk of death associated with heart disease and cancer. Other research indicates that the diet can reduce the incidence of Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases.

Romagnolo, also the program director of the Mediterranean Diet and Health Study Abroad Program, said the benefits are especially important given pervasive health concerns across the nation. He noted that about 60 percent of people in the U.S. are overweight and 30 percent are obese.

"The latter is a risk factor for diabetes, cancer and metabolic syndrome," Romagnolo said.

During the conference, more than 20 presenters from the UA College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the UA College of Medicine, national and international universities, institutes and organizations will talk. 

Presenters will cover four general areas: the Mediterranean diet and regional trends; obesity, diabetes and healthy aging; cancer prevention and control; and methods for translating science to the plate.

Live demonstrations by Arizona growers, vendors and educators will provide attendees with tasting opportunities, meal preparation ideas and information on where to find local products that help make healthful eating easy in the Southwest.

Also, prominent diet researchers from Spain, France and Greece will present current research on the health benefits of the traditional Mediterranean diet and offer ways to adapt it using local agricultural ingredients and cooking techniques. Speakers include:

  • Lluis Serra-Majem of the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Spain, who will present the keynote address on "The Mediterranean Diet as an Intangible and Sustainable Food Culture."
  • Mariette Gerber of the INSERM-Institut du Cancer de Montpellier, France, who will discuss "Implementing the Mediterranean Diet: The French Perspective." 
  • Antonia Trichopoulou of the University of Athens, Greece, who will speak on "Mediterranean Diet and Longevity."

"The conference is an opportunity to present ideas and concepts that may be adopted by the food industry, nutritionists, researchers and policymakers to help reduce the burden of these chronic diseases," Romagnolo said. "We want to show people how they can do it on their own and apply the basic tenets of the diet here in Arizona."

Editor: dougcarrollByline Affiliation: University Relations - CommunicationsExtra Info: 

Tickets for "A Food, Wine and Healthy Living Event," at the Tucson Museum of Art, the Jan. 28 opening-night reception, are included in the conference registration, or may be purchased online and on the day of the event.

Executive chefs to attend include:

  • Andreas Andoniadis of OPA! Greek Cuisine and Fun
  • Ryan Clark of Agustín Kitchen Restaurant
  • Michael Omo of the University of Arizona
  • Vicente Sanchez of Casa Vicente Restaurante Español
  • Michael Cohen of Dahl & DiLuca Ristorante Italiano, Cucina Rustica and Pisa Lisa Gourmet Wood Fired Pizza in Sedona, Arizona

Students interested in the Mediterranean Diet and Health study-abroad program have until Feb. 15 to apply. For more information, contact Donato Romagnolo at 520-626-9108 or donato@u.arizona, or Kendra Corey, the study-abroad coordinator, at 520-626-3427.

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Extrasolar Storms: The Weather Way Out There

Mon, 01/12/2015 - 10:00

Orbiting the Earth 353 miles above the ground, the Hubble Space Telescope silently pivots toward its new target. At the same time, flying 93 million miles away in interplanetary space, NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope receives commands to point itself at the same celestial target.

Precisely synchronized, both telescopes begin recording light at the same time from the same distant object: an exotic, purple-colored, cloudy, Jupiter-size world 24 light-years away, known as a brown dwarf. 

Using simultaneous observations from the two space telescopes, UA astronomers are tracking the evolution of the swirling clouds and storm systems in unprecedented detail on this brown dwarf and five others like it. The goal of the UA-led Extrasolar Storms campaign is to discover how clouds and weather systems change over time on other worlds. With brown dwarf cloud systems changing in minutes, hours and years, the galaxy looks like a dark and stormy place.

"Brown dwarfs are similar to giant planets, but they are more massive and much hotter," says Daniel Apai, the principal investigator of the Extrasolar Storms project, who is an assistant professor at the UA’s Department of Astronomy and Steward Observatory and the Department of Planetary Sciences. Apai leads a team of researchers that spans both UA departments as well as 15 different collaborators representing many different institutions, universities and NASA centers.

Working together, Apai’s team will study the observations from both space telescopes to investigate the physics and chemistry behind their stormy worlds. 

"Our current observing abilities cannot study extrasolar planets in very much detail because they’re small, faint and far away," says Hao Yang, a postdoctoral researcher at Steward Observatory, who emigrated from China to Tucson in 2013 to join the Extrasolar Storms team. "On the other hand, brown dwarfs are bright, and Hubble and other telescopes can study brown dwarfs in detail and help us understand extrasolar planets." 

Brown dwarfs are much cooler than stars such as the sun, slowly shedding heat for the rest of their existence after quickly burning off what little nuclear fuel they had early in their lives. Glowing with temperatures that range from 3,100 degrees Fahrenheit down to room temperature and below, brown dwarfs litter our galaxy, the Milky Way. They remained hidden from view until about 20 years ago, when effective infrared telescopes were developed. 

"Most of the brown dwarf’s radiation is invisible to humans eyes — sort of like night vision," Yang says. 

At these temperatures, clouds condense in layers according to altitude. But unlike Earth’s water vapor clouds, a brown dwarf’s exotic clouds also can be composed of silicon, magnesium, aluminum and even iron. Astronomers think that a brown dwarf’s atmosphere has winds howling at hundreds of miles per hour and can harbor enormous, hurricanelike storms spanning many Earths in size. 

Megastorms and Unpredictable Weather

In our own solar system, Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, a giant storm system three times the size of Earth, has been observed for almost 200 years, and there is evidence that it may be at least 350 years old. Other, smaller spots in Jupiter’s atmosphere seem to come and go at various times, sticking around for a month or even years before merging with each other or sputtering out.

"A few years ago on Saturn, there was a major storm," Apai says. "It started as one small spot on the planet but then rapidly engulfed a quarter of the visible hemisphere." 

The data analyzed by the Extrasolar Storms team hints at similar cloud behavior — many brown dwarf cloud patterns seem to stick around for years — but galactic storm prediction can be as difficult as its earthly counterpart, surprising astronomers. 

"We have evidence of changes in these atmospheres from one hour to the next," Apai says. "We now know that these kind of rapid changes in cloud structures are very common."

"One very exciting aspect of the program is that we have time on the Spitzer Space Telescope, but we also have observing time on the Hubble Space Telescope, the other Great Observatory of NASA. These are probably the most capable space telescopes. We need two facilities at the same time to look at the same target to monitor the cloud evolution because they can scan multiple layers simultaneously."

A detailed look at how the "weather" on other worlds is behaving can be teased from the sensors onboard the Hubble Space Telescope, which spreads the light out into a spectrum onto its detector. 

"We take, say, 100 pictures of the invisible infrared rainbows of brown dwarfs and see how they change over time," Yang says. He then creates a time-lapse movie to see how features in these "rainbows" that correspond to compounds such as water and methane change over the course of hours, days and even months.

The Spitzer Space Telescope follows the Earth in its orbit around the sun, and is as far away from the Earth as the sun — a distance that keeps it away from contaminating sources of light and heat. Spitzer was built to work purely with infrared light and observes the light from a much cooler part of the atmosphere than Hubble. Spitzer observations can be particularly useful because NASA allows the Storms team continuous uninterrupted monitoring of the dwarfs for up to 24 hours at a time. Spitzer then revisits the dwarfs over the course of a year to track how the cloud patterns have changed.

"With over 1,000 hours of telescope time, the Storms program is one of the largest programs approved on the Spitzer Space Telescope," Apai says.

Taking the Pulse of Clouds

Even though the brown dwarfs studied in Extrasolar Storms lie nearby in the sun’s galactic neighborhood, they are still too far to be seen as anything but a point of light. But that light can contain volumes of information about what the atmosphere is made of, and any cloud changes that are in progress. 

The light emitted from lower altitudes is altered when it passes through a higher cloud deck as seen from Earth. The composition and thickness of those cloud layers can reduce the dwarf’s light when the clouds are thicker, or let more light through when a hole in the clouds appear. Every dwarf spins on its axis — anywhere from once every few hours to up to 13 hours — which creates a recurring change in brightness that can be recorded.

Changes in this light rhythm because of clouds in different parts of the dwarf’s atmosphere can be extreme, raising and lowering the amount of recorded light from less than 1 percent up to 27 percent in the case of one brown dwarf that is thought to have especially huge storms dwarfing Jupiter’s Great Red Spot.

The Storms team plans to follow up on these objects with even more observing time, tracking cloud activity of the more interesting objects for many years to come. The team also plans to expand its long-term monitoring to a number of other brown dwarfs of different temperatures. 

Apai sees a bright future for the astronomers studying stormy, cloudy worlds throughout the galaxy. 

"The technique that we’re using in Extrasolar Storms and in other projects in my group is basically a technique that enables us to map other worlds. In the future — hopefully, before I retire — we can use this to map planets similar to Earth.  We will be able to identify continents and oceans, which would provide very important context for looking for life on those targets."

Editor: dougcarrollWriter: Daniel StolteByline: Davin FlateauByline Affiliation: Department of Planetary SciencesExtra Info: 

Learn more about exoplanets on Daniel Apai's blog "Distant Earths."


This story was researched and written by Davin Flateau, a graduate student in the UA's Department of Planetary Sciences, as part of the course "Communicating Science," offered through the UA College of Science.


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Wildcats Explore African Wildlife

Fri, 01/09/2015 - 16:28

Arizona Wildcats recently traveled to several African countries — Botswana, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe — and were able to learn about animals living in the southern region of the continent.

Jacob Chinn, the UA Alumni Association's director of photography, traveled with the group to document the two-week experience. During the trip, Chinn and others were able to canoe, fish, take nature walks and enjoy a river cruise, among other activities. The group also visited Victoria Falls and had the chance to see endangered black rhinos, a lioness and her cubs, Cape buffalo and a herd of elephants.

"Every day brings a new adventure," Chinn wrote about the trip.

"This morning on our game drive, I witnessed a baboon being born and cradled in its mother's arms. Another small baboon was clearly jealous and was disciplined by a larger baboon.  After that, our guide said we needed to hurry up because a pack of wild dogs was spotted. Our group wasn't that excited, but we soon found out the African wild dogs are the second-most endangered species in Africa. They are seldom seen on a safari, and even our guide got out his camera to capture the moment. One thing I've learned: If your guide and your driver get out their cameras, then what you are seeing is special."

To read more about the experience, visit the Alumni Association's blog.

The Alumni Association hosts dozens of international trips through the year, with trips to India, Cuba, Madrid and Paris among those forthcoming. To learn about travel, and to plan a trip with other Wildcats, visit the Alumni Travel page.

Video Thumbnail: Category(s): Campus NewsYouTube Video:  Africa's Wildlife Video of Africa's Wildlife Feature Sticky: OffFeature on Front: NoMedium Summary: Jacob Chinn, the UA Alumni Association's director of photography, recently traveled to the southern region of Africa with a group of Wildcats, documenting the trip. UANow Image: Date of Publication: Monday, January 12, 2015Send to Never Settle Site: 0

Head of UA Journalism School Reacts to Paris Attack

Fri, 01/09/2015 - 13:51

It shouldn’t take a tragedy such as the recent shootings at a magazine’s offices in Paris for Americans to fully appreciate the value of a free press.

But perhaps it does.

"The outpouring of support has surprised me," said David Cuillier, director of the University of Arizona’s School of Journalism and an expert on issues pertaining to freedom of the press. He served as national president of the Society of Professional Journalists in 2013-14.

"I generally don’t expect that kind of sympathy for journalists," Cuillier said. "But the nature of the attack was so horrific, I don’t think you can just stand by."

On Jan. 7, four prominent political cartoonists were among a dozen killed in an attack at the offices of the French satirical weekly publication Charlie Hebdo, known for its caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad. Two days later, the two suspects in the attack and a gunman linked to them were killed by French police in a dramatic end to separate standoffs.

The initial attack left Cuillier "floored and flabbergasted," he said, and he found it ironic that it had taken place in France.

"We have such a close affinity to France in the birth of a free press," Cuillier said. "Their thinkers were the genesis of our liberties. (The attackers) hit us all."

In the attack’s aftermath, T-shirts and signs with the words "Je Suis Charlie" ("I Am Charlie") materialized in a show of solidarity with those who had been killed.

Cuillier was reminded of incidents closer to home in which journalists were threatened while doing their work. About a year ago, he said, a UA student blogger received death threats after writing about a peace initiative between Muslims and Jews, and the FBI became involved.

"That was a teachable moment," Cuillier said.

Several of Cuillier’s students produce in-depth news stories in English and Spanish for the Arizona Sonora News, a resource for community newspapers, news websites and Spanish-language publications on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border.

Given the passionate positions on the issue of immigration, that’s not the safest work, either.

"We take a lot of precautions in northern Mexico in doing reporting," Cuillier said. "But I also worry about (students) driving to Tombstone or being hit head-on by a drunk or being stalked by a source.

"We try to minimize risk, but you learn (journalism) by doing."

Cuillier said Americans always have had a love-hate relationship with the press, but he insists they wouldn’t want any part of a society without a free press.

"The press will always be a punching bag," he said. "People like to get mad when the press isn’t on their particular side of an issue, but they also rely on the press."

Journalists needn’t be working in war zones or high-crime areas to feel threatened, he said, noting that a certain amount of heat comes with the job and is even part of the profession’s allure.

"Every journalist has been worried about their safety," Cuillier said. "More than 30 or 40 years ago, news organizations began beefing up their security. There are guards at places like the (Arizona Daily) Star, the (Arizona) Republic and TV stations. But journalists won’t stop doing their jobs."

Mort Rosenblum, a UA journalism professor who has covered stories all over the world and was editor of the International Herald Tribune, took to Facebook after the Charlie Hebdo attack to salute reporters for their courage.

"In Paris, we have seen how high a price many pay, whether they venture into the heart of darkness or work at a desk in the City of Light," Rosenblum wrote.

"Reporters, our eyes and ears, enable us to fathom the complexities that shape every aspect of our lives…. The rest of us must realize their worth and protect them with everything we’ve got."

Editor: dougcarrollByline Affiliation: University Relations - CommunicationsHeader image: YesNo Image: Subheading: David Cuillier says freedom of the press always involves risk, adding that journalists won't stop doing their jobs out of fear.Include in UANow: yesInclude in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: noUANow Image: 

UA Online Programs Rated Highly by US News

Thu, 01/08/2015 - 14:33

The University of Arizona’s Eller M.B.A. program ranked 29th and the UA College of Nursing 36th in the U.S. News and World Report survey of 2015 Best Online Graduate Programs, released this week.

This marks the first year of eligibility for the Eller College of Management, which launched its online M.B.A. program in September 2013. The first graduating class walked last month, with students traveling from as far as Wisconsin and Texas to celebrate their achievement on the UA campus.

The nursing college, which offers three advanced-degree programs online, launched its RN-to-M.S. program in January 2013, also graduating that program's first cohort last month. The college's ranking represents an improvement of 43 spots, making it the highest-ranked online graduate nursing program in Arizona.

The early successes are gratifying for the two UA colleges.

"Just one year into our launch, we’re already among the top 30 programs nationally," said Hope Schau, associate dean of M.B.A. programs at the Eller College. "We’re proud of this accomplishment — which is a tribute to the quality of our faculty and our students — but we are also focused on continuous improvement for the best student experience possible."

The Eller online M.B.A. is unique in offering six start dates each year, allowing flexibility for the working professionals the program was designed to serve. The most recent class began on Jan. 5; the next start is March 2.

"We constantly strive to incorporate student and faculty feedback," said Paige Bausman, director of the Eller online M.B.A. program. "We just launched concentration areas so that students can customize their graduate education. Now we have options in finance, management and organizations; management information systems; and marketing. And we plan to add more down the line.”

Ofek Devinney, who traveled to Tucson from Wisconsin for her December convocation from the Eller online program, also holds a Ph.D. in toxicology and works for a Fortune 500 company.

"I definitely got a lot out of the program,” Devinney said. "The online community Eller has created is so welcoming, and the professors are excellent. They are very accommodating and responsive."

Jeff Schatzberg, dean of the Eller College of Management, has taught accounting in the Eller M.B.A. for 21 years. When the online M.B.A. launched, it was a natural for him to add the new platform to his teaching, which also has included the full-time, evening and executive programs.

"While each program is structured a bit differently, the end result is the same," Schatzberg said. "The students are across-the-board great, and those who are working professionals make their platform decision on what fits best into their lives." 

For example, many of the online students have demanding travel schedules that make attending the weekly or twice-monthly Eller evening and executive M.B.A. commitments difficult to manage.

About two-thirds of students currently enrolled in the Eller online M.B.A. program are based in Arizona, with the remaining percentage divided among 13 states, including California, New York, Florida, Indiana and Washington. The Eller online M.B.A. joins the Eller evening M.B.A. program (ranked No. 25) and the Eller full-time M.B.A. program (No. 48) in being recognized by U.S. News and World Report among the best graduate management programs in the country. 

Offered online through the College of Nursing are three advanced-degree programs: Doctor of Nursing PracticeDoctor of Philosophy in Nursing and the new Registered Nurse to Master of Science (RN-to-M.S.) in Clinical Systems Leadership. Also offered online are several graduate nurse practitioner certificate programs.

Development of the RN-to-M.S. program began in 2010 with a proposal to educate clinical systems leaders through a unique, online master’s degree program for working registered nurses. Since the launch of the program in January 2013, enrollment has grown from 20 students to more than 350.

"We are confident that our ranking will continue to climb as RNs with leadership aspirations, especially within health systems, continue to seek professional development and career advancement through our program,” said Joan Shaver, dean of the College of Nursing.

For 2015, U.S. News ranked 133 nursing schools based on five categories:

  • Student engagement (30 percent)
  • Faculty credentials and training (25 percent)
  • Peer reputation (20 percent)
  • Student services and technology (15 percent)
  • Admissions selectivity (10 percent)
Editor: dougcarrollByline Affiliation: Eller College of Management and College of NursingHeader image: NoNo Image: Subheading: Eller College of Management's M.B.A. program debuts in the rankings at No. 29, while College of Nursing jumps up to No. 36.Include in UANow: 0Include in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: no

UA Alum's Little Firm Tackles Big-Data Solutions

Thu, 01/08/2015 - 13:37

Big answers can come from simple data observations, such as noticing a sales uptick for neon clothing reminiscent of the 1990s, or that CrossFit classes are more popular on weekday nights, or that the demand for a certain prescription has spiked in a specific region.

Such data-driven insights can help transform attentive businesses. 

But the unfortunate reality is that companies — especially those that are smaller and have fewer resources — do not always rely on data in ways that help to improve products and services, make stronger connections with consumers and boost profits.

Mohan Rajagopalan, a University of Arizona alumnus and entrepreneur, has spent years trying to find a solution to that.

Finally, he said, he has one: Yaap, a robust data-science platform designed with management consulting principles, and a Silicon Valley startup of the same name, which he founded to help companies make better business decisions.

"People are sitting on piles of data that they consciously or subconsciously collect," said Rajagopalan, who earned his doctorate in computer science from the UA in 2006 after having earned his master's in the same discipline in 2001. 

"Our vision is to universalize data-driven decision making by getting more people to use data for decision making and providing the technology to re-enforce the foundation."

The problem with untapped data-driven information, he said, is that companies conceivably are losing valuable time and money.

Rajagopalan began giving brawn to his idea years ago during many hours spent at Dana Street Roasting Company, a cafe in Mountain View, Calif. There, he drafted early prototypes for what would become Yaap.

"It's a very ambitious process," Rajagopalan said. "We want to change how people see, think and feel about data."

Yaap was launched to remove the messy complexity involved in data mining and analysis, said Vrushali Malpekar, the company's media relations director.

During an era when big data is often perceived as a game changer and is introduced at the head of boardroom tables, the timing is ideal. 

For those who do not have the resources to build an in-house dashboard or even a background in statistics, Yaap simplifies a process that is usually heavily embedded with p-values, coefficients, scatter graphs and gradient boosting. 

Unlike some of the other data dashboards currently available, Yaap not only pulls the expertise of information technology, computer science, management consulting and visual communication into a single digital platform, but it also offers built-in and customizable reports that help interpret trends and highlight potential implications.

In effect, all data gathering, analyses and reporting happen at a single, centralized location. Also, data analysis happens more quickly and without the need for highly specialized, highly trained technology specialists, Rajagopalan said.

"Because we have simplified the experience for the end user, they are now able to ask questions they would not have even been able to ask before, often because they didn't have the time or the resources," he said. "We help companies to think through problems and encourage them to ask questions they haven't asked before."

Using Yaap, companies can move from merely tracking transactions to being able to observe nuances such as what types of shoppers are purchasing specific products and how well sales associates are performing.

Rajagopalan and Malpekar explained that data mining tools should be easy to use, easily updated, highly interactive and sophisticated enough to handle massive amounts of information. Yet it is rare to have all of these traits in a single system.

"Right now, what we observe is that the interpretation aspect is missing from a lot of business intelligence tools," Malpekar said.

"Many can create visual reports, but none tell you what to do with them. So, you may get the sophistication of the data collection, but when it comes to the implications, that is where there is a gap," she said. "Yaap is a layman's approach to data analysis. You don't have to have a number-cruncher."

To date, Yaap has worked with large Fortune 500 consumer and retail companies and with nonprofits. The list includes Dell, Pepsi and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Rajagopalan said.

"Our core market is still untapped," he said.

For his success, Rajagopalan offers credit to his time and training at the UA and the support of Saumya Debray, a UA computer science professor and his dissertation chair, and former UA computer scientist Rick Schlichting. 

After the UA, Rajagopalan went on to work as a senior researcher for Intel Labs and as an engagement manager for McKinsey and Co. before opting to launch Yaap.

"My training and experience during the six years at Arizona was maybe the most valuable life lessons professionally and culturally," Rajagopalan said.

"We've come really far, unbelievably almost, as a company in record time with a fairly modest crew. A lot of our day-to-day hustle reminds me of time at the UA, trying to be the best at what we do, making the best of our resources, going up against bigger, better-funded research groups at higher ranked-universities.

"Another key lesson was the ability to take guarded risks, and encouraging cross-pollination of ideas from different domains. I was fortunate to have experienced tremendous leadership, not just on the technical front, but also in terms of people management." 

Editor: dougcarrollWriter: La Monica Everett-HaynesByline: University Relations - CommunicationsByline Affiliation: University Relations - CommunicationsHeader image: YesNo Image: Subheading: Companies often sit on a wealth of untapped data that, if appropriately analyzed and channeled, could inform business decisions. Yaap, designed by a UA graduate, is meant to help them do just that. Include in UANow: yesInclude in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: noUANow Image: Includes video: 

International Students Arrive at UA

Wed, 01/07/2015 - 16:44

The spring semester began early for about 250 new international students, who attended a mandatory three-day orientation hosted this week by International Student Services, part of the Office of Global Initiatives at the UA. Classes do not officially start until Jan. 14.

The students met in rooms at the Student Union Memorial Center to make sure that their immigration, academic and financial papers were in order. They were welcomed on Wednesday, the second day of orientation, by Provost Andrew Comrie, the University’s chief academic officer.

"Get involved," Comrie encouraged the students. "Don’t just go to class. You’ll learn as much from your peers as you will from your professors, and you’ll do it in multiple contexts."

More than two dozen countries were represented by the students who sat before him, with an especially large contingent from China. Nearly half of a total of 3,700 international students enrolled last fall in UA academic programs were Chinese, according to Joanne Lagasse-Long, a native Canadian who is the director of International Student Services.

Lagasse-Long said that because of China’s strong economy, families are in better position today to send their children overseas to study. She said visa accessability also has improved in recent years for such students.

William Bowen, an economics instructor in the UA’s Eller College of Management, said the increase in the number of Chinese students has been dramatic in the 11 years that he has been teaching at the University.

"They’re highly disciplined and well-prepared," he said of the Chinese students in his "History of Financial Markets" class. In the fall, almost half of his 56 students were Chinese.

Comrie, who grew up in South Africa, said cultural assimilation can take awhile for international students. He knows from experience that many need time to learn that speaking up in class is a good thing.

"My culture trained me to be deferential and respectful of hierarchy," Comrie said. "You often didn’t talk to teachers or build a relationship with them. In the U.S., that’s really different."

Video Thumbnail: Category(s): Campus NewsTeaching and StudentsYouTube Video:  International Students Video of International Students Feature Sticky: OffFeature on Front: NoMedium Summary: A three-day orientation for spring semester welcomes about 250 to the Student Union in advance of the Jan. 14 start of classes. UANow Image: Date of Publication: Wednesday, January 7, 2015Send to Never Settle Site: 0

A New, Public View of the Sky

Tue, 01/06/2015 - 10:18

On Jan. 6, the Sloan Digital Sky Survey issued its latest public data release, the final release of the third epoch of the survey. Weighing in at more than 100 Terabytes, "Data Release 12" (DR12) contains measurements of the properties of nearly half a billion stars and galaxies, making it one of the largest and richest databases in the history of astronomy.

"The most astonishing feature of the SDSS is the breadth of ground-breaking research it enables," said Daniel Eisenstein of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, the director of SDSS-III. Eisenstein started the survey during his tenure as a professor at the UA's Steward Observatory, one of the survey's partner institutions.

"We've searched nearby stars for planets, probed the history of our Milky Way and measured nine billion years of our universe's accelerated expansion," he said.

SDSS-III is a six-year survey of nearby stars, the Milky Way galaxy and the distant cosmos. After a decade of design and construction, the SDSS began mapping the cosmos in 1998, using the dedicated 2.5-meter Sloan Foundation Telescope at Apache Point Observatory in New Mexico. Each phase of the project has used this telescope, equipped with a succession of powerful instruments, for a distinct set of astronomical surveys.

SDSS-III started observations in July 2008 and completed its six-year, $45 million program in June 2014. The SDSS-III collaboration includes 51 member institutions and a thousand scientists from around the world.

According to Xiaohui Fan, a Regents' Professor in the UA's Department of Astronomy and Steward Observatory who is involved in the project, some of the most interesting findings coming out of SDSS-III are measurements establishing the distance scale to faraway galaxies with unprecedented accuracy, gibing scientists a better handle on the properties of dark energy in the universe.

"SDSS-III was able to map the expansion history of the universe in a time frame never explored before — from nine billion years ago to now," Fan said. "These data confirm that what we observe is still consistent with our current model — that the universe is expanding and that it is expanding faster and faster."

Working with Steward Observatory assistant astronomer Ian McGreer, Fan is especially interested in the evolution of quasars and their connection to supermassive black holes. Quasars are the brightest objects in the distant universe, and their spectra reveal intricate patterns imprinted by the intergalactic gas and underlying dark matter that lie between each quasar and the Earth. Quasars provide another way to measure the distribution of matter in the universe.

"Because quasars are powered by the largest black holes in the cosmos, we can see them from very far away and use them to study the evolution of black holes and galaxies," Fan explained. "Most galaxies have a black hole in the center, but most of them are dormant. Only about one out of a hundred galaxies has a quasar at its center, which makes them shine very bright. It's an interesting question why some of them are bright and some of them aren't."



SDSS-III has devoted most of its 2,000 nights of observing to measuring spectra: passing light from individual stars and galaxies through a fiber-optic spectrograph, which divides light into component wavelengths much like a prism separates light into the colors of the rainbow.

"For each object that we observe, we're actually measuring several thousand light intensities at different wavelengths," said Jon Holtzman of New Mexico State University, which operates the observatory on behalf of the consortium. "We can then pick out the light produced by particular kinds atoms and molecules, which lets us measure the motions and chemical compositions of stars and galaxies."

"Mapping out the elements in a star is like reading its DNA," said Steve Majewski of the University of Virginia. "We're using those DNA readings to decode the history of the Milky Way from the stars that we can observe today."

Majewski is the principal investigator of APOGEE, or the Apache Point Observatory Galactic Evolution Experiment, one of the four surveys that comprise SDSS-III. APOGEE uses a dedicated near-infrared spectrograph consisting of 300-fiber-optical cables to survey giant stars across the Milky Way. The light sensors for the instrument were provided by a group led by Marcia Rieke, a Regents' Professor in the UA Department of Astronomy and Steward Observatory, as part of developing imaging sensors for NASA's James Webb Space Telescope.

"We repurposed three detectors that could not be used for JWST and built them into a package that is used as the light sensing portion of APOGEE," Rieke explained. "We are really pleased that these detectors are yielding great results."

By looking in near-infrared wavelengths to see through obscuring dust clouds, APOGEE has mapped the distribution of 15 separate chemical elements in more than 100,000 stars, probing all regions of the Milky Way.

"That's a huge amount of information," Majewski said, "and each element reveals a different subplot in this galactic screenplay. Sometimes the interactions between the characters are quite surprising!"

In addition to these elemental measurements from APOGEE, SDSS DR12 provides the first public release of data from MARVELS (the Multi-Object APO Radial Velocity Exoplanet Large-Area Survey). MARVELS uses repeated measurements of 3,000 stars to detect the back-and-forth motions that could reveal unseen orbiting planets.

DR12 also presents three-dimensional maps of cosmic structure traced by galaxies and intergalactic hydrogen from the Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey, or BOSS.

"With these maps we've detected the fossil imprints of sound waves that filled the universe during the first half-million years after the Big Bang," explained BOSS principal investigator David Schlegel of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

The BOSS team is using those imprints to trace the expansion of the universe across nine billion years of cosmic history, with unprecedented precision. Their final analysis, expected later this year, "will provide the sharpest test yet for theories of dark energy and the accelerating universe," according to Schlegel.

The Sloan Extension for Galactic Understanding and Exploration, or SEGUE, begun in SDSS-II and completed in SDSS-III, measured visible-light spectra of a quarter-million Milky Way stars.

"With so many stars, SEGUE gives us a great map of structure in the outer galaxy," said Constance Rockosi of the University of California, Santa Cruz, who led the SDSS-III component of SEGUE. "In combination with the much more detailed view of the inner galaxy from APOGEE, we're getting a truly holistic picture of the Milky Way."

Data Release 12 will fuel science analyses for years to come and makes all data available to the public.

"Crossing the DR12 finish line is a huge accomplishment by hundreds of people," Eisenstein said. "But it's a big universe out there, so there is plenty more to observe."

The Sloan Survey is continuing at full speed with SDSS-IV, which began in July 2014 on its six-year mission to study cosmology, galaxies and the Milky Way. Rieke's group provides near-infrared detectors for SDSS-IV, which will be used in a telescope at Las Campanas in Chile, the future site of the Giant Magellan Telescope, for which the UA is producing the primary mirrors.

"From the Southern Hemisphere, SDSS-IV will have a much better view of the center of our galaxy because it is right overhead instead of just barely above the horizon when viewed from New Mexico," Fan said. "In addition, we can observe the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds, the two largest satellite galaxies of our Milky Way, and learn a lot about the formation of our home galaxy and its neighboring galaxies."

Funding for SDSS-III has been provided by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the Participating Institutions, the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science.

Editor: dougcarrollWriter: Daniel StolteByline: Daniel Stolte, University Relations - Communications and Jordan RaddickByline Affiliation:  SDSSExtra Info: 

How does the Sloan Digital Sky Survey work? Find out on the SDSS education website.

Header image: YesNo Image: Subheading: For the first time, scientists and the public are beginning to see the large-scale structure of the universe, thanks to the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. UA scientists provide scientific expertise and crucial technology to the largest project ever undertaken to map the cosmos. Include in UANow: yesInclude in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: noUANow Image: 

What a Year! Remembering the Best of 2014

Mon, 01/05/2015 - 12:15

1. Old Main Reopens After Most Significant Renovation in Its History

Old Main, arguably the most beloved UA building with the longest-standing and fondest memories, officially was reintroduced during a formal ceremony held during the fall semester. In restoring Old Main, which had fallen into extreme disrepair and was at risk of being lost, the University preserved a visible symbol of its heritage and strength, said UA President Ann Weaver Hart.

2. New Veterinary Degree Program Seen as Critical for State

Photo courtesy of College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

The UA will be able to launch Arizona's first public program to train doctors of veterinary medicine thanks to a foundational gift from the Kemper and Ethel Marley Foundation. The UA College of Agriculture and Life Sciences has been actively developing the program, which is targeting a fall 2015 launch, to address Arizona's critical veterinary needs. The initiative is an example of the important progress made under Never Settle, the University's strategic plan.

3. Arizona NOW Has Successful Year, UA Receives Several Major Gifts

Photo: Patrick McArdle/UANews

Arizona NOW, the largest fundraising campaign in the University's history, has reached more than 70 percent of its goal of $1.5 billion. In 2014, the University received a number of significant gifts, including major contributions from Agnese Nelms Haury, Richard F. Caris, the Kemper and Ethel Marley Foundation, the McKnight Brain Research Foundation, Steve and Margot KerrGeorge Kalil and Cole and Jeannie Davis.

4. Fall Enrollment Sets Record for Diversity, Number of Freshmen

Photo: FJ Gaylor

The UA had a record number of incoming freshmen, its highest overall enrollment and greater student diversity. Enrollment data showed that the UA welcomed more than 10,000 new undergraduate students — including more than 7,800 freshmen — when classes began in the fall of 2014. Also, an estimated 41 percent of freshmen were ethnically or racially diverse. The UA also saw significant minority student enrollment at the graduate level.

5. UA to Offer Nation's First Bachelor of Arts in Law

Undergraduate degrees in law already are offered in countries such as England, Australia, Canada, Mexico and China. The UA became the first institution in the U.S. to offer a Bachelor of Arts in law.  The James E. Rogers College of Law degree is seen as a way to prepare individuals for a number of professions in which a strong knowledge of law is advantageous, such as corporate compliance, city planning, water resources management, business management, health care administration, human resources, policy analysis and legal technology consulting.

6. UA Breaks Ground on Downtown Phoenix Project

In October, President Ann Weaver Hart and Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton were on hand to mark the start of the two-year design and construction of a 245,000-square-foot research building on the Phoenix Biomedical Campus. The Biosciences Partnership Building will add to the UA's growing presence in downtown Phoenix and serve the next generation of health professionals.

7. Record Year for Technology Commercialization

Fiscal year 2014 marked the best year to date for technology commercialization at the UA, the UA's Tech Launch Arizona office reported. Notable accomplishments for TLA between July 1, 2013, and June 30, 2014, included 39 exclusive licenses and options executed, 72 total licenses executed, 167 patents filed, 188 invention disclosures received from faculty inventors, 19 proof-of-concept projects funded, 11 startup companies created and 24 patents issued.

8. Meteorite That Doomed Dinosaurs Remade Forests

Photo: Donna Braginetz; courtesy of Denver Museum of Nature & Science

The meteorite impact that spelled doom for the dinosaurs 66 million years ago decimated the evergreens among the flowering plants to a much greater extent than their deciduous peers, according to a study led by UA researchers and published in the journal PLoS Biology. Applying biomechanical formulas to thousands of fossilized leaves of angiosperms — flowering plants excluding conifers — the team was able to reconstruct the ecology of a diverse plant community thriving during a 2.2-million-year period spanning the cataclysmic impact event.

9. UA Celebrates 100 Years of Community Partnership Via Cooperative Extension

Photo: Lynn Ketchum

The UA's Cooperative Extension has not only translated research into community solutions, it has helped shape the Arizona of today. U.S. President Woodrow Wilson signed the Smith-Lever Act, creating the Cooperative Extension on May 8, 1914. A program of the UA College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the Cooperative Extension is an explicit component of land-grant institutions across the country with a mission to bridge the gap between higher education and community, respond to societal needs and bring science to bear on practical problems.

10. Happy Birthday, Homecoming!

Photo: Jacob Chinn, UA Alumni Association

The UA already was nearly three decades old when it held its first homecoming, which drew about 1,500 people. The University's signature annual event has since grown into a major community event with the parade, tailgates, reunions, receptions, tours and lectures. During the 100-year anniversary, tens of thousands of students, employees, alumni and other friends of the UA attended Homecoming 100. The Wildcats won the big game, too, en route to only the third 10-victory football season in school history.

Editor: dougcarrollByline Affiliation: University Relations - CommunicationsHeader image: YesNo Image: Subheading: The University's big stories included record enrollment, milestone anniversaries and research findings carrying international impact. Include in UANow: yesInclude in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: noUANow Image: 

Center Focuses on Compassion to Improve Ethics, Health

Thu, 12/18/2014 - 14:47

Whether coping with physical ailments, contentious home lives or arduous semesters, we all have techniques to offset the hardships in our lives. But can we expand those methods and become better people in the process?

Through a generous gift from the Arizona Friends of Tibet, the University of Arizona College of Social and Behavioral Sciences is positioned to explore this question through the newly launched Center for Compassion Studies — the nation's first formalized collegiate center for compassion studies.

Housed within the UA college and involving faculty from across the University, the center represents a breakthrough in higher education, bringing the UA to the forefront of the dialogue on how the application of mindfulness and compassion can impact important aspects of daily life such as consumer behavior, health and school climate.

"Humans have innate capacities for mindfulness and compassion that can be enhanced through training," said Dr. Charles Raison, the director of the center. Raison also is a professor in the Department of Psychiatry and the UA's John & Doris Norton School of Family and Consumer Sciences.

"The center will explore multiple ways in which these capacities provide the basis for a system of ethical behavior that can provide much-needed 'common ground' in today's politically and socially fractured world," Raison said, adding that the center presents unprecedented opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration on issues, from philosophical to biological, that can enhance efforts to live ethical lives.

The cornerstone of the center's work draws on Cognitively-Based Compassion Training, or CBCT. This secular meditation practice, derived from the ancient Indo-Tibetan lojong tradition, was developed by Geshe Lobsang Tenzin Negi and initially researched by Raison at Emory University in 2005. Raison was clinical director of the Mind-Body Program at Emory University before joining the UA.

The new UA center maintains a collaboration with Emory University through the Emory-Tibet Partnership, where CBCT facilitators are trained directly by Negi, who is an affiliated faculty member with the UA's Norton School and psychiatry department. 

The center will advocate for the expansion of compassion education; support research that examines the impact of cultivating compassion among individuals and groups; adapt CBCT to diverse audiences; and join numerous other UA programs, departments and individuals advocating for and advancing holistic practices.

"Through the center, we are really excited to have a role, along with many other programs and centers on campus," said Leslie Langbert, executive director of the new center. Langbert, a clinical social worker with more than 15 years of experience and one of two certified facilitators of CBCT in the Southwest, has been hired by the UA college to be the executive director of the center.

In addition to shepherding the strategic efforts of the center, Langbert is directly facilitating many of the center's offerings, including CBCT classes, undergraduate courses, and partnerships on campus and in the community. Additional CBCT offerings are delivered by certified CBCT facilitator Sally Dodds, UA research associate professor of psychiatry and medicine, in support of research and outreach with cancer patients.

While many of the center's goals — including partnering with the College of Medicine to analyze data concerning CBCT practice among breast cancer survivors — are centered on research, it also intends to enhance the living experience of the University community.

Efforts include designing innovative, CBCT-based training programs for UA students and faculty, including an undergraduate class giving students interested in careers in helping professions the tools to prevent the burnout that often accompanies emotionally draining work in fields such as health care and child welfare. This spring, the center also will offer a six-week course at Campus Recreation titled "Intro to Mindfulness."

The center's work also extends far beyond campus borders.

The center is dedicated to supporting the community through partnerships to expand the availability of CBCT for children and adults. The center is currently working with the Pascua Yaqui Tribe to teach compassion training to elementary school students on the reservation, and with La Frontera to bring CBCT techniques to adolescents living in state foster care. The center's work with foster care youth is supported by the Women's Foundation of Southern Arizona.

"Our goal is to be a resource for the Tucson and campus communities," Langbert said. "We are thrilled to have that role, and to be able to support contemplative pedagogy and effective management of stress to help contribute to a culture of compassion."

Editor: dougcarrollWriter: Candice Childress and Lori HarwoodByline: Candice Childress and Lori HarwoodByline Affiliation: UA College of Social and Behavioral SciencesExtra Info: 

To learn more about the importance of compassion, read "Want Results? Make Compassion Your New Year's Resolution" on the UA blog.


The newly launched Center for Compassion Studies is intentionally interdisciplinary, and affiliate faculty include:

  • Charles Raison, the director of the center
  • Albert Bergesen, the School of Sociology director
  • Michael B. Gill, head of the Department of Philosophy
  • Gregg Garfin, assistant professor in the School of Natural Resources and the Environment
  • Sabrina Helm, associate professor of family and consumer sciences
  • Alfred W. Kaszniak, professor of psychology, psychiatry, neurology, and professor in the Evelyn F. McKnight Brain Institute
  • Matthias Mehl, associate professor of psychology, adjunct associate professor of communication and associate professor in the Evelyn F. McKnight Brain Institute
  • Thaddeus W. Pace, assistant professor of nursing
Header image: YesNo Image: Subheading: The UA has launched the nation’s first formalized collegiate center for compassion studies to produce interdisciplinary collaboration on issues that can enhance efforts to live ethical lives. Include in UANow: yesInclude in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: noUANow Image: 

Colorado River Delta Greener After Engineered Pulse of Water

Thu, 12/18/2014 - 14:45

The engineered spring flood that brought water to previously dry reaches of the lower Colorado River and its delta resulted in greener vegetation, the germination of new vegetation along the river and a temporary rise in the water table, according to new results from the binational team of scientists studying the water’s effects.

The experimental pulse flow of water was the result of a U.S.-Mexico agreement called Minute 319.

“The pulse flow worked,” said Karl W. Flessa, a University of Arizona professor of geosciences and co-chief scientist for the Minute 319 Science Team. “A small amount of water can have a big effect on the delta’s ecosystem.”

Starting March 23, 2014, and ending May 18, approximately 105,392 acre-feet (130 million cubic meters) of water was released into the dry river bed below Morelos Dam, which straddles the U.S.-Mexico border just west of Yuma. 

"The groundwater was recharged, vegetation got greener than previous years and the water helped germinate new native vegetation," Flessa said. "As a bonus, the river reached the sea."

In addition, people living along the river benefited, he said.

"People in the communities along the river were just overjoyed to see their river again," he said. "When the surface water was there, people celebrated. Kids who’d never seen water in the river before got to splash in it."

The science team includes more than 21 scientists from universities, government agencies and nongovernmental organizations from both Mexico and the U.S., including the UA, the Universidad Autónoma de Baja California, the U.S. Geological Survey, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the Nature Conservancy, the Tucson-based Sonoran Institute and the Ensenada-based Pronatura Noroeste.

Flessa presented the team’s findings at his talk, "The Science and Policy of the First Environmental Flows to the Colorado River Delta," on Dec. 18 as part of the American Geophysical Union’s annual meeting in San Francisco.

Although most of the water soaked into the ground in the 37 miles below the dam, the river's surface flow reached areas farther downstream that had been targeted for restoration. The increase in groundwater revived vegetation along the entire 83-mile route to the sea.

By comparing Landsat 8 satellite images from August 2013 with those from August 2014, team members calculated a 23 percent increase in the greenness of riparian zone vegetation. 

Although the groundwater did eventually recede, the surface water caused the germination of new willows and cottonwoods. Those plants germinate after natural spring floods, and their roots can grow fast enough to keep up with the receding water table.

The surface water reached the restoration sites prepared by the Sonoran Institute and Pronatura Noroeste and helped establish native vegetation.

"So long as the roots get down into the permanent water table, then you have established a new bunch of trees that will then live for 20, 30, 40 years," Flessa said. "Those trees will attract birds."

The scientists already observed an increase in the numbers of birds, he said.

Learning where the newly germinated plants survived past the first summer will help the researchers figure out where ecosystem restoration will do the most good using the least amount of water, he said.

"The water that soaked into the ground is also good for the farmers," Flessa said. "It raises the water table and they pump that water — so this isn’t just about trees and birds."

The team will continue to monitor the lower Colorado River Delta's vegetation and hydrological response to the pulse flow, including the long-term effect on groundwater. It also will study how the new vegetation affects both resident birds and those migrating along the Pacific Flyway.

The five-year program to monitor the environmental results of the pulse flow is being supported by government agencies and environmental groups in both countries, under the auspices of the International Boundary and Water Commission.

The Minute 319 pulse flow is part of a five-year agreement (2012-17) adopted by the International Boundary and Water Commission, under the framework of a 1944 U.S.-Mexico treaty that governs water allocations on the Colorado River between the two countries.

The agreement provides multiple benefits for Colorado River water users in both countries, including environmental flows to the delta. Minute 319 identifies criteria for sharing of future water shortages and surpluses between the two countries, allows storage of Mexican water in Lake Mead and supports improvements to Mexican irrigation infrastructure.

"Another pulse flow would require a new agreement, because Minute 319 calls for only one pulse flow within the five-year term of the minute," Flessa said. "We hope the results of this pulse flow encourage the negotiators to make this happen again." 

Editor: dougcarrollByline: Mari N. JensenByline Affiliation: College of ScienceExtra Info: 

Karl Flessa’s homepage


Sonoran Institute


Minute 319 Monitoring Progress Report

Header image: YesNo Image: Subheading: Communities were "overjoyed to see their river again," says the UA's Karl Flessa, co-chief scientist for the team that observed new and greener vegetation and a temporary rise in the water table.Include in UANow: 0Include in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: no

TLA Commercialization Partners Take On UA Startups

Wed, 12/17/2014 - 18:57

What are the ingredients for a successful university startup? When starting a new company like those based on research at the University of Arizona, Tech Launch Arizona — the unit of the UA that commercializes inventions emanating from University research — understands that startups require a number of elements for success, such as marketable ideas and great leadership.

At more than $630 million last year, UA faculty research represents a rich source of those ideas and inventions that have the potential to impact society and the economy.

Now, with the addition of a new roster of commercialization partners, or CPs, TLA adds business management into the mix of ingredients for success.

To fulfill the leadership needs of new UA-born companies, TLA recruited experienced entrepreneurs and leaders. From an original pool of 44 applicants, 12 individuals were selected to serve in one of three distinct CP roles:

  • Entrepreneur-in-residence: EIRs are interested in starting companies based on UA technologies. They work in residence at TLA for defined periods, during which they help to identify technologies with promise, with the goal of selecting one to lead into a startup. EIRs work with TLA, inventors and potential startup team members. This cohort of EIRs includes Dan Janes, Aaron Call, Kelvin Ning, Ron Hahn, Doug McFetters and John Zipp.
  • Executive-in-residence: XIRs work directly with TLA and UA inventors to identify the commercial potential of technologies and insert an "entrepreneurial perspective" into planning and discussions.  Although an XIR may opt to participate in a startup, the position is designed to be "in-house entrepreneurial adviser" and is stipend-based. The group includes five XIRs: Brian Ellerman, Ted Kraus, John Buttery, Patrick Marcus and Bruce Burgess.
  • Investor-in-residence: IIRs work with TLA to assess how ready companies are for investment by Cat Corp. Dennis Merens is TLA’s IIR.

These 12 seasoned CPs provide high-level entrepreneurial input and perspective in the commercialization of UA technologies. They help the TLA team to determine the most viable and productive commercialization pathways for new technologies, and take on leadership roles to bring UA inventions to the marketplace. 

One of the strengths of the group is that a large percentage are UA alumni, which opens the door to the connections and resources of a worldwide alumni network. All experienced entrepreneurs, CPs provide powerful business acumen that complements academic leadership, plus the potential for stronger industry and investment relationships. 

Similar programs have seen success in commercialization communities across the country, with examples in the technology transfer, business school and venture capital sectors. 

TLA began exploring a program design for the commercialization partners program in early 2014, when Dan Janes joined TLA as the inaugural Entrepreneur-in-Residence.  In this role, he has been working with TLA on entrepreneurial aspects of individual technologies, interacting with researchers and investigating other executive-in-residence programs. By fall 2014, with Janes’ insight and TLA’s knowledge of UA-specific needs, the unit initiated the broader commercialization partners program and began recruiting.

TLA held its first meeting of the complete CP cohort on Dec. 5, providing them with a chance to meet one another and become better acquainted with the TLA team. At the meeting, TLA presented 14 projects from its startup pipeline. As a result, each technology presented now has two or three partners engaged for an early assessment to help identify opportunities and next steps.

TLA Vice President David Allen is excited about the prospects for the future of the program.

"This is just a starting point for what TLA targets to become an extensive effort to grow the commercialization ecosystem," he says. "As we bring on more commercialization partners, these top entrepreneurs and executives will participate in technology pathway discussions across the whole of TLA and make great contributions to the success of these ventures."

The CPs themselves expressed enthusiasm, as well.

"Over the past two years, Tech Launch Arizona has created a clear path for U of A faculty to commercialize their research and patents into products, services and licenses," says Executive-in-Residence John Buttery.  "I look forward to working with this talented group of professionals to facilitate the startup process, add value for the stakeholders and create world-class companies."

Editor: dougcarrollByline: Paul TumarkinByline Affiliation: Tech Launch ArizonaHeader image: YesNo Image: Subheading: Team of a dozen leaders supplies high-level entrepreneurial input and perspective on new technologies and the marketplace.Include in UANow: 0Include in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: no