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UA Professor Aims to Shift Consumer Landscape

Fri, 11/06/2015 - 5:07pm
Extra Info: 



What: Show & Tell: “Don’t Buy, Share!”When: Nov. 12, 6-7:30 p.m.Where: Playground Bar & Lounge, 278 E. Congress St.Story Contacts: 

Jamie Manser

Confluencenter for Creative Inquiry


The app for Sharing Tribes promotes lending and borrowing over buying. It involves "taking the science of retailing and applying it to the practice of sharing," Anita Bhappu says.

Share, don't buy. That's the motive driving a soon-to-launch, community-based software program called Sharing Tribes.

Anita Bhappu, a University of Arizona associate professor of retailing and consumer sciences, serves as the chief scientific officer for Sharing Tribes LLC, which is launching a mobile app to enter beta testing come January.

"We don't talk about how our teaching can lead to innovation and research, but it was my work in the classroom that inspired this," Bhappu said. "It all started with teaching and my discussions with students."

The Sharing Tribes app promotes lending and borrowing over buying, with the goal of changing the consumer landscape.

"It's about saving people money, reducing our environmental footprint and making connections with others in a community — and that can lead to new friendships," Bhappu said. "It's about helping people buy less, connect more and be environmentally conscious."

On Thursday, Bhappu will speak about the company and the app during her presentation, "Don't Buy, Share," which is part of the UA Confluencenter for Creative Inquiry's Show & Tell @ Playground series. She also will discuss the problem of excess consumption and her software solution.

Confluencenter director Javier Durán invited Bhappu to give the presentation because "her work gravitates around the intersection of digital humanities, organizational science and challenges to underserved populations — which places her perfectly within the Confluencenter's mission to promote innovation, collaboration and community engagement." he said.

Durán said the Sharing Tribes project is "a perfect example of this intersection, and it also promises to revolutionize the ways in which different communities use 'sharing' as a social and economic tool to make better use of existing material resources while increasing dialogue and communication. The project also speaks to our responsibility to reduce consumption, waste and pollution as well as to increase social capital in particular communities."

Sharing Tribes is a software-as-a-service program that builds engagement and promotes sustainable consumption in private social networks. Organizations or companies can subscribe and offer it as a benefit to their members or employees. For every paid subscription, Sharing Tribes will give a free subscription to an interested community organization that cannot afford the service.

Describing how it works, Bhappu said: 

"Think of three things that you would be willing to lend out, things that you use but not all of the time — like an air mattress, carpet cleaner or tent. You offer to lend these items by listing them in your tribe store and indicate their availability with our calendar system. And now, because you have shared, you can borrow items that other members have offered up. There are search tools and categories, just like shopping online. We even have notifications to remind you to pick up and return items on time. This app takes retail principles and applies them to the practice of sharing."

Recalling the app's evolution, Bhappu rewinds to 2010, when she and her colleague Sabrina V. Helm were given support from a PetSmart endowment to launch the UA's Consumers, Environment and Sustainability Initiative.

Bhappu and Helm started the initiative to investigate how consumers are making sense of all the sustainable products, services and messages that companies promote in retail spaces. Involving students, "Consumers, Environment and Sustainable Consumption" was introduced to address three major topics in consumerism: the psychology of why people consume, global environmental effects, and company and market options with respect to changing consumer attitudes.

In the spring of 2013, a female student's comment gave Bhappu pause and inspiration.

"She said to me, 'When we make sharing as fun and cool as shopping is today, that's when we’ll see conscious consumption take hold.' I remember clearly thinking, 'How do we do that?" Bhappu said.

That summer, Bhappu decided to address the student's challenge by first talking to consumers and community members about goods sharing. Those conversations led to theories and ideas.

Bhappu started attending startup events and participating in workshops to get a sense of recommended ways to take software to market. That's how she met David Sebastian, now the chief executive office, and the two opted to commercialize their concept.

Later that year, they engaged another business partner, chief technology officer William Kasica, who is helping to build the technology.      

"The community and social value the app can create, in addition to its environmental impact, motivates me," Bhappu said. "If we can get people addicted on reciprocity, I think that is awesome."

Category(s): Science and TechnologySocial Sciences and EducationJamie ManserNovember 10, 2015UA Confluencenter for Creative Inquiry

Pairing Promotes Children's Scientific Exploration

Fri, 11/06/2015 - 11:08am
Extra Info: 

"Linguistics in Children's Museum Tucson" will continue during the spring of 2016. To learn more, or to enroll, contact Cecile McKee at

Other courses offered as Engaged Learning Experiences can be identified by searching the schedule of classes, and using the Engagement attributes.

The Office of Student Engagement, located in Suite 248 of the Student Union Memorial Center, also maintains a list of noncredit experiences that enable students to earn the Engaged Learning Experience notation on their transcript. Students can contact the office with questions directly online.

Story Contacts: 

Cecile McKee

UA College of Social and Behavioral Sciences



Autumn Rentmeester

Children's Museum Tucson

520-792-9985, Ext. 103

UA linguist Cecile McKee is leading an applied research project in collaboration with Children's Museum Tucson involving children between the ages of 2 and 8.

Children between the ages of 2 and 8 who visit Children's Museum Tucson with their families this fall are learning how to gather evidence and communicate their findings — essential elements of scientific research — under the guise of playful interaction.

Families can voluntarily participate in the informal science education project "Linguistics in Children's Museum Tucson," which is supported by new University of Arizona 100% Engagement funding and is evaluating a framework for teaching children science in an informal setting.

Led by UA linguist Cecile McKee, a multi-organization team of UA students and museum staff launched the evidence-based project, which supports English and Spanish speakers. The effort is partially driven by research indicating that children often learn best through play but that some parents believe that play is divorced from actual learning.

"We were trying to figure out how to coordinate with the museum, which is all about playful learning and sharing science with kids," said McKee, associate dean for research in the UA College of Social and Behavioral Sciences and co-principal investigator on the grant with Autumn Rentmeester at Children's Museum Tucson.

"Part of playing is about making choices and, with this project, the child gets to decide," said McKee, also a linguistics professor, who has facilitated similar informal science education projects at festivals, fairs and other events locally and across the nation. "We are really focusing on the children's engagement with science and the parents' involvement with their children."

The project is one of 19 strategic investments the UA Office of Student Engagement made during the spring of 2015, supporting collaborative teams across campus under the University's 100% Engagement initiative. 

The launch of the office and subsequent funding are products of the UA's Never Settle strategic academic and business plan, which also resulted in a formalized process by which students can receive an "Engaged Learning Experience" notation on their official transcripts. Also driving 100% Engagement is the priority to connect students with applied experience that makes them even more attractive to employers.

For the UA students involved, the project is an example of a community partnership activity that reinforces the civic and community responsibility competency, which encourages inclusive decision-making and issues-oriented problem solving, promoted under 100% Engagement. The UA students also are learning in real time how best to support people with different communication and educational needs. 

"I wanted to learn how to conduct research, so I really wanted to get experience working with a professor, and I also have had the opportunity to work with a Ph.D. student," said Genesis Grijalva, an anthropology major involved in the project. As part of the project, Grijalva works directly with Spanish speakers.

"I realize this opens me up to being flexible in what I will decide to do in the future," Grijalva said about the experience.

With the funding, McKee and her team designed and built a mobile exhibit with two educational games to help children learn how to develop hypotheses and explore homophones while relying on their own abstract thinking processes. Specifically, one game teaches children about the sounds of words; the other teaches them how to identify patterns in images.

As the children play the educational games, their parents or other family members fill out a survey to inform them about the importance of playful engagement, while gauging their interest in the project. The team also provides the families with materials to continue the activities once at home.

During one recent visit to the museum, 3-year-old Oliver took interest in the cart, which was displaying the game that teaches about speech sounds. On the cart were magnetic images of a boy and a girl, each missing the mouth. Nearby were three mouths, shaped as if each were sounding out "sue," "saw" and "see," which are three of the most common vowels in the world's languages, said Elly Zimmer, a doctoral candidate in linguistics.

Kneeling beside him, Zimmer asked Oliver if he could guess what sound each mouth was attempting to make. Staring intensely, Oliver began to guess, forming sounds with his mouth, attempting to match the images.

"It is amazing how quickly kids can pick things up when they are having fun," said Zimmer, whose dissertation work on early literacy development informed the structure of the interactions.

In addition to the engagement elements, the project also exemplifies Never Settle priorities to diminish boundaries between the UA and other communities, sharply encouraging interdisciplinary and multi-organizational collaboration.

"We both care about the same things and see that education is important for our little ones," said Rentmeester, the development and operations director for the Children's Museum Tucson. 

Rentmeester said the collaboration is mutually beneficial, as the museum and the UA share key values in expanding educational access and encouraging more broad-based community involvement in education. Also, she and McKee shared a motivation to determine ways to better involve children age 5 and younger in science.

"Education is necessary, and it is the key to a child's success," Rentmeester said. "Exposure to literacy, math and science are all very important before a child turns 5 years old."

Involving a core community-based educational resource such as Children's Museum Tucson also was important to McKee for other reasons.

The team is able to reach a diverse range of families, including minorities who are underrepresented in the science workforce and who come from low-income backgrounds. Such groups make up more than 40 percent of the museum's visitors each year.

McKee noted research indicating that poverty can greatly impact educational attainment, and that women and certain minority groups remain underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.

Additionally, access to preschool education — which helps improve literacy, numeracy, abstract thinking development, socialization and transition into kindergarten —is largely unattainable for families from lower socioeconomic backgrounds.

"It may be that people don't think science is right for them, so we hope to get kids excited about science using tools associated with language. We want them to be able to imagine themselves in science," McKee said.

"We are working to respond to the needs of the community, and we are hoping that the museum will be partnering with us on that for a long time."

Category(s): Teaching and StudentsNovember 13, 2015University Relations - Communications

UA Events to Salute Veterans Day

Thu, 11/05/2015 - 12:36pm
Sunday's free screening of the film "Project 22," which addresses the postwar challenges faced by those in the military, launches the week's activities.

To kick off four days of events and activities related to next Wednesday's Veterans Day, the University of Arizona's Veterans Education and Transition Services will present a free screening of "Project 22" along with special guest speaker Major Gen. Mark Graham and his wife, Carol.

The event starts at 6 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 8, at the Fox Theatre in downtown Tucson.

"Project 22" follows two combat-wounded veterans, "Daniel" and "Doc," as they ride motorcycles from San Francisco to New York. The men speak with veterans about postwar challenges that lead to suicide. Along their journey, they are able to find alternative forms of therapy, such as sailing, pottery and education. More information about the film is available here.

The Grahams have pledged to raise awareness in the military to the dangers of untreated depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injuries and other mental health issues. In the U.S. alone, an estimated 22 veterans commit suicide daily.

Monday, Nov. 9

A free webinar, "Power Your Career Forward: Military to Civilian Transitions," will be held from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m., sponsored by the UA Alumni Association and UA Career Services. Rebecca Leyson — a career coach, recruiter and Army veteran — will discuss the hurdles of translating military experience to civilian job searches, and provide strategies for understanding career possibilities, conducting a strategic job search and crafting effective civilian resumes. More information is available here.

Tuesday, Nov. 10

The UA Student Recreation Center will host a 30-minute Military Appreciation Run/Walk, starting at 7 a.m. on the UA Mall, in support of veterans and military personnel and to promote the UAFit fitness challenge. The UA's ROTC units will participate. After the run/walk, which will consist of two laps around the UA Mall from Old Main to Cherry Avenue, a cake-cutting ceremony will celebrate the 240th anniversary of the Marine Corps. For more information: Natalie O'Farrell, 626-4902 or

The UA's Veterans Education and Transition Services will sponsor "Boots on Campus." A free lunch is offered to all veteran faculty, staff and students, who are encouraged to wear their military boots for the day. Lunch will be served from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the VETS center, on the fourth floor (Room 404) of the Student Union Memorial Center. For more information: Cody Nicholls, 626-7154 or

The University is scheduled to sign a letter of Employer Support for the Guard and Reserve at 2 p.m. in the Ventana Room on the fourth floor of the Student Union Memorial Center.

Wednesday, Nov. 11

Military families are invited to participate in free activities at the UA Campus Recreation Outdoor Challenge Course at the Rincon Vista Sports Complex, 2300 E. 15th St. Two four-hour sessions are available, starting at 8 a.m. and noon. A parent or guardian who is a veteran or currently in military service is required for participation, and youths must be at least age 12. The course consists of a series of obstacles made of rope, cable, wood and portable items, and groups work in collaboration to navigate various challenges. Registration is limited to 40 participants per session. To register, contact Teresa Noon in UA Cooperative Extension Military Outreach at 626-9085 or

Wednesday is a University holiday for faculty, staff and students.

Category(s): Campus NewsNovember 5, 2015University Relations – Communications

Researchers Get $1.4M for Tool to Simplify Health Info

Wed, 11/04/2015 - 3:47pm
The MIS research team in the UA's Eller College of Management is working to increase health literacy and decrease patient vulnerability.

With a four-year, $1.4 million grant from the National Library of Medicine of the National Institutes of Health, MIS researchers in the University of Arizona's Eller College of Management will create a free online tool that simplifies health care related text, making communication from a person's doctor or medical team easier to understand.

Increasing rates of chronic diseases, such as diabetes, HIV and obesity, require patients to be more involved in their own health care. However, only 12 percent of American adults have proficient health literacy, meaning nearly nine out of 10 adults may lack the skills they need to manage their health, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

"When you're diagnosed with a serious disease, you are vulnerable," said Gondy Leroy, principal investigator on the grant and UA associate professor of MIS. "This is partially due to not understanding all relevant information, a problem we can solve with today's technology. We need to increase people's understanding so they're empowered to make proper decisions about their health care."

Leroy is heading up a multidisciplinary research team tasked with increasing health literacy by creating an online writing support tool for medical professionals. Similar to popular editing software, the tool will provide suggestions for replacing difficult terminology, improving awkward expressions, and tuning the flow and structure of the information to make it more understandable for those with little background knowledge on the topic.

The most commonly used tools available today measure the difficulty of medical text using a "readability formula," according to Leroy. This is supposed to make the text more understandable, but there is little evidence showing that this formula helps with rewriting text for improving comprehension and positive health outcomes.

Leroy's team is working on a more effective tool that will be tested through comprehensive user studies to ensure it increases understanding among patients. It will be available in both English and Spanish, and it is slated to be complete by the end of 2019, although earlier, less-sophisticated versions may be made available sooner.

The research team includes David Kauchak in the computer science department at Pomona College in Claremont, California; Patricia Anders in the UA College of Education; Sonia Colina in the UA Department of Spanish and Portuguese; Gail Pritchard in the UA College of Medicine; Debra Revere, in the School of Public Health at the University of Washington; Nicole Yuan in the UA's Mel & Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health; and Diane Haeger at El Rio Community Health Center in Tucson.

Category(s): Business and LawHealthEller College of ManagementNovember 5, 2015

2 UA Colleges Collaborate to Form Law and Policy Center

Wed, 11/04/2015 - 11:44am
Story Contacts: 

Tracy Mueller

UA James E. Rogers College of Law



Susan McGinley

UA College of Agriculture and Life Sciences


The new center will include a law clinic staffed by students from two UA colleges who will work directly with ranchers, farmers, miners and others.

The Natural Resource Users Law and Policy Center — the first of its kind in the nation — has been launched at the University of Arizona to address the currently unmet legal needs of ranchers, farmers, miners and others whose business involves the use of natural resources.

The UA College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Cooperative Extension System and the James E. Rogers College of Law have partnered to launch the center, and the two units are jointly conducting a nationwide search for a center director. The director will collaborate with stakeholders, mentoring student clinicians and fellows and also designing and implementing the center's structure.

"As Arizona's flagship and land-grant university, located in the region that is home to the vast majority of the country’s public lands, the University of Arizona is ideally positioned to host this center," said Shane Burgess, dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

"I am thrilled that this new center will highlight the bright future our students can have by following their CALS degrees with a professional degree from the College of Law," Burgess said. "This collaboration is a huge opportunity for CALS."

The businesses that the center will work with — most often run by families, individuals or small entities in Arizona — confront a wide array of legal and regulatory issues, including land, environment, tourism, water, employment, trade, food safety and security, and economics.

These issues often are difficult to resolve without the advice of private legal counsel, which many natural resource users cannot afford.

"The Natural Resource Users Law and Policy Center will pair carefully supervised students trained in the law and natural resource use with resource users in Arizona who need legal services and policy advice," said Marc Miller, dean of the James E. Rogers College of Law.

The center will include a Natural Resource Users Public Interest Law Clinic staffed by students at both colleges, who will work directly with ranchers, farmers, miners and others.

Drawing on the statewide reach of the UA's Cooperative Extension System and other affiliated facilities, the center also will serve clients in multiple locations throughout Arizona.

"The Cooperative Extension System has a long history of bringing University of Arizona expertise to bear on practical issues and problems encountered by citizens of Arizona," said Jeff Silvertooth, director of UA Cooperative Extension. "This new partnership will allow us to serve even more Arizonans and contribute to the economic development of the state."

Richard Morrison, an attorney at Salmon, Lewis and Weldon PLC in Phoenix, said he is excited about the development of the center.

"Having represented agricultural interests all of my career, I know there have never been enough agricultural lawyers and there has always been an issue of affordability," Morrison said. "I believe this clinic can provide the solution."

Arizona rancher and UA alumnus Andy Groseta, owner of Groseta Ranches, said that in addition to giving students new educational and career opportunities, the center will provide a much-needed service.

"The Natural Resource Users Law and Policy Center will train aspiring attorneys to help natural resource users navigate a complex legal landscape and also reach resolutions in bureaucratic and administrative matters," Groseta said.

"I am very pleased that the UA is stepping up to the plate in being a nationally recognized leader to provide legal and policy solutions for natural resource use, not only in Arizona but throughout the nation."

Category(s): Business and LawScience and TechnologyNovember 4, 2015UA College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and James E. Rogers College of Law

College of Science Produces Mount Lemmon Audio Tour

Tue, 11/03/2015 - 6:12pm
Story Contacts: 

Shipherd Reed

UA Flandrau Science Center and Planetarium


From the Sonoran Desert at the bottom to the pine forest at the top, the trip covers 6,000 vertical feet and is one of the most spectacular drives in the country.

The Mount Lemmon Science Tour, a free audio tour app produced by the University of Arizona College of Science, is now available to accompany the drive up the Santa Catalina Mountains near Tucson.

The trip along the Catalina Highway, from the Sonoran Desert at the bottom to the pine forest at the top of Mount Lemmon, covers 6,000 vertical feet and is one of the most spectacular drives in the country. In climate terms, it is like driving from Mexico to Canada in an hour.

The audio tour brings together the beauty of southern Arizona’s spectacular vistas and the surprising natural science of the region.

The Santa Catalina Mountains are just one of many "Sky Island" mountain ranges that make southern Arizona an environment unlike any other. Thanks to a landscape of desert basins and high mountains, there is more biodiversity — plants and animals, insects and birds — in southern Arizona than anywhere else in the United States.

This landscape has inspired scientists who came to find answers about how the natural world works. Researchers have explored the Sonoran Desert and the Sky Island mountains as a living laboratory. In the process, they made discoveries, creating new fields of science such as ecology and dendrochronology, and they expanded the boundaries of knowledge. These stories are told on the tour.

The tour unfolds in six sections: Sky Islands, rocks, life zones, water, forest and fire. The sections explore different fields of science and explain how natural systems and cycles are woven together to sustain life on Earth.

The tour transforms the drive to the top of Mount Lemmon into a journey of discovery. Along the way, there are two suggested stops. The first is Windy Point Vista, with views looking south over the Tucson basin toward the Santa Rita Mountains. The second is Aspen Vista, with views looking north across the San Pedro River valley toward the Gailluro and Pinaleno mountains.

To augment the narration, the tour also includes graphic slideshows and animated videos that visualize the science and interpret the vistas. When the app is downloaded, all of the audio and visual content will be on the user’s phone because there is no consistent cell phone service on the mountain.

To bring the full flavor of the unique region to life, the tour features music by the band Calexico. Joey Burns, the lead singer for Calexico, narrates the tour.

The Mount Lemmon Science Tour app is available as a free download on Apple or Android devices. Note that it does not currently work on iPads or PC touch pads.

Category(s): Science and TechnologyNovember 4, 2015University Relations – Communications

Barton Named Interim Director of BIO5

Tue, 11/03/2015 - 5:44pm
The biomedical engineer, on the UA faculty since 1998, succeeds Dr. Fernando D. Martinez.

Renowned biomedical engineer and former BIO5 Institute assistant director Jennifer Barton has been named interim director of the BIO5 Institute at the University of Arizona. Barton follows Dr. Fernando D. Martinez, who recently was tapped to expand the UA's Arizona Respiratory Center.

Barton will lead BIO5 while a search is conducted for a permanent director.

"BIO5 has an outstanding record of achievement in advancing collaborative, interdisciplinary life science research. Jennifer has the requisite experience to make sure that continues," said Kimberly Andrews Espy, the UA's senior vice president for research. "I am firmly committed to the continued success of BIO5 and its role in helping us achieve the research goals identified through the University of Arizona's strategic plan, Never Settle.

"Jennifer's ability to bring people together, which she has done throughout her career at the UA, and her administrative accomplishments and familiarity with our faculty make her a great fit for BIO5 at this time."

The BIO5 Institute brings together researchers in agriculture, engineering, medicine, pharmacy and science to develop creative solutions to humanity's most pressing health challenges. Since 2001, this interdisciplinary approach has been an international model of how to conduct collaborative research, and it has resulted in improved food crops, innovative diagnostics and devices, and promising new therapies.

"Since its inception, BIO5 has been central in promoting interdisciplinary biosciences research at the University of Arizona and around the globe," said Barton, whose research interests are in translational biomedical optics and the early detection of cancer. "I'm excited to build on the accomplishments of Fernando and Vicki (former BIO5 director Vicki Chandler) and continue the UA tradition of collaboration."

Barton has been on the faculty at the UA since 1998. Her work has included a number of breakthroughs in imaging, with research projects funded by federal agencies, foundations and industry.

She is the principal investigator on active awards from the National Cancer Institute (for the identification of the earliest image markers of ovarian cancer), the Department of Defense (to develop a small endoscope that can image the fallopian tubes and ovaries) and a private Arizona company (to understand mechanisms behind a device to treat injured tendons).

Category(s): Science and TechnologyNovember 3, 2015University Relations – Communications

Virtual Class Driven by Data to Succeed

Mon, 11/02/2015 - 12:55pm
With the help of the UA-based iPlant Collaborative, students in a revolutionary, two-university "ecoinformatics" course dug through unused open-access data to discover how variations in soil composition influence microbial life.

Modern technology has blurred the boundaries of place, time zone and people, between students learning details and scientists leading discoveries.

Case in point: A revolutionary virtual class brought together undergraduate and graduate students at the University of Arizona and Western Michigan University in the spring of 2014.

With an innovative academic curriculum culminating in a student-authored research paper published in PLOS ONE, the students and professors of the class, titled "Ecoinformatics," have demonstrated that for education, collaboration and scientific discovery, there are no boundaries remaining.

"From the beginning, it was our goal that the students would write a paper. I don't think they believed us at first," said Rachel Gallery, a UA assistant professor in the School of Natural Resources and the Environment in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Gallery and Kathryn Docherty, an assistant professor of biological sciences at Western Michigan, pioneered the class, which integrated remote collaboration, data sharing and peer-review publication into a new form of learning that goes well beyond customary college coursework.

The class convened for lectures via videoconference.

"It was surprising how easy it was to treat it like a normal classroom," Gallery said. "In some ways, it was more helpful than a standard lecture, much more effective because we spent less time lecturing and more time having discussions."

Martha Gebhardt, a UA doctoral candidate and Ecoinformatics student, agreed.

"Virtual lectures facilitated class discussions," she said. "Both UA and Michigan students could immediately see what was being discussed and add their thoughts and input."

The class combined undergraduate and graduate students from a variety of educational and intellectual backgrounds, including entomology, soil sciences, environmental science and informatics.

"It was in many ways a professional development course," Gallery said. "We taught students concepts including how to write a manuscript, who deserves authorship and co-authorship, and how do you allocate those responsibilities?"

Mining 'Open-Access Data'

Before they could write a paper, the students had to learn to analyze large-scale datasets. Modern technology has fueled the big-data revolution with new and more powerful resource tools generating huge amounts of data — often more than scientists have time or resources to study.

The massive volumes of unanalyzed data are funneled into so-called big-data repositories, science centers that store and catalog the datasets with the hope and intent that someday they will be used to pioneer new discoveries.

The result is "open-access data," free for anyone scientifically inclined to mine for answers to questions that often haven’t even been asked, leading to valuable new knowledge.

Researchers everywhere are talking about using open-access data, Gallery said, "so we tried training students on big-data questions, and had so much success that it resulted in a manuscript."

The students leveraged previously unanalyzed pilot data from the National Ecological Observation Network, or NEON, an observation system designed to enable researchers to examine ecological variation over time, on a continental scale.

The class developed the scheme of analyzing the effects of geography and temperature on soil bacteria communities in four different biomes. Biomes are ecological zones characterized by ability to support distinct communities of life forms. The students selected datasets collected from biomes in Utah, Hawaii, Alaska and Florida, and began evaluating seasonal variation of terrestrial vegetation and comparing peak growing season values across the biomes.

To profile the microbial communities, the students used bacterial DNA and lipids, or oils, produced by bacteria and fungi in the soils, which provide an estimate of their growth.

Role of iPlant Collaborative

To securely store, share and analyze the massive volumes of data, the class turned to the iPlant Collaborative, a National Science Foundation-funded biotechnology project that provides computational resources for big-data storage, analysis and sharing.

The class, and its research, education and publication outcomes, would not have been possible without the collaborative, Gallery said. She and Docherty used online educational tools and services provided by iPlant to help the students learn how to analyze big data.

"We used iPlant for all the data sharing, so everybody could access the data," Gallery said. "And the students used the iPlant environment to send messages as they worked their way through the data."

The students even developed their own idea of creating YouTube videos to help teach each other the various skills needed for success in the course, including how to use iPlant's services.

From their research and correspondence, the students determined that key properties, such as soil temperature, soil chemistry and vegetation, could explain most variation in soil bacteria across the four biomes. The research data from the course are available through the iPlant Collaborative, and are stored with corresponding metadata in a public data repository by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, an initiative of the National Institutes of Health.

From these data, the students co-wrote what for many was their first scientific publication.

"It is first and foremost a research paper," Gallery said. "But we also talked about the usefulness of this approach for project-based learning."

"As a graduate student, having a publication really demonstrates commitment to your research, and ability to perform," said UA doctoral candidate Noelle Espinosa. "This course provided so much more than most courses. We were challenged to think and work as a collaborative group, to ask big questions and grapple with a big dataset. What I picked up from my peers will be invaluable for my future."

Said Docherty: "Oftentimes researchers feel limited to collaborating just with local researchers, but with these large datasets and today's communication and data-sharing systems, that is no longer a limitation."

Category(s): Science and TechnologyTeaching and StudentsShelley LittinNovember 5, 2015iPlant Collaborative

Student Launches 'UA Craigslist'

Mon, 11/02/2015 - 11:30am
Extra Info: 

To get the Unilist app: or

For more information:


Computer science major Alec Kretch has rolled out a new app aimed at UA students who are looking to buy or sell things — or even find a tutor or a job.

Anyone familiar with the marketplace site Craigslist knows its pitfalls of distance and danger. Buyers and sellers are scattered all over the place, and you can't be sure who you're dealing with. It can be both a hassle and a crapshoot.

That never seemed sufficient for Alec Kretch, a University of Arizona junior who is majoring in computer science. In March, Kretch began working on an app that is "for the U of A and by the U of A," a hyperlocal tool for students who are looking to buy or sell things, find a tutor, negotiate subleases on apartments, even scout for jobs.

The product of his travails, Unilist, which uses a stylized unicycle as its logo, launched today and is available for free under "Unilist Campus Marketplace" in the iTunes AppStore.

"I believe in the power of mobile technology," Kretch says. "It's a powerful tool to have at your fingertips. My focus isn't on monetizing this. It's something I believe in — connecting people. It's been in my head since I came to the UA."

Kretch says a UA email address is required in order to create a Unilist account, and that tells you all about the audience he's aiming for. He says UA students haven't had their own place to buy and sell clothing, tech products, furniture and textbooks. Already he has attracted campus-area businesses such as Pizza Studio and Gentle Ben's to offer specials via the app, and there's even a lost-and-found category.

"My goal is to connect students with each other and with the local community," Kretch says. "This has been a big hole in the marketplace."

Kretch, who is a senator for Associated Students of the University of Arizona, or ASUA, says the app has been fully tested. His slogan is "Connecting the U of A community, one listing at a time."

"This will serve as a mobile campus communication platform," he says. "I've been describing it as 'Craigslist for the UA.'"

Category(s): Campus NewsNovember 2, 2015University Relations – Communications

Ancient Brains Turn Paleontology on Its Head

Mon, 11/02/2015 - 8:07am
UA researcher Nicholas Strausfeld says that for many, the 2012 discovery of a fossilized brain was hard to believe. Today, he’s changing minds, once and for all — with the strongest evidence yet.

Science has long dictated that brains don't fossilize, so when Nicholas Strausfeld co-authored the first-ever report of a fossilized brain in a 2012 edition of Nature, it was met with "a lot of flack," he said.

"It was questioned by many paleontologists, who thought — and, in fact, some claimed in print — that maybe it was just an artifact or a one-off, implausible fossilization event,” said Strausfeld, a Regents' Professor in UA's Department of Neuroscience.

His latest paper in Current Biology addresses these doubts head-on, with definitive evidence that brains do indeed fossilize.

In the paper, Strausfeld and his collaborators, including Xiaoya Ma of China's Yunnan University and Gregory Edgecombe of the Natural History Museum in London, analyze seven newly discovered fossils of the same species to find, in each, traces of what was undoubtedly a brain.

The species, Fuxianhuia protensa, is an extinct arthropod that roamed the seafloor about 520 million years ago. It would have looked something like a very simple shrimp. And each of the fossils — from the Chengjiang Shales, fossil-rich sites in southwest China — revealed F. protensa's ancient brain looked a lot like a modern crustacean's, too. 

Using scanning electron microscopy, the researchers found that the brains were preserved as flattened carbon films, which, in some fossils, were partially overlaid by tiny iron pyrite crystals. This led the research team to a convincing explanation as to how and why neural tissue fossilizes.

In another recent paper in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, Strausfeld's experiments uncovered what it probably was about ancient environmental conditions that allowed a brain to fossilize in the first place.

The only way to become fossilized is, first, to get rapidly buried. Hungry scavengers can't eat a carcass if it's buried, and as long as the water is anoxic enough — that is, lacking in oxygen — a buried creature's tissues evade consumption by bacteria as well. Strausfeld and his collaborators suspect F. protensa was buried by rapid, underwater mudslides, a scenario they experimentally re-created by burying sandworms and cockroaches in mud.

This is step one. Step two, Strausfeld explained, is where most brains would fail: withstanding the pressure from being rapidly buried under thick, heavy mud.

To have been able to do this, the F. protensa nervous system must have been remarkably dense. In fact, tissues of nervous systems, including brains, are densest in living arthropods. As a small, tightly packed cellular network of fats and proteins, the brain and central nervous system could pass step two, as did the sandworm and cockroach brains in Strausfeld's lab.

"Dewatering is different from dehydration, and it happens more gradually," said Strausfeld, referring to the process by which pressure from the overlying mud squeezes water out of tissues. "During this process, the brain maintains its overall integrity leading to its gradual flattening and preservation. F. protensa’s tissue density appears to have made all the difference."

Now that he and his collaborators have produced unassailable evidence that fossilized arthropod brains are more than just a one-off phenomenon, Strausfeld is working to elucidate the origin and evolution of brains over half a billion years in the past.

"People, especially scientists, make assumptions. The fun thing about science, actually, is to demolish them," Strausfeld said.

Category(s): Science and TechnologyEmily LitvackNovember 9, 2015University Relations - Communications

STEM Retention Program to Reach Hundreds More

Sat, 10/31/2015 - 12:41pm
Extra Info: 

The ASEMS program has been a cross-campus collaboration since its origins. The ASEMS committee includes: Kimberly-Sierra-Cajas, Frans Tax and Cindy Neal in the College of Sciences; Ramin Yadegari in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences; Erica Corral in the College of Engineering; Nura Dualeh in the Graduate College and also Academic Initiatives and Student Success; and Amanda Ferraris in the College of Optical Sciences.

Story Contacts: 

Kimberly Sierra-Cajas

UA College of Science



Frans Tax

UA College of Science


The Arizona Science, Engineering and Mathematics Scholars Program has received new funding in a $1.1 million grant.

With a new $1.1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education, the University of Arizona will be able to retain hundreds of additional students in the high-demand science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.

The funding for the next five years was awarded to the UA's Arizona Science, Engineering and Mathematics Scholars Program, or ASEMS, under the TRIO Student Support Services Program. ASEMS will now launch the "TRIO SSS – ASEMS Project," serving an additional 120 STEM undergraduates annually.

Aligned with the UA's Never Settle plan, the ASEMS team has found several external funding opportunities to support the establishment and continued growth of the program. For example, the program earlier this year received $300,000 in private funding from a foundation to also launch a track for transfer students, improving the STEM-specific support for 40 transfer students pursuing STEM degrees each year. 

The newly granted federal and private funding formalizes and adds structure to ASEMS, which has been operating as a pilot initiative, said Kimberly Sierra-Cajas, the ASEMS facilitator. The program has swiftly become a model initiative for recruiting, retaining and graduating underrepresented students in STEM at the UA since its establishment in 2010.

The ASEMS program already has promising retention rates. Of the first and second cohorts — a total of 50 students — 92 percent have either graduated or are still enrolled at the UA, with 95 percent of those in STEM degree fields. Also, 47 percent of the graduates are attending graduate or professional school.

ASEMS has two tracks — a traditional program and one designed for transfer students with about 90 students total — and with the federal grant will specifically target first-generation students, individuals with disabilities and those who have high financial need.

Other components of the program now possible with the federal grant include:

  • The hiring of a director and a staff member.
  • Expanded one-on-one peer advising, with the hiring of student employees — most of them previous ASEMS students. Peer advisers receive regular training to address academic and non-cognitive factors with their matched students (such as connecting to the STEM community and feeling a sense of belonging) and serve for two semesters.
  • The addition of funded math and science learning coaches, who will provide tutoring and guide students in understanding how to approach the course material.
  • Additional academic services for students who are juniors and seniors, involving them in career counseling, supporting them with GRE preparation and graduate school applications, and connecting them with industry and research opportunities.
  • Workshops on completing the FAFSA and financial literacy.
  • Specialized training provided through the College of Medicine's Office of Diversity and Inclusion for students pursuing the professional school track in health sciences.
  • Workshops on finding industry internships and applying for jobs in industry.
  • Involvement of students' families through an orientation and as an extended support network. The team also is developing a newsletter for families.
  • Encouragement of students to enroll in the New Start Summer Program, an institutional bridge program that involves new admits and is designed to help them acclimate to their new academic and social lives as Wildcats.

"One thing that is very exciting about this grant is that it reaches across campus, and the program is very collaborative," Sierra-Cajas said.

ASEMS engages students and employees in the UA Colleges of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Education, Engineering, Medicine and Science and also the Graduate College and Disability Resources. Another partner is the UA STEM Learning Center, coordinated with business and industry STEM-related resources, expertise, best practices and funding opportunities. 

"The overall trend in higher education is that students who are first-generation, low-low income or who have a disability have lower completion rates in college. That's even stronger in STEM," said Sara Chavarria, assistant director of the STEM Learning Center.

"We have a much broader understanding of what approaches work well, depending on different contexts, activities and audiences," said Chavarria, also the outreach director for the UA College of Education. "For us, it is really great to partner with a program like ASEMS to look at how well those practices work, and to inform on what needs to be changed or adapted."

Sierra-Cajas also said the grant will enable ASEMS to build a stronger relationship with industry.

"Not everyone wants to take the academic path toward graduate school, and students need to know how to take advantage of the wide variety of opportunities they have when they get their degrees," Sierra-Cajas said.

ASEMS is an evidence-based program, shaped by literature indicating that students perform better when they receive personalized support, when they are paired with peers and when their academic training aligns directly with their career goals, said Frans Tax, the SSS STEM-ASEMS faculty director and academic supervisor.

Therefore, ASEMS students also take success courses and are involved in lab shadowing. They learn about financial aid and financial literacy; how to apply for scholarships, lab research positions and internships; graduate school preparation; research opportunities locally and nationwide; and career planning.

For these and other reasons, ASEMS carries another strong association with Never Settle, which has called for new and advanced models for teaching and engaging students, particularly in learning that will ensure that they are workforce ready when they graduate.

"There is so much more to student success than what happens in the classroom," said Stephanie Celaya-Serventi, the current ASEMS student support coordinator and former graduate teaching assistant. She said this is true for ASEMS students as well as their peer advisers, who also are learning valuable skills.

"Ultimately, our students are becoming more competitive," she said, "whether they will go to graduate school, medical school or industry."

Category(s): Science and TechnologyTeaching and StudentsLa Monica Everett-HaynesNovember 6, 2015University Relations - Communications

UA Students Bring Together Art, Science

Thu, 10/29/2015 - 4:57pm
Graduate students in the Lunar and Planetary Lab and undergraduates in the art education department joined forces to make this year's "Art of Planetary Science" exhibition a success.

The natural beauty of a cluster of galaxies, the bright burst of a nebula and even the star-filled Tucson night sky can be considered forms of abstract art.

This idea motivated four doctoral candidates in the University of Arizona's Lunar and Planetary Lab to create the "Art of Planetary Scienceexhibition, which recently had its third annual showing. The exhibit showcases artwork from scientists, artists and aficiondos of both to explore why so many people are fascinated by science and to bring together Tucson's science and art communities.

In doing so, the exhibit fostered an unlikely cross-campus collaboration between the graduate-student organizers from LPL and a class of undergraduates studying art outreach with UA assistant professor Lisa Hochtritt.

Near the entrance, guests were greeted by an interactive chalkboard, which asked people to write about what they felt when when they looked at the sky.

Another exhibit invited participants to color segments of famous equations or to record interviews about their love of science. The interviews will be compiled in video form and posted on the event's website.

Each activity brought together individuals from the community to create a single piece of art, making the activities microcosms of the event as a whole.

"We’re all coming together for this common cause of showing how art and science are really intertwined," said Sarah Carton, one of Hochtritt's students.

The student-run activities were funded by a UA Student/Faculty Interaction grant.

According to the graduate organizers, inclusion of the undergraduates helped make the event a success.

"This was really our best year," said Jamie Molero, addressing Hochtritt’s class after the exhibition. "And you guys were definitely a big part of that."

Colorful topography maps of Earth and Mars brought out the beauty of scientific models. A photograph of the night sky showed the constellation Delphinus — "dolphin" in Latin — diving into the Milky Way, a playful interpretation of the stars. Artistic renderings of NASA photographs showed the cosmos as a natural inspiration for abstract art.

Although paintings and photographs dominated the show, there also were quilts, Lego creations and other unique pieces. Sarah Peacock, one of the organizers, even contributed a piece based on ancient Incan traditions.

"I was working in Chile and I learned the Incas used to make 'quipus,' which is a way of counting agriculture by tying knots in strings," Peacock said.

She created her own color-coded quipus, which counted the number of discovered exoplanets in different regions around their star. For instance, green strings represented the number of known exoplanets in the habitable zone, while red strings represented the number of exoplanets located extremely close to their star.

Several other pieces focused on the way indigenous folklore has represented the cosmos throughout time, serving as a reminder that humans studied the cosmos even before the creation of modern science. 

The project also helped students rediscover their own love of science.

"I jumped around majors a lot, and now I’m a photography major," said Curtis Ryan, one of the undergraduate volunteers. "But I think if I could go back, I would do astronomy."

Several students expressed similar sentiments. They were passionate about art but still wished to pursue their interest in science.

"A lot of students in the art department have a lot of interest in science," Carton said. "So it was really great to bring us together, from literally opposite sides of the campus."

The exhibit also rekindled a desire to make art.

"This class has opened up old avenues I used to explore, like music and painting," said Brysen Brown, a general studies major with a focus in economics. "I’m actually painting now!"

Category(s): Arts and HumanitiesScience and TechnologyRebecca PeifferNovember 5, 2015NASA Space Grant Intern, University Relations - Communications

UA Researchers Find New Cometary Compound

Thu, 10/29/2015 - 11:35am
Scientists used the Arizona Radio Observatory's 12-meter telescope to look for interstellar methyl isocyanate, CH3NCO.

Last November, after a decade-long journey, Rosetta’s Philae lander touched down on the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, a regular visitor to our inner solar system.

The little lander bounced a time or two before coming to rest and then proceeded to collect samples from the comet’s surface. After the specimens were analyzed, the results were relayed to earthlings eagerly awaiting word on what Philae had found.

What Philae had discovered was a treasure trove of chemical compounds, including methyl isocyanate, a new cometary molecule. And when Lucy Ziurys and DeWayne Halfen got word of Philae’s findings, Halfen, an assistant astronomer in the Department of Astronomy at the University of Arizona, decided to see if he and Ziurys could locate methyl isocyanate molecules in interstellar space, where it hadn’t been seen before.

Each chemical compound has its own spectral signature, or fingerprint, that depends on variables such as a compound’s geometry, how its atoms are arranged, and the length and angle of its chemical bonds.

"If we know the fingerprint of a given molecule, we can go to a radio telescope and see if that molecule exists in some astronomical object," says Ziurys, a professor of chemistry/biochemistry and astronomy at the UA.

Which is just what she, Halfen and their collaborator, Vadim Ilyushin of the Ukraine’s Institute of Radio Astronomy, did. The researchers used the Arizona Radio Observatory 12-meter telescope on Kitt Peak to look for interstellar methyl isocyanate, or CH3NCO.

"We looked for methyl isocyanate’s spectral signature, and we found it in Sagittarius B2N, a famous molecular cloud in the galactic center," Halfen says.

All solar systems form from these big clouds, which collapse to create stars and planets.

"We found methyl isocyanate in reasonable abundance, so it suggests — and people have been maintaining — this: that comets bring interstellar material into the solar system, and when they bombard planets they bring that material to planet surfaces," Ziurys says.

"This is a very interesting molecule because it’s highly reactive and can lead to all kinds of complicated organic species," she says. "People don’t necessarily make this biological connection to space, but there likely is a strong link to biology. Now that we’ve seen methyl isocyanate out in space and we’ve seen it in a comet in our solar system, we strongly suspect it would be present on other comets and comets that bombarded the Earth billions of years ago.”

Ziurys and Halfen are now on the lookout for interstellar molecules that have prebiotic significance like methyl isocyanate but are even more complex. This work is part of the Earths in Other Solar Systems collaboration at Arizona.             

The researchers' results were published online in October in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Category(s): Science and TechnologyRobin TricolesNovember 6, 2015University Relations – Communications

Why Do We Delight in Fright?

Wed, 10/28/2015 - 3:53pm
October 28, 2015 Why We Delight in Fright Video of Why We Delight in Fright

You know the type. The ones who think being scared is a real scream. On Halloween, they head to the most hellish haunted house in the hamlet. On a balmy Sunday, they cuddle up with "Rosemary’s Baby," see "The Shining" or spend the afternoon with "Night of the Living Dead." Maybe they break out the Ouija board.

But why? Why do some people delight in fright? Do they have bats in their belfry? Or do they just enjoy a good scare sometimes?

University of Arizona psychology professors Daniel Sullivan and Jeff Greenberg have thought a lot about fear and even terror. Meanwhile, Haijiang Cai, an assistant professor of neuroscience at the UA, wants to find out how neural circuits regulate emotional behaviors connected to fear. And then there’s Jerrold Hogle, University Distinguished Professor in the Department of English. Hogle is spellbound by Gothic literature and an international authority on the subject.

Whether people seek out fear in movies, books or haunted houses, each of these researchers says it’s human nature to delight in fright — as long as you know you’re safe while doing so. 

The Flandrau Science Center and Planetarium will host its annual Spooktacular Science weekend, with activities from UA student science groups, as well as slippery slime, squid dissections, a brain zoo, chemistry magic, math mayhem, arts and crafts, and Halloween treats and trinkets. Also, there will be showings of the laser light show favorite "Fright Lights." Those attending in costume will receive a 25 percent discount on admission.

Hours are 5 to 10 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. "Fright Lights" show times are at 6 and 9 p.m. Friday, 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday, and 3 p.m. Sunday. For more information, go to

Category(s): Arts and HumanitiesScience and Technology

Parker Antin: Leading Life Science Initiatives

Wed, 10/28/2015 - 11:32am
As principal investigator of the UA-headquartered iPlant Collaborative, he is working to expand the capabilities and impact of the $100 million computational infrastructure platform.

Not every research or technology project can boast that its director also heads up national initiatives in life sciences and biotechnology. The University of Arizona's Parker Antin is a unique case.

Antin leads the iPlant Collaborative, the UA-headquartered computational infrastructure project that is the National Science Foundation's premier data management service.

A professor of cellular and molecular medicine and member of the UA's BIO5 Institute, Antin serves as associate dean for research for the UA's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, or CALS, and he is president-elect of the Federation of Societies for Experimental Biology, or FASEB, an umbrella science policy and advocacy organization that represents 27 scientific societies and 125,000 scientists.

"Antin's diverse research background makes him the perfect choice as principal investigator," said Kimberly Andrews Espy, senior vice president for research at the UA. "With 30 years of research that has spanned everything from early embryo development to stem cell biology and bioinformatics, Antin will further the expansion of iPlant as the tool to understand how life works from genome to phenome."

A Life in Life Sciences

Antin earned his doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania in 1982. After a postdoctoral position at the University of California, San Francisco, he joined the UA's Department of Animal Sciences in 1992.

He was promoted to associate professor in 1998 and joined the UA College of Medicine, where he currently oversees an active laboratory training graduate and postdoctoral researchers studying development of skeletal muscle and the cardiovascular system — and often leveraging iPlant's infrastructure.

"For the past 10 years, I have received National Institutes of Health funding to provide genomics-related resources to the avian research community," Antin said. "Along with Eric Lyons, an iPlant co-principal investigator, and Fiona McCarthy, a faculty member in the UA's School of Animal and Comparative Biomedical Sciences, I have submitted a renewal grant application that will expand the project and integrate it into the iPlant infrastructure. Several other large projects presently leverage iPlant in a similar manner."

Antin also is a national advocate for science policy and funding. His roles as associate dean of CALS and president of FASEB frequently take him to Washington, D.C., to advocate for science policy positions that enhance the scientific enterprise.

Antin's research is supported by the National Institutes of Health, with past support from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the American Heart Association, the National Aeronautic and Space Administration and the NSF.

Managing the Mission

At the helm of the UA-led iPlant Collaborative housed at the BIO5 Institute, Antin is working to expand the capabilities and impact of the $100 million NSF computational infrastructure platform.

"As more fields of science become driven by the acquisition and analysis of very large data sets, ways to store, share, analyze, and archive data and results are becoming critical roadblocks to scientific advancement," Antin said. "iPlant provides a platform for researchers to achieve these goals."

iPlant was created in 2008 by the NSF as a national computational infrastructure service for plant scientists. The platform's capabilities and team of scientists and developers rendered it quickly successful among an international plant science community. In 2013, the original NSF grant was renewed, along with the expanded directive to provide data management services for global life science initiatives.

"iPlant's mission has been to design, develop, deploy and maintain a national cyberinfrastructure to enable basic and applied biological research and to train scientists in its use," Antin explained. "The challenge for the future is to dramatically scale up our infrastructure while providing improved access to the resources and services that our users have come to appreciate."

To achieve this directive, Antin is guiding the project to create more sophisticated data scientists by offering high-level training, empower scientists with robust tools for data-driven discovery, and sustain an improved ecosystem of interoperability to ensure that iPlant can integrate seamlessly with commercial and other academic resources.

That is a heavy order, it would seem, but since its inception, the iPlant Collaborative has developed and implemented a highly functional infrastructure for the plant science community, Antin said, perfectly positioning the project to become an enabling resource for all life sciences.

When Antin first was approached about becoming principal investigator of iPlant, he hesitated. Yet, "as I learned more about iPlant's expanded scope, I was excited to be given the opportunity to help move iPlant through the next stages in its evolution," he said.

"As I meet with iPlant staff, I am struck by the enthusiasm I see for achieving this goal and with it the opportunity to significantly enhance scientific progress. Everyone associated with iPlant is driven by the potential to truly transform how life science is conducted in the U.S. and around the world. Being asked to lead such a project is an honor, and for sure the biggest challenge of my career."

Going forward, Antin said, "the technological challenges are significant (and) the payoffs can be transformational."

In addition to Antin, iPlant is directed by an executive team including co-principal investigators Nirav Merchant, director of information technology at Arizona Research Laboratories; Lyons, UA assistant professor of plant sciences and creator of CoGe, a comparative genetics platform that runs on iPlant's infrastructure; Matt Vaughn of Texas Advanced Computing Center at the University of Texas, Austin; and Doreen Ware of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratories.

The iPlant Collaborative is a federation of the University of Arizona, Texas Advanced Computing Center, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and the University of North Carolina, Wilmington. iPlant is funded by National Science Foundation award numbers DBI-0735191 and DBI-1265383.

Category(s): Science and TechnologyShelley LittinOctober 29, 2015iPlant Collaborative

Female Cadets Help UA's ROTC Win Regional

Tue, 10/27/2015 - 5:31pm
Extra Info: 

In advance of Veterans Day on Nov. 11, the UA Veterans Education and Transition Services will present a a free screening of "Project 22" along with special guest speaker Major Gen. Mark Graham and his wife, Carol, on Nov. 8. The 6 p.m. event will be held at the Fox Theatre in downtown Tucson.

The Grahams have pledged to raise awareness in the military to the dangers of untreated depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injuries and other mental health issues. In the U.S. alone, an estimated 22 veterans commit suicide daily.

"Project 22" follows two combat-wounded veterans, "Daniel" and "Doc," as they ride motorcycles from San Francisco to New York. Both speak with veterans about postwar challenges that lead to suicide. Along their journey, they are able to find alternative forms of therapy, such as sailing, pottery and education.

More information about the film is available online.

Story Contacts: 

Carl Haskins

UA Army ROTC Wildcat Ranger Challenge Team


With an unprecedented five women competing, the ROTC Ranger Challenge team won in Fort Bliss, Texas, and will compete at the national level this weekend.

For the second successive year, the University of Arizona Reserve Officers' Training Corps Ranger Challenge team has earned a 5th Brigade U.S. Army ROTC national championship berth with more than one woman represented.

The UA team took first place recently in the regional Brigade Ranger Challenge Competition held in Fort Bliss, Texas. With five female cadets, the team was the only one to include more than one woman.

Since the UA's founding in 1891, the team had not won a regional ranger challenge championship with a starting team including more than two women, said Master Sgt. Carl Haskins, a UA senior military science instructor.

Four of the five women will be part of the team that competes in the nationals, to be held Friday through Monday at Camp Bullis near San Antonio. The team will be tested against other ROTC programs across the country in speed, agility, endurance, and the ability to complete specific tactical and technical skills.

"The University of Arizona has a long history of developing great leaders and citizens through the ROTC program, and winning the regional competition is a proud moment for all UA students," Haskins said.

"Having five females on the team was a historic moment for ROTC," he said, noting that starting teams are required to have only one female representative.

At the regional, the UA group of five women and six men competed against a dozen other teams, including those representing Arizona State University, Northern Arizona University, the University of New Mexico, New Mexico State University and the University of Texas, El Paso. Testing included critical thinking, casualty care, weapons assembly and disassembly, and physical fitness.

Cadet Capt. Assistant Regina Ebell said the regional triumph was special because the team has a number of younger cadets.

"Winning the regional competition goes to show that all of the time and work that we've put into developing ourselves and others has really paid off, and for that I am extremely proud of our team," said Ebell, who has been in the Army Reserves for nearly four years.

Ebell, a Tucson native and UA senior, is a general studies major studying science, technology, health and society with a military science minor. She will enter active duty when she is commissioned in May.

"Even though these competitions are only a glimpse of a day in the life of a real selection process, it has provided me with an insight and appreciation for those who have completed physically demanding schools," Ebell said, adding that the rigorous training and competition has encouraged her to consider future work in the Army Airborne or Army Ranger training programs.

The voluntary, self-funded team generally trains for up to two hours on weekdays, beginning at 5 a.m., and sometimes trains over the weekend. Training consists of weight training and five- to 10-kilometer ruck marches carrying between 30 and 50 pounds. The team also practices land navigation, radio operation, response to physical threats and various weapons exercises.

"Our cadre has shown incredible support to the team and the whole battalion," said Daralyn McLaughlin, a criminal justice and public health major also studying military science and leadership.

"I can think of countless times when they have given their time to us to ensure we are prepared for events," said McLaughlin, who is enlisted in the Army Reserves. "They have pulled strings to get us the best training and resources and have always found a way to make things work. We owe a large portion of our development to our cadre."

In recent years, the team has trained with two Army Special Forces cadre, Haskins and Master Sgt. Monti Leija.

"Overall, Ranger Challenge is very physically and mentally demanding — it's pretty much a 24/7 job," said Cadet Capt. Nickolas Ball, a UA senior and Wildcat Battalion assistant S-3.

The group also raises funds by supporting other organizations. For example, it partners with the UA GymCats to prepare and dismantle the main floor for the team's meets during the spring term. The group also assists judges during meets.

"We are constantly meeting up to discuss future plans, looking out for the well-being of our cadets and ensuring our training not only prepares them for the competition but also for the intended purpose of Army ROTC, which is to produce great future officers for the U.S. Army," Ball said.

"I couldn't imagine doing anything else. Ever since I was a kid, I have always wanted to serve. I love the culture, the people and experiences the Army has to offer," said Ball, who comes from a military family. His father and grandfather each served more than 20 years in the Army. 

Ebell said she is drawn to military service because it requires "a distinct personality and mentality to be a soldier and cadet that creates a motivation and drive." She said it's unlike any other profession. 

"ROTC has allowed me to meet some amazing mentors, both cadre as well as fellow cadets," she said. "They are inspirational and downright motivating, and have played a huge role in developing my confidence, drive and professional character."

In preparing for nationals, Ebell said she takes pride in the strong representation by women.

"It is really something incredible to see this happen alongside the growing and more diverse Army as a whole," she said.

Category(s): Teaching and StudentsLa Monica Everett-HaynesNovember 4, 2015University Relations - Communications

Wildcat Welcome Extended in Person at 3 High Schools

Tue, 10/27/2015 - 5:00pm
Extra Info: 

To learn more about the UA and preparation for the new class, check out #wildcatready on Twitter.

Story Contacts: 

Mary Venezia

UA Enrollment Management and Student Affairs Advancement


Hundreds of seniors at three southern Arizona high schools receive their UA admissions packets personally, as part of the annual "Celebrate YES!"

Some Apaches, Hawks and Jaguars have become Wildcats.

On Monday, University of Arizona employees, volunteers, members of the pom line and dance team, cheerleaders and also Wilbur and Wilma Wildcat visited three southern Arizona high schools to surprise graduating seniors with their acceptance letter.

"A higher education opens the doors to so many opportunities, and I know the experience students have at the UA is second to none," said Kasey Urquidez, the UA's vice president for Enrollment Management and Student Affairs Advancement, and also the undergraduate admissions dean.

"The UA provides students with an excellent education that includes the complete college experience filled with engagement and knowledge," Urquidez said.

In addition to having some of the most highly ranked academic programs nationally and, in many cases, internationally, the UA has formalized a process by which UA students can receive workforce-relevant training — and recognition for it. 

The University's unique 100% Engagement policy supports the involvement of students in research, study-abroad projects, jobs, service work and other experiential opportunities, both on and off campus. Beginning this year, students can have these experiences formally documented on their transcript with an "Engaged Learning Experience" annotation. Also, the UA Office of Student Engagement has begun funding engagement opportunities involving students campuswide. 

Having such a supportive campus for engagement and professional development has translated well for graduates.

The Global Employability Survey in 2013 ranked the UA 13th among American public universities for having the most employable graduates. The UA also is in the top 40 for all U.S. institutions and at No. 124 internationally for producing employable graduates.

The UA team visited Desert View High School (Jaguars), Nogales High School (Apaches) and Rio Rico High School (Hawks) to surprise students during campus assemblies. All told, 270 students received their admissions packets and were able to ask questions of UA employees and volunteers.

The "Celebrate YES!" events are swiftly becoming a UA tradition.

"The University of Arizona's 'Celebrate YES!' event is one of my most treasured programs of the year," Urquidez said. "To be able to share the great news of college admission, to one of the best universities in the nation, always reminds me of why we do what we do."

Category(s): Teaching and StudentsNovember 2, 2015University Relations - Communications

UA Offers Opportunities for High School Musicians

Tue, 10/27/2015 - 3:06pm
University Relations - CommunicationsToday

Joseph Gouge, a UA junior majoring in music education, organized an event at the Fred Fox School of Music this month involving dozens of high school students. (Photo credit: Levi Pratt)

This month, 70 students representing schools from throughout the state participated in the University of Arizona High School Honor Choir, conducted by Elizabeth Schauer, a UA associate professor of music and the associate director of choral activities.

In addition to the rehearsals and concert, the event featured courses taught by UA faculty, a campus tour, a directors' workshop and games. The event included performances by 2015 Distinguished High School Soloists Anessa Johnson and David Ingram, and performances by UA studnets Antonio Cruz and Caroline Crawford, as well as the Symphonic Choir and the Arizona Choir.

Also, members of the UA Symphonic Choir will be in Phoenix Nov. 6 for performances at Highland High School, Mountain View High School and Corona Del Sol High School.

"The concert tour is an opportunity for the singers to deepen in their performance and understanding of the music they will share, to present high quality choral literature performed at an advanced level to the high school students, and to attract serious young musicians to the Fred Fox School of Music," Schauer said.

She noted that the UA students will be performing in honor of the 400-year anniversary of Shakespeare's death. Next year marks the annivesary of Shakespeare's death, and the UA Libraries, Arizona State Museum and the School of Theatre, Film and Television – like the School of Music – are among the units on campus that will be hosting events to commemorate the anniversary. During the Phoenix performances, the Symphonic Choir will present works composed and performed during Shakespeare's lifetime, and other pieces whose texts are taken from from Shakespeare's plays, Schauer said.

Karin Nolan offers a course on careers in music for high school students. (Photo credit: Levi Pratt)

Anessa Johnson, a student at Buena High School, was one of the two UA High School Honor Choir Distinguished Soloists selected to perform her audition solo during the Festival Concert. (Photo credit: Levi Pratt)

Kristin Dauphinais presents a master class in vocal technique and performance skill. Tenor Griffin Le Blanc of Arizona Conservatory for Arts and Academics is accompanied by DMA student Douglas Leightenheimer. (Photo credit: Levi Pratt)

UA Engineering Professor Wins Air Force Grant to Study Supersonic Air Flow

Tue, 10/27/2015 - 11:59am
Jesse Little’s aerodynamics research investigates complexities of high-speed flight with $900,000 Air Force Award.

A team led by assistant professor of aerospace and mechanical engineering Jesse Little of the University of Arizona's College of Engineering has received a $900,000 research grant from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, or AFOSR, to study how air behaves when traveling faster than the speed of sound.

More than a decade since the last Concorde flew, the United States and many other countries have revived efforts to build high-speed aircraft capable of flying smoothly and efficiently through shock waves that occur when the sound barrier is broken.

This study – "Investigation of 3D Shock-Boundary Layer Interaction: A Combined Approach Using Experiments, Numerical Simulations and Stability Analysis" – focuses on understanding the physics of shock waves interacting with near-surface air flows in three dimensions. A long-term goal of the project is to develop guidelines for designing aircraft that can better withstand structural and heat stresses of sustained supersonic and even hypersonic flight.

"We have an incomplete understanding of the underlying physical mechanisms of high-speed aerodynamics in complex 3-D flows," said Little, who received his bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees in mechanical engineering from Ohio State University in 2004, 2005 and 2010. He joined the UA College of Engineering faculty in late 2010.

"My expectations are that the work we are doing will inform the design and control of future high-speed flight systems," Little said.

Little is collaborating with co-principle investigator Hermann Fasel, a UA professor of aerospace and mechanical engineering, New Mexico State University professor Andreas Gross, and several UA College of Engineering post-doctoral researchers, graduate and undergraduate students. The three-year grant, awarded in August 2015, builds on a 2014 Air Force seed grant. Additional support has been provided by Raytheon Missile Systems.

Little's shock-boundary layer interaction study is one among several that have been funded by the U.S. Department of Defense. He received a Defense University Research Instrumentation Program, or DURIP, award in June 2015 to conduct aerodynamics research with plasma and prestigious Young Investigator Program research awards from the Air Force in 2012 and Army in 2014. Little has also received a number of Air Force and Navy fellowships.

Category(s): Science and TechnologyJill GoetzOctober 27, 2015UA College of Engineering

Globally Competitive UA Pianist Winning Competitions

Mon, 10/26/2015 - 4:50pm
University Relations - CommunicationsOct. 21, 2015

Nino Bakradze has steadily picked up national and international attention for her world-class piano skills.

In recent years, this second-year doctoral student at the University of Arizona's Fred Fox School of Music has earned strong placements in various competitions.

Earlier this year, Bakradze won first place at the UA's Lois Trester Piano Competition and was recognized as the most outstanding Arizona pianist at the International Bosendorfer Piano Competition at Arizona State University. She also won the President's Concerto Competition at the UA last year.

Most recently, Bakradze received the gold medal at the Louisiana International Piano Competition and also the silver medal at the Cincinnati World Piano Competition. 

"These top competitions are typically populated by piano students from major conservatories and music schools worldwide: Juilliard, Manhattan, Eastman, Shanghai, Moscow," said Tannis Gibson, a music professor and assistant director of the UA School of Music. Bakradze trains in piano performance with Gibson.

"The Fred Fox School of Music is thrilled not only for Nino’s personal triumph, but also to have the University of Arizona's name so prominently featured in these venues," Gibson said.

In addition to winning a cash prize during the Louisiana International Piano Competition, Bakradze was offered a concerto performance with an orchestra in Europe, a solo performance in Carnegie Hall's Weill Recital Hall and recitals throughout Louisiana. The competition also will sponsor a CD recording of her solo repertoire.

Bakradze has performed numerous times across the U.S. and throughout the world, including recitals in Armenia, Brazil, China, Finland, Georgia and Poland.

Competing in Cincinnati against musicians from across the U.S., as well as China, Korea and Russia, Bakradze performed in five rounds, each of which required up to 45 minutes of varied classical piano performance.

"The absolute highlight of the whole week there was the last round performance of Rachmaninoff Third Piano Concerto with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra – one of this country's finest orchestras. It was incredible," she said.

And her national and international performance schedule continues.

This month, Bakradze had had two recitals in Bisbee, Arizona, and another in Tucson at the UA School of Music. Also, Bakradze is gearing up for a spring concert in Spain, as her top placements in these prestigious competitions often result in international performance opportunities.

Nino Bakradze performs during the Aram Khachaturian International Competition earlier this year.

Born in Tbilisi, Georgia to a family of musicians – both her parents are conductors – Bakradze began training at the age of 9. She chose to play the piano at random and became almost instantly devoted to the instrument, Bakradze said.

"From my first recital, I remember the feelings I had after the applause," she recalls. "I knew that this was my way."

Prior to the UA, Bakradze earned a professional studies degree from Boston Conservatory and a graduate diploma from the New England Conservatory. She earned both her master's and bachelor's degrees in music from the V.Saradjishvili Tbilisi State Conservatoire.

Gibson says Bakradze has "abundant talent, an exemplary work ethic and a strong background," which was clear before she arrived at the UA for advanced studies, he said. 

"Nina's capacity to absorb large amounts of repertoire and her nerves of steel in these stressful performance situations have also contributed largely to her success, particularly in big international competitions where the pressures can be immense," Gibson said. "During her time as a doctoral student, Nino's level of artistry has grown and become more refined, more personal. For performing musicians, defining one's artistic self is a lifetime process and as Nino’s instructor, I am continually inspired and honored to be a part of assisting her in that quest."

For her musical talents and promise, Bakradze has received numerous grants, including those from the Heinrich Neuhaus Fund, the Prime Minister of the Republic of Georgia and the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Georgia, among others.

"I have a wish to play and to learn and continue to grow; I am learning all the time," said Bakradze, also a graduate teaching assistant at the UA School of Music.

Her long-term professional plan is continue teaching. "I like the process of teaching, and it is how I have found my place."