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A Little Halloween Love for Bats

Wed, 10/29/2014 - 13:26

Bats are the quintessential creatures of the night. From ancient mythology to modern pop culture, the winged mammals have long captured our imaginations and inhabited our deepest nightmares. 

But bats have a vital role to play in the success of local economies as free pest-control providers, according to research by University of Arizona scientist Laura López-Hoffman, assistant professor in the School of Natural Resources and the Environment, part of UA's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Contrary to what Halloween movies might lead you to believe, only three out of about 1,240 known bat species feed on blood. Most dine on insects, and among them is the Mexican free-tailed bat, which migrates between the southwestern United States and northern Mexico. This species alone, it turns out, has saved cotton farmers across the region millions of dollars in crop damage and insecticide costs by voraciously consuming the six-legged pests.

"Our research investigates how this and other migratory species of bats consume pests on cotton," López-Hoffman said. "Along with other measures of pest control, these animals can help prevent serious damage to cotton crops."

López-Hoffman's approach focuses on ecosystem services, which refers to the ways that ecosystems can improve human wellbeing and society.

The bats' appetite not only saves the farmers valuable time and money, it secures their place under the watchful eye of conservationists. While the bats certainly should be protected for their intrinsic value as a unique member of a diverse ecosystem, economic incentives to preserve a species tend to catch the attention of policymakers.

However, a study led by López-Hoffman published earlier this year in the journal PLOS ONE suggests that the economic value of the bats is on a rapid decline. By counting the number of insects that individual bats consume every night and determining the locations of bat roosts relative to cotton fields, the researchers were able to tease out an estimate of the bats' economic value over an 18-year period.

According to the study, the ecosystem service value of the bats dropped from nearly $24 million in 1990 to only $4.88 million in 2008. The precipitous decline is due in large part to the introduction of genetically modified Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) cotton, which is engineered to produce its own pesticides. This means that the bats have fewer pests to consume and less economic value to offer farmers.

"The problem with this approach is that trying to determine the value of an ecosystem in terms of benefits to humans is complex," López-Hoffman said. "The bats aren't immune to market fluctuations and technological substitutes."

López-Hoffman explained that the ecosystem services approach is controversial because of the difficulty in capturing all of the elements of an ecosystem in a way that truly assesses its value.

"When you're making monetary arguments for the value of an ecosystem, you have to be mindful of all the factors involved," she said. "Still, the idea is to determine ways of incentivizing people to protect these ecosystems for the general good."

In fact, there may still be a silver lining for the nocturnal exterminators. Since its introduction, there has been evidence to suggest that many pests are evolving a resistance to Bt cotton's toxins. Thanks to highly successful integrated pest management strategies, resistance of pink bollworm, one of the most devastating cotton pests, has not been observed in Arizona. In general, pesticides effectively target about 90 percent of pests, while the other 10 percent build up resistance, making them fair game for the bats.

Additionally, engineering new genetically modified organism crops to keep pace with insect resistance is costly. Luckily for farmers, the bats do it free of charge.

"These bats are generalist predators, meaning that they feed on many different types of insects," said López-Hoffman, who is working with a graduate student at the University of Sinaloa in Mexico investigating the effects the bats have on corn, bell peppers and other small crops. "They're likely feeding on pests that plague a wide range of different crops."

López-Hoffman emphasized that while the economic value of species such as the Mexican free-tailed bat might not be able to compete with the complexities of emerging technologies and dynamic markets, it does provide more ammunition for the argument in favor of conservation.

Ultimately, the bats' greatest value may lie in their ability to captivate and inspire us. All over the Southwest, hundreds of thousands of tourists each year flock to watch the bats begin their migrations. Those who are familiar with the region find the sight is awe-inspiring.

"If there's a way that our work can be used to help protect these species, then there's value in that," López-Hoffman said.

Editor: dougcarrollWriter: Raymond SanchezByline: Raymond Sanchez, NASA Space Grant internByline Affiliation: University Relations - CommunicationsExtra Info: 

Learn more about what bats can do for you, and what you can do for bats, during the first National Bat Week from Oct. 26 - Nov. 1.

Header image: YesNo Image: Subheading: Migrating between the southwestern U.S. and Mexico, they have saved cotton farmers millions of dollars in crop damage and insecticide costs. But that appears to be changing.Include in UANow: yesInclude in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: no

No Bigger Day Than Band Day

Wed, 10/29/2014 - 11:50

The Pride of Arizona hosted the University of Arizona's annual Band Day, which brought together 37 high school bands from across the state on Oct. 25 to be evaluated on their musical and marching abilities at Arizona Stadium. 

Video Thumbnail: Category(s): Arts and HumanitiesYouTube Video:  Band Day 2014 Video of Band Day 2014 Feature Sticky: OffFeature on Front: NoMedium Summary: Go behind — and above — the scenes of the UA's annual Band Day, which recently brought three dozen high school bands to campus from across Arizona. UANow Image: Date of Publication: Wednesday, October 29, 2014Send to Never Settle Site: 0

Education Alumna of the Year: Colleen Niccum

Tue, 10/28/2014 - 18:59

Leading up to the UA's 100th Homecoming, we are highlighting UA alumni who are being honored by their colleges with alumni of the year awards.

Educational excellence has always been a priority for Colleen Niccum, the College of Education Alumna of the Year. After all, she trekked across the country from Minnesota to the UA because of its journalism program.

That journey set a course for her life — and ultimately her impact on the community she came to call her own.

Mentored by UA faculty members such as Phil Mangelsdorf and Edie Auslander, a former member of the Arizona Board of Regents, Niccum earned her master's degree from the College of Education in 1984. A UA bulletin-board posting led Niccum to Raytheon Corp.

In 2008, Raytheon tapped Niccum to head its community and government relations efforts. This led to a partnership with College of Education Dean Ronald Marx. Together, they launched Teachers in Industry, an innovative relationship between the UA and businesses centered on the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. By placing graduate-level teachers in local STEM-related businesses for three summers, the program has become one of the most successful STEM teacher-retention programs in the nation.

At the same time, Niccum also helped launch the nonprofit Tucson Values Teachers, created to recruit, retain and reward K-12 teachers. As the founding chair of the board of directors, she has used her business expertise to create and sustain innovation in education.

Niccum also shares her expertise on the College of Education's advisory board, the state's Arizona Ready Education Council and the board of Expect More Arizona. Currently she is vice president of education policy for the Southern Arizona Leadership Council.

"My UA experience definitely set me on the path for success, and I have been an avid Wildcats fan ever since," Niccum said. Her son is a UA College of Engineering student, and soon her daughter will join the UA family.

Categories: Social Sciences and EducationThis is a Wildcat Corner feature: Images: Tags: AlumniByline: University Relations - Communications and the Alumni Association |Editor: dougcarrollInclude in UANow: 0Date of Publication: Tuesday, October 28, 2014Medium Summary: Colleen Niccum, who has used her business expertise to create and sustain innovation in education, has been named the UA College of Education Alumna of the Year. Feature on Front: NoShort Summary: Colleen Niccum is the College of Education Alumna of the Year.Send to Never Settle Site: 0

UA Ranked No. 64 of Best Global Universities

Tue, 10/28/2014 - 15:56

The University of Arizona was the only Arizona institution ranked in the top 100 overall by U.S. News & World Report in its inaugural listing of Best Global Universities, released Tuesday.

The UA's No. 64 ranking was highlighted by a No. 5 for its acclaimed program in space science, trailing only the California Institute of Technology, the University of California-Berkeley, the University of California-Santa Cruz and Princeton University in that category.

Other top-100 rankings for the UA were for its programs in geosciences (26), environment and ecology (39), plant and animal sciences (43), social sciences and public health (64), economics and business (68), psychiatry/psychology (77), agricultural sciences (82), neuroscience and behavior (90) and physics (93).

The Best Global Universities rankings encompass the top 500 institutions across 49 countries. They were produced to provide insight into how universities compare globally. The rankings focus specifically on schools' academic research and reputation overall and not on their separate undergraduate or graduate programs.

In September, the UA was recognized as one of the premier U.S. institutions of higher education by the Best Colleges 2015 edition of U.S. News & World Report, ranking 58th among public institutions.

View the complete Best Global Universities rankings at:

Editor: dougcarrollByline Affiliation: University Relations - CommunicationsHeader image: NoNo Image: Subheading: New list from U.S. News & World Report, focusing on academic research and reputation, puts space science program in the top five.Include in UANow: 0Include in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: no

Conference to Address Decline in Male College Enrollment

Tue, 10/28/2014 - 10:55

College enrollment of males has been trending downward in numbers, and the shift has caught the attention of organizations and agencies across the nation.
In response at the University of Arizona, the Office of Early Academic Outreach launched "Project Pave the Way," an initiative funded by the Student Services Fee to provide engagement opportunities for University students as they work to increase college enrollment opportunities for local high school students.

"We are engaging students, not just on our campus, but connecting them to the neighboring Tucson community in a way that reaps benefits for University retention and our work in college access," said Rudy McCormick, director for the Office of Early Academic Outreach.
The "Man Up and Go to College!" Conference is the most recent event organized under the initiative, which was established also to help increase the number of low-income, first-generation and minority male high school students intent on pursing a college or university degree.
More than 250 high school students from 10 Tucson-area schools are expected to attend the Oct. 30 conference, which will be held from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the Tucson Marriott University Park, 880 E. Second St.

Nolan Cabrera, an assistant professor in the UA Center for the Study of Higher Education, will speak at the start of the conference, sharing research on male enrollment and success in college.

Workshops will follow, teaching participants how to plan and pay for college and how to handle various challenges along the way. Award-winning poet, actor and writer Carlos Andrés Gómez then will speak with participants.

During a lecture to be held Oct. 30 from 6:30-8 p.m., Gómez will speak about reimagining modern manhood and masculinity. That event, which is free and open to the public, will be held in Room 350 of the Modern Languages Building, 1423 E. University Blvd. Attendees are asked to arrive no later than 6:30 p.m., as Gómez's session will begin promptly at 6:45.

Bryant Valencia, one of the program organizers, emphasized the importance of taking opportunities to reach out to young men and send positive messages.

"Because of low enrollment rates of men in higher education, there has been an increased concern as to why the gap between men and women pursuing a college degree is widening," said Valencia, the graduate assistant for the UA Office of Early Academic Outreach.

Since 1990, female undergraduate enrollment has increased by 52 percent, compared to 43 percent for male students, according to the U.S. National Center for Education Statistics.
"It is important that we take opportunities to reach out to young men and send positive messages about masculinity and the importance of education," Valencia said. "Many young men look to society and peers to be more 'manly,' and this does not always have positive outcomes toward themselves and females in their lives."
The initiative is supported by the $40 Student Services Fee, which helps UA organizations and offices to expand services and programs for students. Since receiving Student Services Fee funds, the Office of Early Academic Outreach has collaborated on programming with the UA's resource centers to host guest speakers.
The team, which also includes UA professor Gary Rhoades, who directs the Center for the Study of Higher Education, also organized "Masculinity and Its Many Intersections," a one-unit course being offered this semester through the center. Currently, 15 undergraduate students are taking the course and also have been involved in outreach. They will help with the conference.
"It is our hope that by engaging high school men and women through this conference," Valencia said, "and by involving college students through on-campus events, we are redefining and addressing issues of masculinity or what it means to be a man in a positive way."

Editor: dougcarrollWriter: Evan Rosenfeld and La Monica Everett-HaynesByline: Evan Rosenfeld and La Monica Everett-HaynesByline Affiliation: University Relations - CommunicationsWhat: "Man Up and Go to College!" ConferenceWhere: Tucson Marriott University Park, 880 E. Second St.When: Oct. 30, 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Extra Info: 

Award-winning poet, actor and writer Carlos Andrés Gómez will speak during the conference. He also will speak about modern manhood during a lecture to be held Oct. 30 from 6:30-8 p.m. in Room 350 of the Modern Languages Building, 1423 E. University Blvd. The event is free and open to the public.

Header image: YesNo Image: Subheading: Award-winning poet, actor and writer Carlos Andrés Gómez will visit the UA to speak during the "Man Up and Go to College!" Conference. Include in UANow: 0Include in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: no

Nursing Alumnus of the Year Rudy Valenzuela

Mon, 10/27/2014 - 19:02

Leading up to the UA's 100th Homecoming, we are highlighting UA alumni who are being honored by their colleges with alumni of the year awards.

The first child of a Mexican immigrant family to attend college, Rudy Valenzuela was called first to the priesthood and earned his UA doctorate in nursing in 2010. He is this year's Alumnus of the Year for the College of Nursing.

Passionate about culturally competent, community-based health care, Valenzuela understands the struggles of those he serves. He served the homeless people of Skid Row in Los Angeles and returned to Arizona to establish Camillus Health Center in south Yuma County. He later started Clinica Santa Maria de Guadalupe in San Luis Rio Colorado, Mexico. Today, he is building Blessed Angelo Paoli Hospital to provide rooms for surgery, obstetrics and recovery.

Last year, 45,000 patients received care through his clinics.

Valenzuela also earned his master's degree in nursing from the UA in 2002. Earlier, he studied at the Washington Theological Union, California State University and Imperial Valley College. He is active in professional medical organizations striving to provide health care and eliminate disparities in border regions.

Categories: HealthThis is a Wildcat Corner feature: Images: Tags: AlumniByline: University Relations - Communications and the Alumni Association |Editor: dougcarrollInclude in UANow: 0Date of Publication: Monday, October 27, 2014Medium Summary: Rudy Valenzuela is being honored by the UA College of Nursing during homecoming. Feature on Front: NoShort Summary: Rudy Valenzuela is being honored by the UA College of Nursing during homecoming. Send to Never Settle Site: 0

Agriculture Alumnus of the Year P. Andrew 'Andy' Groseta

Mon, 10/27/2014 - 18:57

Leading up to the UA's 100th Homecoming, we are highlighting UA alumni who are being honored by their colleges with alumni of the year awards.

Photo courtesy of P. Andrew "Andy" Groseta

P. Andrew "Andy" Groseta, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Alumnus of the Year, is a third-generation Arizona rancher who has reached pinnacles of success in his ranching career, industry leadership roles, and service to the community and his alma mater.

A partner in Headquarters West Ltd., a statewide agribusiness firm, Groseta has served as president of the Arizona Cattle Growers Association and the National Cattlemen's Beef Association.

Groseta was selected in 2008 by then-President George W. Bush to attend the inauguration of South Korean President Lee Myung-bak as a member of the U.S. presidential delegation. He represented U.S. cattlemen in resolving the U.S.-Korean beef trade issue, allowing U.S. beef back into South Korea.

In 2006, he and Mary Beth Groseta donated land in northern Arizona to the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences – invaluable to UA's presence north of the rim. This past year, Andy Groseta spent hours lobbying state representatives for increased funding, which paid off in an increase of nearly 33 percent in base funding for the UA Cooperative Extension.

Groseta earned bachelor's degrees in animal science and agriculture education and a master's degree in agriculture education from the UA.

"The personal touch of the ag faculty definitely helped me get through college," says Groseta, who grew up on a Verde Valley ranch.

Groseta said he is proud that his son and two daughters also are part of the Wildcat family. He expects that his grandchildren also will become Wildcats.


Photo courtesy of P. Andrew "Andy" Groseta

Categories: Campus NewsSocial Sciences and EducationThis is a Wildcat Corner feature: Images: Tags: AlumniByline: University Relations - Communications and the Alumni Association |Editor: dougcarrollInclude in UANow: 0Date of Publication: Monday, October 27, 2014Medium Summary: P. Andrew "Andy" Groseta, who has made significant contributions to the expansion of the UA College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, has been named the college's Alumnus of the Year. Feature on Front: NoShort Summary: P. Andrew "Andy" Groseta is the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Alumnus of the Year. Send to Never Settle Site: 0

The UA's Veteran Building With Military Ties

Mon, 10/27/2014 - 13:05

The sun barely peaks above the early morning horizon, but cadets in the University of Arizona's Army ROTC program are already working up a sweat on the UA Mall as part of their tri-weekly physical training sessions.

In the background, Old Main – the University's oldest building – watches on. In fact, the building has a long history of watching over UA students training for military service.

Samuel Peffers, assistant professor of military science, oversees the cadets-in-training, but recalls being in their boots years ago.

"I was in ROTC during my undergraduate years from 1983 to 1987," he said. "At that time, Army and Air Force ROTC occupied the lower floor in Old Main, with the Army on the north end and the Air Force on the south end."

For many years, Old Main housed the UA's ROTC offices, dating as far back as the 1890s. However, the building that now serves as the heart of the UA was once slated for demolition. It was saved by an unlikely source – the U.S. Navy.

General John J. Pershing in the Berger Memorial Fountain at Old Main's dedication ceremony on Jan. 31, 1920. (Photo courtesy of Special Collections)

In 1938, Old Main was officially condemned as unsafe by a city inspector, forcing students and faculty to vacate to other campus buildings. In 1942, with World War II underway, it was saved with an $89,000 grant from the federal government to rehabilitate the building and establish a U.S. Navy indoctrination center.

In 1953, ROTC had taken over most of Old Main. At the UA, ROTC was required for all male undergraduates until the Arizona Board of Regents elected to make participation in ROTC voluntary for students in 1969.

Douglas Jones, senior assistant to the dean of University Libraries, was one of those students attending the UA when ROTC was mandatory for male undergraduates.

Jones studied English literature and art history from 1966 until 1970. As a male undergraduate student, he was required to enroll in ROTC for his freshman and sophomore years. The one-credit course included in-classroom lectures and out-of-classroom drills.

During Jones' time as a UA undergraduate student, the U.S. was in the grips of the Vietnam War. The mindset on campus was very different from what it is today, he recalls.

Army ROTC students hold their physical training sessions three times per week outside Old Main. (Photo: Bob Demers/UANews)

"This (the war) was very much in people's consciousness," he said. "Many people volunteered. Many people did not. ... There were some who did it because it was patriotic. It was what you had to do, even if you didn't necessarily support the Vietnam War. It was a different environment around here then."

Even though he had previously owned his own rifle and knew a little about hunting, Jones said the experience learning to put together a rifle in school was very different.

"It gives you a different context in which you interact, the way you feel about having a gun to go a hunting rabbits or something, versus with a class with someone in a uniform saying 'This is what's going to save your life. You need to know how this operates,'" Jones said.

Jones said being in ROTC was an "interesting experience" for him. When not studying English literature or art history, he spent his time practicing marches in uniform, learning about military history, shooting soft-nosed bullets in a shooting range housed in Bear Down Gym's basement, and – at times – being scolded for having a moustache that bordered on non-regulatory.

Taking classes in Old Main is a fond memory for Jones.

"I remember it being very positive," he said. "It was bright, airy, somewhat noisy. It was interesting to be there in the historical place where the University had begun. You could feel and see the history of the place."

Decades later, Old Main still watches over UA ROTC students. Although the Department of Military Science moved to South Hall in 1987, cadets still practice drills and physical training on the Mall outside of Old Main.

The Berger Memorial Fountain, located at the west entrance of Old Main, also serves as a reminder to UA student-veterans. The fountain honors UA students who lost their lives fighting in World War I.

Old Main was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972. Renovations completed earlier this year have ensured Old Main will continue to serve as the heart of campus for future generations of students.

"It's a ready reference point that students – regardless of what department they're majoring in," Peffers said. "Everyone knows where Old Main is."

Editor: dougcarrollByline: Amanda BallardByline Affiliation: University Relations - CommunicationsHeader image: NoNo Image: Subheading: Old Main, the University's oldest building, has a long history of watching over UA students training for military service. Include in UANow: yesInclude in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: noUANow Image: 

Research Uses DNA to Study Key Events in Plant Evolution

Mon, 10/27/2014 - 12:18

As part of the One Thousand Plants (1KP) initiative, scientists from North America, Europe and China have published a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that reveals important details about key transitions in the evolution of plant life on our planet.

"Our study generated DNA sequences from a vast number of distantly related plants, and we developed new analysis tools to understand their relationships and the timing of key innovations in plant evolution," said Jim Leebens-Mack, associate professor of plant biology at the University of Georgia and coordinating author of the paper.

Analysis of the DNA sequences of so many plants was only possible by leveraging the cyberinfrastructure computing capacity provided by the National Science Foundation-funded iPlant Collaborative, based primarily at the University of Arizona.

UA evolutionary biologist Mike Barker, who has been involved with the 1KP initiative since its conception in 2009, contributed bioinformatics pipelines for high-throughput genomic analyses — as well as genetic information of a few fern species — to the paper.

From strange and exotic algae, mosses, ferns, trees and flowers growing deep in steamy rainforests to the grains and vegetables we eat and the ornamental plants adorning our homes, all plant life on Earth shares over a billion years of history.

The international research team is generating millions of gene sequences from plant species sampled from across the green tree of life. By resolving these relationships, the team is illuminating the complex processes that allowed ancient water-faring algae to evolve into land plants with adaptations to competition for light, water and soil nutrients.

Lead author Norm Wickett of the Chicago Botanic Garden described the study as "like taking a time machine back to get a glimpse of how ancient algae transitioned into the diverse array of plants we depend on for our food, building materials and critical ecological services."

"When plants colonized the land 450 million years ago, it changed the world forever," said Simon Malcomber, program director in the National Science Foundation’s Division of Environmental Biology, which funded the research. "The results of this study offer new insights into the relationships among living plants."

As plants grew and thrived across the plains, valleys and mountains of Earth’s landscape, rapid changes in their structures gave rise to myriad new species, and the group’s data also helps scientists better understand the ancestry of the most common plant lineages, including flowering plants and nonflowering cone-bearing plants such pine trees.

The investigation also has revealed a number of previously unknown molecular characteristics of some plant species that may have applications in medicine and industry.

"We are using this diverse set of sequences to make many exciting discoveries with implications across the life sciences," said Gane Ka-Shu Wong, principal investigator for 1KP, professor at the University of Alberta and associate director of BGI-Shenzhen. "For example, new algal proteins identified in our sequence data are being used to investigate how the mammalian brain works."

"Seeing the impact that 1KP has had inspired us to launch a series of 1000-species projects for organisms like insects, birds and fish," said Yong Zhang, director of the China National GeneBank, or CNGB.

Taming big data

The project required an extraordinary level of computing power to store and analyze the massive libraries of genetic data, which was provided by the iPlant Collaborative at the UA, the Texas Advanced Computing Center, Compute-Calcul Canada and CNGB.

"This study is very ambitious in the sense that we’re analyzing not just lots of species but many of the genes in these species," noted Barker, an assistant professor in the UA’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. "It’s a new landscape of bioinformatics challenges that we are trying to overcome, and this pilot study is really the first attempt to bring everybody together that has a unique toolkit to bear on this problem so we can efficiently analyze the data."

Barker, a doctoral candidate at Indiana University during the conception of the 1KP project in 2009, met with a small group of scientists to compile the initial bioinformatics tools to analyze such a large data set.

"This study demonstrates how life scientists are using high performance computing resources to analyze astronomically large datasets to answer fundamental questions that were previously thought to be intractable," said iPlant’s Naim Matasci, now at the University of Southern California.

Working with Matasci, Barker’s lab contributed high-throughput bioinformatics pipelines developed using computational infrastructure provided by the iPlant Collaborative to enable the analysis of so many genetic sequences.

Computer scientist Tandy Warnow from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and her student Siavash Mirarab developed new methods for analyzing the massive datasets used in the project. "The datasets we were analyzing in this study were too big and too challenging for existing statistical methods to handle, so we developed approaches with better accuracy," Warnow said.

Many organizations, including iPlant, CNGB and the Computational Analysis of Novel Drug Opportunities group at SUNY Buffalo have joined forces to provide web-based open access to these results. The resources and sequence repositories are described in a companion paper published in the open-access journal GigaScience.

The 1KP project is ongoing, Barker added, with analyses of additional plant genetic sequences continuously running on iPlant supercomputers at the UA and the Texas center.

Ultimately, the researchers hope that their project will not only help in an understanding of the origins and development of plant life, but also provide scientists with a new framework for the study of evolution.

"We hope that this study will help settle some longstanding scientific debates concerning plant relationships, and others will use our data to further elucidate the molecular evolution of plant genes and genomes," Leebens-Mack said.

Editor: dougcarrollByline: James Hataway, University of Georgia, and Shelley Littin, iPlant CollaborativeHeader image: YesNo Image: Subheading: An international research collaboration involving UA scientists and cyberinfrastructure provided by the iPlant Collaborative, based in part at the UA, has used DNA to look back in time at important turning points in plant evolution. Include in UANow: yesInclude in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: noUANow Image: 

Giffords, Kelly Speak to Hometown Crowd at UA

Mon, 10/27/2014 - 10:42

Gabrielle Giffords’ arduous comeback, marked by both frustration and motivation, was wrapped in a theme of inspiration Sunday night in an appearance by Giffords and her husband, Mark Kelly, on the University of Arizona campus.

The couple, who recently concluded a nine-state speaking tour, addressed a hometown audience at the UA’s Centennial Hall in a 70-minute program. Much of the program was shouldered by Kelly, the retired astronaut and U.S. Navy captain, who effortlessly weaved together anecdotes and life lessons with ample use of self-deprecating humor.

“Bono and I have something in common,” Kelly said after a short film clip set to U2’s “Beautiful Day” showed him at work aboard the space shuttle. 

“My wife is in love with both of us.”

Kelly, a veteran of four space missions who also flew bombing missions over Iraq, said a career of staring into the face of danger is nothing compared to what Giffords, the former congresswoman, has been through since she was critically injured in a supermarket shooting on Jan. 8, 2011, in suburban Tucson.

“As it would turn out, Gabby was the one who would nearly lose her life serving her country,” Kelly said.

The days and weeks that followed the shooting, which claimed the lives of six people and injured 13 others, showed him the unrelenting work of being a caregiver.

“It never got easy, but it got easier,” he said, adding: “She reminds me each and every day to deny the acceptance of failure.”

Kelly spoke for about an hour before introducing Giffords, who came onstage to a standing ovation and spoke clearly but haltingly for a few minutes. Although she remains partially paralyzed, she said her days are filled with activities such as physical and speech therapy, yoga, playing the French horn, learning Spanish and riding a bike.

“It’s been a long, hard haul, but I’m getting better,” she said. “I’m still fighting to make the world a better place — and you can, too.”

The couple concluded with a brief question-and-answer session with Anne Thwaits of UA Presents, which put on the appearance.

Asked what she had learned from her experiences since that fateful day in 2011, Giffords said, “To be grateful for friends and family, and to live every day to the fullest.”

Editor: dougcarrollByline Affiliation: University Relations - CommunicationsHeader image: YesNo Image: Subheading: Former astronaut and Navy pilot says his career pales by comparison to the challenges faced by his wife over the past three years.Include in UANow: 0Include in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: no

Architecture Alumnus of the Year: James Edward Richärd

Fri, 10/24/2014 - 19:00

Leading up to the UA's 100th Homecoming, we are highlighting UA alumni who are being honored with alumni of the year awards.

James Edward Richärd, seated center in front (Photo courtesy of James Edward Richärd)

James Edward Richärd is the architect responsible for UA's award-winning Meinel Optical Sciences Building, the Bryant Bannister Tree Ring Building and the new Environment and Natural Resources Building II. He is the Alumnus of the Year for the College of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture.

In 1996, Richärd partnered with UA alumna Kelly Bauer to open Richärd+Bauer in Phoenix. The firm's focus is primarily higher education, research and library design. It has established a reputation for successful planning, design and construction of complex, high-profile projects.

His many awards include the AIA Arizona Architect's Medal in 2008. The Meinel Optical Sciences Building garnered state, regional and national AIA Honor Awards. Also, Richärd+Bauer recently was awarded a five-year contract with the U.S. Department of State Overseas Building Operations to design embassies and consulates.

Richärd earned his bachelor's degree in architecture from the UA.

Leading up to the UA's 100th Homecoming, we are highlighting UA alumni who are being honored with alumni of the year awards. They are:

Categories: Science and TechnologyThis is a Wildcat Corner feature: Images: Tags: AlumniByline: University Relations - Communications and the Alumni Association |Editor: dougcarrollInclude in UANow: 0Date of Publication: Friday, October 24, 2014Medium Summary: James Edward Richärd is the College of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture's Alumnus of the Year. Feature on Front: NoShort Summary: UA alumnus James Edward Richärd designs award-winning buildings. Send to Never Settle Site: 0

Optical Sciences Alumnus of the Year: Jacobus “Jim” Oschmann

Fri, 10/24/2014 - 18:59

Leading up to the UA's 100th Homecoming, we are highlighting UA alumni who are being honored by their colleges with alumni of the year awards.

With two optics-related patents and more than 20 scientific publications to his name, Jacobus "Jim" Oschmann personifies enormous influence and is the UA College of Optical Sciences Alumnus of the Year.

Earning a master's degree in optical sciences from the UA in 1983 was not easy for the New York native. Granted a fellowship to study at the UA for one year, Oschmann doubled up on courses and lab work.

"It was intense, but extremely rewarding," he said. "Dedicated professors like Jack Gaskill and Eustace Dereniak, the college's 2013 Alumnus of the Year, helped me succeed."

In 2001, Oschmann returned to Tucson, this time to pursue an MBA.

His career has been a progression of increasing responsibility in technical and managerial positions across the industry and science community. Today, Oschmann serves as vice president and general manager of the Civil Space and Technology strategic business unit at Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp.

A consistent advocate for the optics profession, Oschmann has served on review panels and advisory boards for NASA, the National Science Foundation and the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy. He is a lifetime member, a Fellow and a former member of the board of directors of SPIE, the international professional society for optics and photonics technology. Also, he serves on UA College of Optical Sciences development board and is the principal for Ball Aerospace's membership with the college's Industry Affiliates program.

Oschmann credits the generosity of others for his education and says that he and his wife, Michelle, are giving back through the the Jacobus M. and Michelle L. Oschmann Scholarship in Optical Sciences and Business Leadership to support a first-year graduate student.

Leading up to the UA's 100th Homecoming, we are highlighting UA alumni who are being honored with alumni of the year awards. They are:

Categories: Science and TechnologyThis is a Wildcat Corner feature: Images: Tags: AlumniByline: University Relations - Communications and the Alumni Association |Editor: La Monica Everett-HaynesInclude in UANow: 0Date of Publication: Friday, October 24, 2014Medium Summary: Jacobus "Jim" Oschmann is the UA College of Optical Sciences Alumnus of the Year. Feature on Front: NoShort Summary: UA alumnus Jacobus "Jim" Oschmann has held numerous positions in industry and science. Send to Never Settle Site: 0

Humanities Alumnus of the Year: Eric Scott Baker

Wed, 10/22/2014 - 18:56

Leading up to the UA's 100th Homecoming, we are highlighting UA alumni who are being honored by their colleges with alumni of the year awards.

President Barack Obama and Eric Scott Baker (Photo courtesy of Eric Scott Baker)

Eric Scott Baker, the University of Arizona College of Humanities Alumnus of the Year, is a corporate lawyer in Manhattan for Starbucks, responsible for a broad territory in the Northeast. 

For his success in his legal career, Baker credits the College of Humanities' German studies department and his experience studying abroad in Munich, Germany, while at the UA. Baker said both provided a stellar undergraduate opportunity, which continues to provide value in his life.

After earning his Juris Doctorate at UA's James E. Rogers College of Law, Baker began his legal career in Phoenix at Snell and Willmer LLP, where he specialized in real estate. He spent eight years there and another eight years as associate general counsel at Western Wireless before joining Starbucks.

Baker maintains close ties to Arizona. He visits frequently and has a home in Tucson. A philanthropist, Baker is a longtime supporter of the UA athletic department and recently endowed a scholarship for the UA's Institute for LGBT Studies.

"The minute I arrived on the UA campus, I fell in love with the desert," he reminisces. "I loved to linger around Old Main and the Mall. To this day, I come back to the University regularly to walk, run and remember my great days on campus."

Baker also earned undergraduate degrees in political science and German from the College of Humanities, and a master's degree in political science from Northern Arizona University.

Categories: Arts and HumanitiesBusiness and LawThis is a Wildcat Corner feature: Images: Tags: AlumniByline: University Relations - Communications and the Alumni Association |Editor: dougcarrollInclude in UANow: 0Date of Publication: Thursday, October 23, 2014Medium Summary: Eric Scott Baker is the College of Humanities Alumnus of the Year. Feature on Front: NoShort Summary: UA alumnus Eric Scott Baker is a corporate lawyer for Starbucks. Send to Never Settle Site: 0

At the Intersection of Art and Science

Wed, 10/22/2014 - 13:54

The elegance and beauty of science as expressed in art was the basis for the second annual Art of Planetary Science exhibition, hosted Oct. 17-19 at the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory on the University of Arizona campus. More than 200 works from 84 artists and scientists were on display. The award of Best in Show went to UA visiting artist Cui Jing, whose spectrum of daytime photos of sheets of white paper, placed in the open air of Tucson and Hangzhow, China, revealed a stark difference in the environment of the two cities.

Video Thumbnail: Category(s): Arts and HumanitiesScience and TechnologyYouTube Video:  The Art of Planetary Science Video of The Art of Planetary Science Feature Sticky: OffFeature on Front: NoMedium Summary: They're not such strange bedfellows after all, as demonstrated by an exhibition at the UA's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory.UANow Image: Date of Publication: Wednesday, October 22, 2014Send to Never Settle Site: 0

Art Professor Creates New World of Awareness

Wed, 10/22/2014 - 11:17

Ellen McMahon grew up in a home where art and science often collided – with a psychiatrist father and artist mother who did not always see eye-to-eye. And so she found herself, from a young age, serving in the role of peacemaker, bent on finding common ground between two seemingly different worlds.

Years later, she has much the same mission in her work as a professor in the University of Arizona School of Art in the College of Fine Arts.

"I'm still trying to get the artist and the scientist to understand each other," she says.

A trained artist and biologist, McMahon teaches a "Critical Issue in Design" course, in which she encourages her design students to develop an awareness of environmental issues and to thoughtfully consider those issues in their work.

"You could say we've designed a world that separates us from the consequences of our actions," McMahon says. "We don't see where our garbage goes, we don't think about where our energy comes from, we hide the ecological connections between things.

"As a design educator, I feel like my job is to explain these connections, help people understand them so they can act accordingly so they can help other people understand the bigger picture."

Art and design can be used to interpret and communicate scientific fact in any number of ways, McMahon notes – from an infographic that illustrates statistics related to global climate change to a mural that draws attention to pressing environmental issues.

At the same time, design also can aid in creating real solutions to environmental and other societal challenges. For example, a designer might create an innovative product or mobile app that supports or encourages natural resource conservation.

"Design identifies problems and creates solutions. So I focus on and teach my students to do a critical analysis of what's wrong and what can be done to make a difference," McMahon says.

"It's really important for designers to have a real environmental consciousness because they are making apps, they are changing the way we see the world and they're designing all the ways we interpret things."

Engaging students in the natural world

About a decade ago, McMahon began taking her design students to Mexico to work at the field station of the Center for the Study of Deserts and Oceans, also known as CEDO, which focuses on the natural resources and cultures of the Sonoran Desert and Sea of Cortez.

She wanted them to connect with the natural world while learning about the impact their work could have.

"There's a lot of science coming out about the benefits of direct experience with the natural world,” she says.

In the field, her students learned about the various environmental challenges in the coastal community and worked on art and design projects for CEDO.

UA alumna Margi Kimball, who earned master's degrees in visual communication and creative writing from the UA in 2011, was one of those students. She made illustrations of endangered animals, which were featured on banners, T-shirts, calendars and other CEDO materials.

She says McMahon pushed her to think about art and design in new ways.

"Rather than just creating 'stuff,' she taught us about creating experiences and solutions to lifelong problems, which hadn't occurred to me before," says Kimball, who now teaches illustration at Lesley University in Massachusetts.

Another of McMahon's former students, Mike Buffington, also has fond memories of working in Mexico, where he contributed to an educational mural featuring endangered animal species in the area.

He says the message of McMahon's class is critical.  

"Humans have removed themselves from nature and … see the Earth as an unlimited resource," says Buffington, who earned an undergraduate degree in visual communications in 2005 and now works at a metal fabrication studio in New York. "Design can help re-bridge that connection."

Although McMahon's class trips to Mexico have become less frequent in the last few years, she continues to engage her students in work on environmental issues in the classroom and out in the field.

In 2010, she received a grant from the UA's Confluencenter for Creative Inquiry for a collaborative project exploring Tucson's dry riverbeds, particularly the Rillito River.

The resulting book, "Ground Water: The Art, Design and Science of a Dry River," published last year, features photographs, graphic design, architectural drawings, essays and poems by faculty and student contributors in art, architecture, English and the sciences.

Cross-disciplinary collaborations such as "Groundwater" are important to McMahon, who is part of a larger movement at the UA to get campus researchers and artists working more closely together.

Partnering across disciplines

McMahon is one of several UA faculty members involved in the Art and Environment networking initiative, started in 2012 by faculty in the UA's Institute of the Environment.

UA climate scientist Gregg Garfin, who helped get the initiative off the ground, said the goal is to facilitate collaborations between artists and researchers on campus and in the greater Tucson community.

"The arts can get to a more visceral, immediate understanding that's easier for people to grasp than dry technical writing," says Garfin, an associate professor in the UA's School of Natural Resources and the Environment.

Garfin, who contributed an essay to the "Groundwater" book, applauds McMahon's ability to "think outside the box" as an educator.

"It's important to expand the perspectives of students who are the generation of leaders and contributors to solving our problems," he says.  

Eric Magrane, a Ph.D. student in geography and research assistant with the Institute of the Environment, facilitates the networking initiative and writes a blog called Proximities, which chronicles the work of McMahon and others who are collaborating on similar cross-disciplinary projects.

"The UA and Tucson are vibrant places for arts and environmental projects," he says. "Ellen's an inspiration for people here working at the nexus of art and the environment. She reaches across disciplines and brings students into the field to engage in real environmental issues in a way that's really inspiring."

In addition to her work with students, McMahon also is partnering with UA researchers.

She is currently collaborating with UA ecologist David Breshears, a professor in the School of Natural Resources in the Environment, who is working on a National Science Foundation-funded project to understand why forests around the world are dying.

After spending time in the field with Breshears and his team in New Mexico, McMahon is producing a series of drawings and collages and working on a photo and sound installation in collaboration with Beth Weinstein, an associate professor in the College of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture, and Jesse Chehak, a graduate student in the School of Art. McMahon received funding from the School of Art and Confluencenter for the project, titled "Tree Mortality Through the Lens of Art and Science."

She will display the work in the University's Bryant Bannister Tree Ring Building, home to the UA's renowned Laboratory for Tree-Ring Research. McMahon curates art for the building, including pieces by UA students, alumni and employees.

"People come to the tree-ring lab to learn about the science, but they also can learn about how art and design interpret the science," she says. "So it's a matter not of decorating places, but having visitors really think about these different ways of knowing – the scientific way of knowing, the artistic way of knowing and the designer’s way of knowing."

McMahon says she would like to coordinate similar exhibits in other University buildings to demonstrate the role of the visual arts in shaping our understanding of the world. She also has plans to collaborate on projects with Kathy Jacobs, director of the University's recently launched Center for Climate Adaptation Science and Solutions.

"Most scientists don't have the resources and access to good visual communicators, but they understand the value of it," McMahon says. "That's why I really want to get design students into these science centers around campus to get them involved in critical visual problem solving."

From biology to brushstrokes

McMahon's path to the art and design world was somewhat unconventional and has helped shape the unique perspective she brings to the field today.

As an undergraduate, she majored in biology and was awarded two NSF grants for her research on bats and herons. After earning her undergraduate degree in biology from Southern Oregon University, she went to work for the forest service, netting bats for forest management studies. But in the field, she realized she enjoyed drawing the bats more than the biology fieldwork.

That led her to the UA, where in 1980 she began taking courses in scientific illustration – part of the general biology department at that time. After completing her master's degree in biology, she was hired to work as a designer on campus and eventually transitioned into teaching, earning a Master of Fine Arts degree through the Vermont College of Fine Arts.

"The reason I didn't continue in science is because I wanted to function more like a naturalist, and ecology had become highly statistical," McMahon says. "I knew I wouldn't excel at that, so scientific illustration was perfect because I was really interested in how things looked, and in exploring the natural world through close observation and representation."

This past summer, McMahon returned to Oregon to visit the field stations where she worked in her early career. She wanted to revisit the place where she first began making the connections between art and the environment that have remained so important to her.

Contributing to a national dialogue

McMahon is now tapping into her unique background, experience and passion to contribute to a national conversation about arts and the environment.

Next month, she will participate on an "Envisioning Ecology" panel at the national conference of the Alliance for the Arts in Research Universities, held at Iowa State University.

She also was one of 18 Tucson-area fellows chosen to participate in the OpEd Project's inaugural Arizona Public Voices Fellowship Program for 2013-14.

McMahon penned an editorial for the Pacific Standard over the summer about her efforts to boost her students' environmental awareness. In it, she wrote:

"If we are to tackle climate change, a good place to start would be in convincing designers to be prepared to bring their strengths as creative thinkers – and makers – across the aisle to work with natural and social scientists. An immediate challenge for academic institutions is to provide opportunities for students to use their design thinking skills as members of interdisciplinary teams working on real environmental and social problems. We need to shift how we educate designers so they don’t think of themselves as artists for hire but as informed and empowered creative forces working for the greater good."

In her second editorial, published in The Huffington Post earlier this month, McMahon discussed the importance of designers – and all of us – spending more time in the natural world:

"The science is accumulating to suggest that we are suffering from what David Louv calls 'nature deficit disorder,' sacrificing mental and physical health as we replace nature time with screen time. We need to get out more – outside, that is. And the folks who really need to get more are the 'experience designers' who are adding layers of augmentation to our every moment. Like my university design students, mostly 20 to 30-somethings, the people who are designing our smart devices and the ways we interact with them grew up in a digitally saturated world but have too little experience with the non-human living world."

McMahon hopes her efforts – in the classroom, in labs and in the public sphere – will help shed new light on environmental challenges, such as global climate change.

And she hopes her students will leave her class with a new perspective on how art and design can make a real difference.

"Designers are our interpreters," she says, "and it's the values of design and designers that are really going to affect the future of the species."

Editor: dougcarrollWriter: Alexis BlueByline: Alexis BlueByline Affiliation: University Relations - CommunicationsHeader image: YesNo Image: Subheading: Ellen McMahon started out as a biologist but later found her passion in art and design. Today, she unites art and science in her work and teaching.Include in UANow: yesInclude in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: noUANow Image: 

AZPM Wins Record 15 Emmy Awards

Tue, 10/21/2014 - 16:41

Arizona Public Media had a record 15 award winners in a variety of categories at the recent Emmy Awards in Scottsdale, a harvest of more awards than any other broadcaster in southern Arizona — and more than any other public broadcaster in the state.

“We’re extremely proud of each person who worked on these pieces and of the quality of work AZPM consistently delivers,” said Jack Gibson, AZPM’s general manager. “Twenty-two people on our staff received awards. It’s very gratifying to see them recognized for the exceptional stories they produce.”

Each year, the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences recognizes outstanding work in some 90 television, production and creative communications categories. The Oct. 18 awards ceremony was the chapter’s 38th.

AZPM's winners were its most ever in a year, and their respective categories were:  

Arts/Entertainment — News Single Story/Series/Feature: "Chamberlab, DIY Classical Music for the Masses," Luis Carrion

Arts/Entertainment — Program Feature/Segment: "Busker," Mitchell Riley

Documentary — Topical: "Level One Trauma," Thomas Kleespie, Steve Bayless, Robert Lindberg and Martin Rubio

Education/Schools — Program Feature/Segment/Special: "Tucson Nonprofit Helps Homeless Teens Graduate High School," Fernanda Echavarri

Environment — News Single Story/Series/Feature: "Pop-Cycle," Mark McLemore and Andrew Brown

Magazine — Program Feature/Segment: "From Above: Aerial Photography of Heisey," Luis Carrion and Steve Bayless; "The Gold Buckle," Mitchell Riley; "Watercolor Pleinair," Luis Carrion

Military — Program Feature/Segment: "Boneyard 5K," Andrea Kelly

Photographer — Program (Non-News): "Busker," Matthew Ehrichs

Public/Current/Community Affairs — Feature/Segment: "The Soup Patrol," Mitchell Riley and Andrew Brown

Religion — Program Feature/Segment: "Native Cultures and Resilience," Gisela Telis and Robert Lindberg

Societal Concerns — Program Feature/Segment: "Building a Crisis Intervention Team," Gisela Telis

Special Event Coverage (other than News or Sports) — Live or Edited: "Community Interactive: The Working Poor," John Booth

Teen (13 and older) — Program Feature/Segment: "Preventing Tragedy in Tombstone," Thomas Kleespie

About AZPM: AZPM is a member-supported, nonprofit media organization that serves all of southern Arizona. AZPM includes six public television channels and three radio stations, including PBS 6, PBS Kids and NPR 89.1. AZPM produces award-winning content from its digital studios on the campus of the University of Arizona and is provided as a community service and educational resource. More information about AZPM, including program schedules and Video-on-Demand offerings, can be found online at

Editor: dougcarrollByline Affiliation: University Relations - CommunicationsHeader image: YesNo Image: Subheading: UA-based public broadcaster sets the pace for southern Arizona as 22 staffers are honored across 13 categories.Include in UANow: 0Include in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: no

New Radio Telescope Ready to Probe

Mon, 10/20/2014 - 18:52

Whirring back and forth on a turning turret, the white, 40-foot dish evokes the aura of movies such as "Golden Eye" or "Contact," but the University of Arizona team of scientists and engineers that commissioned it earlier this month isn't planning to listen for signals from extraterrestrials or hijack satellites.

Instead, the team detected the faint radio signals emanating from giant clouds of gas wafting through the Milky Way. The observations mark the first "light" received by the new, state-of-the-art, 12-meter radio telescope of the Arizona Radio Observatory on Kitt Peak near Tucson. This makes the UA the only university in the continental U.S. that has its own modern radio telescope.

"These first light measurements not only prove that the new 12-m is fully functional for scientific observations, but also represent a huge leap forward in astronomical capability for the ARO and the UA,” said Lucy Ziurys, director of the ARO, which is part of the UA’s Steward Observatory and Department of Astronomy and Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.

The new 12-m telescope was installed in the existing ARO observatory dome on Kitt Peak, replacing a venerable but less capable antenna, which contained components more than 40 years old. The radio telescope is one of three prototype antennas built and tested for the Atacama Large Millimeter Array and became property of the UA on March 23, 2013. The antenna, obtained through an agreement with the European Southern Observatory, uses the most advanced technology for radio telescopes.

Performance-enhancing features include the reflector surface made from panels with a rhodium skin, and an instrumentation cabin and reflector structure constructed from lightweight carbon fiber. The new antenna can point at new targets 10 times faster and 20 times more accurately than the previous telescope.

"The antenna moves as fast as six degrees per second, with less than a second settling time," Ziurys said. "Speed is important in doing large surveys of numerous radio sources in the universe, because we gather our data by switching between source and reference position, and subtracting out the reference."

In addition, the telescope is less susceptible to wind than its predecessor and can be pointed directly at the sun without damage.

"We can see deeper into our universe in a shorter period of time, allowing for new discoveries previously not attainable and increasing the science output," Ziurys said.

Radio and in particular millimeter-wave astronomy can detect the cold, dark matter of the Milky Way and other galaxies that is not visible for telescopes detecting light, because it is simply too cold, Ziurys explained.

Making up at least half of the matter in our galaxy, giant gas clouds are the unique sites of present-day star and solar system formation. Understanding how stars and planets are created is a major theme of astronomy. In addition, these clouds foster the seeds for the origin of life, containing a wide number of prebiotic molecules, some which are carried by comets and meteorites to planet surfaces.

Recommissioning of the antenna took place over the past eight months. Several miles of wiring had to be reconnected without any errors. More than 20 large magnets were remounted on the telescope for the direct drive motors, along with a special cooling system for the instrument cabin. In early September, the first detector system was mounted on the telescope.

During first "light," the new telescope detected carbon monoxide, one of the 160 or so chemical compounds found to date in interstellar gas. Such interstellar molecules are the unique probes of cold, dense galactic material and are widely used to study the life cycle of stars and planets, from stellar birth to stellar death, as well as the chemical evolution of the galaxy and the extent of the so-called Galactic Habitable Zone.

"The results are truly outstanding given that these were the first observations ever made with a completely new and quite complex system," Ziurys said. "The entire team can be very proud of their achievement."

The telescope will be used for a variety of scientific projects, aimed at understanding the myriad of molecules now known to exist in outer space and thought to play a major role in the formation of stars and planetary systems, including our own. It also will be a key element in the Event Horizon Telescope array that will create images of supermassive black holes in the centers of galaxies, including the Milky Way.

"I congratulate the entire ARO staff and Professor Lucy Ziurys for successfully bringing the instrument to this point in so short a time," said Buell T. Jannuzi, director of Steward Observatory. "We are all excited by the imminent start of science observations with this new modern facility."

      Editor: dougcarrollWriter: Daniel StolteByline: Daniel StolteByline Affiliation: University Relations - CommunicationsHeader image: YesNo Image: Subheading: Newly installed, 40-foot dish achieves "first light" detecting cold gas clouds in the Milky Way. Include in UANow: yesInclude in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: no

Newly Discovered Microbe Is Key in Climate Change

Mon, 10/20/2014 - 18:46

Tiny soil microbes are among the world's biggest potential amplifiers of human-caused climate change, but whether microbial communities are mere slaves to their environment or influential actors in their own right is an open question. Now research by an international team of scientists from the U.S., Sweden and Australia, led by University of Arizona scientists, shows that a single species of microbe, discovered only recently, is an unexpected key player in climate change. 

The findings, published in the journal Nature, should help scientists improve their simulations of future climate by replacing assumptions about the different greenhouse gases emitted from thawing permafrost with new understanding of how different communities of microbes control the release of these gases.

Earlier this year, the international team discovered that a single species of microbe, previously undescribed by science, was prominent in permafrost soils in northern Sweden that have begun to thaw under the effect of globally rising temperatures. Researchers suspected that it played a significant role in global warming by liberating vast amounts of carbon stored in permafrost soil close to the Arctic Circle in the form of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas trapping heat in the Earth's atmosphere. But the actual role of this microbe — assigned the preliminary name Methanoflorens stordalenmirensis, which roughly translates to "methane-bloomer from the Stordalen Mire" — was unknown.

The new research nails down the role of the new microbe, finding that the sheer abundance of Methanoflorens, as compared to other microbial species in thawing permafrost, should help to predict the collective impact on future climate change.

"If you think of the African savanna as an analogy, you could say that both lions and elephants produce carbon dioxide, but they eat different things," said senior author Scott Saleska, an associate professor in the UA’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and director of the UA's new Ecosystem Genomics Institute. "In Methanoflorens, we discovered the microbial equivalent of an elephant, an organism that plays an enormously important role in what happens to the whole ecosystem."

Significantly, the study revealed that because of these microbial activities, all wetlands are not the same when it comes to methane release.

"The models assume a certain ratio between different forms, or isotopes, of the carbon in the methane molecules, and the actual recorded ratio turns out to be different," said lead author Carmody McCalley, a scientist at the Earth Systems Research Center at the University of New Hampshire who conducted the study while she was a postdoctoral researcher at UA. "This has been a major shortcoming of current climate models. Because they assume the wrong isotope ratio coming out of the wetlands, the models overestimate carbon released by biological processes and underestimate carbon released by human activities such as fossil-fuel burning."

Soil microbes can make methane two different ways: either from acetate, an organic molecule that comes from plants, or from carbon dioxide and hydrogen.

"Both processes produce energy for the microbe, and the microbe breathes out methane like we breathe out carbon dioxide," McCalley said. "But we find that in thawing permafrost, most methane initially doesn't come from acetate as previously assumed, but the other pathway. This ratio then shifts towards previous estimates as the frozen soils are turned into wetlands and acetate becomes the preferred carbon source."

One of the big questions facing climate scientists, according to Saleska, is how much of the carbon stored in soils is released into the atmosphere by microbial activity.

"As the 'global freezer' of permafrost is failing under the influence of warming, we need to better understand how soil microbes release carbon on a larger, ecosystem-wide level and what is going to happen with it," he said.

"For years, there's been a debate about whether microbial ecology 'matters' to what an ecosystem collectively does — in this case, releasing greenhouse gases of different forms — or whether microbes are just slaves to the system’s physics and chemistry," said co-author Virginia Rich, who has joint appointments in the departments of Soil, Water and Environmental Science (UA College of Agriculture and Life Sciences), Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Molecular and Cellular Biology (both UA College of Science).

"This work shows that microbial ecology matters to a great degree, and that we need to pay more attention to the types of microbes living in those thawing ecosystems."

Added McCalley: "By taking microbial ecology into account, we can accurately set up climate models to identify how much methane comes from thawing permafrost versus other sources such as fossil-fuel burning."

The paper was co-authored by: Richard Wehr of the UA's Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology; Eun-Hae Kim of the UA Department of Soil, Water and Environmental Science; Gene Tyson, Ben Woodcroft and Rhiannon Mondav of the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia; Suzanne Hodgkins and Jeffrey Chanton of Florida State University; and Patrick Crill at the University of Stockholm, Sweden.

The research was supported by the Department of Energy Office of Biological and Environmental Research through awards DE-SC0004632 and DE-SC0010580, and by the UA Technology and Research Initiative Fund through the Water, Environmental and Energy Solutions initiative.

Editor: dougcarrollWriter: Daniel StolteByline: Daniel StolteByline Affiliation: University Relations - CommunicationsHeader image: YesNo Image: Subheading: As permafrost soils thaw under the influence of global warming, communities of soil microbes act as potent amplifiers of global climate change, an international study has shown. Include in UANow: yesInclude in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: noUANow Image: 

“On this day 88 years ago, a man died and a legend was born. #BearDown”

Mon, 10/20/2014 - 15:35
Short Summary: “On this day 88 years ago, a man died and a legend was born. #BearDown” UANow Image: Social Network: InstagramSocial Author: @arizonaalumniSocial Link:

Ebola Not Just a Matter for Medicine

Mon, 10/20/2014 - 11:28

As Ebola continues to pose national and international risks, a role is envisioned for engineers, who are being called on to design devices and processes to help protect against the virus. 

Last Thursday, the National Science Foundation issued an invitation to the scientific community for research proposals related to Ebola and other infectious diseases, noting important contributions engineers could make to aid rapid diagnostics, vaccinations and decontamination. On the same day, President Barack Obama signed an order allowing for National Guard and Reserve members to travel to West Africa to help build Ebola treatment centers. A number of national media outlets have reported that engineers and logistical specialists likely will be on the team.

At the University of Arizona, engineers and researchers such as Linda Powers, the Thomas R. Brown Distinguished Chair in Bioengineering, are contributing to preventative methods while also training the next generation of engineers to be prepared for biomedical issues of global concern.

Powers, who holds appointments in biomedical engineering and electrical and computer engineering and is a BIO5 Institute member, has been working with a UA team developing fast, disposable blood tests for detecting the pathogens that cause diseases such as HIV, hepatitis, malaria and other viruses.

"In cases such as Ebola, or any kind of crisis, epidemic or pandemic, it is important for engineers to understand what we need to do to help," Powers said, speaking Monday to dozens of UA engineering students and high school students. "Engineers can help mitigate risks to help prevent others from getting infected."

Powers presented her talk during in Engineering 102, a course that just started a month long project where students evaluate issues related to ways that engineers can improve health care, provide access to clean water and improve the urban infrastructure, among other things.

The College of Engineering restructured the introductory course several years ago to include a month long project around the National Academy of Engineering's "Grand Challenges for Engineering" to help students explore these and other grand challenges within the discipline.

"Throughout my career, there have been a number of events that have led to questions about how engineers can produce better structures and sensors," said Kathleen Melde, a professor in the UA Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering who teaches one of the course sections. As examples, Melde pointed to California earthquakes, the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and the current Ebola situation.

"In the College of Engineering, one of the things that is very important for us is that we emphasize that engineers engage in lifelong learning and ways that engineers can think out of the box," Melde said.

"But when people think about electrical engineers, they think of someone sitting in a cubicle developing circuits. But that couldn't be further from the truth. A lot of people choose engineering because they want to help people and, as those like Linda (Powers) show, we are really at the forefront of helping people."

Melde and Powers said engineers can make significant contributions to reduce the spread of infectious diseases. For example, engineers have developed and advanced the electron microscope to analyze nanopaticles as well as microbe sensor technology, among other instruments used for disease detection. Engineers also have developed lab safety protocol, built protective emergency materials, and developed lightweight devices used in medical research and treatment. 

Powers' company, MicroBioSystems of Arizona, was awarded two U.S. Department of Defense contracts for the technologies that she and her team are working to develop.

Since receiving the contracts, Powers and her team members have developed a self-contained device and an instrument for testing for the presence of pathogens, which may one day be used by military personnel in the field and even by people living in remote areas.

The technology is meant to greatly improve the detection of blood-borne diseases, especially for individuals who have no access to medical facilities and who do not have medical training. Another boon: The self-contained device can be disposed of in the same way as medical waste, to keep infectious diseases from spreading, Powers said.

"This country has been fortunate that it has not had to deal with many situations like this," Powers said, referring to the Ebola cases. "But there are many more of these situations on the horizon, so there will be plenty of work for engineers who want to help tackle issues like this."

Editor: dougcarrollWriter: La Monica Everett-HaynesByline: La Monica Everett-HaynesByline Affiliation: University Relations - CommunicationsHeader image: YesNo Image: Subheading: Outbreak in Africa reveals a need for the contributions of engineers to global health, UA researchers say. Include in UANow: yesInclude in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: noUANow Image: