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Students Learn Dirty Science at Mountaintop SkySchool

Wed, 05/28/2014 - 14:59

Operated out of the University of Arizona's Mt. Lemmon SkyCenter atop the unique sky island environment in the Santa Catalina Mountains, the SkySchool is an immersive, residential science program for K-12 students. UA graduate students from the College of Science share their knowledge, research and appreciation for the local environment during the program, while teaching the students how to conduct science and how to be good stewards of the world they live in.

Video Thumbnail: Category(s): Science and TechnologyRelated Story Link: White House Honors Founder of UA’s Sky School ProjectA School in the Sky: UA Science and Tucson StudentsYouTube Video:  Students Learn Dirty Science at Mountaintop SkySchool Video of Students Learn Dirty Science at Mountaintop SkySchool Feature Sticky: OffFeature on Front: NoMedium Summary: Operated out of the University of Arizona's SkyCenter on Mount Lemmon, SkySchool is an immersive, residential science program for K-12 students. UA graduate students teach the participants how to conduct science – and how to be good stewards of the world around them.UANow Image: Date of Publication: Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Teaching Students How to Think

Fri, 05/23/2014 - 11:11

How can we increase the critical thinking skills of our students? That's the question University of Arizona chemist John Pollard asked when he began developing his "Chemical Thinking" course. Now, with the help of a grant from the American Association of Universities, he's implementing the new curriculum throughout the UA Department of Chemistry and changing the way the UA teaches STEM courses.  

Video Thumbnail: Category(s): Science and TechnologyTeaching and StudentsYouTube Video:  Teaching Students How to Think Video of Teaching Students How to Think Feature Sticky: OffFeature on Front: NoMedium Summary: How can we increase the critical thinking skills of our students? That's the question UA chemist John Pollard asked when he began developing his "Chemical Thinking" course. He's now implementing the curriculum with a grant from the American Association of Universities, and changing how the UA teaches STEM courses. UANow Image: Date of Publication: Friday, May 23, 2014

UAMC Patients Say Thank You

Wed, 05/21/2014 - 15:35

Following March's Doctor's Day and April's National Nurses Week, UA Medical Center continues to honor its physicians, nurses and hospital staff with the slogan "Stronger Because of You." This month, former and current patients were invited to share their stories about the lifesaving care they received, and their positive experiences during their hospital stays. 

Video Thumbnail: Category(s): HealthYouTube Video:  UAMC Patients Say Thank You Video of UAMC Patients Say Thank You Feature Sticky: OffFeature on Front: NoMedium Summary: Following March's Doctor's Day and April's National Nurses Week, UAMC continues to honor its physicians, nurses and hospital staff with the slogan "Stronger Because of You." This month, patients were invited to share stories about the lifesaving care they received at UAMC.UANow Image: Date of Publication: Wednesday, May 21, 2014

UA Students Gain Real-World Experience Through Legislative Internships

Fri, 05/16/2014 - 10:20

As state and federal elected officials debated issues such as K-12 and university funding, health insurance premiums and unemployment benefits, University of Arizona students involved in semester-long internships were documenting the process, writing summaries and meeting with constituent groups.

As a result of this real-world experience, a number of UA students are seriously considering government work.

"My experience has definitely opened my eyes to the type of work the government and public sector require," said Stephanie Romero, who worked with Arizona Capitol Television.

"It's really interesting and valuable to be in the loop of things happening within your state, especially knowing about possible bills or laws that could go into effect and impact your life or the lives of others," said Romero, who is studying journalism and Spanish. "I can definitely say that I'd like a job that would allow me to continue expanding my knowledge of state government and maybe even U.S. government in the future."

For many years, the UA has involved students in semester-long internships in Phoenix and Washington, D.C. These internships reflect the UA’s focus on 100 percent engagement for every student, a commitment that is outlined in the University's Never Settle strategic academic and business plan. To cultivate this real-world experience for all students, the University has established a centralized clearinghouse in the Career Services office that supports students and employees in identifying and securing real-world learning opportunities. In the future, internships and other applied experience will be notated on students' transcripts.

Jenna Goulder spent the semester interning for U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake in Washington, D.C.

"Because I am interested in policy reform for victims of child abuse, I wanted to learn more about the legislative process, and to be able to have a hands-on experience working in the senator's office," Goulder said. She spent the semester giving tours, attending briefings and hearings, writing memos and answering phone calls from constituents, among other things.

Such experiences carry a dual role. Students receive important work skills while also learning how to engage in the democratic process.

"There were a lot of times in this internship that things suddenly became very busy," said Kenna Nielson, a UA mathematics and pre-law major assigned to Gov. Jan Brewer's office. "What I found most valuable during those times was the relationships I had developed with the other interns. We were able to help each other out when work was stressful or overwhelming and had a lot of fun together."

Nielson, who also worked with the Office of Strategic Planning and Budgeting, said another lesson she learned was the importance of clear and open communication.

"This is important in all aspects of life, but especially the people with whom you work," she said. "I was able to observe a lot of examples of people with great ideas who weren't able to express them in a way that made sense to others. I also learned how important listening is when communicating with others. These are lessons that I will take with me into the future."

"I've always been interested in working with government, but for a long time I thought I wanted to work at the federal level," she said. "After spending this semester with the state Legislature, though, and seeing everything that goes on here, I've become much more interested in staying at the state level."

Dominique Cruz, who is majoring in Latin American Studies and Spanish, was especially interested in learning about public policy and health care. Cruz interned with the state House of Representatives, specifically with committees working on health and human services reform.

"The thing that was most valuable to me is the taste I got of how life will be after I finish school," Cruz said. "This internship was truly a real-world experience that I will never forget."

As a journalist, Romero found great value in learning more about state government and the process involved in moving a bill from concept to law.

"There were many aspects of the government that I did not understand prior to the internship program," Romero said. "It's completely different when you witness the process firsthand."

The experience also taught her what's it like to have a full-time job in a professional arena. "I can truly say that I have grown through this program because I started as a complete beginner."

Editor: Pila MartinezByline Affiliation: University Relations - CommunicationsExtra Info: 

To learn more, read From the "UA to the Arizona State Capitol" on the UA's official blog.

Header image: YesNo Image: Subheading: UA students have just returned from spending their semester interning for government offices in Phoenix and Washington, D.C.Include in UANow: yesInclude in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: noUANow Image: 

Pay Dirt: Demand Exceeds Supply for Compost Cats' Product

Thu, 05/15/2014 - 16:39

Demand for the product made by Compost Cats, a University of Arizona student-run organization that turns food and yard waste into nutrient-rich soil, has outstripped supply.

What makes this recycled dirt so special?

Arizona, like the rest of the desert Southwest, has a much lower amount of water and nutrients in its soils than less arid parts of the country – which is where compost comes in handy.

"Compost acts as a soil amendment by adding some of those lacking nutrients and raising the water retention abilities of the soil," said Madeline Ryder, a Compost Cats member and a UA senior double majoring in natural resources and environmental studies.

"It's much better for the environment and safer to use than chemical fertilizers," Ryder said.

Composting is a process of turning organic waste such as food scraps, manure and landscape clippings into high-nutrient soil that can be reused for agriculture and gardening. Nutrients in food waste and garden clippings remain in the waste after it is broken down during the composting process, and can be reabsorbed by plants when compost is added to the soil.

And if compost is being used as a substitute for chemical fertilizers, there are even more benefits, she said, "including the reduced emissions from producing those fertilizers and adding less chemicals into the environment, which could eventually end up in our groundwater supply or washes."

In addition, "food waste that would normally go in the landfills would create methane, a greenhouse gas that is 20 or 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide, from the process used to break it down," Ryder said.

Food waste in landfills is not turned regularly to let oxygen into the waste heaps, allowing for methane-producing bacteria to take over landfill garbage dumps.

Since compost heaps are turned over regularly, oxygen is allowed to mix with the waste material and encourages oxygen-loving bacteria to colonize the compost and break down the food scraps without releasing the vast quantities of harmful methane gas that are produced in landfills.

"One of the main goals that is unique to Compost Cats is to reduce as much organic material going into landfills as possible," Ryder said. "This reduces the amount of methane produced by landfills and the need for chemical fertilizers at the same time."

While digesting and breaking down the scraps, the activity of the bacteria produces enormous amounts of heat, making compost piles as hot as 140 to 160 degrees Fahrenheit.

"In the wintertime, compost piles steam," Ryder noted.

"We make sure that it stays at that temperature for four weeks," she added. "The process ensures that there are no pathogens in the compost that could be transferred to the next crop."

The group turns its compost regularly and "we don't add anything to it except water," Ryder said.

Although the students are collecting food and yard waste not just from campus, but also from Tucson businesses, there isn't enough for the home gardeners who visit the group's website to place their orders.

That should change soon thanks to a new partnership between Compost Cats – a program under the Associated Students of the University of Arizona – and the city of Tucson, which will enable to group to extend its composting service to many more Tucson businesses. By fall, Compost Cats hopes to boost its operations and get caught up on orders.

"We are confident that this fall we will be able to supply more compost than we've ever been able to in the past," Ryder said.

Lots of people around Tucson will be happy to hear that.

"Most of the comments we receive are about how wonderful our program is from a sustainability and student leadership perspective," Ryder said. "I feel like older generations, who are our main customers, are glad to see younger generations interested in bettering the community."

Editor: Pila MartinezWriter: Shelley LittinByline: Shelley LittinByline Affiliation: University Relations - CommunicationsHeader image: NoNo Image: Subheading: Compost Cats prepares for a new season of high demand for its organic, high-nutrient compost.Include in UANow: yesInclude in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: noUANow Image: 

Arizona Now Campaign Co-Chairs Prove Opposites Really Do Attract

Thu, 05/15/2014 - 13:07

It may not seem like a 6-foot-2-inch CEO and avid sports fan from Phoenix would have a whole lot in common with a Tucson philanthropist who stands just above 5 feet tall and loves attending dance performances (or Science lectures).

Yet Jeff Stevens and Sarah Smallhouse have a lot more in common than meets the eye – most notably a passion for promoting and advancing the University of Arizona through generous time and financial commitments.

Because of their dedication, Stevens and Smallhouse were asked to serve as co-chairs for the UA's Arizona Now fundraising campaign. The campaign, which aims to raise $1.5 billion in gifts and commitments, is the largest fundraising campaign in the University's history.

Arizona Now has three main areas of giving, which are enhancing the student experience, supporting innovative thinkers like faculty and researchers, and expanding the UA's reach, including improving the UA experience for community members in Arizona and around the world. Funds will go toward supporting the UA's Never Settle strategic plan initiatives, which aim to advance UA research, boost the state's economy and provide real-world experiences to all students. The UA has already raised $859 million through donations that came in before the campaign's public phase. (Read more about the Arizona Now campaign in this UANews article and see highlights from the launch in this video.)

In the days leading up to the April 11 launch of the Arizona Now campaign, Stevens and Smallhouse bonded over their belief that the UA has much to offer on a local, state and global scale.

"We are polar opposites in so many ways," Stevens said. "But I think that's what makes Sarah and I such a great team. I'm very excited about the role of co-chair. I feel like our goals are very achievable. It's going to take a lot of work, but I think we've got the right people in the right places to make it successful."

As co-chairs, Stevens and Smallhouse will serve as spokespeople for the UA during the course of the campaign and serve as the face of the campaign alongside UA President Ann Weaver Hart.

"We wanted co-chairs who could lead by example and be credible," said James H. Moore Jr., president and chief executive officer of the UA Foundation, a comprehensive development program that generated more than $151 million in private gift and grant support for the University last fiscal year.

Stevens is president and CEO of Western Refining and Western Refining Logistics, based in El Paso, Texas. In 2009, Stevens and his wife, Sharon, gifted $10 million to Arizona Athletics, which was the single largest gift in the history of UA athletics.

Stevens said he's motivated to give back to the UA to make a difference for future generations of Wildcats. The Arizona Now campaign is the perfect opportunity to highlight some of the outstanding people and programs that make the UA so unique, he said.

"My time and my wife's time at the UA was very special to us," Stevens said. "I think it's important for us to give back because we received so much when we were there." Stevens met his wife at the UA in the 1980s while he was pursuing his bachelor's degree in communication.

Moore said he feels Stevens was a perfect choice to help lead a campaign that will take the UA to another level of excellence.

"He's a hands-on guy, he loves to win and he wants to be successful," Moore said. "He is willing to go out and be an active champion to try to get others to follow. That is going to be important for us in this campaign, having somebody who is willing to really get in the trenches with us."

Smallhouse is no stranger to the philanthropic trenches, either. She is the daughter of Thomas Brown, who launched and sold the technology company Burr-Brown Corp. and established the family's commitment to philanthropy.

In addition to serving as the Arizona Now campaign co-chair, Smallhouse is also chair of the UA Foundation's board of trustees and is on the Thomas R. Brown Foundation's board of trustees. The Brown Foundation has supported multiple UA colleges and departments through endowments in areas including engineering, business and science, and in support of various aspects of campus life including scholarships, research, faculty and the new engineering innovation building.

"Sarah is extremely well-connected in this community," Moore said. "She also has a tremendous rapport with a number of deans and faculty members on campus. She, her sister Mary and several of her Brown Foundation board members have been actively involved with a variety of campus programs and colleges for years."

To be an innovation company at the very leading edge of technology is not an easy thing, and a lot of the engineers that worked in the company came out of the UA, Smallhouse said.

"The way I look at being co-chair of the campaign, this is all icing on the cake," Smallhouse said. "This is the really fun stuff. It's about digging into what's happening on campus, making new friends, learning about research and getting to explore with potential donors about where their interests might align. I'm a people person, and the whole proposition is exciting to me."

Byline: Amanda BallardByline Affiliation: University Relations - CommunicationsHeader image: YesNo Image: Subheading: UA alumni Sarah Smallhouse and Jeff Stevens have united over their passion and support of UA initiatives by serving as co-chairs for the University's largest-ever fundraising campaign.Include in UANow: yesInclude in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: noUANow Image: 

Hot Rods Overtake UA Mall

Mon, 05/12/2014 - 15:36
Date of Publication: Monday, May 12, 2014

Engineering Design Day Showcases Innovative Student Projects

Fri, 05/09/2014 - 12:58
Date of Publication: Friday, May 9, 2014

Vito Testifies on UA Student Vets Programs Before Congressional Subcommittee

Thu, 05/08/2014 - 10:40

The University of Arizona is committed to helping student veterans pursuing higher education, a UA official told a congressional subcommittee today.

Melissa Vito, senior vice president for student affairs and enrollment management and vice provost for academic initiatives and student success, testified before the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity, sharing with subcommittee members and other panelists how the UA has increased its student veteran services over the last several years.

"At the University of Arizona, we recognize and appreciate the commitment and sacrifices made by our men and women who serve and have served in the armed forces, and are committed to making a college education a reality," Vito told the subcommittee, which invited the UA to participate in the hearing, titled "Defining and Improving Success for Student Veterans." (The full text of Vito's testimony is available here.)

Of the 40,621 students attending the UA, 1,317 are veterans. Between 2008 and 2013, the student veteran population doubled from 178 to 355 and usage of the center the UA created for veterans – called the Veterans Education and Transition Services Center – increased by 31 percent from fall 2012 to fall 2013, to more than 10,000 visits during that academic year.

The VETS Center was opened in 2008 to provide services specifically for student veterans. Originally located in Old Main, it moved to the Student Union Memorial Center in 2009 as demand rose.

The UA opened a second VETS Center on April 9 at the Arizona Health Sciences Center. The first of its kind in the nation, the new center provides support for veterans who are working toward degrees in health sciences.

"The VETS Centers offer individualized service to improve the experience of all veterans attending the University of Arizona," Vito said. "We provide a step-by-step 'in-processing' or 'on-boarding' guidance for student veterans who are applying or have been recently admitted to the institution. The VETS Centers foster a USO atmosphere, allowing veterans to study, relax and engage with other student veterans who have walked in their same boots."

Vito also discussed the UA's Disability Resource Center, which provides transitional resources to veterans. It received a congressionally directed Department of Education grant in 2008 and "since then has been a leader for disabled veterans in higher education, producing research-based best practices for use on college campuses," Vito said.

In 2012, the UA Department of Disability Studies in the College of Education, the Disability Resource Center and the UA's Veterans Education and Transition Services office obtained a grant from the Paralyzed Veterans of America to design an adaptive athletics and college learning camp for veterans with spinal cord injuries.

"Building upon the success of the project, we obtained another grant in 2014-2015 to replicate the college-learning component including the VETS Center and the Supportive Education for Returning Veterans curriculum," Vito said.

The classes within the SERV curriculum are compatible with the GI Bill and help new student veterans learn to navigate campus and integrate their military experiences into their college experiences. They are only offered to veterans.

The SERV program, Vito said, "has resulted in overall retention rates of over 90 percent for those student veterans enrolled in SERV classes versus 70 to 80 percent retention for those who have not taken SERV classes."

She also credited the efforts of the DRC for its research and engagement with student veterans. The center "has expanded our understanding that many veterans arrive on campus with a new injury or disability, and are often unfamiliar with the resources available to them," Vito said.

"As we explore what measures still need to be taken to ensure our student veterans are accomplishing their academic goals, I ask you to consider that the first six months of transition are crucial, and it is exactly that transition our Supportive Education for Returning Veterans program takes aim at addressing," Vito said.

Other officials who testified included: Michael Dakduk, vice president of Military and Veterans Affairs with the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities; William Hubbard, vice president of External Affairs with the Student Veterans of America; Ricardo Torres, president and CEO of the National Student Clearinghouse; and Thomas Ross, president of the University of North Carolina.

 

Editor: Pila MartinezByline Affiliation: University Relations - CommunicationsExtra Info: 

Andrea Smiley

UANews

520-621-1951

acsmiley@email.arizona.edu

 

Cody Nicholls

VETS Center

520-603-7814

rcn1@email.arizona.edu

Header image: YesNo Image: Subheading: Senior Vice President Melissa Vito outlined the UA's efforts to support student veterans, including the VETS Centers on the main campus and the Arizona Health Sciences Center campus.Include in UANow: 0Include in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: no

New Uniforms Mean Less Confusion at UAMC

Tue, 05/06/2014 - 15:18

The University of Arizona Health Network is celebrating International Nurses Week, May 6-12. This also marks the first week of a new uniform standard at the UA Medical Center. Under a new policy, scrubs are color coded according to a staff member's role, so that all the nurses wear the same color, all the physical therapists wear another, and so on. The practice is aimed at making it easier for patients and their families.

Video Thumbnail: Category(s): Campus NewsHealthYouTube Video:  New Uniforms Mean Less Confusion at UAMC Video of New Uniforms Mean Less Confusion at UAMC Feature Sticky: OffFeature on Front: NoMedium Summary: The University of Arizona Health Network is celebrating International Nurses Week, May 6-12. This also marks the first week of a new uniform standard at the UA Medical Center. Under a new policy, scrubs are color coded according to a staff member's role, so that all the nurses wear the same color, all the physical therapists wear another, and so on. The practice is aimed at making it easier for patients and their families.UANow Image: Date of Publication: Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Spring Season Blooms Allergies: May is National Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month

Mon, 05/05/2014 - 17:33

Recent advisories from the Pima County Department of Environmental Quality on the potential for elevated levels of wind-generated particulate matter serve as a reminder that May is National Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month.

"Every day is National Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month for me," said Dr. Tara Carr, assistant professor of medicine and director of the Adult Allergy Program for the Division of Pulmonary, Sleep and Critical Care Medicine at the University of Arizona College of Medicine – Tucson. Carr also is a clinician with the University of Arizona Health Network, seeing patients at the UA Medical Center – University Campus.

Carr is an expert in allergic rhinitis, or inflammation and irritation of the mucus membrane inside the nose; chronic rhinosinusitis; asthma; immunodeficiency; urticarial, or hives; angioedema, or swelling under the skin; anaphylaxis, or whole-body allergic reaction; and drug allergy. She conducts research on the role of immunodeficiency in chronic rhinosinusitis and asthma inflammation and treatment.

Carr and other experts at UAMC offer relief during the spring allergy season.

The Sinus and Allergy Clinic at the UA Health Network is the only facility in southern Arizona that offers a coordinated approach to nasal and sinus problems, providing the opportunity to see ear, nose and throat specialists and a board-certified allergist on the same day, speeding up the testing, diagnosis and treatment of nasal and sinus problems. In April, the Joint Commission informed the UAMC – University Campus that it had passed certification on disease-specific care for pediatrics asthma having earned a "Gold Seal of Approval" a year ago – one of only nine asthma programs in the U.S. to receive the designation at the time.
 

The Arizona Respiratory Center, a UA Center of Excellence, has a team of internationally renowned physicians, scientists and scholars seeking to understand and eradicate respiratory diseases.

The Valley Fever Center for Excellence offers assistance to patients and owners of companion animals who are seeking help with their Valley Fever infections. The center also offers services to health care professionals, scientists and others interested in learning more about this disease.

The Division of Pulmonary, Allergy, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine at the UA Department of Medicine houses several clinical programs and active pulmonary/critical care fellowship training programs. Physicians integrate clinically meaningful research, educational activities and patient-centered initiatives serving the hospitals and specialty clinics of the UA Health Network, the Tucson Veterans Administration and the community. In conjunction with the Arizona Respiratory Center, the division offers state-of-the-art research opportunities for patients, trainees and faculty members.

Some tips for the allergy season:

  • Monitor pollen and mold counts and stay inside when they're high.
  • After working or playing outdoors, take a shower, wash your hair and change your clothes.
  • Keep windows and doors shut at home and in your car during allergy season.
  • Use air conditioning, which cleans the air.
  • Avoid mowing the lawn or raking leaves or debris. If you have to do these chores, consider wearing a mask.
  • Take allergy medications as prescribed and start using them before symptoms begin. Be careful when using over-the-counter allergy medications because they can cause problems with sleeping and alertness.

Allergy vaccinations are another option. They slowly introduce your body to allergens so it learns to tolerate them rather than triggering an allergic reaction. These vaccinations can reduce symptoms of many allergies, prevent the development of new allergies and, in children, stop allergies from progressing to asthma.

Editor: Pila MartinezByline Affiliation: Arizona Health Sciences CenterHeader image: NoNo Image: Subheading: Research clinicians at the UA Medical Center offer relief during the spring allergy season.Include in UANow: yesInclude in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: no

Building on Old Main’s Sustainable Foundation

Fri, 05/02/2014 - 15:28

Old Main was green before it was cool. As the restoration of the UA's first and oldest building continues, it's interesting to note that the building's exterior shows very little wear thanks to the sustainability-minded architect who drew up the plans for Old Main. Those features included shady porches that protected the core from more than a century of intense sun and drenching monsoons. They worked so well that the many of the original windows are in pristine condition. Architects are following in the footsteps of the original builders throughout the building’s restoration by bringing the lighting, cooling and electrical systems into the 21st century while keeping the charm of architect James Miller Creighton’s original vision.

Video Thumbnail: Category(s): Campus NewsRelated Story Link: Red, Blue and Green: Old Main Renovation Reflects UA Commitment to SustainabilityOld Main Renovation Reveals Hidden SecretsYouTube Video:  Building on Old Main's Sustainable Foundation Video of Building on Old Main's Sustainable Foundation Feature Sticky: OffFeature on Front: NoMedium Summary: Old Main was green before it was cool. As the restoration of the UA's first and oldest building continues, some features have proved to be in great condition, thanks to the sustainability-minded architect who drew up the plans for Old Main.UANow Image: Date of Publication: Friday, May 2, 2014

Innovation Deficit

Wed, 04/30/2014 - 13:35
Medium Summary: This infographic illustrates the "innovation deficit," the term used to describe the gap between needed and actual investments in research and education. While research and development spending in the U.S. continues to decline, other countries have dramatically increased theirs. Over the past 10 years, South Korea has increased its research and development spending by nearly 50 percent and China by nearly 90 percent.Date of Publication: Wednesday, April 30, 2014Story images: Infographic:  Close-the-Innovation-Deficit-Infographic.png

Playing Pool with Carbon Atoms

Wed, 04/30/2014 - 13:03

A University of Arizona-led team of physicists has discovered how to change the crystal structure of graphene, more commonly known as pencil lead, with an electric field, an important step toward the possible use of graphene in microprocessors that would be smaller and faster than current, silicon-based technology. 

Graphene consists of extremely thin sheets of graphite: when writing with a pencil, graphene sheets slough off the pencil's graphite core and stick to the page. If placed under a high-powered electron microscope, graphene reveals its sheet-like structure of cross-linked carbon atoms, resembling chicken wire.

When manipulated by an electric field, parts of the material are transformed from behaving as a metal to behaving as a semiconductor, the UA physicists found.

Graphene is the world’s thinnest material, with 300,000 sheets needed to amount to the thickness of a human hair or a sheet of paper. Scientists and engineers are interested in it because of its possible applications in microelectronic devices, in hopes of propelling us from the silicon age to the graphene age. The tricky part is to control the flow of electrons through the material, a necessary prerequisite for putting it to work in any type of electronic circuit.

Brian LeRoy, UA associate professor of physics, and his collaborators have cleared a hurdle toward that goal by showing that an electric field is capable of controlling the crystal structure of trilayer graphene – which is made up of three layers of graphene.

Most materials require high temperatures, pressure or both to change their crystal structure, which is the reason why graphite doesn't spontaneously turn into diamond or vice versa. 

"It is extremely rare for a material to change its crystal structure just by applying an electric field," LeRoy said. "Making trilayer graphene is an exceptionally unique system that could be utilized to create novel devices."

Trilayer graphene can be stacked in two unique ways. This is analogous to stacking layers of billiards balls in a triangular lattice, with the balls representing the carbon atoms.

"When you stack two layers of billiards balls, their 'crystal structure' is fixed because the top layer of balls must sit in holes formed by the triangles of the bottom layer," explained Matthew Yankowitz, a third-year doctoral student in LeRoy's lab in the Department of Physics in the UA College of Science. He is the first author on the published research, which appears in the journal Nature Materials. "The third layer of balls may be stacked in such a way that its balls are flush above the balls in the bottom layer, or it may be offset slightly so its balls come to lie above the holes formed by triangles in the bottom layer."

These two stacking configurations can naturally exist in the same flake of graphene. The two domains are separated by a sharp boundary where the carbon hexagons are strained to accommodate the transition from one stacking pattern to the other.

"Due to the different stacking configurations on either side of the domain wall, one side of the material behaves as a metal, while the other side behaves as a semiconductor," LeRoy explained.

While probing the domain wall with an electric field, applied by an extremely sharp metal scanning tunneling microscopy tip, the researchers in LeRoy's group discovered that they could move the position of the domain wall within the flake of graphene. And as they moved the domain wall, the crystal structure of the trilayer graphene changed in its wake. 

"We had the idea that there would be interesting electronic effects at the boundary, and the boundary kept moving around on us," LeRoy said. "At first it was frustrating, but once we realized what was going on, it turned out to be the most interesting effect." 

By applying an electric field to move the boundary, it is now possible for the first time to change the crystal structure of graphene in a controlled fashion.

"Now we have a knob that we can turn to change the material from metallic into semiconducting and vice versa to control the flow of electrons," LeRoy said. "It basically gives us an on-off switch, which had not been realized yet in graphene."

While more research is needed before graphene can be applied in technological applications on an industrial scale, researchers see ways it may be used.

"If you used a wide electrode instead of a pointed tip, you could move the boundary between the two configurations a farther distance, which could make it possible to create transistors from graphene,” Yankowitz said.

Transistors are a staple of electronic circuits because they control the flow of electrons.

Unlike silicon transistors used now, graphene-based transistors could be extremely thin, making the device much smaller, and since electrons move through graphene much faster than through silicon, the devices would enable faster computing.

In addition, silicon-based transistors are being manufactured to function as one of two types – p-type or n-type – whereas graphene could operate as both. This would make them cheaper to produce and more versatile in their applications.

The other contributors to the research paper, "Electric field control of soliton motion and stacking in trilayer graphene," include Joel I-Jan Wang (Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts), A. Glen Birdwell (U.S. Army Research Laboratory, Adelphi, Maryland), Yu-An Chen (MIT), K. Watanabe and T. Taniguchi (National Institute for Materials Science, Tsukuba, Japan), Philippe Jacquod (UA Department of Physics), Pablo San-Jose (Instituto de Ciencia de Materiales de Madrid) and Pablo Jarillo-Herrero (MIT).

The study appears in the advance online publication of Nature Materials.

Editor: elizabethbakerWriter: Daniel StolteByline: Daniel StolteByline Affiliation: University Relations - CommunicationsHeader image: YesNo Image: Subheading: UA physicists have discovered how to change the crystal structure of graphene. The finding could lead to smaller and faster microprocessors.Include in UANow: yesInclude in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: noUANow Image: