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Classroom of 11,000 Awaits UA Professor

Wed, 02/04/2015 - 11:03am

It makes sense to have an astronomy professor teach a class that is expected to be attended by thousands.

No one knows the meaning of "vast" quite like someone who studies outer space, right?

The free, six-week class is "Astronomy: Exploring Time and Space" and the instructor is Chris Impey, a University Distinguished Professor who is no newcomer to online teaching. For the past two years, he has taught "Astronomy: State of the Art," the University of Arizona's first massive open online course, or MOOC. That course, delivered online through video lectures, PowerPoint slides, discussion and live Q&A sessions, has been offered via the training platform Udemy. 

The new class is the University's first with Coursera, an educational technology company that has been partnering with U.S. colleges and universities since its launch three years ago. Impey expects enrollment to hit 11,000 by the time the class launches at midnight on Feb. 15.

UANews asked Impey about the class and his preparations.

What has been the biggest challenge in pulling this together? How did you go about it?

It was a long road to get here, not counting creating the course. I first approached Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng at Coursera in April 2012 with the idea of the UA joining the partnership, but they said they were a small company with limited capacity. In January 2013, I got the green light from Koller to start the negotiations and it took nearly two years of to-and-fro with the lawyers and senior administration to get us signed on. When I saw that the deal was going to happen, I started working on my course, shooting video to make a greatly enhanced version of my testbed course on Udemy. Coursera has a far superior data environment to Udemy, so it's much easier to track and motivate student engagement. And many lessons have been learned by their large instructor community.

Who do you think will be attracted to the course?

It's well known that most of Coursera's clientele is older students with bachelor's degrees, rather than 18- or 19-year-old first-time students, so I expect a mature and motivated audience. The word of mouth among amateur astronomers will lead many of them to sign up. Pre-enrollment right now shows that half are outside the U.S., with 150 countries represented. The ability (of MOOCs) to serve worldwide audiences with high-quality content is one of their greatest strengths.

How will you teach to 11,000 students? What do you hope they will take away?

The core material is video lectures and online quizzes. Completing and doing well on the quizzes is required for a completion certificate. I also have three outside projects and three peer-reviewed writing activities that they will do. I'm intrigued to see how peer review of written work by that many students will work! We'll be using live sessions, the course discussion threads and social media — Facebook, Twitter — to keep an active presence in the course. I hope the students take away the extraordinary progress being made in astronomy on a wide spectrum of topics — exoplanets, black holes, star birth, distant galaxies, dark matter — and see how the complexity of the universe is underpinned by a small set of physical laws. 

How will this be different from the Udemy course?

The Coursera course has about 18 hours of video, almost twice as much as used for Udemy. The Udemy class has no quizzes or activities or other assignments, so it is much more basic. I can get much richer data from Coursera and intend to publish research on what aspects of course design facilitate greater engagement and higher completion rates. The Udemy course is continuing and has 23,500 enrolled, so my online total will be approaching 35,000.

What do you see as the benefit to the University?

The benefit to the UA is partnership in a vibrant community of online instructors and peer universities learning important lessons about how to teach online. My course is the first, but there will be others. I view the Coursera experiment as a transition to a fully featured online course that could eventually be taken for a fee, with transferable college credit earned.

Editor: dougcarrollByline Affiliation: University Relations - CommunicationsExtra Info: 

For information about "Astronomy: Exploring Time and Space," the UA's first online course via Coursera, taught by Chris Impey:


For a 2013 UANews story about Impey's first online course:

Header image: YesNo Image: Subheading: Chris Impey will use a variety of online and social-media tools in teaching "Astronomy: Exploring Time and Space," the University's first collaboration with the educational technology company Coursera. The course starts on Feb. 15.Include in UANow: yesInclude in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: noUANow Image: Includes video: 

New Wildcat Receives a Rousing Welcome

Wed, 02/04/2015 - 11:02am

Wilbur, Wilma and members of the University of Arizona admissions team waited outside a UA Medical Center hospital room, eager to file in and deliver an acceptance letter to the newest Wildcat: Kelsey Luria.

The doors were pushed open and the team — dressed in UA apparel and holding signs and balloons — poured in, clapping and chanting to surprise Luria with her acceptance letter from the University on Tuesday.

"I want to stand up," said Luria, who was diagnosed in November with acute myeloid leukemia, or AML, a rare form of cancer. She then got to her feet and stood between Wilbur and Wilma, posing for photos.

Luria, 17, a senior at Catalina Foothills High School in Tucson, said learning about her acceptance at the University felt as if "big pressure" had lifted from her shoulders. Being in the hospital, and not at school, has been difficult for her to manage, she said.

"I was really surprised," said Luria, who plans to study either journalism or athletic training at the UA. She already has written a piece about travel that was featured in the Arizona Daily Star and has spent time as a student athletic trainer at her high school.

Coincidentally, Luria was dressed for the occasion, as her hospital floor had instituted a "Bear Down Tuesday." She sat in her hospital bed, wearing a navy blue shirt with the UA's block-A logo, and the bandage on her chest read "Bear Down." She clutched the envelope containing the news of acceptance and threw her arms into the air in celebration before high-fiving Wilbur.

Michael Luria, her father, said her condition requires four long cycles of chemotherapy and that she is currently finishing the third round. He said her future at the UA would give her something to look forward to as she concludes what hopefully will be her last round of treatment.

"Going to the UA was something that she would often talk about," he said. "When she was facing cancer and diagnosed with an unknown future all of a sudden, it became that much more important to her."

Kasey Urquidez, the UA's vice president and dean of admissions, officially congratulated Luria on her accomplishment.

"She is just so incredible," Urquidez said. "I cannot imagine how much strength she has to go forward every day. She is the true spirit of 'Bear Down' and everything that we always believe in, but she's actually living it every day.

"We're just so proud of her and are so excited for her to actually be on campus next year and have that opportunity to get her education with us."

The UA recruits students at Luria's high school, but Urquidez learned about her after the football team had made an earlier visit to the hospital, also meeting Luria. The idea to bring Luria's admission news to her room was her father's idea.

"It's just so heartwarming, we knew this is what we had to do. We wanted to be here," Urquidez said. "The UA really is a special place, and I think doing things like this meant the world to her. It's not really for us, but we do this because we embody that spirit of wanting to help people. We have that caring kind of tradition."

Being a Wildcat runs in Luria's family. Both of her parents are UA graduates.

"She grew up in a Wildcat house. She's been a Wildcat her whole life," Michael Luria said, adding that the family remains connected by attending football and basketball games.

"The campus has changed so much since I've been there and it will be fun to experience the college life through her eyes," he said. "We just could not be more grateful and appreciative of the kindness and generosity of everybody who came out to share with Kelsey. One of her ambitions and one of the most important things for her to look forward to in her young life is being accepted to college at the University of Arizona."

As the admissions team filed out, eventually being surrounded by other patients on the floor who wanted to meet Wilbur and Wilma, Luria sat in her bed, surrounded by loved ones, gifts, signs and her acceptance letter.

"I'm really excited to be a Wildcat," she said.

Editor: dougcarrollWriter: Brittney Nicole SmithByline: Brittney Nicole SmithByline Affiliation: University Relations - CommunicationsHeader image: YesNo Image: Subheading: Wilbur, Wilma and members of the UA's admissions team surprised Kelsey Luria, a Catalina Foothills High School senior, by delivering an acceptance letter to her hospital room. Include in UANow: yesInclude in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: noUANow Image: Includes video: 

In a Crisis, the Bigger Your Social Network the Better

Wed, 02/04/2015 - 9:18am

The more you know your neighbors, the better off you may be when disaster strikes, a new study from the University of Arizona suggests.

Researchers in the UA School of Anthropology examined social networks in the late pre-Hispanic Southwest and found that communities that were more connected with their neighbors had a better chance of being able to successfully manage a crisis than did communities with fewer outside connections.

It's a finding that could have implications for crisis management research today.

"In a lot of modern research in crisis management, people are looking at how communities mobilize along social networks to overcome traumatic environmental crises, like we saw with Hurricane Katrina," said Lewis Borck, lead author of the study and a Ph.D. candidate in the UA School of Anthropology in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences.

"We've known for a long time that people rely on social networks during times of crisis. What we didn't know, or at least what we haven't really been able to demonstrate, is exactly what happened to the social networks at a regional scale as people began to rely on them, or how people modified and changed their networks in reaction to social and environmental crises," Borck said. "This research gives us insight into that."

Borck and his study co-authors, including UA anthropology professor Barbara Mills, focused specifically on the period of A.D. 1200-1400, which included the 1276-1299 megadrought in the region that is now the southwestern United States.

To understand how different communities were interacting with one another during that time, the researchers examined data gathered by the National Science Foundation-funded Southwest Social Networks Project. The project maintains a database of millions of ceramic and obsidian artifacts, compiled by Mills and collaborators at Archaeology Southwest.  

When the same types of ceramics are found in similar proportions in different communities, it indicates that a relationship existed between those communities. Borck and his collaborators studied the relationships of 22 different subareas in the Southwest, based on an analysis of 800,000 painted ceramics from more than 700 archeological sites.

They found that during the 23-year drought, relationships between many groups grew stronger, as people turned to their neighbors for support and resources, such as food and information.

"It seemed to be a way to mobilize resources and to increase your variability of resources, by increasing your interaction with more distant people," Borck said. The Hopi people, still present in what is now northern Arizona, are an example of a population that employed this type of crisis management.

Still, some groups remained more insular in nature.

In general, the communities with larger social networks had a better chance of being able to withstand the drought without having to migrate, and for a longer period, than the more insular groups, Borck said. "Most of the groups that were only interacting with other communities in their group didn't persist in place. They all migrated out."

There was one exception: the Zuni people, who, despite not having strong external social networks, remain in western New Mexico to this day. Their unique success probably was due to their large population size and the diversity of resources available within the area they inhabited, Borck said.

The study will be published in a forthcoming special issue of the Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory, co-edited by Mills, devoted to examining social networks in archaeology.

Additional authors on the study are Archaeology Southwest's Jeffery Clark, an adjunct associate professor of anthropology at the UA, and Archaeology Southwest's Matthew Peeples, a former UA post-doctoral scholar.

Mills said the study provides empirical support for the importance of social networks in times of crisis and their long-term benefits.

"A lot of people have hypothesized that this process of having more extensive social networks is sort of a backup strategy for people," she said, "but this is one of the first times we've been able to demonstrate it at a very large, regional scale.

"It backs up a lot of these hypotheses about 'social storage' being as importance as the real storage of actual items. The flip side is that if you are highly insular and protectionist and don't interact with a lot your neighbors, you're really susceptible."

Editor: dougcarrollWriter: Alexis BlueByline: Alexis BlueByline Affiliation: University Relations - CommunicationsHeader image: YesNo Image: Subheading: Research on social networks in the late pre-Hispanic Southwest could have implications for crisis management research today.Include in UANow: yesInclude in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: noUANow Image: Includes video: 

Leading the Way on Never Settle: Gail Burd

Tue, 02/03/2015 - 6:00pm

The UA is at the forefront of a national movement to reform STEM education by making science, technology, engineering and math courses more engaging for students.

In 2013, the UA was one of just eight institutions in the nation selected to receive grant funding through the Association of American Universities' Undergraduate STEM Education Initiative, which was established to address a nationwide demand to improve STEM education and to retain more majors and expand the workforce in STEM fields.

Since then, the University has embarked on a number of projects intended to change the thinking around STEM education. Select science courses have been redesigned to be more engaging for students, workshops have been launched to encourage campus instructors to implement new teaching methods in STEM courses, and the recent Collaborative Learning Spaces Project pilot challenged instructors to deliver lessons in an alternative learning space.

All of these efforts align closely with the UA's Never Settle strategic academic and business plan, which calls for all students to engage in hands-on learning opportunities at the UA that will prepare them for life after college.

The Never Settle plan also calls for the University to increase its number of graduates in STEM fields, an area where the UA is excelling. The University is above average nationally in the number of STEM students it graduates. Nearly 18 percent of UA degrees awarded are in STEM fields, compared to the national average of 15.6 percent.

Helping to lead the charge to reform STEM education at the UA is Gail Burd, senior vice provost for academic affairs and University Distinguished Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology. In this video, Burd talks about the need to start thinking about STEM education differently — and how doing so supports the UA's Never Settle plan.

This video is part of a series highlighting the UA's progress on Never Settle and some of the campus leaders who are playing an integral role in helping the University to realize its strategic goals.

Watch more from the series:

Video Thumbnail: Category(s): Science and TechnologyTeaching and StudentsYouTube Video:  Gail Burd-Never Settle Video of Gail Burd-Never Settle Feature Sticky: OffFeature on Front: NoMedium Summary: The UA's senior vice provost for academic affairs talks about STEM, active learning and the engagement initiative of the Never Settle plan.UANow Image: Date of Publication: Wednesday, February 4, 2015Send to Never Settle Site: 0Includes video: 

Cupcake Entrepreneur Finds Sweet Success

Tue, 02/03/2015 - 1:50pm

Cupcakes. Say the word and your heart fills with joy and your mouth with saliva. The mere mention of the topic is enough to drive people batty.

So when Charles Nelson, a 1992 University of Arizona finance graduate, and his wife, Candace, a pastry chef, were cooking up ideas for a business after the dot-bomb era in the early 2000s, they decided to go the cupcake route.

"People love cupcakes," Charles said. But he knew cupcakes could go beyond merely delicious. As he mapped out a business plan for a cupcake bakery, he pondered: "Why aren't they made with great ingredients?"

His motivation was simple. "Cupcakes weren't being treated with the kind of respect we thought they should," he said, noting that most cupcakes were baked with artificial ingredients and fillers.

The Nelsons' innovation was Sprinkles, the first cupcake-only bakery, which they launched in Los Angeles in 2005. With hundreds of recipes designed and tested by Candace, they started delivering cupcakes to celebrity-filled parties and, before long, word got out that Sprinkles cupcakes were simply divine.

For the grand opening of their store, they advertised their made-from-scratch cupcakes with ingredients such as Madagascar Bourbon vanilla and fresh carrots shredded in-house. "We had a line of people waiting for us to open," Charles said.

Today there are 16 Sprinkles locations across the United States with 600 employees. As a result of a franchise partnership, there soon will be an additional 34 locations in the Middle East. The brand has grown to include ice cream, cookies, cupcakes for dogs and — coming soon — candy bars. Charles serves as president while Candace is the chief creative officer and public face of the company. She also can be seen as a judge on Food Network's "Cupcake Wars."

With an eye toward innovation, the Nelsons launched the world’s first cupcake truck, the Sprinklesmobile, in 2009. In 2012, they introduced the world's first Cupcake ATM, which allows customers to buy cupcakes 24 hours a day.

"I've always been enamored with buying things from machines. We close at 9 p.m., but a lot of people want a cupcake at midnight or 1 a.m.," Charles said.

"One night while my wife was pregnant, she wanted a cupcake. We were closed and always delivered our leftovers to homeless shelters. I realized that I own a cupcake company and even I couldn’t get a cupcake in the middle of the night."

Charles came up with an elegant solution: In the space next to their store in Beverly Hills, they added an automat to dispense cupcakes (restocked three times a day to ensure freshness) and the concept caught on like, well, cupcakes. Soon they installed the ATMs in stores across the country.

The UA's impact on the Nelsons' success in cupcakery is not a mere sprinkling. It's one of the main ingredients that has helped the endeavor thrive. 

"I got a really great education there," Charles said. "I learned a lot, and we were handled in such a way to push ourselves to learn things on our own. It’s done very well for me."

Editor: dougcarrollWriter: Alaina G. LevineByline: Alaina G. LevineByline Affiliation: UA Alumni AssociationHeader image: YesNo Image: Subheading: UA alumnus Charles Nelson and his wife co-founded Sprinkles, the first cupcake-only bakery, in Los Angeles 10 years ago. Include in UANow: 0Include in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: noIncludes video: 

Wildcat Review: Spring Is in the Air

Mon, 02/02/2015 - 6:12pm

The smell of freshly cut grass, the sight of white-chalked foul lines, the sound of leather cracking as a ball hits the catcher's mitt.

While it technically may still be winter, here in Tucson, the sun is shining, softball and baseball seasons are quickly approaching, and this year the Wildcats are poised for success on the diamond.

Photo courtesy of Arizona Athletics

Fans were able to catch a glimpse of the Arizona softball team during the fall season when the Wildcats collectively outscored their opponents 112-9 and posted a flawless 8-0 record. This weekend, the team returns to action as the Wildcats open their nonconference season with a three-game series against Oklahoma State at Rita Hillenbrand Memorial Stadium. The UA's first game with the Cowgirls is slated for Friday at 5 p.m.. Saturday's contest will take place at 2 p.m., and the final game will be Sunday at noon.

Arizona softball head coach Mike Candrea is expected to rely heavily on standout returners such as Kellie Fox, Hallie Wilson, Chelsea Goodacre and Katiyana Mauga, who are projected to be key cogs in the Wildcats' offensive and defensive arsenals. Last week, Wilson, Fox, Goodacre and Mauga were selected to the USA Softball Player of the Year watch list.

Fox has been touted as one of the best all-around shortstops in the nation. The San Diego native is the sister of Kristie Fox, the current University of Texas at Arlington head softball coach and former Wildcat shortstop.

Kellie Fox began her career at the University of California, Los Angeles before transferring to the UA in 2013. Last year, she made the most of her first year of eligibility as a Wildcat and subsequently earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors, was selected as a third-team National Fastpitch Coaches Association All-American and was named the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year. Fox has been a part of the U.S. Women's National Softball team for the past two years.

Wilson was placed on the watch list for the third time in as many years after a successful 2014 campaign. The southern California native posted a .799 slugging percentage and led the team with a .535 on-base percentage. Her tenacity and discipline at the plate resulted in 44 walks — tied for seventh in program history.

Goodacre, a senior catcher who has been awarded first-team All-Pac-12 honors, earned a spot on the watch list after leading the conference last year in home runs and runs batted in.

Mauga returns to the field for the first time after claiming the 2014 Pac-12 Freshman of the Year award. She is one of six sophomores named to the watch list after bursting onto the scene last season to hit 20 home runs (one shy of the program's freshman home-run record) and produce a .877 slugging percentage, the sixth highest in the nation.

Arizona baseball will open its season beginning Feb. 13 with a trio of games against Eastern Michigan. The UA's 10-game homestand will continue over the next two weeks.

The program made moves during the offseason seemingly designed to find leadership and bring new talent into the lineup and bullpen. Head coach Andy Lopez has added two junior-college transfers and 12 freshman prospects to the roster as the Wildcats attempt to rebuild and return as conference contenders. Key returners from last year's team include preseason All-Americans in junior shortstop Kevin Newman, junior infielder Scott Kingery and sophomore pitcher/infielder Bobby Dalbec.

During the summer, Newman made headlines by being the first player ever to win the prestigious Cape Cod Baseball League batting title over two consecutive summer seasons. Last month, the native of Poway, California, was honored as a second-team Louisville Slugger and third-team Perfect Game preseason All-American.

Kingery was named to the Louisville Slugger preseason All-America third team after being one of just three Wildcats to have received Pac-12 all-conference honors last season. Although he served as Arizona's starting center fielder last year, he has since transitioned to the infield and is expected to start at second base. 

Dalbec, a double threat as a pitcher and power-hitting infielder, was selected as a third-team Perfect Game preseason All-American after an impressive freshman campaign. He compiled the lowest earned-run average of all Wildcat pitchers and also had the fifth-highest batting average on the team along with two home runs and 30 runs batted in.

This year will be of extra importance for seniors Riley Moore, Joseph Maggi, Tyler Crawford and Mathew Troupe, who were on the roster during the UA's 2012 national championship season. It will be their final chance to lead the team back to the College World Series.

Categories: Campus NewsSportsThis is a Wildcat Corner feature: Images: Tags: StudentsStudent LifeAthleticsByline: Evan Rosenfeld, University Relations - Communications Editor: dougcarrollInclude in UANow: 0Date of Publication: Tuesday, February 3, 2015Medium Summary: It's time again for softball and baseball, and here are the prospects for the UA's teams.Feature on Front: NoShort Summary: It's time again for softball and baseball, and here are the prospects for the UA's teams.Send to Never Settle Site: 0UA in the News Spotlight: Includes video: 

Super Reception for UA's STEM Event

Mon, 02/02/2015 - 5:16pm

The afterglow of Super Bowl XLIX is being felt this week at the University of Arizona College of Medicine – Phoenix, which took full advantage of its proximity to Super Bowl Central last weekend to host a science-themed event.

More than 2,000 adults and children crowded the campus in downtown Phoenix on Saturday for Connect2STEM, which served as the official kickoff for the 2015 Arizona SciTech Festival, a statewide celebration of science, technology, engineering and math held annually in February and March. 

Connect2STEM, the result of a partnership between the University and Cox Communications, involved 65 interactive tables and 140 volunteers. Exhibits focused on various aspects of science, including the creation of a video game and the effects of concussions.

"Having these hundreds of families on campus embodies the mission of the University of Arizona to bring education to the citizens of Arizona and beyond," said Dr. Stuart D. Flynn, dean of the UA College of Medicine – Phoenix. "We are very proud to have played host to all of these wonderful groups exposing science to youth and their parents during one of the great celebrations in our city."

Among those participating were the CACTIS Foundation, the Arizona Science Center, the Science of Sport, the Banner Concussion Center, the Banner Children’s GO KIDS program, Phoenix Children’s Hospital and Barrow Neurological Institute. The UA was represented by displays from the Colleges of Medicine, Public Health, Agriculture and Science, as well as the Lunar Planetary Laboratory and the Eller School of Management. UA athletics conducted giveaways, and mascots Wilbur and Wilma made an appearance.

The event included several areas: the Bioscience Zone, where attendees could touch, feel and discover the human body as never before; the Nature Zone, with master gardeners and presentations from the Wildcat Water Lab; the Outer Space/Technology Zone, which featured the OSIRIS-REx mission, which will bring a piece of an asteroid back to Earth; the Cox Gig Zone, which had Wi-Fi and gaming stations; and the Wildcat Spirit Zone, which included games and a photo booth.

The intention of the UA's event was to inspire young people, lured downtown by Super Bowl festivities, to learn more about science careers and relate science to real-life situations.

Editor: dougcarrollByline: Allison OtuByline Affiliation: UA College of Medicine - PhoenixHeader image: YesNo Image: Subheading: The kickoff to the Arizona SciTech Festival draws a big crowd to the downtown Phoenix campus of the College of Medicine for games and exhibits.Include in UANow: yesInclude in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: noUANow Image: Includes video: 

When 'Gronk' Was a Wildcat

Mon, 02/02/2015 - 2:58pm
Date of Publication: Monday, February 2, 2015

Students Learning to Reduce Stress

Mon, 02/02/2015 - 9:17am

Concerned about the levels of stress that students experience, along with their overall health, a University of Arizona group advancing contemplative practices in higher education has organized a series of events to help students improve life balance. 

The first in the series was the Student Wellness Conference, held at the UA on Sunday. The conference was developed by the UA's Contemplative Pedagogy Learning Community, which was established after the Office of Instruction and Assessment, in collaboration with the Confluencenter for Creative Inquiry, received a Center for Contemplative Mind in Society grant.

Above all, the learning community and conference organizers are working to expand research on the benefits of contemplative practices while also teaching people how to use such practices to aid in the reduction of stress and chronic pain and also to improve self-awareness and community building. 

"We are not just a brain floating in a bowl," said Dr. Charles Raison, a UA psychiatry professor and director of the new Center for Compassion Studies. "Body processes play a huge role in how we feel."

During the conference in a room located on the fourth floor of the Student Union Memorial Center, a room full of mostly graduate students — studying psychology, higher education, American Indian studies, law and other disciplines — was practicing tension-releasing stretching and alternate-nostril breathing exercises.

The scene was gentle and quiet, one that contrasted with the activity and energy of the University.

The nearly silent effort was intentional. At the guidance of conference presenters, the attendees learned subtle movements and breathing techniques that research has shown to reduce tension, improve circulation and activate cognition. The presenters also shared current research related to contemplative practices.

"There is accumulating research that contemplative practices can help us with both cognitive and emotional skills," said Dev Ashish, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Psychology and one of the conference presenters. 

Ashish, who is studying clinical psychology with an emphasis on neuropsychology, is investigating loving-kindness meditation, or compassion meditation. He has found that the meditative practices can help reduce stress and anxiety, particularly for those who are dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder.

"Students face several challenges in higher education that require both cognitive and emotional skills, including focus, creativity, social responsibilities, emotion regulations and future planning," Ashish said. "Addressing of all these challenges can help with contemplative practices that further help with managing stress and taking care of health." 

Ashish and others said it is especially important to teach students how to improve their well-being, as it has implications not only for their current studies and research but for their longevity.

Stuart Moody, a conference organizer, noted a new thought being advanced by health practitioners: "Sitting is the new smoking." Given the amount of time people spend seated, teaching them ways to incorporate movement into their lives, often without having to take a gym membership or even leaving one's place of home or study, can help improve physical capacities and also clear the mind. 

"If your mind is clouded by unnecessary things, you cannot observe as much of the world around you," said Moody, also a certified Ananda yoga instructor.

Michael Goldstein, a graduate student of clinical psychology, led the conference participants in a number of breathing exercises to help reduce tension.

"Breath is dynamic," Golstein said. "There are lots of connections with the breath and our minds and our emotions and our thinking."

Golstein investigates ways that medication and yoga can impact a person's sleep, psychophysiology and cognitive functioning in addition to ways the deep breathing exercises can help improve mental focus and optimism. He also noted research indicating that deep breathing can enhance sensations and awareness.

"With the breath, it can be a really powerful tool, or it can complement other techniques," Goldstein said. "And simply by itself, it can be very powerful because breath is so connected to the brain and throughout the body."

While the conference presenters advocated for contemplative practices, they also offered a caution.

"The mind is a powerful thing, and anything that has positive power can have a dark side, side effects and risks," Raison said.

Raison, who moderated the conference, urged students to ensure that they have apprpriate training before adopting a contemplative practice, no matter how simple the practice may seem.

"One of the dangers, especially in the west, is this search for a simple answer, a magic pill," Raison said. "And one of the cool things is that there are a lot of groups that are forming here on campus. There is a real need for approaching these practices where you have people who have had a lot of experience with them."

Editor: dougcarrollWriter: La Monica Everett-HaynesByline: La Monica Everett-HaynesByline Affiliation: University Relations - CommunicationsExtra Info: 

Other events are planned to offer students an in-depth look at mindful practices. They include:

  • Feb. 13: "Conscious breathing for a calm and clear mind" with Michael Goldstein, a UA graduate student of clinical psychology.
  • Feb. 20: "Opening your heart through compassion, for self and others" with Deanna Kaplan, a doctoral student in the UA Department of Psychology and an instructor in Cognitively Based Compassion Training
  • Feb. 26: Jerry Gardner, an associate professor of the actor training program at the University of Utah, will speak about eastern approaches to the acting process.
  • Feb. 27: "Moving into stillness: renewing energy and well-being" with Stuart Moody, who is pursuing a certificate in the UA School of Geography and Development.
  • April 8: George Mumford, a meditation teacher and professional basketball coach, will speak.
  • April 17: The second Student Wellness Conference will be held 3-5 p.m. in the Student Recreation Center gymnasium.
Header image: YesNo Image: Subheading: A group of graduate students investigating the benefits of contemplative practices is leading in-depth workshops on contemplative practices. Include in UANow: yesInclude in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: noUANow Image: Includes video: 

Center Surveys History, Evolution of Astrophotography

Fri, 01/30/2015 - 4:26pm

A new exhibition will feature a striking array of rare photographic objects, books and artifacts drawn from University of Arizona collections, and also local and international private collections, on the history of astrophotography.

The UA Center for Creative Photography is showing "Astronomical: Photographs of Our Solar System and Beyond," a major exhibition that surveys the conjoined histories of astronomy and photography from the mid-19th century to the present day.

Running through May 15, the exhibition also features many objects that have been supported in part by the UA College of Science, which are on public view for the first time.

"We wanted not only to showcase some of the most extraordinary examples of objects from collections that are right here on the University of Arizona campus, but also to elucidate the University's central role in propelling the field of astrophotography forward," said Joshua Chuang, the center's chief curator.

Chuang organized the exhibition with Andrew Kensett, curatorial assistant, and Stephen Strom, photographer and former associate director of the National Optical Astronomy Observatory, who has contributed extended texts offering greater insight into the astronomical phenomena seen in the pictures.

On Feb. 26 at 5:30 p.m., the UA center will host a keynote lecture by Xavier Debeerst, a noted specialist in the history of astrophotography, followed by a public reception for the exhibition. Other exhibition-related talks and programs will be announced at a later time. 

Since the announcement of photography's invention in 1839, the medium has evolved alongside the field of astronomy. Several of photography's early pioneers, including Sir John Herschel, were astronomers who sought to apply the precise recording abilities of photography to their work, and it is through analyzing photographic images that today's astronomers continue to make many of their discoveries. The ambitions of scientists have likewise been instrumental in driving photographic innovation, spurring the development of technologies including the shutter, the motion picture and the digital camera.

Without the aid of photography, for example, Neil Armstrong's first steps on the moon in 1969 would not have been possible. Before he and his fellow Apollo astronauts could successfully carry out their historic mission, the lunar surface had to be surveyed by teams of Earthbound scientists and robotic spacecraft with photographic eyes.

Original prints of images from the Ranger, Lunar Orbiter, Apollo and Surveyor missions to the moon, drawn from the comprehensive holdings of the UA Lunar and Planetary Laboratory's Space Imagery Center, are among those featured in the exhibition.

Also included will be a selection of unprecedented high-resolution images of the surface of Mars from the HiRISE camera, one of several cutting-edge astronomical imaging systems that UA scientists have helped to design over the years.

Other highlights of the exhibition include: 

  • An extensive display of Johann Palisa's and Max Wolf's "Photographische sternkarten, 1900-1908," the first photographically illustrated star atlas.
  • Photographs by Ansel Adams, Richard Misrach and Andreas Feininger from the Center for Creative Photography's permanent holdings.
  • A private collection of mostly anonymous vintage photographs of solar eclipses dating from the first three decades of the 20th century. 
  • "Solarium," an immersive installation developed by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory that depicts the activity on the sun's surface with breathtaking intimacy.
Editor: dougcarrollByline Affiliation: UA Center for Creative PhotographyExtra Info: 

The Center for Creative Photography gallery is at 1030 N. Olive Road in Tucson and is open to the public Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m. Admission is free.


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Border Region Students See Expanded Support

Fri, 01/30/2015 - 3:31pm

Working to expand educational opportunities for students living along the U.S.-Mexico border, the University South Foundation has partnered with the Mexican Consulate to aid University of Arizona South students.

The foundation and consulate provided enough money to the Education Unidos Fund this year to expand the scholarship fund from $12,000 to $40,000. Last year, four students received scholarships, but the increased support enabled 11 students to be funded for the current year.

Award recipients said the funding is critical to ensure that they are able to continue their studies at the UA.

"I am on my way to making a better life for myself and my 19-year-old son," said Patricia Leyva, a government and public service major who aspires to work for the U.S. Department of State.

Guadalupe Tapia, a psychology major, is working toward a degree that will help her to improve support for families living in the border region.

"My ultimate goal is to work on both sides of the border to assist in the strengthening of families," Tapia said, adding that she would like to help strengthen home environments.

Like the other award recipients, Stephany Vanessa Quintero said community development is core to her professional goals.

"I want to be active in my community and educate the young minds of society so that they can achieve their full potential," said Quintero, a psychology major. "I want to help develop my community so that our youth can have many more opportunities."

Other recipients are: Mary Anderson and Alexis Rivera, government and public service majors; Jocelyn Hernandez, Zueyzan Montaño and Kayla Vasquez, all elementary education majors; Alan Manquero, an organizational leadership major; Itzel Guadalupe Chavez, a Latin American studies major; and Josette Lopez, a psychology major.

Editor: dougcarrollByline Affiliation: University Relations - CommunicationsExtra Info: 

The University South Foundation raises funds and offers other support for UA South in the form of scholarships, enhancements to buildings and land, relationship building and advocacy work. For more information, or to make a contribution, contact the University South Foundation at 520-458-8278, extension 2129, or

The UA is been working to expand its relations with Mexico, and to create more educational opportunities and economic development along the border. To learn more, read:

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New Professorship for Department of Communication

Fri, 01/30/2015 - 9:47am

Steve Lynn is one of Tucson's preeminent communicators and has enjoyed a variety of high-profile work and volunteer positions that showcase one of his greatest strengths: distilling complex information into a cogent argument and then communicating that argument.

One argument that falls readily from Lynn's lips is that the University of Arizona's Department of Communication, where he received his master's degree 40 years ago, is worthy of more notice and funding.

Here, Lynn is leading by example. He and his wife, Nancy, are funding the Steve and Nancy Lynn Endowed Professorship in the department.

"I wanted to donate to the Department of Communication, because I'm very grateful to have been able to make a good living using skills I developed at the UA," Steve said. 

Lynn has been a longtime supporter of the Department of Communication, helping financially, providing advice and participating in academic program reviews. He recognizes that the department, with little fanfare, teaches a large number of students (the third-largest major on campus) with only eight tenure-track faculty members.

"It's a small department with an enormous throughput," Lynn said. "The faculty do yeoman's work dealing with so many undergraduates."

In addition, the department and its graduate program are ranked in the top 20 by Academic Analytics, the National Communication Association and the National Research Council. The department consistently ranks in the top five nationally on measures of productivity and impact.

"We serve many students. We also have one of the best graduate programs in the world. So the combination of high demand and excellence makes the department a fantastic investment," said Chris Segrin, head of the Department of Communication.

Segrin, who Lynn calls "exceptional," has been named the first Steve and Nancy Lynn Endowed Professor. Segrin's resumé is overflowing with citations; his research includes studies on marriage and divorce, loneliness, depression and helicopter parenting. He also has been collaborating for several years with the UA College of Nursing on the role of communication on the health and well-being of cancer patients and their partners.

"What threads all the things I study together is what I would call well-being, or the lack of well-being," Segrin said. "I think that communication and our relationships are inextricably intertwined with our quality of life."

At the UA, Lynn majored in government, graduating in 1968. After completing six months of active duty in the Army Reserve, Lynn began his master's in communication (then called speech communication), which he completed in 1974, chipping away at it while working full time.

The skills he learned in the program — persuasion, argumentation, debate, group dynamics, ethics and logic — have held him in good stead throughout his career, he said.

Lynn's first job was in public relations at Tucson General Hospital. He later worked for the city of Tucson, then at Nordensson Lynn Advertising/Marketing Communications, where he was a partner for 16 years. When the client-related travel to locations as far as Louisiana became a burden, he left the agency to work for Tucson Electric Power, where he was vice president and chief customer officer until his retirement in 2011.

Along the way, Lynn has received many accolades, such as Man of the Year, Leader of the Year and Distinguished Citizen awards, as well as an honorary doctorate from the UA.

Admittedly "failing at retirement," Lynn is still on contract at TEP and also is consulting and volunteering. He chairs the boards of the UA College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, the UA Health Network and (until recently) First Things First, which focuses on early childhood development and health. Lynn is enjoying traveling to the far reaches of the globe with his wife of 45 years, who is a retired high school guidance counselor.

Segrin has a strong work ethic and a desire for that work to have consequences, not merely to rest peacefully in the annals of academic journals. In addition to giving communication workshops to cancer patients and their partners, he also plays an active role in the Community Justice Board, a diversion program run through the Pima County Attorney’s Office that provides tangible consequences to youth offenders other than going to juvenile hall. Previously, Segrin volunteered in prisons in Kansas and Arizona, where he taught workshops to inmates on topics including marriage, parenting and interview skills.

"One of the things I always thought when I worked with incarcerated offenders is 'If only I could have gotten in touch with them when they were younger,'" Segrin said. “Every time I work with young people in distress, I watch these transformations. It has a very magnetic pull for me."

Segrin considers one of his most important jobs as being an advocate for his unit, a collection of hard-working, talented faculty, lecturers and graduate students. Faculty study a range of topics, such as mass media, interpersonal relationships, intergroup relationships, communication technology, health communication and political communication.

He is gratified by the gift from the Lynns, recognizing the significance it bestows on him and the department.

"Named professorships are very particular to your best schools in the nation," Segrin said. "It's such an honor, especially having an alum like Steve associated with it. He's such a fixture in the Tucson community."

Editor: dougcarrollWriter: Lori HarwoodByline: Lori HarwoodByline Affiliation: UA College of Social and Behavioral SciencesHeader image: YesNo Image: Subheading: Steve and Nancy Lynn are funding an endowed professorship at the UA in "a small department with an enormous throughput." Include in UANow: yesInclude in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: noUANow Image: Includes video: 

Judaic Studies Torah Is Being Restored

Thu, 01/29/2015 - 3:39pm

An expert scribe will be at the University of Arizona to resume the restoration of a 200-year-old Torah scroll.

The UA's Arizona Center for Judaic Studies is hosting Rabbi Gedaliah Druin, a master sofer (scribe), who travels the world to repair Torah scrolls. A Torah is a parchment scroll containing the first five books of the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament (from the chapter of Genesis through Deuteronomy), which is handwritten using a quill and specially prepared ink. 

Druin will be at the UA Hillel Foundation, 1245 E. Second St., working on the Torah from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Feb. 10 and 11. The public is invited to visit and observe the restoration. Also, Druin will speak informally about Torah scrolls and their restoration on Feb. 10 at 12:30 p.m. and Feb. 11 at noon. All events are free and open to the public. 

The Arizona Center for Judaic Studies scroll was gifted by an anonymous donor and acquired in 2009 by Beth Alpert Nakhai, an associate professor of Judaic studies.

The scroll is thought to be nearly 200 years old and is believed to originally have been used by a European Sephardic Jewish community, perhaps from northern Italy. It survived World War II, then traveled to Israel and eventually to Tucson, and it is the first and only Torah owned by the UA.

Druin's work will build on that of Rabbi Yochanan Salazar, who spent a day last February working on the Torah and teaching members of the UA and Tucson community about scrolls and their restoration.

The Judaic Studies Torah Restoration Project is made possible thanks to donations by Matthew and Julie Harelson, and by the Thomas and Sara Borin Foundation.

Watch the video of Salazar's visit last year:

Editor: dougcarrollByline Affiliation: UA College of Social and Behavioral SciencesExtra Info: 

For more information, contact John Winchester, outreach coordinator for the Arizona Center for Judaic Studies, at 520-626-5759 or

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UA Public Health Students to Assist on Super Bowl Sunday

Thu, 01/29/2015 - 3:32pm

Kristen Pogreba-Brown, assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of Arizona Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, is taking a team of graduate students to the Super Bowl on Sunday — but the team won't be there to watch the game.

The students are members of Student Aid for Field Epidemiology Response, or SAFER, and they will assist the Maricopa County Department of Public Health with surveillance for signs of infectious-disease outbreaks, foodborne illnesses and injuries.

SAFER has been providing surveillance assistance to health departments throughout Arizona for 10 years. At Super Bowl XLIX, team members will be located at every first-aid station inside University of Phoenix Stadium, working alongside emergency medical technicians from the Glendale Fire Department.

"Our students will interview every person who visits a first-aid station. And we will also be asking everyone who enters if they have had the measles vaccine," Pogreba-Brown said.

The SAFER program at the UA College of Public Health enters data in real time to a public health database. Working with digital tablets and using Qualtrics software, information entered will be available immediately to health department staff, who will be looking for potential "hot spots" within the stadium for outbreaks and areas of concern.

The SAFER team also has been assisting the Maricopa County Health Department with the measles outbreak in metro Phoenix. The team has been contacting those who may have been exposed to measles.

Pogreba-Brown said there are advantages to having SAFER at a large public event such as the Super Bowl. In addition to providing an educational opportunity, SAFER supplies additional staff to local and state public health departments in the event of a large-scale incident or disaster.

"Having public health at these large events is not any different from having law enforcement," Pogreba-Brown said. "You hope you won’t need to respond to anything, but you have the right people on-site to react, if needed. EMTs are amazing at treating patients in a short amount of time and assessing their medical needs. By partnering with public health, it allows them to get a broader view of what is going on regarding the health and safety of the population at the event."

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the SAFER program. The 2008 Super Bowl, also played in Glendale, was the first large-scale special event at which SAFER provided surveillance. Other recent events at which the SAFER team was deployed were the NFL Pro Bowl and the Fiesta Bowl.

"As far as I know, we are the only college of public health in the nation that does syndromic surveillance for large events with the help of students," said Pogreba-Brown said.

County health departments do not typically have a surveillance team at a large public event. Maricopa County only does this for high-level events, ones that SAFER can help to staff.

Pogreba-Brown describes the SAFER program as a group of public health graduate students who learn what it takes to investigate an outbreak and execute many of the tasks needed in a local or state health department.

SAFER is housed in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health. It receives the bulk of its support through a contract with the Maricopa County Department of Public Health. 

Editor: dougcarrollByline: Gerri KellyByline Affiliation: UA Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public HealthHeader image: YesNo Image: Subheading: The Maricopa County Department of Public Health will get a hand in looking for signs of infectious-disease outbreaks, foodborne illnesses and injuries at the big game in Glendale, Arizona.Include in UANow: 0Include in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: noIncludes video: 

Iceland Rises as Its Glaciers Melt From Climate Change

Thu, 01/29/2015 - 9:20am

The Earth’s crust under Iceland is rebounding as global warming melts the island’s great ice caps, a University of Arizona-led team reports in an upcoming issue of Geophysical Research Letters.

The paper is the first to show the current fast uplift of the Icelandic crust is a result of accelerated melting of the island’s glaciers and coincides with the onset of warming that began about 30 years ago, the scientists said.

Some sites in south-central Iceland are moving upward as much as 1.4 inches per year — a speed that surprised the researchers.

"Our research makes the connection between recent accelerated uplift and the accelerated melting of the Icelandic ice caps," said first author Kathleen Compton, a UA geosciences doctoral candidate.

Geologists have long known that as glaciers melt and become lighter, the Earth rebounds as the weight of the ice decreases.

Whether the current rebound geologists detect is related to past deglaciation or modern ice loss has been an open question until now, said co-author Richard Bennett, a UA associate professor of geosciences.

"Iceland is the first place we can say accelerated uplift means accelerated ice mass loss," Bennett said.

To figure out how fast the crust was moving upward, the team used a network of 62 global positioning satellite receivers fastened to rocks throughout Iceland. By tracking the position of the GPS receivers year after year, the scientists "watch" the rocks move and can calculate how far they have traveled — a technique called geodesy.

The new work shows that, at least for Iceland, the land’s current accelerating uplift is directly related to the thinning of glaciers and to global warming.

"What we’re observing is a climatically induced change in the Earth’s surface," Bennett said.

He added there is geological evidence that during the past deglaciation roughly 12,000 years ago, volcanic activity in some regions of Iceland increased thirtyfold.

Others have estimated the Icelandic crust’s rebound from warming-induced ice loss could increase the frequency of volcanic eruptions such as the 2010 eruption of Eyjafjallajökull, which had negative economic consequences worldwide.

The article "Climate driven vertical acceleration of Icelandic crust measured by CGPS geodesy" by Compton, Bennett and their co-author Sigrun Hreinsdóttir of GNS Science in Avalon, New Zealand, was accepted for publication Jan. 14, 2015, and is soon to be published online. The National Science Foundation and the Icelandic Center for Research funded the research.

Some of Iceland’s GPS receivers have been in place since 1995. Bennett, Hreinsdóttir and colleagues had installed 20 GPS receivers in Iceland in 2006 and 2009, thus boosting the coverage of the nation’s geodesy network. In central and southern Iceland, where five of the largest ice caps are located, the receivers are 18 miles or less apart on average.

The team primarily used the geodesy network to track geological activity such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

In 2013, Bennett noticed one of long-running stations in the center of the country was showing that site was rebounding at an accelerated rate. He wondered about it, so he and his colleagues checked the nearby stations to see if they had recorded the same changes.

"The striking answer was, yes, they all do," he said. "We wondered what in the world could be causing this?"

The team began systematically analyzing years of signals from the entire network and found the fastest uplift was the region between several large ice caps. The rate of uplift slowed the farther the receiver was from the ice cap region.

Other researchers had been measuring ice loss and observed a notable uptick in the rate of melting since 1995. Temperature records for Iceland, some of which go back to the 1800s, show temperatures increasing since 1980.

To determine whether the same rate of ice loss year after year could cause such an acceleration in uplift, Compton tested that idea using mathematical models. The answer was no: The glaciers had to be melting faster and faster every year to be causing more and more uplift.

Compton found the onset of rising temperatures and the loss of ice corresponded tightly with her estimates of when uplift began.

"I was surprised how well everything lined up," she said.

Bennett said, "There’s no way to explain that accelerated uplift unless the glacier is disappearing at an accelerated rate."

Estimating ice loss is laborious and difficult, he said. "Our hope is we can use current GPS measurements of uplift to more easily quantify ice loss."

The team’s next step is to analyze the uplift data to reveal the seasonal variation as the ice caps grow during the winter snow season and melt during the summer.

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

Related websites:

Richard Bennett


UA Department of Geosciences


Sigrun Hreinsdóttir 


Link to paper:


Header image: YesNo Image: Subheading: With the country's glaciers melting faster, the crust near the glaciers is rebounding at an accelerated rate, according to a UA-led team of geoscientists.Include in UANow: 0Include in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: noUANow Image: Includes video: 

Speaker Series to Feature 'Genius Grant' Winners

Wed, 01/28/2015 - 2:52pm

Exceptional creativity, significant accomplishment, boundless potential — the University of Arizona’s MacArthur Fellows exemplify all three. From neuroscience and astronomy to linguistics, ethnobotany and anthropology, these scholars are changing the world. For the first time, a dedicated speaker series will explore and celebrate the innovation and impact of the MacArthur Fellows' work.

The series features all of the MacArthur Fellows currently at the UA, with the exception of Roger Angel, Regents' Professor of astronomy and optical sciences, who is unable to participate. The others are Nicholas Strausfeld (Department of Neuroscience), Olivier Guyon (Department of Astronomy and College of Optical Sciences), Gary Nabhan (UA Southwest Center), Ofelia Zepeda (Department of Linguistics and Department of American Indian Studies) and Brackette Williams (School of Anthropology). 

The speaker series is hosted by the UA Graduate Center, a new unit of the Graduate College, which provides professional development opportunities for graduate students and postdoctoral fellows and fosters interdisciplinary collaboration and networking. 

Each year, the MacArthur Foundation awards $625,000 to each of 21 exceptionally creative individuals "with a track record of achievement and the potential for significant contributions in the future." Commonly referred to as "genius grants," the fellowships cover a five-year period and come with no strings attached.

Strausfeld, a Regents' Professor in the UA's Department of Neuroscience, will give the first talk in the series on Thursday. His work has been vital in understanding how flies see and maneuver, and how their head movements are related to their flight behavior during steering. His research focuses on the analysis of higher brain centers in insects and employs structural features of the brains of invertebrates for investigating their phylogenetic relationships. His studies of insect neuroanatomy have implications for basic and biomedical research.

UANews asked Strausfeld for a preview of his presentation and for insight into how the MacArthur Fellowship has influenced his work. 

What are some of the main topics you will address in your talk?

When I was asked to present a talk for this series, it was suggested that some in the audience might like to know how one applied for a MacArthur Fellowship. That one cannot actually do so deserves an explanation about how fellowships occur. The MacArthur Foundation receives suggestions about possible candidates who their peers consider are differently creative. Each year, the foundation announces 20 or so recipients. These include poets, people working in theater or dance, artists, historians, social workers, the occasional scientist, environmentalists — indeed, people from all manner of professions and pursuits. 

I will recount how the fellowship impelled research that I now do for about half my time, which is the study of brain evolution. One of the challenging questions in biology is whether brains evolved once and from thereon evolved divergently to become variously elaborated in structure and size; or, whether brains originated numerous times independently in different animal lineages. If the first is true, whereby brains across phyla share genealogically corresponding organization, then research on the brain of a fly must have direct relevance to our understanding of homologous circuits, systems and even pathologies that pertain to the brain of a mouse or a human. If the second — convergent evolution — is true, then the question arises why is it that a mouse, bird or fish appear to have certain circuits in their brains that are, in specific details, similar to circuits in the brain of a beetle, crustacean or marine worm? In short, is there evidence for genealogical correspondence of brains? If not, what might have their driven convergent evolution? I will discuss these issues with special reference to what neuroanatomical, paleontological and molecular genetics can tell us about brain evolution, and I will propose that all brains, with possibly one exception, may have evolved from one ancestral brain in deep time.

How did the MacArthur Fellowship influence your career?

About a year after I received the fellowship, I was asked the same question by someone doing a survey for the MacArthur Foundation. My reply was that the fellowship gave me "narrenfreiheit," a German expression meaning "court jester’s freedom." In medieval times, the court jester could say just about anything at court and not get the chop for doing so. After the MacArthur Foundation telephoned me with the astonishing news, I felt that I was from then on unconstrained with regard to what research I could pursue. And I received the clear message from John Hildebrand, who was the director of the Division of Neurobiology as it was then, that this attitude was quite all right as far as he and his colleagues were concerned. It was good to be told that. Anyway, my wife and I were happy here in Tucson and at the UA, and the MacArthur Fellowship simply made it all that much nicer. An unintended consequence of the fellowship had to do with gustation. A while back, the opinion among neurobiologists was that people working on invertebrates should at least once publically devour their experimental animal. Having done most of my research up to then on blowfly visual systems, the novel inclusion of crustaceans was eminently satisfying, both intellectually and gastronomically. However, even though I began a huge program of neuroanatomical studies on all manner of arthropods and wormy things, I continued funded (and funding) research on the functional organization of the blowfly visual system.

Can you tell us a little about the "big questions" in neuroscience and how your current research might relate to them?

What for many may be seen as the "Big Question" might for others be quite a small question, even one that is quite irrelevant. Speaking for myself, I have no affinity for the gargantuan Human Brain Project being undertaken here and in Europe, which for many is the hottest "Big Thing" in neuroscience. Despite some of the intellects involved in that venture, I see these projects more as expressions of human arrogance than practical propositions, and a terrible drain of resources that should be better spent on research and education about the extraordinary richness of nature and how it came to be.

The current estimate by people in the game is that it’s going to take another 10 years, using the most sophisticated methods and millions of dollars, to reconstruct the entire brain of the tiny fruitfly, and then one would have do more of the same to resolve pathologies and mutations. Imagine the money required to feed the black hole of trying to work out every connection in the human brain, and then some. How much will be left for scholastic and basic research, endeavors that that many younger scientists find rather quaint and anachronistic? Scholarship and basic research are, however, cultural necessities and we neglect both at our peril. Those are my own particular biases, but they reflect my predilection for smaller individualistic projects that come up with delightful and amazing observations, such as the entertaining study by Ron Hoy and colleagues at Cornell University on visual discrimination by jumping spiders, where recordings from their tiny brains tell us a lot about what they see.

What drives my own research is a fascination with animal behavior and the evolution of circuits underlying them. I want to know more about when brains originated, what kinds of behaviors those early brains might have supported, and how brains have since evolved. What are common to brains across species, even phyla? In what manner do the brains of different species reflect the ecologies in which they operate? What aspects of behaviors suggest underlying principles of central nervous system organization and function? For example, are brain centers that mediate learning and memory fundamentally similar in all brains? Did they originate in a common ancestor over half a billion years ago? The latest research by my graduate student Gabriella Wolff shows compelling evidence that this may indeed have happened. Right now I am pursuing studies of a centipede’s visual system that may have changed little from an ancestral morphology that likely existed 518 million years ago.

Can you say something about the environment here at the UA, and how it is conducive to address the looming questions in your field? For example, through interdisciplinary initiatives such as the UA Center for Insect Science?

When I joined the UA in 1987, there was this palpably gung-ho attitude about basic research and multidisciplinary collaboration. The perspective was that it could and should be done! This enthusiasm was generated by the shared belief that basic, intellect-driven research was what made good science, of which the UA could be proud. A manifestation of this disposition was that the Departments of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Entomology, Biochemistry, and the Division of Neurobiology, were pivotal in the creation of the Center for Insect Science.

The impetus was the idealistic rationale that such a center would engender multidisciplinary research using insects, thus "insect science" as distinct from entomology. Along with Margaret Kidwell, other distinguished professors such as John Law, John Hildebrand, Mike Wells and Bill Bowers were the movers that wrote the grant enabling initial funding of the center by the National Science Foundation. The Center for Insect Science has fulfilled those original expectations, and it continues to do so by virtue of funding by successive vice presidents for research. As the center’s present director, I am thrilled by its national and international resonance, such as in generating the renowned International Symposia in Insect Molecular Science. Within the University, the center supports thrice-yearly symposia called the Hexapodia; it provides travel scholarships for graduates in the Entomology and Insect Science Interdisciplinary Program; it sets up international partnerships; and, crucially, it administrates a program of competitive seed grants allocated for novel interdisciplinary research with the understanding that a principal investigator will, within a year, submit a full proposal to a federal agency based on the data generated. This program has been hugely successful, generating since 2008 the very decent return of $22 for every dollar awarded. This translates into more than $5 million of research funds and indirect costs for the UA generated by the center.

The Center for Insect Science is also the home of the highly competitive NIH minorities training grant for Postdoctoral Excellence in Research and Teaching — PERT for short. This program, which began in 2000 and is poised to begin its fourth five-year cycle, is currently directed by me with the invaluable assistance of Teresa Kudrna, the center’s senior program coordinator. PERT funds 14 to 17 postdoctoral fellows each year for three years, who in addition to doing first-class research contribute to teaching at our partner institution, Pima Community College. And the program provides material support for PCC’s molecular biology courses. These successes make me optimistic, at least for the immediate future. For, despite perennial budget cuts, it is gratifying to read that the present UA administration is unequivocal about its support of interdisciplinary collaboration. 

Editor: dougcarrollWriter: Daniel StolteByline: Daniel StolteByline Affiliation: University Relations – CommunicationsWhat: MacArthur Fellows Speaker SeriesWhere: Cesar E. Chavez Building, Room 111, 1110 East James E. Rogers WayWhen: 5:30-6:30 p.m. on Jan. 29, Feb. 26, March 12, March 26 and April 30Header image: YesNo Image: Subheading: For the first time, five MacArthur Fellows at the UA will come together to highlight intriguing questions and innovative research in areas ranging from neuroscience to astronomy. Include in UANow: yesInclude in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: noUANow Image: Includes video: 

A New Way to Visualize the UA's Statewide Impact

Wed, 01/28/2015 - 9:31am

With three campuses, 160 telemedicine sites and Cooperative Extension offices in every Arizona county, the UA has a wide-ranging impact beyond its main campus in Tucson.

A new tool is now available that illustrates the UA's significant presence across the state.

The UA Impact Map, viewable at, shows the UA’s statewide impact in a variety of areas. For example, it includes data on the number of UA students, alumni and employees in Arizona, as well as the number of degrees awarded throughout the state.

The map also shows the UA's significant economic impact in Arizona, which totals $8.3 billion, according to data provided in a report released by nationally recognized consultants Tripp Umbach.

The Impact Map was designed to demonstrate the UA's commitment to serving all of Arizona as the state's land-grant university. The map plots UA campuses in Phoenix, Tucson and Sierra Vista; Cooperative Extension offices; telemedicine sites; learning and research centers; and other offices that provide a variety of services to Arizonans.

The map can be viewed by county, state district or federal district, and it also includes links to the latest news about University initiatives and developments unfolding throughout Arizona.

Here are a few examples of the types of quick facts to be gleaned from the Impact Map:

  • Financial aid awarded to in-state University students totaled $235,464,511 during the 2013-14 school year.
  • The UA employs 10,484 full-time employees in Pima County.
  • There are three UA Cooperative Extension offices in Navajo County in northern Arizona.
  • There are 36,507 UA alumni living in Maricopa County.
  • There are more than 8,700 Arizona students enrolled at the UA in Maricopa County.
  • The UA has an economic impact of more than $154 million in Coconino County.

The Impact Map is the result of a collaborative effort by University Relations, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and the UA Enterprise GIS — a service of Planning, Design & Construction — in addition to many other partners and departments that provided data to populate the map.

To view a tutorial on how to use the Impact Map, click here and select the red "Tutorial" button.

Editor: dougcarrollByline Affiliation: University Relations - CommunicationsHeader image: YesNo Image: Subheading: The Impact Map illustrates the University's presence in Arizona in a variety of areas.Include in UANow: yesInclude in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: noUANow Image: Includes video: 

UA Hosts Mexican Science Delegation

Tue, 01/27/2015 - 4:52pm

A science delegation from Mexico says it has found the right partner in the University of Arizona — and hopefully the answer to some of the country's most pressing concerns in mining and technology.

The delegation, led by Sen. Alejandro Tello, president of the Mexican Senate's Commission on Science and Technology, visited the UA this week to confer with administrators and faculty. Tello's home state of Zacatecas is rich in mineral wealth, responsible for making Mexico the world's largest producer of silver, and he was specifically interested in issues pertaining to sustainable mining. The first day of the three-day visit included a trip to the ASARCO mine in Sahuarita, about 25 miles south of Tucson.

"Zacatecas is the leading producer of silver in the world, and the University of Arizona is a world leader in sustainable-mining studies," Tello said through an interpreter at a reception Monday evening preceding the launch of the annual UA College of Science Lecture Series. "I've found an excellent response to the questions I had, both the theoretical and the practical." 

Others in the delegation included José Franco, immediate past president of the Mexican Academy of Sciences; Teresa De León, director of technology commercialization for Mexico's National Council for Science and Technology; Ofelia Angulo, academic director of the National System of Technological Institutes; and Victor Gutiérrez, president of the National Chamber of Electronics, Telecom and Information Technologies.

The group was hosted by José Lever, director of the UA's Mexico office, and Justin Dutram, program coordinator for the UA's Office of Global Initiatives. UA President Ann Weaver Hart gave an official welcome to the visitors before the reception.

Gutiérrez said that Mexico's president, Enrique Peña Nieto, has introduced a series of economic reforms, with one goal being an increase in the number of information technology professionals across several fields. Gutiérrez identified seven of those fields: business analytics, big data, mobile Internet, advanced robotics, autonomous vehicles, 3-D printing and digital interconnection. Those, he said, could have an economic impact of as much as $35 trillion for Mexico over the next 10 years.

Of the UA, Gutiérrez said, "You are leading in fields like mining and engineering, and there is a lot of innovation in robotics. You are doing a lot of research in the telecommunication fields."

Gutiérrez said he was especially impressed by Jeff Goldberg, dean of the UA's College of Engineering, which this summer will accept 30 graduate students from Mexico. He credited Lever with calling attention to the UA's array of scientific endeavors.

"He has explained to us much of your activity and programs," Gutiérrez said.

Lever, who has been with the UA for nearly eight years, said the visit to the Sahuarita mine provided an indication of how the UA-Mexico partnership can benefit both sides.

"It was enlightening," he said, "and it showed in an undeniable way how the teamwork of the University, the community and the industry can make responsible mining work for everyone's benefit."

Lever said the delegation's visit demonstrated that the groundwork being done in Mexico by the University is paying dividends.

"We started spreading the word with the right people in Mexico about the UA's strength," he said, "and that went to the ears of the senator."

The visitors joined a packed house at Centennial Hall for the kickoff of the lecture series, which featured an engaging talk by the Rev. Guy J. Consolmagno, a planetary scientist with the Vatican Observatory Research Group. The series, now in its 10th year, will be presented on Mondays through March 9.

The delegation toured the Steward Observatory Mirror Lab on the second day of its visit. Mexico's National Astronomical Observatory is located in the Sierra de San Pedro Mártir range on Baja California peninsula, at an elevation of more than 9,000 feet. The UA is working with astronomy groups at the Instituto Nacional de Astronomia, Optica y Electronica, located in Puebla, Mexico, and the Instituto de Astronomia, Universidad Nacional Autonomia de Mexico, based in Mexico City, on the designs for a 6.5-meter telescope at the site.

The Mirror Lab will produce the primary mirror for this proposed telescope, the San Pedro Mártir Telescope, or SPMT, which probably will coordinate with its twin instrument, the 6.5-meter telescope at the MMT Observatory on Mount Hopkins near Green Valley, Arizona. Both observatories are envisioned to operate through a collaboration involving the UA, the aforementioned Mexican partners and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

Editor: dougcarrollByline Affiliation: University Relations - CommunicationsHeader image: YesNo Image: Subheading: Visiting group led by Sen. Alejandro Tello praises the University's research and expertise in mining, engineering and technology.Include in UANow: yesInclude in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: noUANow Image: Includes video: 

Picking Up on the Smell of Evolution

Mon, 01/26/2015 - 6:27pm

For most of us, switching to a vegetarian diet might be a matter of a New Year's resolution and a fair amount of willpower, but for an entire species, it's a much more involved process — one that evolutionary biologists have struggled to understand for a long time.  

Researchers at the University of Arizona have taken a peek behind the curtain of evolution to find out what happens when an insect species dramatically changes its way of life. The processes they discovered involve never-seen-before remodeling of genes, behaviors and diet. The results, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, or PNAS, are likely to make you ponder evolutionary questions next time you find a fruit fly floating in your glass of wine.

Herbivorous insect species make up half of all known insect species, but the switch from a non-plant diet to herbivory evolved in only one-third of living insect orders. That discrepancy has puzzled biologists for a long time.

"It implies that the transition to herbivory happened rarely, but when it happened, it turned out to be a major push for speciation spawning the evolution of a disproportionate number of species in that group," said Benjamin Goldman-Huertas, a fifth-year doctoral candidate and National Science Foundation graduate research fellow in the UA's Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, and the lead author of the paper.

One of the possible answers is that plants are very difficult to colonize, said Noah Whiteman, an assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and senior author of the study. To ward off their predators, plants have evolved an arsenal of defenses, such as spines, tough outer "skin" or compounds that render their tissues indigestible, unpalatable or even fatally toxic to insects attempting to feed on them.

"Most plant-eating insects are parasites," Whiteman explained. "They're not like elephants roaming the savannah and ripping off leaves here and there. Insects have evolved ways to overcome those defenses but at the cost of becoming highly specialized. Many herbivorous insect species are extremely specialized, to the point where the animals have to spend their entire life cycle on their host plants.

"Switching from feeding on microbes, decaying meat or other insects to targeting plants requires ways to attract the insects to the plants, lay their eggs there and keep their larvae alive on the plant. We wanted to test the hypothesis that this transition required drastic changes in behavior, which in turn required remodeling of the genetic and neurological processes underlying those behaviors."

To find answers, the authors studied the fly species Scaptomyza flava, a close relative of the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster. Unlike their cousins, which often are seen hovering around the produce aisle, feasting on fruit that's past its prime, Scaptomyza flies don't wait that long. The females seek out healthy plants in the mustard family, pierce tiny holes into their leaves, drink the plant juice seeping into the wounds and deposit their eggs in the leaves. Upon hatching, the larvae munch their way through the leaves, making tiny tunnels as they go, and sometimes even kill the plant.

To study the flies' responses in more detail, Goldman-Huertas collaborated with researchers in the group of John Hildebrand, a Regents' Professor in the UA's Department of Neuroscience, which allowed them to measure the electrical responses in the insects' antennae generated by olfactory receptors when presenting the animals with various scents.    

"It's like recording from the population of receptor cells in your nose," Hildebrand said. "We look for electrical signals indicating that the antennal receptor cells have recognized and responded to a certain scent stimulus. If we don't see a signal, it means that the antenna doesn't respond to that compound."

Such neurological assays, combined with behavioral observations, revealed that the smell of yeast, which thrives on rotting fruit and acts a huge attractant to Drosophila, left Scaptomyza flies cold.

Conversely, "we found that Scaptomyza flava is very sensitive to the compound that is responsible for the scent of freshly cut grass, which is common in leafy plants," Whiteman said.

Goldman-Huertas hypothesized that the olfactory genes that are involved in sniffing out yeast should be lost in Scaptomyza, and indeed, "we could not find many of them in any of the populations we tested," he said.

According to Whiteman, the flies' preference for compounds associated with yeast and alcoholic fermentation is considered a more ancestral state than Scaptomyza's preference for fresh plants.

"The fruit fly species floating in your wine glass really represent 100 million years of evolution because the sensory mechanisms are conserved in species that are attracted to wine," he said.

To study the genetic basis of the flies' food preferences, the researchers took advantage of Scaptomyza's close kinship with D. melanogaster, whose olfactory system is the most extensively studied of any animal.

"Scaptomyza is a very useful model to study genetic underpinnings because on the one hand, it is closely related to D. melanogaster, but on the other hand, it is evolutionary diverged," Whiteman said. "In these flies, herbivory evolved in the last 20 million years at most. The changes are recent enough that we are able to detect them and compare them to non-herbivorous sister species like D. melanogaster.

"But loss of behaviors doesn't make you go on to new feeding grounds, so some gain of function must have happened as well."

Indeed, the team discovered a group of olfactory receptor genes that have undergone a disproportionately amount of sequence change.

"This suggests Darwinian evolution has changed the function of these genes," Whiteman said.

"Understanding how these ecological changes can come about can have huge economic and health implications," Goldman-Huertas said. "Scaptomyza flava is an emerging pest of canola in Europe and of mustard plants in New Zealand.

"Or take the Anopheles mosquitoes that spread malaria. How did they start feeding on humans? Or the Colorado potato beetle that originally fed on other related plants. How did that switch come about? How insects make decisions impacts the lives, health and wellbeing of people.

"We could only answer these questions because of UA's culture of collaboration," Goldman-Huertas added, "in particular the UA Center for Insect Science, which facilitated the collaboration between the departments of neuroscience and ecology and evolutionary biology through a seed grant."

Additional funding for the study came from the NSF through Graduate Research Fellowships Program DGE-0646147, Integrative Graduate Education and research Traineeship DGE-0654435 and DEB-1256758; a UA Foundation Faculty Seed Grant; John Templeton Foundation Grant 41855; National Institutes of Health Postdoctoral Excellence in Research and Teaching Fellowship K12-631 GM000708 PERT; and NIH Grant R01-DC-02751.

Editor: dougcarrollWriter: Daniel StolteByline: Daniel StolteByline Affiliation: University Relations – CommunicationsHeader image: YesNo Image: Subheading: UA researchers have discovered some of the changes in genes, physiology and behavior that enable a species to drastically change its lifestyle in the course of evolution. Include in UANow: yesInclude in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: noUANow Image: Includes video: 

UA Branding Expert Says NFL's Image Will Recover

Mon, 01/26/2015 - 4:38pm

A bad-news NFL season that began with a shocking elevator video and is ending with "Deflategate" might make you wonder if the league is the damage-control center of the universe.

To which Hope Schau says: Don’t worry about the NFL. It has survived scandals in the past, and it’s going to take much more than this season’s high-profile troubles to sink the ship.

"Every brand is a work in progress," says Schau, an expert on branding and an associate professor of marketing in the University of Arizona’s Eller College of Management.

"The NFL hasn’t lost the essence of what it is. There was a time when (its players) might have been more representative of ideal citizenship. But there are generations now where that may not be as important. At the end of the day, people are still going to watch football. There will be fans, and the game will still represent America."

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s handling of the controversy involving Ray Rice, formerly a star player for the Baltimore Ravens, is a cloud that still hangs over the league ahead of its marquee event, Sunday's Super Bowl in Glendale, Arizona. Rice was arrested and indicted for aggravated assault last March 24 after his then-fiancee (and now wife) Janay Palmer was punched in the face in an elevator in Atlantic City, New Jersey.  The blow rendered Palmer unconscious.

Rice initially was suspended by Goodell for two 2014 games, then his contract was terminated by the Ravens on Sept. 8 after additional, graphic video of the couple's encounter had been posted by a celebrity news website. The domestic-violence issue has stayed in the forefront through the NFL’s participation in "No More" public-service announcements, featuring current and former players going on camera to repudiate domestic violence. The league’s domestic-violence controversy was named the top sports story of 2014 by the Associated Press.

Schau says the NFL made at least two mistakes in its handling of the Rice affair. It was too slow to act in the wake of the incident, she says, and it hasn’t helped itself by keeping the focus on a negative issue via No More.

"It was hard to see that (elevator video) and not form an opinion," Schau says. "Getting out in front of the message and taking action early is always the better option…. Indecision doesn’t play well with an audience that saw what it saw. Imagining it would go away is naïve. Be prepared for the (social media) sharing and get out in front of it."

No More, a 5-year-old coalition of various groups against domestic violence and sexual assault, didn’t gain traction until the incident with Rice and one involving Minnesota Vikings star Adrian Peterson put domestic violence in the national headlines. But the PSA campaign isn’t allowing the league to move forward, Schau says, by the way it inadvertently prompts the public to flash back to the elevator tape, giving amplification to the wrong thing.

"I would hope that our standard is that we treat people well, not just that we don’t treat them badly," Schau says of the TV spots. "That’s a low bar to clear. The NFL could be highlighting the good things it is doing in outreach. It could show support of women’s sports, for example. I know they’re doing some of that, so why aren’t we hearing about it?"

Schau says companies and celebrities consistently manage to survive damage to their brand, citing examples such as Tylenol (a tampering scare in 1982), the TV show "Two and a Half Men" (actor Charlie Sheen’s notorious problems) and Rob Lowe (a bad-boy actor turned popular pitchman).

"There are a million and one ways to recover," she says.

Threats to the safety of pro football (concussions) and its integrity (the underinflation of game-day footballs, signaling a larger issue of rules-breaking) are potentially more damaging to the game than social issues are, Schau says.

In any case, it’s wise for the NFL to realize that social media have created a whole new landscape for messaging.

"Technology allows 24-7 access, and everyone can forward and comment," Schau says. "I use the example of a rock concert. Most people never know that before going on, the band might have had a fight. But social media bring backstage to center stage. There’s a transparency that’s positive, but some of it can’t be edited. We now know what’s going on to an unprecedented degree.

"With social media, you can craft your self-presentation. And yet, something private can become public rapidly. (The Rice video) is a moment that no one anticipated would be seen."

Editor: dougcarrollByline Affiliation: University Relations - CommunicationsHeader image: YesNo Image: Subheading: A season of controversy put the issue of domestic violence in the headlines, but Hope Schau says the league's future is secure because "people are still going to watch football."Include in UANow: yesInclude in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: noUANow Image: Includes video: