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Laser Day Lights Up Young Crowd

Wed, 03/04/2015 - 3:42pm

Dozens of children huddle around a thin, purple laser bouncing back and forth inside of a transparent plastic tube, as a student volunteer explains that this tube is what makes the Internet possible. In the next room, a pickle is being electrocuted as a way to demonstrate how streetlights work, while just around the corner kids are lining up to gaze down a seven-foot kaleidoscope.

These were a few of the scenes at the UA College of Optical Sciences' Laser Fun Day, an annual STEM outreach event held on Feb. 28 on the University of Arizona campus. The event is organized by the UA Student Optics Chapter, or SOCk, in affiliation with the International Society for Optics and Photonics, or SPIE, and The Optical Society, two of the largest and most prestigious professional societies in the field of optics.

"When most people hear about optics, they think of eyeglasses or lasers," said Benjamin Cromey, vice president of SOCk and an undergraduate in the College of Optical Sciences. "We want to bring people here and show them that optics is involved in every aspect of daily life — from medicine to the Internet connection that lets you pull up that cat video on your phone."

Consisting of 25 demonstrations, the event required 110 volunteers to coordinate. While most of those were students, representatives of Raytheon, Edmund Optics and the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers also hosted demonstrations. Laser Fun Day attracted more than 1,400 attendees of all ages.

This year has been declared by the United Nations as the International Year of Light, a global effort to raise awareness about the importance of optical sciences and light-based technologies. To celebrate the occasion, Laser Fun Day focused on five key areas where optical science has the most transformative power: communications, health, agriculture, energy and education.

"Optics is everywhere, in so many different ways," Cromey said. "The goal of Laser Fun Day is to showcase just how impactful the optical sciences can be."

Indeed, the demos spanned a wide variety of fields, ranging from a model eye illustrating the effects of aging on vision to a photo op with an infrared camera where people could see the warmest parts of their faces. It also was possible to learn how a 3-D television works, explore the bizarre effects of a parabola-shaped funhouse mirror and visualize the displacement of air by a flame using a technique called Schlieren imaging.

By far the biggest hit at the event was its signature laser maze, which recently was redesigned thanks to a grant from SPIE. Participants in the laser maze had to navigate their way through a complex network of lasers in an otherwise pitch-black room, calling to mind a scene out of a science-fiction movie.

Cromey and other student volunteers, who conducted surveys showing that more than half of the crowd had never before been exposed to the optical sciences, emphasized that the most important aspect of the event is to open young minds to the possibilities of light science.

"Without outreach events like this one, some students might never get exposed to optics," said Cromey, who first discovered a love for optical science in high school. "For me, the most rewarding part is seeing the look of awe on kids' faces the first time they see themselves through an infrared camera or look down a giant kaleidoscope. It's a fantastic sight to see and makes all the months of work worth it."

Editor: dougcarrollWriter: Raymond SanchezByline: Raymond Sanchez, NASA Space Grant InternByline Affiliation: University Relations – CommunicationsHeader image: YesNo Image: Subheading: The College of Optical Sciences' annual STEM outreach event draws an audience of more than 1,400 for a glimpse inside the world of light-based technology.Include in UANow: yesInclude in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: noUANow Image: Includes video: 

Science City Adds Pi to the Menu

Wed, 03/04/2015 - 3:42pm

A diverse, excitement-filled Science City lineup awaits visitors as the University of Arizona prepares to share science with the masses at the annual Tucson Festival of Books on March 14 and 15.

Visitors to Science City will experience the connection between their daily lives and advances in science and learn about groundbreaking research being done at the UA. The Tucson Festival of Books is the fourth-largest book festival in the world, but it is the only one to incorporate science as a key component.

The UA’s BIO5 Institute and College of Science are the co-hosts of Science City in association with the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, in partnership with the Arizona SciTech Festival, and with the continued support of the primary sponsor, the Helios Education Foundation, and other valued community and business sponsors. Science City is the state's largest STEM event.

Science City’s themed "neighborhoods" include the Science of Everyday Life, the Science of Tomorrow, the Science of You and the Science of the Natural World. Across these neighborhoods, 80 participating groups will feature engaging, hands-on activities and interactive demonstrations for science lovers of all ages to learn about innovations in health, science, engineering and technology.

Faculty, students and volunteers from UA programs such as Biosphere 2; the OSIRIS-REx asteroid sample return mission; the Arizona Science of Baseball; Insect Discovery; Family and Consumer Sciences; Biomedical Engineering; Geosciences; the School of Mind, Brain and Behavior; Plant Sciences; the Arizona Genomics Institute; Planetary Science; the Office of Sustainability, and others will be on hand to share their passion for science.

In addition to Science City’s four neighborhoods, this year also will feature a Science of Pi (π) zone in recognition of Super Pi Day — 3/14/15, the date that comes closest to the mathematical representation of pi (3.141592653 ...). A celebratory Super Pi kickoff activity will start at 9 a.m. on March 14.

From robots and insects to explosive demonstrations to enriching tours and talks, Science City is filled with wonders. To start building your Science City 2015 must-see list, here are some suggestions:

  • Get up close and personal with some of our friendly neighborhood wildlife friends at the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum Live Animal Show at 11:30 a.m. daily on the Science Stage.
  • Experience the power of pi by maneuvering Buffon’s needles, a hands-on way to estimate pi by using just toothpicks and parallel lines, by making a visual representation of pi with colors or by designing your own bouncy ball in the Science of Pi neighborhood.
  • Watch volcano eruption simulations (at 11 a.m. and 1 and 3 p.m. daily) as demonstrated by the Geosciences Department.
  • See the newly opened trilobite exhibit or a show in the new FullDome theater at the Flandrau Science Center and Planetarium.
  • Meet a scientist at the Science Café, which will feature talks by world-class UA researchers on diverse topics including African rice, Jupiter’s moons, mountain women, aneurysms, DNA sequencing, wearable technology and game-based therapies, and innovative veterinary care.
  • Make and launch your own bottle rocket.
  • Enjoy yummy insects, mushrooms and other culinary "treats."
  • Extract DNA at the BIO5 Institute

  • Get a scorpion tattoo at the VIPER Institute 
  • Eat ice cream made with liquid nitrogen at the Chemistry Club booth.
  • See the largest museum insect collection in Arizona during tours Saturday at 9:30 and 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 and 3 p.m.
  • Hear from two UA physicians, Dr. Peter Rhee and Dr. Richard Carmona, about prevention and innovation that can preserve health and extend human life at 2:30 p.m. Saturday on the Science Stage.
  • ‪Share the excitement of discovering and following asteroids and learn about the upcoming OSIRIS-REx asteroid sample return mission at the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory booth.

UA open houses and tours that will run throughout the weekend include the Richard F. Caris Mirror Lab; the Flandrau Science Center and Planetarium, the Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research; the Campus Arboretum; the Physics Department; the Insect Collection; the Museum of Natural History, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology; and the Herbaria.

For up-to-date information on all tours, talks and activities, visit Science City online at and follow on Twitter and Facebook @TFOBScienceCity. Festival admission, parking, and Science City open houses and tours are free.

Editor: dougcarrollByline: Lisa RomeroByline Affiliation: BIO5 InstituteWhat: Science CityWhere: Tucson Festival of Books, UA MallWhen: 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. March 14 and 15Extra Info:

Header image: YesNo Image: Subheading: The largest STEM event in the state represents a two-day community celebration of science, imagination and literacy on the UA campus.Include in UANow: yesInclude in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: noUANow Image: Includes video: 

Leading the Way on Never Settle: Jon Dudas

Tue, 03/03/2015 - 4:38pm

When Jon Dudas first went to work for the U.S. government, his plan was to stay in Washington, D.C., for just two years. Two quickly turned into 15 and Dudas ultimately left his government career in 2009, having served the previous five years as undersecretary of commerce for intellectual property and director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

By that time, Dudas had long had his eye on Arizona. His grandparents, parents and brothers already had moved to the state, and when his oldest son eventually decided to attend the University of Arizona, Dudas knew it was time for him to head west, too.

Dudas transitioned to a career in academia when he assumed the role of senior associate to the president and secretary of the university last summer. In his position, he acts as a liaison between the UA and the Arizona Board of Regents and works to ensure that board members, as well as members of the greater community, understand the value of the UA to the state. Dudas reports directly to President Ann Weaver Hart and works closely with her and other campus leaders.

Prior to directing the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Dudas served as the counsel for legal policy and senior floor assistant to Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Dennis Hastert, and as staff director and deputy general counsel of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee.

Following his U.S. government tenure, he served as the president of FIRST, a nonprofit organization that aims to inspire children to pursue majors and careers in the STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — fields. He also was a partner in the law firm Foley & Lardner LLC, where he specialized in international intellectual property strategy and policy.

Throughout his career, innovation has been a central theme, and Dudas says the UA's role as a leading innovator in the state is part of what makes the University "an easy place to love."

Video Thumbnail: Category(s): Campus NewsYouTube Video:  Never Settle-Jon Dudas Video of Never Settle-Jon Dudas Feature Sticky: OffFeature on Front: NoMedium Summary: As senior associate to President Ann Weaver Hart, he acts as a liaison between the UA and the Arizona Board of Regents.UANow Image: Date of Publication: Wednesday, March 4, 2015Send to Never Settle Site: 0Includes video: 

'Romeo & Juliet' Has Distinct UA Flavor

Tue, 03/03/2015 - 2:35pm

The internship program that the University of Arizona's School of Theatre, Film & Television has with the professional Arizona Theatre Company has been part of a mutually beneficial partnership for several years. 

And this year's production of "Romeo & Juliet" boasts nine UA School of Theatre, Film & Television students — the largest number of students in an Arizona Theatre Company production to date.

Five ensemble members are getting the broadest exposure that the UA is able to offer a group of theatre students, said Kevin Black, an associate professor of practice in the School of Theatre, Film & Television, who is also a member of the production in the role of Juliet's father.

The students are Sterling Boyns, Hunter Hnat, Paul Thomson, Silvia Vannoy and Brenna Welsh. Also, students Bryn Booth, Abigail Harms, David Hentz and Brian Klimowski are understudies for the ensemble members.

Vannoy, a UA senior, is the understudy for Lady Capulet and Juliet. She also sings and plays musical instruments during the production.

In addition to the current students, UA theatre alumni are working behind the scenes.

"This is just one example of what's possible between our school and this regional theatre in the state of Arizona," Black said. "For the students to be able to create roles, action and to be part of the company is a tremendous educational benefit. And the students get credit, too."

Black said he is pleased to see the students exceed the expectations of the professionals surrounding them.

"The students are admired a great deal by the rest of the company," Black said. "They're doing stellar work, which confirms that the standards they have and that they were taught at the University of Arizona are working." 

Black said he believes the students' talent stems from a program that has been tested, refined and designed for each student to grow and obtain Actors’ Equity membership.

The production, along with its student ensemble, will travel to Phoenix at the end of March.

Also involved is an associate professor in the School of Theatre, Film & Television, Brent Gibbs, artistic director for the UA's Arizona Repertory Theatre. Gibbs is a certified teacher and fight director with the Society of American Fight Directors, and he is the fight choreographer for the production.

David Morden, an assistant professor in the UA school and an actor, was hired for the role of voice and speech coach for the production.

"There are major contributions coming from the University of Arizona to this production," Black said. "This is a prime example of a great collaboration."

Editor: dougcarrollWriter: Lisa PierceByline: Lisa PierceByline Affiliation: UA School of Theatre, Film & TelevisionExtra Info: 

"Romeo & Juliet" will run through March 21 in Tucson. For tickets, visit the Arizona Theatre Company online, or call 520-622-2823 in Tucson and 602-256-6995 in Phoenix.

Header image: YesNo Image: Subheading: A record nine students from the School of Theatre, Film & Television are part of the Arizona Theatre Company production, which runs through March 21 in Tucson before going off to Phoenix. Include in UANow: yesInclude in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: noIncludes video: 

Banner – University Medicine to Transform Care

Mon, 03/02/2015 - 5:12pm

The merger of the University of Arizona Health Network and Banner Health, considered a new model for providing medical services, research and education, is now complete.

Finalized on Friday, the Banner – University Medicine division is one of the most recent pivotal outcomes of Never Settle, the UA's strategic plan, and is expected to transform the health care landscape in Arizona. The merger also makes Banner Health the largest private employer in Arizona, with more than 37,000 employees.

"This merger is revolutionizing academic medicine and will benefit the entire state of Arizona," said UA President Ann Weaver Hart.

"The nation's health care industry is witnessing accelerating change, which is being felt in Arizona with the demands resulting from the aging of the population, greater need for doctors and increased health care costs," Hart said. "Banner – University Medicine will be on the forefront of helping our state address these challenges, and as the UA's clinical partner for our two medical schools it will allow us to extend our mission to both advance medical education and transform health care to meet new and existing demands."

Key elements of the finalized merger include: 

  • The Banner – University Medicine division, a health system anchored in Tucson and Phoenix, providing an Arizona-based, statewide health system to Arizonans.
  • Three hospitals, which have undergone name changes:
    • The University of Arizona Medical Center – University Campus is now Banner – University Medical Center Tucson.
    • The University of Arizona Medical Center – South Campus is now Banner – University Medical Center South.
    • Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center in Phoenix is now Banner – University Medical Center Phoenix.
  • An expansion of medical center capabilities for complex academic/clinical programs, such as transplantations, neurosciences, genomics-driven precision health, geriatrics and pediatrics.
  • A $500 million injection of capital to support construction and renovations of the 44-year-old medical center on North Campbell Avenue in Tucson over the next several years.
  • A $300 million endowment to provide a $20 million annual revenue stream to advance the UA's clinical and translational research mission.

Banner Health has had a long history of affiliation with the Arizona Health Sciences Center and its Colleges of Medicine in both Tucson and Phoenix. Over the decades, hundreds of UA medical school graduates have furthered their medical education in residencies at Banner – University Medical Center Phoenix, formerly Banner Good Samaritan.

Now, under aligned leadership and working toward a single goal of creating nationally ranked academic medical centers, the new division will support the growing needs of the UA Colleges of Medicine in Tucson and Phoenix.

Among other collaborations, Banner's three academic medical centers and UA College of Medicine faculty will oversee graduate medical education for about 1,000 physicians statewide each year in a variety of residency and fellowship programs. All eligible programs are accredited by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education, which establishes exacting national standards for approval and assessment of graduate medical education programs.

"We are convinced that our private/public partnership will help play a lead role in the transformation of health care in our state and beyond," Hart said. "This is a formula that can elevate both the quality and management of care for our state's citizens along with the reputation of Arizona as a national leader in health care."

Rebecca Ruiz, a UA information specialist coordinator, contributed to this story. 

Editor: dougcarrollByline Affiliation: University Relations - CommunicationsHeader image: YesNo Image: Subheading: A groundbreaking agreement between the University of Arizona Health Network and Banner Health is now complete, resulting in the Banner – University Medicine division, a comprehensive new model for academic medicine. Include in UANow: yesInclude in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: noUANow Image: Includes video: 

'Body Smart Day' at UA

Mon, 03/02/2015 - 3:56pm

The University of Arizona observed National Eating Disorders Awareness Week with its own Body Smart Day, which was Feb. 25.  

The Body Smart Fair, held on the UA Mall in front of Old Main, celebrated "every body" and individual uniqueness. Student organizations participated in interactive activities and giveaways that promote positive body image, support intrinsic self-worth, or elicit acknowledgment of gratitude and kindness. Healthy Body Image surveys were conducted by student volunteers. The information from the surveys contributes to a national database for statistics on body image and eating disorders.  

Body Smart Day is an annual event coordinated by the Body Smart Initiative, a UA student-led program of the Campus Health Service, with the mission of enhancing self-worth and positive body image among UA students.

Video Thumbnail: Category(s): Campus NewsHealthYouTube Video:  Body Smart Day 2015 Video of Body Smart Day 2015 Feature Sticky: OffFeature on Front: NoMedium Summary: Student-led initative promotes positive body image, and the program's annual fair on campus celebrates uniqueness and self-worth.UANow Image: Date of Publication: Monday, March 2, 2015Send to Never Settle Site: 0Includes video: 

Hot Spots, Cold Spots: When Temperature Goes Quantum

Mon, 03/02/2015 - 11:40am

Imagine setting a frying pan on the stove and cranking up the heat, only to discover that in a few spots the butter isn't melting because part of the pan remains at room temperature. What seems like an impossible scenario in the kitchen is exactly what happens in the strange world of quantum physics, researchers at the University of Arizona have discovered.

The findings, published in the scientific journal Physical Review B, suggest that quantum effects play a role in how heat moves through a material, challenging that classic notion that heat simply diffuses from a hot spot to a cold spot until the temperature is the same throughout.

Quantum temperature control on a microscale level could someday enable new technologies — for example, in computing, environmental monitoring and medicine.

"Nobody has seen these quantum effects in the propagation of temperature before," said Charles Stafford, a professor in the UA's Department of Physics who co-authored the paper. "Heat diffusion has always been thought of as a process that you can't affect. Ordinarily, a pattern of hot and cold spots within a material would be washed out by the inexorable flow of heat from the hot spots to the adjacent cold spots."

Not in the strange world of graphene. The material — a sheet of carbon atoms linked in a hexagonal, chicken-wire structure — holds great promise for microelectronics. Only one atom thin and highly conductive, graphene may one day replace conventional silicon microchips, making devices smaller, faster and more energy-efficient. In addition to potential applications in integrated circuits, solar cells, miniaturized bio devices and gas molecule sensors, the material has attracted the attention of physicists for its unique properties in conducting electricity on an atomic level.

"We found that electrons carrying heat propagate as two-dimensional quantum waves," Stafford said, "and the ripples in those waves are predicted to lead to hot and cold spots that persist, flying in the face of our everyday understanding of temperature and heat flow."

What's more, "the size of these ripples is controllable in graphene, so that this strange phenomenon should be observable with state-of-the-art scanning thermal microscopes, offering a unique vista into the nature of temperature and heat transport at the quantum level," the authors write.

"In other words, this is not just some conceptual result, but you should be able to observe this phenomenon with current lab techniques," Stafford said.

After predicting similar types of temperature waves along single molecules — too small for technological applications — in computer simulations published previously, Stafford and his team now provide the basis for observing quantum heat transfer with available technology.

"Under certain conditions, one could make these wavelengths 20 nanometers or more, well in the realm of current resolution of scanning thermal microscopy," Stafford said.  

While the authors emphasize that their paper is not about immediate applications, the discovery of hot and cold spots coexisting in the same sheet of graphene could offer ways to use graphene as a quantum heat conductor to cool electronic devices.

"As devices get smaller and smaller, there is a big push in technology to be able to manage temperature at a nanoscale level," Stafford said. "For example, if we want to improve processing hardware, we need to understand the flow of heat at that level, and that requires us to bring our understanding from the blackboard of theoretical physics to being recognized in a lab setting."

Nanometer resolution temperature measurements are technologically necessary, for instance, to characterize the thermal performance and failure mechanisms of semiconductor devices, or to investigate bioheat transfer at the molecular level for the treatment of cancer or cardiovascular diseases.

"Through quantum heat transport, it should be possible to achieve spot cooling on the microscale level that would be impossible to achieve by classic heat transport," Stafford explained. "In a typical computing architecture of two-dimensional chips, you have to drain excess heat along the edges, and that becomes more and more difficult as everything becomes smaller and smaller. If instead of having to cool the whole structure you could selectively cool certain microscopically small processes on the chip, it would be a great advantage."

Moreover, quantum effects may offer new methods to circumvent long-standing technological challenges, suggesting that the investigation of "phase-sensitive" thermal effects could open the door to quantum-engineered heat transport devices.

The research was done in collaboration with Justin Bergfield, who earned his doctorate in Stafford's lab in 2010 and is now a postdoctoral fellow at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois; Mark Ratner, also at Northwestern; and Massimiliano Di Ventra at the University of California, San Diego. 

Editor: dougcarrollWriter: Daniel StolteByline: Daniel StolteByline Affiliation: University Relations – CommunicationsHeader image: YesNo Image: Subheading: A UA-led collaboration of physicists and chemists has discovered that temperature behaves in strange and unexpected ways in graphene, a material that has scientists sizzling with excitement about its potential for new technological devices ranging from computing to medicine. Include in UANow: yesInclude in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: noUANow Image: Includes video: 

Wrestling's Revival at the UA

Mon, 03/02/2015 - 10:14am
Date of Publication: Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Spock's Humanity Was Nimoy's Gift

Mon, 03/02/2015 - 9:35am

What does it mean to be human? This question has inspired philosophers, artists and scientists for a long, long time.

Leonard Nimoy's death reminds us of his answers to this question through his beloved work on "Star Trek," and beyond.

Leonard Nimoy (Photo: Beth Madison)

As linguists, we study one of the most complex features of humans — namely, language. Nimoy understood this complexity and much more.

It was under his direction of "Star Trek III: The Search for Spock" that Paramount Pictures commissioned linguist Marc Okrand to develop the Klingon language. Klingon has since become one of the most famous constructed languages. By using grammatical and phonological features that are rare across Earth's roughly 7,000 languages, Okrand made Klingon a system that sounds distinctly alien to the human ear. You can view more of Okrand's work on Klingon online. Okrand also developed a partial grammar for the Vulcan language that is spoken mainly by Spock. Such serious attention to the structural complexity of language was groundbreaking for a film series. Since then, constructed languages have been developed for many film and television franchises, including "Game of Thrones" and "Avatar."

As Spock and as himself, Nimoy appreciated language used both for the profane and the poetic. An accomplished writer, he used language for its beauty and its capacity to articulate old questions in new ways. As Wilhelm von Humboldt put it, "language makes infinite use of finite media." Thus, language allows for unlimited expression of ideas. This feature of language echoes the Vulcan symbol "Kol-Ut-Shan," which represents the Vulcan philosophy of "Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combination."

Throughout the "Star Trek" television and film series, the question of what makes us human was essential to Nimoy's character. Being half-Vulcan and half-human, Spock grappled with the conflict between his human emotions and his Vulcan logic. In this way, the show defined Spock's humanness by his ability to feel, an approach that also has been taken by many psychologists. Through the development of friendships with Captain James T. Kirk and Dr. Leonard McCoy, Spock gradually embraced his humanness. As his life progressed, Spock and Nimoy challenged prevailing views of what it means to be alien or different.

While his character long resisted his human side, Nimoy took full advantage of what it means to be human. In addition to acting and directing, he worked as a writer, a photographer and a musician.

In light of all he taught us, we want to honor Nimoy. It seems appropriate to repeat here the words of Kirk at Spock's memorial service after he sacrificed himself to save the crew of the Enterprise in "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn": "Of my friend, I can only say this: Of all the souls I have encountered in my travels, his was the most ... human."

Elly Zimmer is a doctoral student in the UA Department of Linguistics, and her research interests include early syntactic development and early literacy development. Cecile McKee is a linguistics professor and the associate dean for research at the UA College of Social and Behavioral Sciences. McKee's research expertise is in children's syntactic development.

Categories: Social Sciences and EducationThis is a Wildcat Corner feature: Images: Tags: Guest BlogGuest PostEducationResearchByline: Elly Zimmer and Cecile McKee |Editor: dougcarrollInclude in UANow: 0Date of Publication: Monday, March 2, 2015Medium Summary: UA linguists Elly Zimmer and Cecile McKee explain what Leonard Nimoy, while playing a half-Vulcan and half-human on "Star Trek," taught the world about humanity. Feature on Front: YesShort Summary: What Leonard Nimoy taught us about being human. Send to Never Settle Site: 0UA in the News Spotlight: Includes video: 

Dance Legend Coaches UA Students

Wed, 02/25/2015 - 7:37pm

George Balanchine’s “Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux” — an eight-minute display of ballet bravura, physicality and technique — became one of dancer Edward Villella’s signature pieces more than 50 years ago. Now students at the UA School of Dance are learning it from Villella.

Villella, 78, arguably the most celebrated American-born male dancer in history, has performed for five U.S. presidents and was awarded the National Medal of Arts in 1997. He spent his career dancing for the legendary Balanchine and the internationally renowned New York City Ballet. Joining the company in 1957, he was promoted to soloist the next year and held the rank of principal dancer from 1960 until his retirement from the company in 1981. His explosive technique and charisma as a performer inspired Balanchine to create notable male leads for him. 

In 1986, with $1 million in seed money, 19 dancers and rehearsal space in an empty storefront, Villella founded one of the foremost Balanchine-based ballet companies in the country, the Miami City Ballet, serving as its director until 2012. Today the company has 45 dancers, a $14.5 million budget, a state-of-the-art facility and a thriving dance school.

Three couples will alternate performances of the famous pas de deux to open the concert “Color Wheel” at the UA’s Stevie Eller Theatre through Sunday, March 1. For tickets, go to For more about the UA School of Dance, go to

Video Thumbnail: Category(s): Arts and HumanitiesTeaching and StudentsYouTube Video:  Villella Pas De Deux Video of Villella Pas De Deux Feature Sticky: OffFeature on Front: NoMedium Summary: National Medal of Arts winner Edward Villella, one of the greatest American-born dancers in history, imparts his unique style in a campus visit ahead of the concert "Color Wheel."UANow Image: Date of Publication: Wednesday, February 25, 2015Send to Never Settle Site: 0Includes video: 

UA Talent Pipeline Stopping Data Breaches

Wed, 02/25/2015 - 5:45pm

U.S. data breaches hit a record high in 2014, according to a report by the Identity Theft Resource Center, and the trend is projected to continue. With recruiters actively seeking job candidates with expertise in information security, the University of Arizona is helping to fill the need.

The management information systems department, or MIS, at the Eller College of Management, ranked among the top five for 30 years, boasts a 100 percent placement rate for graduates of its master’s program.

"There’s an incredible need for people with cybersecurity expertise," said Paulo Goes, head of the MIS department and Salter Distinguished Professor of Technology and Management. "The big four consulting firms are all recruiting here. PricewaterhouseCoopers just hired 11 interns from our program."

Demand also is high from students for the master’s in MIS degree. The program was able to accommodate only 90 students from the 1,300 applications it received this year. An online version of the degree, which launched in 2013, serves an additional cohort of students, and the department also offers multiple certifications from the National Security Agency’s Committee on National Security Systems.

Now the UA, designated as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance Education, or NCAEIAE, since 2009, has had that designation renewed through 2021. The rigorous approval process is governed by a set of nine criteria, including outreach, university-level support and multidisciplinary collaboration.

"The designation is particularly important for the UA because of our location and strong partnerships with the defense industry, border security and homeland security," Goes said. The National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security jointly sponsor the designation.

Although data encryption is a key element of information security, Goes said the MIS program emphasizes the human element. "We look at an organization holistically, including employee behavior," he said.

"One person clicking on a phishing link can set a chain reaction in motion," said Lance Hoopes, associate director of the Information Assurance and Security Education Center at Eller, who spearheaded the original effort to earn the NCAEIAE designation and was instrumental in securing its renewal. "Cybersecurity can have an impact at every level of an organization, including manufacturing and supply chain."

Hoopes teaches many of the classes in information assurance offered at Eller, and Goes also is a co-principal investigator on a $4.2 million National Science Foundation grant that established the Cybersecurity Scholarship-for-Service at the UA, known as AZSecure.

"AZSecure will support about 40 undergraduate, graduate and doctoral students over five years," Goes said. "The students will be immersed in advanced cybersecurity analytics and information assurance education for placement in government agencies and industry."

Ten students currently are supported through the program.

A second, related project is led by Regents’ Professor Hsinchun Chen, who is also a principal investigator on AZSecure.

"We have built an interdisciplinary team around the Hacker Web project," Chen said. "We aim to answer important questions about hacker behaviors, markets, community structure, communication contents, artifacts and cultural differences using big-data analytics."

The Hacker Web project is funded by the NSF through 2016 in the amount of $1.2 million. Chen is joined on the project by fellow principal investigators Salim Hariri, director of the Autonomic Computing Laboratory at the UA; Ronald Breiger, professor of sociology at the UA; and Thomas Holt, associate professor of criminal justice at Michigan State University.

In addition to programs focused on graduate students, the MIS department has several outreach programs in place. The most recent — an NSF-supported cybersecurity camp aimed at underserved high school students — launched last summer with close to 50 participants.

"Programs like these are essential to help build the pipeline of talent that will fill the complex and always-evolving information security needs of all organizations," Goes said.

Editor: dougcarrollByline: Liz Warren-PedersonByline Affiliation: Eller College of ManagementHeader image: YesNo Image: Subheading: Because the University is a leader in preparing graduates with information security expertise, demand is high by employers and by students seeking to enter the MIS master's program. Include in UANow: yesInclude in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: noUANow Image: Includes video: 

UA Economists Focus on Oil Prices

Wed, 02/25/2015 - 7:38am

Those who came to Tuesday night’s panel discussion at the Eller College of Management seeking a definitive answer to its central question went away enlightened and entertained — but perhaps not encouraged.

"Plummeting Oil Prices: Good News or Bad?" got the best shot of University of Arizona economists Price Fishback, Mike Staten and Dirk Mateer in a fast-moving, thoroughly engaging 90 minutes of ripped-from-the-headlines commentary that also had enough charts, graphs and bullet points to satisfy any geek.

Fishback led off by supplying some historical perspective on oil’s role in the American economy, then Staten talked about the impact of falling oil prices on the consumer. Mateer wrapped it up with a "predicaments and predictions" segment, joking that his listeners undoubtedly would return in a few years to remind him of how wrong he was. The panelists took a half-hour of questions from the audience afterward.

The answer to the good-or-bad question "depends on where you sit," said Staten, of the UA’s Norton School of Family and Consumer Sciences.

"We’re a complicated story," he said of the U.S., noting that the country is the largest consumer and producer of oil in the world but also its largest importer. Because the U.S. is a net importer, dropping prices represent a net savings to the economy, he said.

However, little payoff has been seen yet in consumer retail spending, except for gasoline — and even that hasn’t been too significant. Figuring that the average household buys 600 gallons of gas a year, paying $1 less per gallon than a year ago, Staten said this amounts to a savings of about $12 a week, hardly enough to help much with big-ticket purchases.

"The impact (of lower gas prices) takes time to be visible," Staten said. "Spending patterns won’t change until consumers are sure the lower prices will stick." And indeed, prices at the pump have been creeping upward of late.

Savings may be greater in the eastern U.S., Staten said, where fuel oil is still used for winter heat in many places. He said the lower oil prices can be attributed to three things: expanded U.S. production, particularly in shale oil ("the story that has crept up on most of us"); weakened demand elsewhere in the world; and political instability in places such as Greece, the Ukraine and the Middle East.

Staten said cheaper airfares aren’t likely in the near term, eliciting audible disappointment from the crowd. He said that’s because hedging on fuel costs has blunted the savings of the airlines. He said lower oil prices might justify finally raising the gas tax, which was originally intended for the road repairs now desperately needed in many parts of the country. Although vehicles have become more fuel efficient over the years, they impose the same wear and tear on highways and streets.

Fishback observed that oil was once an alternative fuel in the U.S., finally supplanting coal in the late 19th century. He recalled the gas lines of the 1970s, when OPEC doubled world oil prices twice, from $20 to $100 a barrel, and the American economy was sent reeling by the stagflation of high unemployment and high inflation.

"Inflation is your friend," he said tongue in cheek, quoting an old "Saturday Night Live" skit in which actor Dan Aykroyd played then-President Jimmy Carter.

Mateer, like Fishback a professor in the Eller College, said the question for the immediate future is whether OPEC or the U.S. "will blink first" in a stare-down. Prices will stay low if both maintain production, but they will go higher if both cut production. The economic advantage will go to the one that maintains production while the other reduces it.

On the one hand, OPEC has a production cost advantage and may be better equipped to play a waiting game. But on the other, the economies of OPEC countries are far more dependent on oil than the U.S. economy is, and lower prices can bring pressure to bear on them.

"I don’t know who’s going to blink first, but some countries will blink earlier than others," Mateer said, mentioning Venezuela and Russia as two that have particularly oil-centric economies.

Mateer did say that the lower oil prices won’t last, although he wasn’t willing to give them a shelf life.

"Two hundred dollars a barrel could come in three, 10 or 20 years," he said. "Oil is a scarce commodity and it’s perishable. There will be a tipping point, and we will make the switch to more sustainable forms of energy.

"We will encounter really high oil prices again at some point. It’s going to happen. The moment will come."

Editor: dougcarrollByline: Doug CarrollByline Affiliation: University Relations - CommunicationsHeader image: YesNo Image: Subheading: Historical perspective, consumer impact and even predictions (gas prices won't stay low) are covered by a panel of three experts at the Eller College of Management.Include in UANow: yesInclude in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: noUANow Image: Includes video: 

Monster Black Hole Discovered at Cosmic Dawn

Tue, 02/24/2015 - 11:28pm

Embargoed until 1800 London time / 1300 US Eastern Time on 25 February 2015

Scientists have discovered the brightest quasar in the early universe, powered by the most massive black hole yet known at that time. The international team led by astronomers from Peking University in China and from the University of Arizona announce their findings in the scientific journal Nature on Feb. 26.

The discovery of this quasar, named SDSS J0100+2802, marks an important step in understanding how quasars, the most powerful objects in the universe, have evolved from the earliest epoch, only 900 million years after the Big Bang, which is thought to have happened 13.7 billion years ago. The quasar, with its central black hole mass of 12 billion solar masses and the luminosity of 420 trillion suns, is at a distance of 12.8 billion light-years from Earth.

The discovery of this ultraluminous quasar also presents a major puzzle to the theory of black hole growth at early universe, according to Xiaohui Fan, Regents' Professor of Astronomy at the UA's Steward Observatory, who co-authored the study.

"How can a quasar so luminous, and a black hole so massive, form so early in the history of the universe, at an era soon after the earliest stars and galaxies have just emerged?" Fan said. "And what is the relationship between this monster black hole and its surrounding environment, including its host galaxy?

"This ultraluminous quasar with its supermassive black hole provides a unique laboratory to the study of the mass assembly and galaxy formation around the most massive black holes in the early universe."

The quasar dates from a time close to the end of an important cosmic event that astronomers referred to as the "epoch of reionization”: the cosmic dawn when light from the earliest generations of galaxies and quasars is thought to have ended the "cosmic dark ages" and transformed the universe into how we see it today.

Discovered in 1963, quasars are the most powerful objects beyond our Milky Way galaxy, beaming vast amounts of energy across space as the supermassive black hole in their center sucks in matter from its surroundings. Thanks to the new generation of digital sky surveys, astronomers have discovered more than 200,000 quasars, with ages ranging from 0.7 billion years after the Big Bang to today.

Shining with the equivalent of 420 trillion suns, the new quasar is seven times brighter than the most distant quasar known (which is 13 billion years away). It harbors a black hole with mass of 12 billion solar masses, proving it to be the most luminous quasar with the most massive black hole among all the known high redshift (very distant) quasars.

"By comparison, our own Milky Way galaxy has a black hole with a mass of only 4 million solar masses at its center; the black hole that powers this new quasar is 3,000 time heavier," Fan said.

Feige Wang, a doctoral student from Peking University who is supervised jointly by Fan and Xue-Bing Wu at Peking University, the study's lead author, initially spotted this quasar for further study.

"This quasar was first discovered by our 2.4-meter Lijiang Telescope in Yunnan, China, making it the only quasar ever discovered by a 2-meter telescope at such distance, and we're very proud of it," Wang said. "The ultraluminous nature of this quasar will allow us to make unprecedented measurements of the temperature, ionization state and metal content of the intergalactic medium at the epoch of reionization."

Following the initial discovery, two telescopes in southern Arizona did the heavy lifting in determining the distance and mass of the black hole: the 8.4-meter Large Binocular Telescope, or LBT, on Mount Graham and the 6.5-meter Multiple Mirror Telescope, or MMT, on Mount Hopkins. Additional observations with the 6.5-meter Magellan Telescope in Las Campanas Observatory, Chile, and the 8.2-meter Gemini North Telescope in Mauna Kea, Hawaii, confirmed the results.

"This quasar is very unique," said Xue-Bing Wu, a professor of the Department of Astronomy, School of Physics at Peking University and the associate director of the Kavli Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics. "Just like the brightest lighthouse in the distant universe, its glowing light will help us to probe more about the early universe."

Wu leads a team that has developed a method to effectively select quasars in the distant universe based on optical and near-infrared photometric data, in particular using data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey and NASA’s Wide-Field Infrared Explorer, or WISE, satellite.

"This is a great accomplishment for the LBT," said Fan, who chairs the LBT Scientific Advisory Committee and also discovered the previous record holders for the most massive black hole in the early universe, about a fourth of the size of the newly discovered object. "The especially sensitive optical and infrared spectrographs of the LBT provided the early assessment of both the distance of the quasars and the mass of the black hole at the quasar's center." 

For Christian Veillet, director of the Large Binocular Telescope Observatory, or LBTO, this discovery demonstrates both the power of international collaborations and the benefit of using a variety of facilities spread throughout the world.

"This result is particularly gratifying for LBTO, which is well on its way to full nighttime operations," Veillet said. "While in this case the authors used two different instruments in series, one for visible light spectroscopy and one for near-infrared imaging, LBTO will soon offer a pair of instruments that can be used simultaneously, effectively doubling the number of observations possible in clear skies and ultimately creating even more exciting science."

To further unveil the nature of this remarkable quasar, and to shed light on the physical processes that led to the formation of the earliest supermassive black holes, the research team will carry out further investigations on this quasar with more international telescopes, including the Hubble Space Telescope and the Chandra X-ray Telescope. 

Editor: Daniel StolteWriter: Daniel StolteByline: Christian Veillet/LBTO and Daniel Stolte/University Relations – Communications Header image: YesNo Image: Subheading: In a paper in the journal Nature, researchers report the discovery of the brightest quasar in the early universe, powered by the most massive black hole yet known at that time.Include in UANow: yesInclude in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: noUANow Image: Includes video: 

Sea Level Spiked for Two Years Along NE North America

Mon, 02/23/2015 - 7:46pm

Sea levels from New York to Newfoundland jumped up about four inches in 2009 and 2010 because ocean circulation changed, a University of Arizona-led team reports in today's issue of Nature Communications.

The team was the first to document that the extreme increase in sea level lasted two years, not just a few months.

"The thing that stands out is the time extent of this event as well as the spatial extent of the event," said first author Paul Goddard, a UA doctoral candidate in geosciences.

Independent of any hurricanes or winter storms, the event caused flooding along the northeast coast of North America. Some of the sea level rise and the resulting flooding extended as far south as Cape Hatteras.

The paper is also the first to show that the unusual spike in sea level was a result of changes in ocean circulation.

Co-author Jianjun Yin, UA assistant professor of geosciences, said, "We are the first to establish the extreme sea level rise event and its connection with ocean circulation."

Goddard detected the two-year-long spike in sea level by reviewing monthly tide-gauge records, some of which went back to the early 1900s, for the entire Eastern Seaboard. No other two-year period from those records showed such a marked increase.

The team linked the spike to a change in the ocean’s Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation and also a change in part of the climate system known as the North Atlantic Oscillation.

The researchers then used computer climate models to project the probability of future spikes in sea level.

The team found that, at the current rate that atmospheric carbon dioxide is increasing, such extreme events are likely to occur more frequently, Goddard said.

Goddard’s and Yin’s research paper is titled "An Extreme Event of Sea Level Rise along the Northeast Coast of North America in 2009-10." Stephen Griffies and Shaoqing Zhang of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory in Princeton, New Jersey, are also co-authors. NOAA funded the research.

Yin’s previous work on climate models suggests that weakening of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation could cause sea levels to rise faster along the northeast coast of North America.

Yin wondered whether such sea level rise had actually been observed, so he asked Goddard to compile the tide-gauge records for the east coast of North America. The 40 gauges, spanning the coast from Key West, Florida, north to Newfoundland, have been recording sea levels as far back as the 1920s. 

Goddard’s work revealed a surprise — that during 2009 and 2010, sea level between New York and Newfoundland rose an average of four inches. Sea level from Cape Hatteras to New York also had a notable spike, though not as dramatic.

"The sea level rise of 2009-10 sticks out like a sore thumb for the Northeast," Goddard said.

His research also confirmed that, as others have reported, sea level has been gradually rising since the 1920s and that there is some year-to-year variation.

About the time Goddard finished analyzing the tide-gauge records, another group of researchers reported that the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, or AMOC, had a 30 percent decline in strength in 2009-10. Those researchers reported the decline started just two months before the tide gauges started recording the spike in sea level.

"To me, it was like putting together a puzzle," Goddard said.

The more he and his colleagues examined the timing of the AMOC downturn and the subsequent increase in sea level, the more it fit together, he said.

The AMOC brings warm water from the tropics and the southern Atlantic Ocean to the North Atlantic and the polar regions. The water then cools and sinks, eventually flowing south in the deep ocean. Yin’s climate model predicted that when the AMOC weakened, sea level in northeastern North America would rise. 

In addition to the weakening AMOC, during 2009-10 the region’s atmosphere was in a very negative phase of the climate mode called the North Atlantic Oscillation. The NAO flip-flops between negative and positive phases.

"The negative North Atlantic Oscillation changes the wind patterns along the northeast coast, so during the negative NAO the winds push water onto the northeast coast," Goddard said.

Although the NAO has resumed flipping between positive and negative states, observations show that the AMOC, while somewhat stronger, has still not recovered its previous strength.

Even now, sea level is still higher than before 2009, Yin said. He’s not surprised, because most of the climate models predict a weakening of the AMOC over the 21st century.

Yin said that at the current rate of increase in greenhouse gases, most climate models predict a weakening of the AMOC over the 21st century. Therefore, such extreme sea level rise events and coastal flooding are quite likely to occur along the densely populated northeast coast of North America more often. 

Editor: dougcarrollByline: Mari N. JensenByline Affiliation: UA College of ScienceHeader image: YesNo Image: Subheading: A four-inch increase in sea levels from New York to Newfoundland occurred in 2009 and 2010 because ocean circulation changed, reports a UA-led team of geoscientists.Include in UANow: yesInclude in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: noUANow Image: Includes video: 

Classroom Innovator: Dirk Mateer

Mon, 02/23/2015 - 5:52pm

A class that meets in a 2,500-seat concert hall? Can any learning come of that?

"Large lecture classes can be better than small classes," says Dirk Mateer, Gerry Swanson Chair in Economic Education in the Department of Economics at the UA’s Eller College of Management. Mateer has built a national reputation as an economics teacher, lauded for his ability to expose how economic phenomena underpin daily life through use of pop culture and interactive class exercises.

Mateer, along with Steve Reff and other teachers in the Department of Economics, leads the large sections of Economics 200 that serve not only pre-business students but others across the University — a total of 2,000 students last fall. The classroom: Centennial Hall.

"Large lectures present amazing opportunities for crowd sourcing and can be a bonding experience for students with the people around them," Mateer says. "It’s like going to a movie and laughing at the same thing with the rest of the audience."

Mateer joined the UA last fall from the University of Kentucky and was at Penn State before that. He started as a high school teacher of math and science before going on to earn his doctorate in economics at Florida State.

"Big classes can be made small," Mateer says. "The old model is that you lecture, the students take in information, and then you repeat."

He turned the model on its head.

"Faculty can be reluctant to give up control of the classroom," he says. "But you can leverage things that make a large class great, like communication, demos, getting the students up onstage and participating, and group work."

Pop culture became a component of Mateer’s approach in the 1990s, when he began using clips from the TV show "Seinfeld" to demonstrate economic principles.

"The neat part about it is that there are certain pieces of pop culture that transcend eras," he says. "Like the bank-run scene in 'It’s a Wonderful Life.' Or  'I Love Lucy,' which is still amazing. Now I use the economics of 'The Office' and I have a project that looks at the economics of 'The Big Bang Theory.'

"There’s always something new and fun. Connecting the language of economics to phenomena that people intuitively understand — this is my research."

Mateer and fellow UA economics professors Price Fishback and Mike Staten will conduct a panel discussion on Tuesday, Feb. 24, on the topic of "Plummeting Oil Prices — Good News or Bad?" The event will take place from 6 to 8 p.m. at McClelland Hall in Berger Auditorium (Room 207). Fishback will give a historical perspective, Staten will talk about the impact on consumers and Mateer will discuss how oil prices are determined. Admission is free.

Video Thumbnail: Category(s): Business and LawTeaching and StudentsYouTube Video:  Economics Professor Dirk Mateer commands Centennial Hall Video of Economics Professor Dirk Mateer commands Centennial Hall Feature Sticky: OffFeature on Front: NoMedium Summary: See how UA economics professor Dirk Mateer gets creative, making a big room seem small, in the latest installment of a periodic series on classroom innovation.UANow Image: Date of Publication: Monday, February 23, 2015Send to Never Settle Site: 0Includes video: 

Eggs With Attitude: The Behavior of Bluebirds

Mon, 02/23/2015 - 5:13pm

Depending on the level of competition they experience during nesting season, female bluebirds allocate different amounts of hormones into their eggs, producing sons that are more or less competitive, which in turn influences the dispersal behavior of subsequent generations, a team led by University of Arizona biologists has discovered.

"Mothers are uniquely positioned to be a bridge between current environmental conditions and the traits of their offspring," said Renée Duckworth, an assistant professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology in the UA College of Science. "This is one of those rare cases where we can see how these local behavioral interactions, which can be exceptionally variable, can lead to highly predictable ecological patterns on a large scale."

While scientists have long known that females of many animal species provide their offspring with much more than their genes — nutrients, hormones and other valuable ingredients for life — few examples have been documented in which the maternal contribution to offspring generation directly shapes their environment and interactions with other species on a large, landscape-wide level. 

The study, published in the journal Science, provides the first detailed understanding of how environmental conditions can directly influence behavioral patterns across generations, behaviors that in turn lead to one species replacing another in ecological communities.

Duckworth leads a research group that addresses how interactions among individuals scale up to affect broader ecological processes such as changes in species assemblages.

"We want to know how understanding the lower-level mechanisms help you make sense of higher-level patterns as you go from the small scale of individuals interacting to the large scale of entire populations and landscapes," she said.

To find answers, the team studied populations of western bluebirds and mountain bluebirds, two closely related species that compete for nesting cavities in patches of forest recently ravaged by wildfires. Because bluebirds depend on those habitats as their prime nesting grounds, members of both species are in intense competition with each other and also with birds of other species looking to colonize the same spaces.  

Mountain and western bluebirds compete for nest cavities in post-fire forests — a successional habitat that lasts for roughly 20 bluebird generations. Bluebirds must be able to continually recolonize newly available post-fire habitat to survive. This leads to cycles of species replacement: Mountain bluebirds are more dispersive and find new habitat first, whereas western bluebirds are more aggressive and can displace other species once they show up. Once western bluebirds displace mountain bluebirds, they go through a rapid decline in aggressive behavior until the cycle is reset by fire.

"We had some evidence there was a maternal effect that influenced variation in aggression of offspring that we observed," Duckworth said. "We knew that if a son develops in eggs laid earlier, he is more aggressive compared to sons hatching from later eggs. But we didn't know why birth order influences aggression, and why mothers produce sons early or late."

Duckworth and her colleagues suspected that the mothers' response to different resource environments was driving these cycles in the post-fire habitats, but they needed to collect data from the individual all the way up to the population level at multiple populations across different stages of species replacement.

To determine how nest cavity resources influenced the maternal effects, the researchers separated the territories into two groups: one that had only a single nest cavity up for grabs, and randomly selected other territories, which they provided with additional nest boxes. They then recorded how the females behaved, as they were beleaguered by other bluebirds, wrens or tree-swallows, the most dominant competitor. During such competitive interactions, the researchers also measured hormonal allocation of these females into their developing eggs and the effects such allocation had on behavior of resulting offspring.

"If the bluebird females had only one cavity, they had to continuously fend off the other competitive species," Duckworth said. "But if they have a lot of nest cavities on their territory, they don’t fight as often because other species don't try to steal their primary nest cavity as much."

Establishing these behavioral differences was key to understanding how information about changes in resource availability could be transmitted to offspring.

Duckworth and her team studied hundreds of nests across populations that were at different stages during the population cycle and studied what maternal effects were at work at each stage. The scientists then combined that data with a long-term study done over 11 years and measured hormone allocation in the naturally varying bluebird populations.

They discovered that when western bluebirds experienced a lot of competition, they allocated more androgens to their clutches. As a result, sons hatching from these eggs were more aggressive and more likely to disperse farther and colonize new areas. Once there, they establish large territories and drive out resident populations of mountain bluebirds.

On the other hand, if the females experienced very little competition, they allocated low levels of androgens to eggs, producing "stay-at-home" sons that were less aggressive and more likely to obtain a territory near their parents' nest.

"The older a population, the more crowded it gets," Duckworth said. "This translates to smaller territory size, and that's OK if you have your relatives next to you, but not if you're facing fierce competition from strangers."

In the greater scheme of things, Duckworth's research has implications that go far beyond the world of ecological interactions.

"There is mounting evidence from medical research that the environment to which a pregnant mother is exposed can determine the stress response of the offspring for rest of its life," said Duckworth, who recently received a $750,000 CAREER grant, the National Science Foundation's most prestigious award in support of faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education, and the integration of education and research within the context of the mission of their organizations.

"We will use this support to follow up on results we obtained in this and in other studies," Duckworth said. "We are excited to start looking at eco-evolutionary dynamics in this system, which is how changes in behavior are driven by rapid evolutionary changes or demographic effects.

"There is a heritable variation in and natural selection on aggression in this system, and our goal is to see how maternal effects play into the mix and to tease apart the relative importance of all of these in long-term evolution."

Editor: dougcarrollWriter: Daniel StolteByline: Daniel StolteByline Affiliation: University Relations – CommunicationsHeader image: YesNo Image: Subheading: Mother bluebirds influence their male chicks while they are still in the egg, thus shaping the ecological communities in which they will live, a UA-led research team reports in a paper published in the journal Science.Include in UANow: yesInclude in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: noUANow Image: Includes video: 

Helping Computers See Like People

Mon, 02/23/2015 - 10:10am

If you've ever posted a photo on Facebook of yourself and a group of friends, you've probably seen a prompt asking if you'd like to tag yourself or specific friends in the image.

Using facial recognition technology, Facebook is able to identify who is in the photo and suggest which of your friends appear.

This is just one example of how computers "see." And while the science is still imperfect, researchers hope that, one day, computers may be able to see as well as humans.

University of Arizona cognitive scientist Mary Peterson is one researcher who is working to improve computer vision as part of a national, multidisciplinary team.  

Peterson, who studies human vision, is a professor and director of the UA's Cognitive Science Program and also a professor of psychology in the College of Science's School of Mind, Brain and Behavior.

She and five collaborators from four partner institutions — Stanford University, the University of Illinois, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of California, Berkeley — have been awarded a three-year, $4.5 million grant from the Office of Naval Research for a project designed to improve computer vision. At the end of the three years, the project may be eligible for a two-year, $3 million extension.

The grant was awarded through the Office of Naval Research's Multi University Research Initiative, which aims to bring together scientists across institutions and disciplines to collaborate on scientific challenges.

Led by principal investigator and computer vision scientist Fei-Fei Li at Stanford, the research team includes two computer vision scientists and four researchers who study mammalian vision.

Peterson's portion of the research, funded at $750,000, will focus on better understanding the role of feedback connections in the way humans see, with hopes that those findings may be able to help improve computer vision.

"Computer vision scientists, for quite a number of years now, have been having competitions every year, and their goal is to have computer vision be as good as human vision," Peterson said. "Every year they come closer to that goal."

But there is still work to be done. While computers do well at reading things like faces, QR codes or satellite images, they struggle with deciphering very complex images or crowded scenes, Peterson explained. For example, if a person's face is partially obstructed by an object, like a wall, the computer may not be able to tell where the face ends and the wall begins.

"The idea is that if we understand more about how human vision does it, and in particular how human vision uses feedback connections, then one might be able to improve computer vision," Peterson said.

In human vision, when light enters the eye, it is absorbed by receptors on the back of the retina and then it's translated into neurosignals that follow a pathway from the back of the eye up into higher levels of the brain. For many years, scientists thought that conscious perception occurred when the signals hit a certain place in that pathway, making visual perception something of a "one-way street" — the result of a feed-forward connection, Peterson said.

Scientists later discovered that wherever a feed-forward connection occurs in the brain, there is also a feedback connection, with signals traveling in the other direction. There is some evidence that those feedback connections also may be critical to the vision process, yet it is unclear what their exact role is. That's what Peterson hopes to find out.

Peterson will work with undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral students in her UA lab to conduct computer-based behavioral tests and functional magnetic resonance imaging with study participants. She also will work with her collaborator at the University of Illinois to use transcranial magnetic stimulation to better understand what happens in the brain during visual processing.

"What we're going to be testing in our studies are those places in particular where computer vision has a problem and/or those places where we think feedback connections might be really critically important," she said. "We're going to try to get really good evidence and then we'll be able to say to the computer vision scientists: 'Here's what the feedback seems to be doing, and if you implement this in your models we predict that you will come much closer to human vision.'"

Peterson, who plans to meet with collaborators several times throughout the project, said she is excited about the multidisciplinary nature of the research.

"By pulling together people who work on an issue or who are concerned about an issue but are not at the same institution, you can pull together different expertise, different methods, different approaches and maybe even different starting assumptions for a really wonderful multidisciplinary project," she said. "We're going to be challenging each other as we work together, and we'll ask the hard questions of each other and push each other to do even more research."

Editor: dougcarrollWriter: Alexis BlueByline: Alexis BlueByline Affiliation: University Relations - CommunicationsHeader image: YesNo Image: Subheading: UA cognitive scientist Mary Peterson, who studies human vision, will work with collaborators from four partner institutions, funded by an Office of Naval Research grant.Include in UANow: yesInclude in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: noUANow Image: Includes video: 

School of Anthropology Celebrates Centennial

Fri, 02/20/2015 - 5:40pm

The University of Arizona School of Anthropology will celebrate its centennial throughout 2015 with a range of special events, including lectures and social occasions for alumni and the general public.

Diane Austin, the school’s director, says the centennial activities are intended to connect alumni and friends to the school and to illuminate the diversity and relevance of the work conducted by the school’s faculty and students.

"The centennial is a unique opportunity to celebrate and reflect on our past and look ahead to the future," Austin says.

Fittingly, the School of Anthropology's centennial kickoff was held at the Arizona State Museum in January. In 1915, Byron Cummings assumed the directorship of the museum and became the first professor of archaeology at the UA. At the time, the University had 70 faculty members and 463 students.

The Department of Archaeology expanded quickly. By 1932, the department included cultural, linguistic, biological and applied anthropologists. In 1937, Emil W. Haury became its head and changed its name to the Department of Anthropology to reflect its breadth. Today, the school has more than 120 graduate students and 300 undergraduates and is housed in the Emil W. Haury Building. (Read more about the school’s history here.)

The school's centennial will celebrate its rich and varied history and accomplishments with lectures, festivals, a community walk, field trips, an exhibit in the UA Libraries’ Special Collections and much more. Themes that will be highlighted during the year include “The Mediterranean: Bridging Old and New Worlds” (Feb. 27 and 28); “Anthropology of Food and Nutrition: Linking the Subfields” (April 23–25); and “Anthropology in Our Community: Celebrating Diversity” (Oct. 8–11).

Several of the events will be held in partnership with organizations such as the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona, the Pima County Public Library, the Southwest Folklife Alliance, the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and Native Seeds/SEARCH. The year culminates with a gala in December.

As part of its celebration, the school is constructing a social network model showing the many links of its faculty and graduates with organizations and universities around the world. The project, called Centennial Connections, explores the global impact of UA anthropology.

A History of Excellence

From its humble beginning in 1915, the School of Anthropology has grown into one of the top anthropology programs in the country and is consistently ranked in the top five. One of the oldest and most prestigious units on campus, the school has over the years given birth to the University of Arizona Press, the Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research, the Department of Geosciences, the Department of American Indian Studies, the Southwest Center and more.

The school’s faculty is recognized internationally and includes four Regents’ Professors (Mark Nichter, John Olsen, David Soren and Mary Stiner), a Distinguished Outreach Professor (Austin) and a MacArthur Fellow (Brackette Williams). Several faculty members hold endowed chairs: the Nicholas and Athena Karabots Professor of Greek Archaeology is David Romano; the Fred A. Reicker Professor of Anthropology is Steven Kuhn; the Agnese Nelms Haury Professor is Takeshi Inomata; and the Agnese Nelms Haury Fellow is Maribel Alvarez.

"The School of Anthropology is helping our community, Arizona and the world better understand humanity," Austin says. "Our practical application of anthropology to problems of human health and medicine, language and cultural preservation and revitalization, and migration and settlement in the face of environmental change are making a difference in the lives of people around the world."

Current research being conducted by faculty in the School of Anthropology includes:

  • Bridging archaeological science and Native American traditional knowledge (T.J. Ferguson)
  • Landscapes and environments as they were when they were first populated and how they evolved under human influence (Vance Holliday)
  • Regional identities in Italy following the collapse of Roman rule (Emma Blake)
  • Treatment for tobacco dependence (Mark and Mimi Nichter)
  • Impact of environmental degradation on prehistoric societies (John Olsen)
  • Women’s reproductive and psychosocial health (Ivy Pike)
  • The rising Chinese middle class (Qing Zhang)
  • Adoption of agriculture and its consequences in the U.S. Southwest and northwest Mexico (Barbara Mills)
  • Infant care among primates (Stacey Tecot)
  • Improving livelihood assistance in sub-Saharan Africa (Mamadou Baro)
  • Land use politics in Arizona and the Southwest (Tom Sheridan)
Editor: dougcarrollByline Affiliation: University Relations - CommunicationsWhat: "The Mediterranean: Bridging Old & New Worlds"Where: UA School of AnthropologyWhen: Feb. 27Extra Info: 

10 a.m.-noon — Tours of the Arizona State Museum, Emil W. Haury Laboratories, the Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research and the Accelerator Mass Spectrometry Laboratory. Sign up here.

2-4 p.m. — Panel discussion, "From Dispersal to Diaspora: 50,000 Years of Mobility Around the Mediterranean." Emil W. Haury Building, Room 216.

Header image: YesNo Image: Subheading: Several events are planned throughout the year, with the Arizona State Museum serving as a hub of festivities. The school's faculty includes four Regents' Professors, a Distinguished Outreach Professor and a MacArthur Fellow.Include in UANow: yesInclude in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: noUANow Image: Includes video: 

Best View Yet of a Young Planet's Dusty Home

Thu, 02/19/2015 - 1:02pm

Using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, a team led by UA astronomers Daniel Apai and Glenn Schneider has obtained the most detailed picture to date of a large, edge-on, gas-and-dust disk encircling the 20-million-years-old star Beta Pictoris. This gigantic disk extends more than 20 times the diameter of the planetary orbits in our solar system and has been known for its complex structure, possibly shaped by one or more massive planets.

The new images show a complex disk structure in the inner disk, previously unexplored in visible light. The images allow astronomers to study the structure of the dust disk down to the close-in orbit of the planet, which is important to test whether the planet has shaped the disk. The UA astronomers find that the inner disk structure is similar to the predictions of numerical models, in which a single planet deforms the disk.

Beta Pictoris remains the only directly imaged debris disk that has a giant planet, discovered in 2009. Because the planet's orbital period is comparatively short — estimated to be between 18 and 22 years — astronomers can see large motion in just a few years. This allows scientists to study how the Beta Pictoris disk is distorted by the presence of a massive planet embedded within the disk.

The new visible-light Hubble image traces the disk closer to the star to within about 650 million miles of the star (which is inside the radius of Saturn's orbit about the sun).

"Some computer simulations predicted a complicated structure for the inner disk due to the gravitational pull by the short-period giant planet," said Apai, an assistant professor with joint appointments in the UA Department of Astronomy/Steward Observatory and UA's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory. "The new images reveal the inner disk and confirm the predicted structures. This finding validates models, which will help us to deduce the presence of other exoplanets in other disks."

The gas-giant planet in the Beta Pictoris system was directly imaged in infrared light by the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope six years ago.

When comparing the latest Hubble images to Hubble images taken in 1997, astronomers find that the disk's dust distribution has barely changed over 15 years despite the fact that the entire structure is orbiting the star like a carousel. This means the disk's structure is smoothly continuous in the direction of its rotation on the timescale, roughly, of the accompanying planet's orbital period.

In 1984, Beta Pictoris was the very first star discovered to host a bright disk of light-scattering circumstellar dust and debris. Since then, Beta Pictoris has been an object of intensive scrutiny with Hubble and with ground-based telescopes. Hubble spectroscopic observations in 1991 found evidence for extrasolar comets frequently falling into the star.

The disk is easily seen because it is tilted edge-on and is especially bright because of a very large amount of starlight-scattering dust. What's more, at 63 light-years, Beta Pictoris is closer to Earth than most of the other known disk systems.

Although nearly all of the approximately two dozen known light-scattering circumstellar disks have been viewed by Hubble to date, Beta Pictoris is the first and best example of what a young planetary system looks like, according to the researchers.

One thing astronomers recently have learned about circumstellar debris disks is that their structure, and amount of dust, is incredibly diverse and may be related to the locations and masses of planets in those systems.

"The Beta Pictoris disk is the prototype for circumstellar debris systems, but it may not be a good archetype," said co-author Schneider.

For one thing, the Beta Pictoris disk is exceptionally dusty. This may be due to recent major collisions among unseen planetary-size and asteroid-size bodies embedded within it. In particular, a bright lobe of dust and gas on the southwestern side of the disk may be the result of the pulverization of a Mars-size body in a giant collision.

Both the 1997 and 2012 images were taken in visible light with Hubble's Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph in its coronagraphic imaging mode. A coronagraph blocks out the glare of the central star so that the disk can be seen.

Editor: dougcarrollWriter: Daniel StolteByline: Ray Villard and Daniel StolteByline Affiliation: Space Telescope Science Institute and University Relations - CommunicationsHeader image: YesNo Image: Subheading: New images show a complex structure in the inner disk, previously unexplored in visible light, and even hint at the possible aftermath of the pulverization of a Mars-size body in a giant collision.Include in UANow: yesInclude in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: noUANow Image: Includes video: 

Nasal Spray Could Help in Understanding Grief

Thu, 02/19/2015 - 12:05pm

Most of us know what it's like to lose a loved one. With loss comes a veritable smorgasbord of emotional turmoil and a long period of grieving as we struggle to come to terms with the drastic change. 

While most grieving adults gradually adjust to their loss, about 10-15 percent of people develop what is known as complicated grief. Sufferers experience persistent intense yearning, emotional pain and an inability to carry out the normal functions of daily life long after their loved one has passed. 

The key to understanding the biological mechanism underlying complicated grief may lie in the neuropeptide hormone oxytocin, commonly implicated in facilitating social bonding and maternal behavior. University of Arizona psychologist Mary-Frances O'Connor has received a $200,000 grant from the Dana Foundation to study oxytocin's role in complicated grief and its potential to reverse associated symptoms.

"We are very interested in the way emotion and physiology interact," said O'Connor, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology. "In complicated grief, people become more vulnerable to illness. We want to know what's going on physiologically that is preventing a normal healing process from occurring."

Adults who recently have lost a spouse or a child represent the majority of people who develop complicated grief. O'Connor and her team plan to use functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, to study the brains of 40 such adults and determine whether intranasally administered oxytocin changes their experience of grief and their neural responses.

In previous neuroimaging studies, O'Connor found that people who were experiencing signs of complicated grief exhibited higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol. They also showed greater activity in a brain region called the nucleus accumbens when looking at a picture of their recently deceased spouse, compared to those who were experiencing a typical grieving process.  

The nucleus accumbens is typically associated with motivation and reward, both of which are relevant to symptoms of complicated grief. O'Connor thinks that abnormally low levels of oxytocin bound to receptors in the nucleus accumbens during bereavement may be responsible.

"Neurons in the nucleus accumbens express oxytocin receptors, and oxytocin has also been shown to inhibit the action of cortisol," O'Connor explained. "These facts and our findings suggest complicated grief may in fact be a state of oxytocin dysregulation."

Participants in the study will receive an oxytocin or saline intranasal spray before one fMRI scan, and get the other spray as a control when they come back for a second scan. O'Connor and her team then will use the neuroimaging data to determine if there are any differences in the levels of nucleus accumbens activity after oxytocin administration. The team also will ask participants to detail their emotional experiences when viewing a picture of their deceased spouse under both conditions. 

Previous experiments have shown that the positive psychological effects resulting from intranasal oxytocin, which generally include reports of increased calm and contentment, are short-term, lasting only about 20 to 30 minutes. For this reason, O'Connor emphasized that nasal oxytocin is meant to elucidate the biological mechanisms underlying complicated grief, not serve as long-term therapy. 

If oxytocin does reduce signs of complicated grief and O'Connor's hypothesis is confirmed, she and her team will next try to understand why oxytocin is deficient in people who develop complicated grief. O'Connor hopes that her findings may eventually lead to potential therapies for those in need. 

"If we can confirm and understand the relationship between the action of oxytocin and symptoms of complicated grief, we might be able to develop methods of stimulating natural oxytocin production and release in individuals who are suffering," O'Connor said.

Editor: dougcarrollWriter: Raymond SanchezByline: Raymond Sanchez, NASA Space Grant internByline Affiliation: University Relations – CommunicationsHeader image: YesNo Image: Subheading: The hormone oxytocin, to be used in a study, is thought to play a role in the experience of complicated grief, according to Arizona psychologist Mary-Frances O'Connor. Include in UANow: yesInclude in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: noUANow Image: Includes video: