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'A' Mountain goes blue for a good cause

April 16, 2020

ASU, city of Tempe paint iconic letter blue to honor health care workers, first responders during COVID-19 crisis

Editor’s note:  This story is being highlighted in ASU Now’s year in review. Read more top stories from 2020.

We know why the sky is blue. But why is the ASU "A" blue?

Arizona State University and the city of Tempe joined together Thursday to salute health care workers and first responders by painting the legendary “A” on “A” Mountain blue as part of the Light AZ Blue initiative.

First responders and health care workers are working diligently to support the community during the COVID-19 crisis. In solidarity and to show appreciation and support, ASU and Tempe painted the “A” on Hayden Butte, deviating from its traditional colors.

Gov. Doug Ducey announced this week that buildings and structures around the state would be lit blue as a symbol of support for Arizona’s frontline medical workers. Other landmarks around Tempe, the Valley and state are being lit blue, including Tempe City Hall, Valley Metro’s light rail bridge over Tempe Town Lake and the State Farm buildings at Town Lake. Other participating cities, businesses and organizations are sharing photos of the tributes on social media with the hashtag #LightAZBlue.

“We wanted to help do something to show our support for all the health care professionals and first responders working tirelessly to care for us during these times,” said Christine K. Wilkinson, president and CEO of the ASU Alumni Association. “ASU has committed many resources to fight this pandemic including developing a high-speed robotic system to process test kits, producing personal protective equipment and forming research groups dedicated to finding COVID-19 solutions. Painting the ‘A’ blue gives us another opportunity to show our gratitude to all those working on the front lines during this pandemic.”    

Historically, ASU and the city of Tempe only allow for the “A” to be painted gold with the exception of ASU’s annual Echo From The Buttes event, where the “A” is painted white to mark the start of the school year.  

In step with physical distancing and mask recommendations, the iconic gold “A” was transitioned to blue with the help of the following team:

• Tempe Mayor Mark Mitchell.

• ASU Foundation representative and Tempe City Councilmember Arlene Chin.

• Tempe Fire Medical Rescue Chief Greg Ruiz.

• ASU Alumni Association representatives Tonya Gray and Douglas Owczarczak.

“The city of Tempe is proud to partner with ASU to pay tribute to the incredible people at the front lines of managing the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic,” Mitchell said. “They are selflessly giving their skills and so many hours — and in the process, they’re giving all of us hope and the promise of better days ahead.” 

The symbolic gesture of support was also made possible by Dunn Edwards, which donated 10 gallons of blue paint.

Community members can show their appreciation of health care workers and first responders, too. Using appropriate physical distancing, walk up “A” Mountain and take your photo with the “A.” Post your photo and your thanks on social media using #lightazblue.  

Top photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Tracking a silent killer

ASU professor receives major award for work in heat mitigation

April 16, 2020

Ariane Middel is from a small village in western Germany where the weather is generally cold and rainy. When she moved to Phoenix in 2009 to do her postdoc at Arizona State University, her original focus was on water modeling research.

“Most things you’d do to increase people’s comfort in the desert involve water,” Middel said. “Water is tightly connected with temperature and people’s comfort.” ASU professor Ariane Middel has received an NSF CAREER award for her research in the field of urban climate. ASU Professor Ariane Middel has received an NSF CAREER award for her research in the field of urban climate. Download Full Image

But once Middel spent some time in Phoenix, she realized that she was more interested in the climate and in heat, and she switched her focus to a field called “urban climate.”

“As we build cities, we bring in all these artificial materials such as asphalt and concrete,” Middel explained. “And as we change those surfaces, we change the thermal property of the city, and that has an impact on our local climate.”

Now Middel, an assistant professor in the School of Arts, Media and Engineering and in the School of Computing, Informatics and Decision Systems Engineering, has been awarded an NSF CAREER award to further pursue her research in the SHaDE lab, which looks at heat from a human perspective.

The panel that reviewed her work particularly valued Middel’s integration of research and education, with K–12 outreach and a special focus on attracting women to STEM fields, and the academia-practitioner partnerships she is building with cities in the Valley.

“The proposed research will help us understand how people experience heat by including other atmospheric variables, such as mean radiant temperature (MRT),” Middel said. “MRT represents the heat load on a human body and varies significantly if somebody is standing in the shade or sun. We will use an innovative mobile sensor platform called “MaRTy” to measures how people experience heat in Phoenix and Los Angeles.”

heat-sensing robot

MaRTy, a mobile heat-sensor.

“MaRTy is a fairly expensive setup,” Middel added. “It’s a $20,000 cart. As part of this project, we’re trying to build some low-cost versions of this cart that we call MaRTiny. These tiny versions of the MaRTy will be more like $120. Very affordable.”

"Professor Middel's research has been nationally and internationally recognized for increasing our understanding of urban climates,” said Pavan Turaga, interim director of the School of Arts, Media and Engineering. “The knowledge she has generated is of great value to policymakers and urban planners. Specifically, the work will result in new planning recommendations for the next generation of livable cities, with special emphasis on modulating and mitigating the human experience of heat. Her work is already being deployed in Phoenix and Los Angeles as well in cities across the world, such as Kolkata and Tokyo. In the longer term, her work will influence lives in urban centers across the world, many of which are grappling with the effects of thermal extremes."

It was after Middel moved to Phoenix, she said, that she understood heat as an invisible hazard that urban desert dwellers have to live with.

“Heat is the No. 1 weather-related killer in the U.S. It’s not like an earthquake or a flood or something disastrous that comes in and kills people. It’s this silent killer. There are a lot of people who are not going to be fine (in the heat) because they can’t afford to run AC. For those people, it’s really important to investigate how urban form and design can be used to mitigate heat.”

Middel says the city of Tempe, among others, has been an active collaborator in assessing parks and other public areas. Her hope is that the cities can use the findings from her research to inform their design guidelines for the amount of shade a path or a playground should have.

“I am very excited about this project,” Middel said, “because it can actually lead to change in our communities. I really hope that outcomes of this project will not just collect dust on a shelf but will lead to actionable best practices for urban infrastructure management and human-centric heat hazard mitigation.”

Middel credits ASU with offering her “a vibrant research and education space” in the School of Arts, Media and Engineering, a collaboration between the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts and the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

“It’s this place where boundaries between traditional domains disappear,” she said, “a transdisciplinary melting pot for innovation right in the center of engineering and the arts.”

Deborah Sussman

Communications and media specialist, Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts