New documentary tells story of Sun Devils' perseverance, achievement

July 17, 2014

In 2004, an unlikely group of students from Carl Hayden High School in Phoenix, Arizona – located in an underrepresented, economically challenged part of the city – made national news when they beat out Massachusetts Institute of Technology and other colleges to win a national robotics competition.

Now the story of those students, including Arizona State University alumnus Oscar Vasquez, is being told in a new documentary film, “Underwater Dreams.” The film has already had premieres in Los Angeles and New York City, and will be premiering in Phoenix beginning July 18 at the AMC Arizona Center. "Underwater Dreams" movie poster Download Full Image

Since he was young, Vazquez had dreamed of attending ASU to pursue a college education. “I fell in love with ASU during a middle school field trip, with all the cool stuff they had. I never gave up the idea of getting a degree,” Vazquez says.

And in May 2009, he did just that. Vazquez listened to President Barack Obama's historic commencement speech, as he spoke to ASU graduates about making a difference and pursuing their dreams, no matter the obstacles – something he knew plenty about.

Later, Vazquez was also able to fulfill his other dream of joining the U.S. Army. He became a paratrooper, serving in Afghanistan for 10 months, and was granted citizenship at the close of basic training. He and his wife now live at Fort Richardson in Alaska with their two children.

Vazquez’ story is one of perseverance and achievement. “Underwater Dreams” revisits that story, highlighting how he and his classmates forged a legacy that continues to inspire students to this day.

Other notable Carl Hayden High School students who went on to achieve great things at ASU include: Angelica Hernandez, recent outstanding graduate of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering; Ingrid Tay, a mechanical engineering graduate currently working for Microchip Technology Inc in Chandler, Arizona; and Mabel Munoz, a recent biomedical engineering graduate.

Faridodin "Fredi" Lajvardi and Allan Cameron, both Carl Hayden teachers and mentors to Vazquez’ robotics team, are also graduates of ASU.

For more information on tickets and pricing, or to view the trailer, click here.

To read a full profile on Vazquez, access the ASU Magazine article on him here.

Emma Greguska

Editor, ASU News

(480) 965-9657

ASU professor speaks to Congress about supporting synthetic biology research

July 18, 2014

Karmella Haynes was among scientists and engineers to address national leaders at a recent U.S. Congressional briefing on issues raised by the emerging field of synthetic biology.

Haynes is an assistant professor in the School of Biological and Health Systems Engineering, one of Arizona State University’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. She is among educators and researchers using synthetic biology techniques in pursuit of solutions to many of society’s major biotechnology and medical challenges. Haynes at Congress briefing Download Full Image

The field combines biological sciences and engineering in designing and creating new manufactured biological systems and devices, as well as redesigning existing natural biological systems to maintain and enhance human health.

Researchers are using the capabilities of synthetic biology to probe the fundamental makeup of biological systems, enabling them to do things such as modifying and reprogramming body cells and DNA to perform medicinal functions. Such techniques are also being used in plant biology to enhance agriculture.

The rapid advance of synthetic biology has prompted discussions about how to weigh the benefits of the research against potential social and ethical implications, and concerns about safety.

Haynes and two colleagues – Steve Evans and Jay Keasling – gave presentations on those questions to staff members representing members of Congress, National Science Foundation officials, science journalists and other interested parties.

Evans is a research fellow at Dow AgroSciences, a part of the Dow Chemical Company that focuses on sustainable agriculture.

Keasling is the chief executive officer of the Joint BioEnergy Institute, assistant director at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab and a professor of biochemical engineering at the University of California, Berkeley. He is also director of the National Science Foundation-supported Synthetic Biology Engineering Research Center (SynBERC), which helped to organize the Congressional briefing. Haynes is an affiliate researcher with SynBERC.

The speakers stressed the importance of increasing public awareness of synthetic biology as a way to foster confidence about the methods and the goals of researchers. “We want to inform more people to prevent unfounded fears that might hinder work that has great value for addressing society’s needs,” Haynes said after the briefing.

The audience was also told it will be increasingly important to have experts in the field working with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration to help keep government regulations up to date on rules related to biological research and biotechnology development. Current regulations “need to be more aligned with technology that is coming from synthetic biology,” Haynes said.

Arizona State University “was highly visible” at the briefing, she said, due particularly to talk about the Workshop on Research Agendas in the Societal Aspects of Synthetic Biology to be hosted by ASU in November.

“We hope we convinced everyone at the briefing that sustained support for biomedical engineering is in the best interests of the nation,” Haynes said.

Joe Kullman

Science writer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering