Humanities Lab students continue to leave lasting marks at ASU, in greater community

January 10, 2022

Have you ever thought about the amount of single-use plastic cutlery disposed of daily on the ASU Tempe campus? How about in a semester? Or a year?

During the fall 2021 semester, seven students from the Humanities Lab Food, Health and Climate Change pitched a table adjacent to the Memorial Union and eagerly handed out metal “sporks” to students, faculty, staff and ASU community members. In exchange for the sporks, participants traded a few minutes of their time to complete a digital survey easily accessed through the scan of a QR code.  This image is of a team of six students, 3 female and 3 male holding reusable cutlery. Humanities Lab, Food Health and Climate Change students launch a plastic reduction campaign on ASU's Tempe Campus. Photo by Maureen Kobierowski Download Full Image

The student-designed survey was a carefully planned research initiative stemming from the course and created to collect data for a research-based project to reduce campus waste, improve eating habits and contribute to ASU’s Zero Waste initiative that boldly announces, “ASU will be Zero Waste by 2025.” The sporks distribution was made possible through a unique Humanities Lab grant funded by the course’s faculty members, Joni Adamson from the Department of English and Rimjhim Aggarwal from the School of Sustainability.

The survey included questions such as: How often do you purchase food on campus? Are you familiar with ASU's Zero Waste initiative and its goals? If you were given a set of reusable flatware today, would you use it when eating on campus?

More than 160 responses were collected in less than two hours, providing rich data points about participants’ habits and levels of motivation. The team learned that 59% of participants would be willing to use the reusable cutlery every day, 39.8% stated that they would use it “sometimes” and just 1.2% did not think that being provided reusable flatware would be something that they would use when eating on campus.

The "Sporks Up" team of Sebastian Ching, John Stachnik, Madison Canon, Mitsuki Tanigaki, Parker Phillips, Jasmin Otto and Eliana Burns was pleased with the initial data and how they were able to participate in collaborative research and have an impact in the greater ASU community. 

“Our surveys showed a majority of students were commuter students who ate on campus one to two times per week and would typically use single-use plastic utensils provided by the establishment they purchased from,” said second-year finance major Ching, who, together with his teammates, learned that “98.8% of surveyed students and faculty, (said) they would be willing to switch to reusable utensils if provided by the university.”

"Before working in this lab, I can honestly say I was not very conscious of the environment around me and did not focus on how my actions could be more sustainable," said Stachnik, a junior business entrepreneurship major from the "Sporks Up" team. "After being part of the lab, I (began to) prioritize things such as recycling and eliminating the amount of food we waste."

He said he wanted to be part of the lab because “it (was) a great opportunity to have a positive impact on the community around me by encouraging a more sustainable environment," with his favorite aspect of the lab being the opportunity to “(work) with people from different backgrounds and (learn) how to better work in a group setting."

“Our Humanities Lab students and faculty are breaking the boundaries of traditional pedagogical models."

— Juliann Vitullo, Humanities Lab co-director

Faculty members from the lab had similar sentiments, including Adamson, who shared that she had never had the opportunity to co-teach before this Humanities Lab experience, despite having worked for nearly 20 years in the interdisciplinary environmental humanities at ASU.

Aggarwal, co-faculty for the lab, shared that teaching the lab was an “enriching experience” that “led to the kinds of conversations I have never had in my own classes related to the historical roots of conditions we are facing today.”

“Our Humanities Lab students and faculty are breaking the boundaries of traditional pedagogical models," said Juliann Vitullo, Humanities Lab co-director. "They are developing transdisciplinary, entrepreneurial and creative solutions that address some of our community’s and our world’s most pressing problems. By giving lab teams the opportunity and the tools to develop collaborative, research-based approaches to complex challenges, students experience what kinds of positive changes they are truly capable of creating now — and as they move into the world beyond ASU.”

“This project has been such a delight by getting me involved with other like-minded students who feel the need to help our community," Ching said. "I’ve touched up on my presentation and public speaking skills through our many public presentations. I am most excited to see how much plastic waste we can reduce by offering a reusable option.”

Several members of the "Sporks Up" team will continue to work in the spring 2022 semester through the Humanities Lab’s Beyond the Lab program. 

“We are thrilled to have this team moving forward and continuing to pursue their interests in plastic reduction on campus. They have put forth an exciting set of proposals that stand to make a significant long-term contribution to the ASU community’s sustainable practices and will provide a template for other institutions to reproduce the initiative,” said Heather Switzer, Humanities Lab co-director.

This outcome is one of many that were developed across five different Humanities Labs that ran during the course of the fall 2021 semester.

Other far-reaching public outcomes were presented in the Epidemic Emergences Lab, co-taught by faculty members Cora Fox and Jenny Brian, and the Deconstructing Race Lab, co-taught by faculty members Isaac Joslin and Yeukai Mlambo

One Deconstructing Race Lab team, amongst many, created an impact outcome within the digital gaming community. After a semester-long inquiry into the transnational construction (and deconstruction) of race as a social category and lived experience, David Jaulus, Claire Hetrick, Edwin Wong and Anthony Rosas culminated their research for the course by organizing and hosting an expert panel to speak on the topic of racial representation in video games.

The recorded public event took place over Zoom, with an option to attend in person.

“(This was) one of the best panel conversations I have listened to, ever,” shared Mlambo in a social media post on the Humanities Lab’s Instagram. “This show needs to go on the road. Such an amazing group of humans with so much wisdom to share. Great way to close out our lab!”

Co-faculty member Joslin said that the lab “truly was a collaborative effort” in which he was “happy to have played a part.”

Epidemic Emergences students, after a semester engaged in epidemic research and thoughtful course conversations about their own and their communities' experiences living through the COVID-19 pandemic, also took their messages of intervention into the ASU community. 

After running a five-day Instagram takeover campaign on the Humanities Lab’s social media account, on Nov. 29, students in the lab set up five tables across the ASU Student Pavilion outdoor patio. Each team communicated a different approach to COVID-19-related challenges that engaged questions of social justice and sustainability.

“Mask on the Floor No More” drew attention to the pervasive issue of face mask waste; “Queering Epidemics” partnered with Equality Arizona to record stories of “LGTBQ resilience and survival through times of public health crisis"; and “Background Noise: The Untold Stories of COVID,” a podcasting team, revealed the untold stories of the pandemic through the eyes of health care practitioners.

Another of the teams present at the Epidemic Emergences tabling event was “Immigrant Households and Barriers to Vaccination.” Having learned about the realities of vaccine hesitancy in marginalized communities through their lab research, including issues faced by those who are undocumented, students Jhanz Marco Garcia, Cyrus Eapen, Anthony Un and Darwin Cruz partnered with the COVID Latino project, and ASU professors in law, epidemiology and transborder studies to develop infographics and pamphlets that will be shared in clinics and centers across varying communities.

“Tailoring public health materials specifically for an immigrant group as a class project felt like a step in the right direction.”

– Jhanz Marco Garcia, Epidemic Emergences Lab student and sophomore majoring in anthropology

"I come from an immigrant family. I recognize many immigrants, specifically undocumented immigrants, do not receive the type of protections and benefits that citizens are privileged with in America. This makes it even more difficult for those trying to make a living in a country with a culture and language alien to that which they are accustomed,” said Marco Garcia, a sophomore majoring in anthropology.

He said that “tailoring public health materials specifically for an immigrant group as a class project felt like a step in the right direction,” sharing that the experience for him had been reaffirming that he was headed in the right direction from a career standpoint.

Speaking of her lab experience, Epidemic Emergences co-faculty member Fox said, “I have never taught a course that gave me more insight into the lives of ASU students and their communities. Using the laboratory model and allowing the students to influence the agenda for the course — asking them what mattered to them as people living through and emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic — we opened up new possibilities for collaborative exploration.”

Maureen Kobierowski

Program Coordinator, Humanities Lab


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ASU instrument captures breathtaking 'first light' images

January 10, 2022

The imaging system was built for NASA's Europa Clipper mission

ASU scientists and engineers building the Europa Thermal Emission Imaging System (E-THEMIS) for NASA’s Europa Clipper passed a major hurdle recently by capturing the first successful test images from this complex infrared camera, known as “first light” images.

Europa Clipper, a NASA mission to investigate Jupiter's moon Europa, is planned to launch in October 2024 and arrive at Jupiter in 2030. It will study this icy moon through a series of flybys while in orbit around Jupiter to investigate whether it could harbor conditions suitable for life.

E-THEMIS, which is led by Regents Professor Philip Christensen of Arizona State University’s School of Earth and Space Exploration, is an infrared camera designed to map Europa’s temperatures for the mission. These infrared images will help scientists seek clues about Europa’s activity, including regions where Europa’s suspected ocean may be near the surface.

“The surface of Europa is extremely cold, but the ocean underneath is warm, liquid water. If that water is coming near the surface through cracks and vents, E-THEMIS will see these warm regions and tell us where ocean water is closest to the surface,” Christensen said. “Even if water erupted onto the surface many years ago, the ice will still be warm. From these temperature images, E-THEMIS will provide an excellent opportunity to study the geologic activity of Europa.”

The “first light” E-THEMIS camera test images were taken from the rooftop of the Interdisciplinary Science and Technology Building 4 (ISTB4) on the ASU Tempe campus using a specially designed mobile cleanroom laboratory, which kept the camera safe from dust, microbes and aerosol particles.

“Our team spent months developing a portable clean lab to safely transport E-THEMIS to the roof of the building and collect data in a controlled environment,” Christensen said.

One of the most spectacular test images produced from E-THEMIS is a temperature image taken looking north from ISTB4. In stunning detail, the image clearly shows ASU’s Sun Devil Stadium and “A” Mountain, among other recognizable ASU landmarks. It is even possible to read details inside the stadium from the E-THEMIS instrument, based on temperature differences sensed from about 1.1 km (0.7 miles) away.

E-THEMIS temperature image shows ASU’s Sun Devil Stadium and “A” Mountain

Looking north from ISTB4, this E-THEMIS temperature image shows ASU’s Sun Devil Stadium and “A” Mountain, among other recognizable ASU landmarks. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU

View the full resolution image

“The instrument worked beautifully and is in excellent focus,” Christensen said.

During this test, the E‑THEMIS team also collected temperature images throughout the afternoon and early evening. When displayed in color, these images reveal how the temperature changes as evening approaches. The red, orange and yellow colors in the images indicate warmer temperatures due to heat and the infrared radiation being emitted. The purples and dark blues indicate cooler temperatures, with less heat and infrared radiation emitted.

While the temperatures are approximations during this testing phase, the progression of cooler colors (purples and blues) from afternoon to evening in the three images, acquired at 12:40 p.m., 4:40 p.m. and 6:20 p.m., after sunset, illustrate how the infrared camera detected surface temperatures transitioning from warmer in the afternoon to cooler after sunset.

E-themis colored image of A Mountain

E-THEMIS temperature color image from the “first light” test, taken from the rooftop of ISTB4 on the ASU Tempe campus. The top image was acquired at 12:40 p.m., the middle at 4:40 p.m. and the bottom image at 6:20 p.m. (after sunset). Temperatures are approximations during this testing phase. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU

With this successful “first light” testing of E-THEMIS, the next step for the team is to begin the environmental testing to ensure that E-THEMIS will survive launch and operate as intended in space.

“Launch is one of the most stressful periods for any spacecraft or instrument, and we want to make sure E-THEMIS will survive, so we will put it through a rigorous set of vibration tests to simulate the launch conditions,” Christensen said. “We will also test it in a vacuum chamber to make sure it will work properly in the vacuum of space.”

And until at least late March 2022, visitors to the Gallery of Scientific Exploration on the first floor of ISTB4 can watch the E-THEMIS team hard at work in ASU’s cleanrooms. In addition to Christensen, the engineering team includes Greg Mehall, Saadat Anwar, Heather Bowles, Courtnie Besich, Zoltan Farkas, Andrew Holmes, Ian Kubic, Edgar Madril, Bill O’Donnell, Carlos Ortiz, Dan Pelham, Mehul Patel, Sarah Rogers and Rob Woodward.

In the coming months, they will continue their testing of this instrument before it leaves ASU and is shipped to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory for integration into the Europa Clipper spacecraft.

More about the mission

Missions such as Europa Clipper contribute to the field of astrobiology, the interdisciplinary research on the variables and conditions of distant worlds that could harbor life as we know it. While Europa Clipper is not a life-detection mission, it will conduct detailed reconnaissance of Europa and investigate whether the icy moon, with its subsurface ocean, has the capability to support life. Understanding Europa’s habitability will help scientists better understand how life developed on Earth and the potential for finding life beyond our planet.

Managed by Caltech in Pasadena, California, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory leads the development of the Europa Clipper mission in partnership with the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, D.C. The Planetary Missions Program Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, executes program management of the Europa Clipper mission.

More information about Europa can be found at

Karin Valentine

Media Relations & Marketing manager , School of Earth and Space Exploration