Comedian Bassem Youssef to perform at ASU Gammage Jan. 22

January 14, 2022

Known by many as the “Jon Stewart of the Arab World,” Bassem Youssef is set to perform his satire comedy for a one-night-only show at ASU Gammage on Jan. 22.  

“This show is about my own personal journey as someone who was a heart surgeon in Egypt, to political factors placing me in an interesting debacle,” Youssef said.   Promotional photo of comedian Bassem Youssef. Bassem Youssef Download Full Image

An Egyptian heart surgeon-turned-comedian, Youssef began his career in the world of satire through his immensely popular TV show "AlBernameg," where he used the power of humor to comment on the unjust politics of both Egypt and the Middle East. 

What started as five-minute videos on YouTube, "AlBernameg" became the first online-to-TV conversion in the Middle East, with up to 30 million weekly viewers tuning in to watch Youssef.  

“I was making fun of politics in a region where satire isn’t something people are used to, like here in the United States,” Youssef said.  

Because of his comedyYoussef was forced to flee Egypt for his own safety, entering the United States in 2014. But Youssef’s career has continued to prosper in the U.S. — he has become an author, a podcaster and has made appearances in television and movies, even putting out a documentary in 2017 called “Tickling Giants.”  

Now, Youssef is traveling the country sharing not only his personal story of living in Egypt and the United States, but commentating on current events.  

“I think this show is relatable to everyone,” Youssef said. “It doesn’t matter if you are an immigrant or a republican or democrat; everybody should have something to relate to.”  

Youssef expressed his joy of visiting universities and chatting with students.

Speaking to college students is truly a privilege,” Youssef said. “I learn a lot from coming to speak to these students, more than they will ever learn from me.”  

Youssef also is a fan of the theater, promoting and encouraging Arab representation on stage. He discussed his love for “The Band’s Visit” and Shereen Ahmed, who, as an Egyptian American is the first woman of color to play Eliza Dolittle in a Broadway production of “My Fair Lady.”  

“I did an interview with Shereen and posted it on my social media," Youssef said. "I was over the moon to have someone so talented come from my country. The fact that you have an Egyptian headlining one of the most classical and beautiful productions in Broadway — it warms my heart. I was also very happy about the representation in 'The Band’s Visit.'”  

When asked to share some advice, Youssef was coy.

“My biggest advice is not to listen to my advice,” he said. “I think we need to remind ourselves as older people that younger people have their own capacity to find their way, even if they have to go through tribulation and struggles. Just do your own thing.”

Marketing Assistant, ASU Gammage

Weathering rocks hold clues to Earth's Great Oxidation Event

January 14, 2022

About 2.4 billion years ago, Earth’s atmosphere underwent what is called the Great Oxidation Event (GOE). Prior to the GOE, early Earth had far less molecular oxygen than we have today. After the GOE, molecular oxygen began to increase in abundance, eventually making life like ours possible.

For decades, researchers have tried to understand why and how the GOE occurred. Man standing near a highly alkaline spring in Oman. The modern spring lies along massive deposits of calcium carbonate that formed from thousands of years of spring discharge. In the background are mountains comprised of ultramafic rocks. Lead author James Andrew Leong near a highly alkaline spring in Oman. The modern spring lies along massive deposits of calcium carbonate that formed from thousands of years of spring discharge. In the background are mountains composed of ultramafic rocks. Photo credit: Everett Shock/ASU Download Full Image

A team of scientists, led by James Andrew Leong with Tucker Ely (both of whom earned their doctoral degrees from ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration in 2020) and ASU Professor Everett Shock, has determined that weathering rocks might have contributed to the GOE. Their results were recently published in Nature Communications.

Molecular oxygen is produced by plants and photosynthetic microbes, but molecular oxygen is also consumed by organisms and by the oxidation of iron, sulfur, carbon and other elements in rocks. Molecular oxygen can also be consumed through reaction with reduced gases like hydrogen, which can form during rock weathering.

Scientists studying the early Earth hypothesize that the consumption of oxygen was perhaps more rapid than the production of oxygen by photosynthesis, so oxygen was not able to accumulate in the atmosphere.

“It’s like when your bills exceed your income, money can’t accumulate in a savings account. This appears to have been the situation on the early Earth,” said co-author Shock, of ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration and the School of Molecular Sciences.

For the GOE to occur under this hypothesis, the consumption of oxygen had to slow with time, so that oxygen could build up in the atmosphere.

Given that, Leong and his team set out to determine what processes could be slowing down the consumption of oxygen on the early Earth to produce an increase in oxygen.

“We know it’s probably not biological consumption, which does a decent job of keeping up with oxygen production by photosynthesis,” Shock said. “So we thought maybe the rate that oxygen was consumed by the weathering of rocks was creating this change.”

To test their hypothesis, Leong and his team focused on the weathering of a type of rock known as “ultramafic,” an igneous rock, rich in magnesium and iron, with low silica content.

Ultramafic rocks comprise most of the Earth's upper mantle, where they were formed at high temperatures. When these rocks are brought to the surface and come into contact with water, the waterless minerals that make up these rocks transform into minerals containing water. This process is called serpentinization, after the main replacing mineral, serpentine. The process also transforms the reacting groundwater into a highly alkaline water with elevated gas content, in particular, hydrogen.

They were inspired to do this by research they had conducted previously on hyperalkaline and gas-rich fluids found in the ultramafic mountains of present-day Oman that was published in the AGU’s Journal of Geophysical Research in 2021.

Chemical reactions between ultramafic rocks and groundwater led to the formation of highly alkaline water, which can discharge back into the surface. At the surface, these fluids react with carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to form calcium carbonate, which are the white minerals seen here from a field study the authors conducted in Oman. Credit: Leong/Shock/ASU

“Our previous field research in Oman led us to wonder what the early Earth surface and atmosphere would have looked like when high pH and hydrogen-rich fluids were as common as today's near-neutral pH groundwater and rivers," Leong said. “Ultramafic rocks like those found in Oman are rare in the Earth’s surface at the present-day, but were abundant during the hotter early Earth.”

For their analysis, they conducted computer simulations, based on a computer code that co-author Ely developed, to predict the hydrogen generation potentials of thousands of rock compositions that were common during the early Earth. From there, they could then draw connections between rock compositions and their potentials to generate hydrogen and consume oxygen.

With those simulations, the team then was able to reconstruct the global hydrogen production and oxygen consumption rates via serpentinization during early Earth and determine that the weathering of ultramafic rocks could have helped facilitate the GOE.

“We were able to model the alteration of thousands of rock compositions that are likely to be present on the early Earth,” Leong said. “Our calculations show that many of these rocks, especially those that are really ultramafic in composition or rich in magnesium, like those found in Oman today, have very high potentials to generate hydrogen gas and help prevent accumulation of oxygen. The decline in the abundance of ultramafic rocks in the Earth’s surface towards the end of the Archean eon could have helped facilitate the Great Oxidation Event.”

Karin Valentine

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