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New probes gather real-time algae information in CAP canals

June 23, 2022

Immediate information valuable for agricultural farmers

Taylor Weiss lowers the probe into the bottom of the canal and waits for the conversation to begin.

“Hey, how are you feeling today?” the probe says to the algae. “Are you happy? Or are you not?”

The answer to those questions enables Weiss and his team at the Arizona Center for Algae Technology and Innovation, or AzCATI, to detect algae blooms in real time in the canal system, information that is critical to homeowners and agricultural farmers throughout Arizona.

“The whole part of our sensor system is you can see the problems as they’re coming,” said Weiss, a senior global futures scientist at Arizona State University’s Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory and assistant professor in the Polytechnic School, part of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. “It’s like a weather forecast. Just by letting people know when an event is going to hit, they can adjust.”

Through a partnership with Burge Environmental, which developed the new technology, AzCATI has a half-dozen probes testing the water in the 336 miles of the Central Arizona Project canal system, as well as Lake Pleasant.

The probes, powered by solar energy and connected to a computer terminal that sends out data like a cell phone, are essential because drought conditions brought on by climate change — “everything that could make the situation worse is now happening,” Weiss said — can create “extremely problematic” algae changes, and previously there was no way to gather immediate information.

“There was no practical way without having an army of people grabbing samples physically across 300 miles of canal,” Weiss said, adding that it’s impossible to keep algae from blooming in the CAP canals. “Not just monthly, not even weekly, but daily, to even establish a pattern. And then what tests are you going to run? Now we have a real-time potential measure of biological activity in the environment.

“Fundamentally, what we can now say with much greater confidence — is the algae growing slow? That’s because it was cold yesterday. So, it’s a cloudy day, they’re growing slow and that’s fine. Or, if they’re growing slow and we think they should be growing faster, we need to find the reason because that’s an opportunity for improvement.”

The continuous, real-time testing of the algae bloom is vital for several reasons. First, if the algae Cymbella – often called “rock snot” for its sticky, yellow, clumpy form – grows too quickly, it can reduce the efficiency of water flow. While a sticky canal may not seem like a big deal, that energy loss could instead be powering thousands of homes each year, Weiss said.

“The state of Arizona spends 4% of its annual energy on this canal,” Weiss said. “So, you start doing the math and very quickly it’s a gross inefficiency.”

It’s also important to know what type of algae is growing in the canal system. Some algae create “odor and taste issues that people drinking water don’t enjoy.”

The real-time information is also helpful to agricultural farmers, who depend on a consistent water supply from the canals.

“If they know a problem is coming, like the intakes being clogged, a problem at 9 a.m. on Monday is an easy problem to solve, while a problem at 2 a.m. on Sunday is difficult,” Weiss said. “Because we don’t have the manpower in place across a very large area, you’re ill-prepared, which means the system will be running inefficiently and it’s going to disrupt users.

“So knowing the problem and understanding how to predict it, this is algae forecasting. The hard part of our job now is we’re in the stages of taking relatively simple data and trying to break it down to something as simple as a weather forecast. Like a map where you have sensor platforms, we’ll have a number from one to five saying how bad the algae is in this region based on water flows. And if we know they’re breaking loose in one place, we can say, ‘Hey guys, in 48 hours this problem could be at your doorstep.’”

Weiss hopes the new sensor system can be used beyond the CAP canals. He said he recently met with the Mesa city council; Mesa gets approximately one-third of its water from CAP, one-third of its water from Salt River Project and one-third of its water from groundwater sources.

“We’re absolutely looking to go straight to some of the municipalities,” Weiss said. “Right now, there’s no one-stop shop to bring this puzzle together. Ultimately, for the state of Arizona, that’s what we want to develop.”

Top photo: Duane Barbano, a doctoral student in biological design, attaches a battery and telecommunications equipment to a tower railing on April 11 at Lake Pleasant. The crew, led by Assistant Professor Taylor Weiss, installed both a floating and a fixed probe network from a secure pumping station at the CAP-fed reservoir. The probes, which range throughout the 160-foot lake depth, measure the biochemical activity of the environment, especially in response to nutrients as they flow. For example, the data will show when there are algae blooms, which will allow the CAP to adjust the Valley’s delivery operations system. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News

Scott Bordow

Reporter , ASU News

ASU's Institute for Humanities Research announces 2022–23 fellows

June 24, 2022

The Institute for Humanities Research at Arizona State University has announced 11 faculty members as new fellows for 2022–23. They were awarded a total of $104,500 in funding.

The IHR Fellows program advances the scholarly writing and research of humanities faculty, and includes course buyout, research funding, peer writing groups and development of a cross-humanities faculty community, as well as assisting faculty in grant writing and writing for a broader public. Collage of portraits of the 2022-23 fellows of ASU's Institute for Humanities Research. Download Full Image

“We are excited to award fellowships to 11 members of faculty at ASU, and to help them fund their important work,” said Nicole Anderson, director of the institute and professor of English. “Each member of faculty brings their expertise in the humanities to their projects, and we anticipate that their research will advance their practice and engage the community.”

Successful proposals for the IHR Fellows program describe a well-developed scholarly writing project rooted in the humanities that has clear and feasible outcomes for the fellowship year, with potential to be funded by outside agencies.

The program has the following strategic goals: to foster writing habits and public writing; to foster the growth of interdisciplinary cohorts of ASU humanities scholars; to ensure that fellows are incorporated into the ASU humanities pipeline; to ensure that fellows have the time and resources needed to succeed in their career and professional goals while maintaining a healthy work-life balance.

The 2022–23 IHR Fellows are:

Aviva Dove-Viebahn, assistant professor, English
Dove-Viebahn's current, in-progress book project, “There She Goes Again: Gender, Power and Knowledge in Contemporary Film and Television,” interrogates the representation of women on screens, but also in contemporary socio-political debate, in which ostensibly feminine traits — love, empathy, altruism, diplomacy — are alternately lauded and repudiated as possibilities for effecting long-lasting social change.

Britta Ager, assistant professor of classics, School of International Letters and Cultures
Ager's work “Cultivating an Image: The Self-Presentation of Roman Landowners” examines how agriculture acted as a locus of display and performance, especially for political elites, in the Roman Republic and early empire. It examines how Roman landowners, particularly those with aspirations to public careers, mobilized agricultural products, symbolism and dialogue as part of their public image.

Curtis Austin, associate professor of history, School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies
The collaborative project “The Unsung Heroes of the Civil Rights Movement History” collects visual histories of lesser-known activists who stood beside their more famous counterparts, such as Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, John Lewis, Fannie Lou Hamer and many others. While their names are less familiar, these people’s stories and recollections represent the pervasive courage and strength of the thousands of people who struggled for equality during this era.

Eugene Clay, associate professor, School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies
Clay's work “Regulating the Russian Religious Marketplace from Catherine the Great to Vladimir Putin” illustrates how at the end of the USSR, new laws on religious freedom briefly deregulated the spiritual marketplace. Since 1997, Russia has imposed new burdens on religious bodies to ensure their political reliability. This work will illuminate this evolution by placing it in its historical context.

Han Hsien Liew, assistant professor, School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies
Liew's current book project “Preaching Pious and Learned Rulership in Medieval Islam: Ibn al-Jawzi's Political Thought” offers a new reading of the history of Islamic political thought by studying the intersection of politics, rhetoric and emotions in the writings of a 12th century Muslim preacher named Ibn al-Jawzi. It is the first monograph-length work to consider the role of emotions in Islamic political thought, and also the first to integrate the study of the history of emotions into research on medieval Islamic history.

Ilana Luna, associate professor, School of Humanities, Arts and Cultural Studies
Luna’s project “Translation is not Solitude" translates and provides a scholarly framework for two of Rivera Garza’s poetic collections: “La imaginación pública” (2015) and “El virus del aquí,” a forthcoming anthology selected by Amaranta Caballero Prado that spans the breadth of her poetic production.

Isaac Joslin, assistant professor of French (contemporary Francophone literature and culture), School of International Letters and Cultures
Joslin's work “Transnational Intersectionality: Whiteness and Womanhood in Postcolonial Africa” focuses on the intersections of race, gender and socioeconomic class. Central to these philosophical and interdisciplinary inquiries is the deconstruction of monolithic identity categories, arguing rather for a consideration of how gender identity might be constructed differently for different racialized subjectivities.

Katherine Morrissey, assistant professor, English
Morrissey's book project “Redefining Romance: Love & Desire in Today's Digital Culture” reconceptualizes romance and genres for our contemporary digital era. In an analog era, romance genres helped stabilize a hierarchy of sexual norms for women and privileged a particular type of white, heteronormative femininity. In the 21st century, digital platforms use algorithms to manage a range of competing sexual hierarchies. Across media, romance genres have been reshaped by shifts in technology, emerging digital markets and a more participatory media culture.

Mark Hannah, director of writing, rhetorics and literacies; associate professor, English
Hannah's work “Listening for Law” is conceived through the five discrete features of legal grammar: relationality, hierarchy, temporality, simultaneity and predictivity. It cultivates in readers a critical disposition toward anticipating how law’s underlying structures enable and/or delimit the aims of their work, thus activating them as both critics and agents of law’s constitutive nature.

Matt Simonton, associate professor, School of Humanities, Arts and Cultural Studies
Simonton's book project “Demagogues of Ancient Greece” incorporates more than half a millennium of history and the evidence of hundreds of Greek city-states. The project is an interdisciplinary exercise in historical analysis, drawing on theories of contemporary populism from the social sciences and on studies of popular culture within history and comparative literature. It will also contribute to our understanding of the threats facing democracy today and how they can be avoided.

Patricia Webb, associate professor, English
How can the inclusion of a common read focused on social justice issues affect instructors’ pedagogical practices in first-year composition courses? What impact does this have on students’ commitment to community engagement? Webb’s project “Social Justice in the Writing Class: Impacts of Common Read Programs” asks these research questions. The goal of the common read is to “encourage first-year students to write about pressing social problems that are relevant to ASU’s mission as a public enterprise. By learning to write about such problems as a community, we increase the probability of finding a solution to them,” Webb said.

To learn more about the Institute for Humanities Research and the fellows program, visit

Mina Lajevardi

Marketing and Communications Specialist, Sr., Institute for Humanities Research