Professor partners with Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics to bring ASU Worldbuilding Initiative to life

February 2, 2023

In her 2014 National Book Award acceptance speech, acclaimed science fiction and fantasy writer Ursula K. Le Guin said, “Hard times are coming, when we’ll be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now, can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine real grounds for hope. We’ll need writers who can remember freedom — poets, visionaries — realists of a larger reality.”

Le Guin’s charge that we become “realists of a larger reality” — and the similar charges of other science fiction writers and futurists who dream of better futures for our planet and the life it supports — lies at the heart of the new ASU Worldbuilding Initiative. Portrait of ASU Associate Professor Matt Bell smiling for the camera in an outdoor setting. Matt Bell is a professor for ASU's Department of English and a published author. Download Full Image

Masterminded by Matt Bell, a professor of creative writing in Arizona State University's English department and author of "Appleseed" (a New York Times notable book), the ASU Worldbuilding Initiative invites all members of our community — at ASU and beyond it — to come together in mutual inspiration, communal thinking and imaginative play. As the latest initiative incubated by the Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics, this narrative experience will kick off in the spring. 

“My goal for the Worldbuilding Initiative,” Bell says, “is to make it a home for like-minded thinkers, artists and other people to inspire each other to think about our place in our world, our relationship to others and how the choices we make in the present inevitably affect the choices we leave to the those who follow us. The stories we tell each other are part of what sets the bounds of the future; the more varied positive, inclusive possibilities we imagine, the easier it might be to realize those futures in the real world.” 

Bell describes the initiative as an endeavor to multiply the possibilities we have available to us by giving students and faculty a chance to participate in a narrative experience built around wonder, collaboration, curiosity and problem-solving, putting into practice the modes of inquiry, thought and imagination that will be essential to the envisioning of our future ways of life. 

The project partnered with the Lincoln Center in the fall of 2022 as part of its investigation into ways we can reimagine our futures and relationships with technology. 

“We are excited to be the home at ASU for Matt Bell’s Worldbuilding Initiative, and to be able to contribute in some small way to his remarkable work,” said Gaymon Bennett, associate director of the Lincoln Center. “The question of worldbuilding and the vital work of the imagination in creating more ethical futures go to the heart of our mission at Lincoln. With Professor Bell, we’re convinced that while our lives today can be riddled with uncertainty, there is enough collective wisdom and good will around to realize a more positive and inclusive future — if we’re willing to multiply the accounts of the future that get to count.” 

The Worldbuilding Initiative will consist of multiple hybrid and virtual workshops, bringing together speakers from a broad range of disciplines and exploring topics from artificial intelligence to constructed languages. 

The series will culminate in a special keynote speaker event and reception at the end of the semester, then return next fall with a full year of programming. 

“The Worldbuilding Initiative invites every humanities discipline, from philosophy and creative writing to media studies, history, religious studies, linguistics and languages, to imagine more humane arrangements of the world we have inherited and inhabit,” said Jeffrey Cohen, dean of humanities for The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “(It) is a community effort inspired by the ASU Charter and our mission of access and inclusion. We are fortunate to have the celebrated author and extraordinary thinker Matt Bell at its helm.”

Students and community members are invited to register for the first workshop, “Constructed Languages, Box-Words, and Neologisms: Ways of Naming (and Making) the World,” on Monday, Feb. 13, which will take place at ASU’s Tempe campus and also available to livestream via Zoom.

For more information on the initiative and to sign up for future events, check out the Lincoln Center website.

Karina Fitzgerald

Communications program coordinator , Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics


Outstanding undergraduate researches microbiome of black widow spiders at West campus

February 2, 2023

For recent Arizona State University graduate Hasti Asrari, her happy place is in the lab. 

“Walking into lab every day, sometimes you take it for granted. I made sure that I enjoyed every second of it because I knew when I came in as a freshman I had this sparkle in my eye and this really big dream,” Asrari said. Hasti Asrari smiling and wearing a graduation cap in front of a building. Named Outstanding Graduate for the fall 2022 semester, Hasti Asrari graduated from ASU’s New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences with a bachelor's degree in biology and two certificates in biomedical research and computational life sciences. Photo courtesy ASU Download Full Image

Asrari knew that she wanted to pursue a life in the sciences early on. She fondly remembers spending hours when she was young watching space and science documentaries on National Geographic and PBS NOVA. It was the documentaries she watched and a high school biology class that piqued her interest in research.

“I realized that I loved research,” Asrari said. “I loved the opportunity to discover and the ability to explore different areas of science and apply it on a wider scale.”

As she worked toward completing her undergraduate degree in biology at ASU’s West campus, she spent most of her time in Associate Professor Chad Johnson’s Black Widow Lab studying the microbiome of black widow spiders. Over time, her fascination with spiders only grew, which led her to focus on the bacterial life across habitats of black widows for her honors thesis project.

In addition to her work on black widows, Asrari also worked with New College Dean Todd Sandrin to apply bioinformatics tools to microbiome research.

In the fall, Asrari graduated from ASU’s New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences with a bachelor's degree in biology and two certificates in biomedical research and computational life sciences. She was recognized as New College's Outstanding Undergraduate for the fall 2022 semester. Here, she shares more about her experiences at ASU and what’s next for her.

Question: Why did you choose ASU?

Answer: I actually applied to a couple of schools when I was in high school. I wanted to branch out and see what's out there. I applied to Stanford, Duke, USC and other schools all over the United States. ASU was one that was close to home, and it was a place that I was familiar with. ASU also provided financial aid that none of the other schools were providing. I come from a low-income family, and so really, the financial aid that ASU provided was really what drew me to the university, along with the university’s reputation for research. … I heard that ASU was a big public research institution, and research was something I was very excited to pursue.

Q: What’s something you learned while at New College — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

A: I wasn't expecting that coming to New College would allow me to be in a close-knit classroom community where I would actually be able to interact with the faculty on campus, go to their office hours and have one-on-one connections. … I was very pleasantly surprised. I feel like every one of them have a unique trait that distinguishes them from each other but makes every single one of them very special.

Q: Did you experience any obstacles along your way? If yes, how did you overcome them?

A: When I first came in as a freshman, an obstacle I was faced with was imposter syndrome. … I was getting it into my head that I wasn't capable of starting early and getting into research as a first-year student. But I had to just put myself out there to pursue research and ask questions. I really surprised myself when I was able to overcome that obstacle because it does take a lot of bravery, and it takes really going out of your comfort zone to do that. Also, being a biology major, there are some challenging courses to take and you are digging into some pretty complex topics that you've probably never heard of before. So finding my study habits and getting my time-management skills in order was also an obstacle that I had to face, but one that I was able to overcome.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: Don't be afraid to put yourself out there. Don't be afraid of the endless possibilities that you can get from putting yourself out there and exploring your passion. I came in not knowing the specific area of research I wanted to get into. ... Meeting with professors one on one is intimidating. Taking that initiative and just doing it and seeing what happens can really surprise you. You really gain a level of trust in yourself, a level of confidence in your abilities, as well as wonderful experiences and connections.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: Next year, in the fall, I plan to pursue a PhD in microbiology, and throughout that experience, I hope to dive deeper into a research area, especially in microbiome science, and become more and more of an expert in it because it’s a field I love. Going out of graduate school, I plan to either get into industry or academia, depending on where the opportunities are and where life takes me. I really want to make a difference and apply my research to climate change initiatives and any initiatives that will help the world and the many crises that may be going on. I hope to use science as a way to mitigate concerns, especially future concerns that society has.

Emily Balli

Manager of marketing and communications, New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences