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ASU joins prestigious Association of American Universities

June 2, 2023

Association comprises 71 elite research universities, including Harvard, Stanford, MIT and UCLA

Arizona State University on June 1 was selected to join the prestigious Association of American Universities, which comprises the nation’s elite research universities.

The AAU added Arizona State into its membership, applauding the university’s academic and research strength and acknowledging its place as a leader in higher education. There now are 71 universities — including two from Canada — in the association, which was established in 1900. 

“From deep space to deep in the oceans, we are a university designed for discovery, interdisciplinary research and innovation,” ASU President Michael Crow said. “As one of the fastest-growing research enterprises in the United States, we are focused on solving society’s greatest challenges, and we are excited to become part of the AAU.”

Members of AAU, including stalwart private universities like Harvard, Stanford, MIT and Johns Hopkins and leading public universities like UCLA, the University of Washington, the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Michigan, collectively help shape policy for higher education, science and innovation; promote best practices in undergraduate and graduate education; and strengthen the contributions of leading research universities to American society.

As a group they earn a majority of competitively awarded federal funding for research that improves public health, addresses national challenges and contributes significantly to the nation’s economic strength, while educating and training visionary leaders and innovators.

ASU’s rapid growth in research

During the past two decades, ASU has increased the scale and scope of its research activity nearly six times over. The university has become an innovation powerhouse of leading researchers and transdisciplinary schools making an impact on local and global communities.

With $677.7 million in expenditures in fiscal year 2021FY 2021 is the most recent year available in the HERD rankings., ASU ranked sixth among 750 institutions without a medical school, according to the National Science Foundation’s annual Higher Education Research and Development rankings. ASU also ranked sixth in spending of NASA funding, according to the HERD report. 

This year, for the eighth year in a row, U.S. News & World Report named ASU the most innovative school in the U.S. ASU also ranks in the top 15 worldwide for U.S. utility patents issued in 2022, and more than 200 companies have been launched based on ASU innovations, attracting more than $1.2 billion in external funding.

In the research labs across ASU’s campuses one can access images coming back from space, one can study the latest data on the health of coral reefs, one can find researchers who quickly pivoted their work to develop a widely used saliva-based COVID-19 test, or one can meet scientists who are working to pull carbon dioxide from the air.

“ASU has achieved a true continuum of research across the arts, humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, engineering and technology. From Early Career NSF award winners to pan-university transdisciplinary approaches, we are tackling problems from all dimensions,” said Sally C. Morton, executive vice president of Knowledge Enterprise at ASU. “What these successes all have in common is the discovery of use-inspired solutions to the most pressing issues of the day, issues that meet the needs of our community.”

Students play a key role in this research, directly involved as part of teams that work on developing and building instruments for space missions or exploring the new scientific approaches that recently helped land a $90 million NSF grant to build the first compact X-ray free electron laser. 

The impact of joining AAU

AAU membership signals that ASU is a national leader in research and academics. Membership is by invitation only based on an extensive set of quantitative indicators that assess the breadth and quality of a university’s research and education. 

ASU focuses on egalitarian access to higher education, measured not by whom it excludes, but by whom it includes and how they succeed. It also is notable that ASU joins the AAU as a Hispanic-Serving Institution.

“We are particularly proud that two of our new members — Arizona State and UC-Riverside — are designated as Hispanic-Serving Institutions because significant shares of their student bodies are composed of individuals from Hispanic backgrounds,” AAU President Barbara Snyder said. She added that the association looks forward to working with the new members “to continue advancing higher education and laying the scientific foundation that helps keep our economy strong and our nation healthy and safe.”

“This is an important day for Arizona State University,” Crow said, “and for the maturation of our university.” 

Top photo: Researchers work in the ASU Biodesign COVID-19 Testing Lab on the ASU Tempe campus on Dec .16, 2020. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU

ASU Interplanetary Initiative announces 2nd fellow

Anthropologist to research intersection of space exploration, culture, science and religion

June 2, 2023

For anthropologist John Traphagan, Arizona State University’s newest Interplanetary Initiative Fellow, space is more than the final frontier. It is the opportunity of a lifetime, and the ASU enterprise is the place to explore.

A professor emeritus of anthropology in the Human Dimensions of Organizations program at the University of Texas at Austin, Traphagan has been announced as the second recipient of the fellowship. He joins 2022 fellow Theodora Ogden, a defense and security analyst at Rand Europe. Headshot portrait of John Traphagan. John Traphagan, Arizona State University’s newest Interplanetary Initiative fellow. Download Full Image

“The exploration of space encompasses all different aspects of what humans do,” said Traphagan, who was drawn to ASU by its reputation for innovation and interdisciplinary collaborations. “Everything is there. Engineering, science, medicine. But space also raises the social, cultural, religious and philosophical questions.”

This year, the fellowship — which supports bold interdisciplinary projects and thinkers to further a positive space future — is offered in collaboration with the ASU School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies, focusing on projects that address the human, social and cultural implications of exploring outer space.

As a scholar of Japan, Traphagan will explore how the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's (JAXA's) programs and narratives around space exploration are shaped by Japanese religious ideas. His findings will be included in an edited volume, tentatively titled "Religion and Space Exploration in Cross-Cultural Perspective," and shared as part of a cross-cultural symposium to be hosted in spring 2024. The symposium will discuss how religion, ideology and space exploration intersect in different societies and shape the ways those societies approach space exploration.

“A key goal will be to feature scholars who work on non-U.S. contexts,” Traphagan said, “so that we might explore how these ideas come together in Russia, the (European Space Agency) community, China and India, as well as the U.S."

As more nations from around the globe develop space capabilities, it is more vital to ensure the peaceful and collaborative use of the domain.

“Avoiding conflict in space requires an understanding of how culture, science and religion influence a nation’s political and social ideologies around space exploration and by extension its behaviors in space,” said Jessica Rousset, deputy director for the Interplanetary Initiative. "We believe research such as this is vital to ensuring lasting cooperation in space.”

Widely published, Traphagan received his PhD in social anthropology at the University of Pittsburgh, Master of Arts in religion in social ethics at Yale University, and bachelor's degree in political science at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. At UT Austin, Traphagan teaches coursework in ethics in space exploration; biomedicine, ethics and culture; religion and family in Japan; and multidisciplinary methods in exploring organizations. Now, the fellowship marks another step in what he believes is a natural career progression that mirrors his passion for culture, science and religion.

“We look forward to having Dr. Traphagan engage with our faculty and students and broaden our network of scholars interested in these important topics," said Richard Amesbury, director of ASU’s School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies.

Traphagan’s fellowship will begin in the coming fall semester. As an ASU research scholar, his fellowship puts him in a pioneering space for integrated research and learning, and the opportunity to investigate, communicate and help define humankind’s future in space.

“I’m really impressed with what the Interplanetary Initiative is doing,” Traphagan said. “I don’t know of any other place that is trying to do such work. I think it’s extraordinary that ASU realizes the 19th-century model of higher education doesn’t work very well any more. I’m happy to see someone doing something different, and I’m excited to be a part of it, and to be able to contribute to the future of space exploration in such a vibrant setting.”

Story written by Steve Des Georges.