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ASU Women and Philanthropy funds 5 projects to 'build better futures'


Canoes on a river in the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve in Ecuador. These are similar to the gas-powered canoes currently used by the Indigenous Waorani community in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Photo courtesy iStock

June 05, 2023

ASU Women and Philanthropy awarded grants to five Arizona State University faculty-led projects aimed at solving complex world issues, ranging from developing electric canoes to addressing the causes of chronic pain.  

One of the projects funded is Solar Canoes Against Deforestation, which is led by Janna Goebel, assistant professor of sustainability education in the School of Sustainability and a senior Global Futures scientist in the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory. Goebel and her team are exploring how solar energy could transform how Ecuadorians travel the Amazon River.

The Indigenous Waorani community in the Ecuadorian Amazon currently relies on gas-powered canoes, which disrupt the local ecosystem through contamination and cause air and noise pollution.

Goebel and her team are striving to implement an alternative to the gas-powered motor by retrofitting canoes with an electric clean motor.

“Having respectful and reciprocal interactions with Indigenous communities is very important to me,” Goebel said. “It is really important that we work on solutions with them, not for them. We are hoping with this funding that we will be able to implement one functioning prototype electric canoe to provide evidence that this is a viable solution.”

In the future, Goebel and the team hope to scale up the development of electric canoe prototypes, delivering functioning solutions for sustainability to multiple communities.

“The whole process has been incredible,” Goebel said. “When we got the grant, I was so excited. The mentorship we had this entire time has been so meaningful. We felt ourselves grow as scholars throughout the whole process.”

ASU Women and Philanthropy awarded grants to four other projects as well. 

Urban food production

The vertical farming education and research project is led by Yujin Park, an assistant professor whose research focuses on horticultural crop physiology and controlled environment agriculture, and Zhihao Chen, an instructor of chemistry and controlled environment agriculture, both in the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts. Their project focuses on revolutionizing urban food production to address the challenges of decreasing freshwater resources and arable lands, rising energy prices and climate change. The team will also focus on developing a food waste fertilizer for production.

Mosquito study

The Mosquitoes in the Sonoran Desert project studies how heat and drought affect mosquito activity and insecticide efficacy. Last year, 60% of all national West Nile virus cases, which are transmitted by mosquitos, occurred in Arizona. The project is led by Assistant Professors Silvie Huijben and Krijn Paaijmans in the Center for Evolution and Medicine.

Reducing chronic pain

The HEAL project is led by Bradley Greger, associate professor in the School of Biological and Health Systems Engineering, and considers the neurological, psychological and situational mechanisms of chronic pain to develop novel nonpharmacological treatments and address the underlying causes of chronic pain rather than attempting to reduce the symptoms using opioids.

Personalized immunotherapy

The cancer immunotherapy project addresses immunotherapy efficacy to reduce adverse effects. Ji Qiu, a research professor in the Biodesign Institute's Virginia G. Piper Center for Personalized Diagnostics, and Jin Park, associate research professor, lead the project to advance personalized immunotherapy for cancer patients using personalized-neo-antigenome analysis.

'Build better futures'

Women and Philanthropy has provided more than $4.5 million to over 100 programs and initiatives in the 21 years since its inception. The group was founded in 2002 with the intention of serving and making a positive impact toward ASU’s collective success as a New American University. The program offers a unique model of philanthropy, pooling philanthropic dollars and letting the donor group collectively decide how the funds are invested at ASU.

Sybil Francis, standing co-chair and founding member of ASU Women and Philanthropy, helped start the initiative in the early days of her service to ASU.

“Women and Philanthropy gathers a community of women philanthropists dedicated to advancing ASU. The grants we fund aim to improve society, increase longevity and quality of life, provide education and resources for underserved communities and, ultimately, build better futures,” Francis said. 

Written by Richard Canas

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