ASU research makes real-life impact by expanding knowledge, problem-solving

December 27, 2006

ASU researchers have had a prosperous year, making significant research discoveries on a national level.

The discovery of a nearly intact, 3.3 million-year-old juvenile skeleton filled an important gap in understanding the evolution of a species thought to be among the earliest direct ancestors to humans. Download Full Image" alt="" hspace="5" vspace="5" width="360" height="539" align="right" />William Kimbel, a paleoanthropologist with ASU's Institute of Human Origins is part of the team that studied the skeleton of an approximately 3-year-old female Australopithecus afarensis, the same species as the well-known “Lucy,” from Dikika, Ethiopia.

The researchers described their discovery and initial analysis of it in “A juvenile early hominin skeleton from Dikika, Ethiopia,” in the Sept. 21 issue of Nature. The skeleton was discovered by lead author Zeresenay Alemseged, director of the Dikika Research Project and a former postdoctoral researcher at ASU's Institute of Human Origins. Alemseged is at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, located in Leipzig, Germany.

The findings are expected to provide insights into the growth and development cycle of Australopithecus afarensis since the infant remains will be compared to Lucy, a remarkably complete adult female skeleton that was among the first Australopithecus afarensis to be discovered. Lucy dates back 3.18 million years and was discovered in 1974 in the Hadar region of Ethiopia by Donald Johanson, who directs ASU's Institute of Human Origins.

• An international team of astronomers that included ASU Regents' Professor of astronomy Sumner Starrfield reported on a discovery of a star exploding inside another star. The discovery is helping astronomers learn more about the structure of a red giant star, how shock waves move through a star, and how one type of binary star system goes through the end stages of its life, the astronomers report.

Speaking at the National Astronomy Meeting in Leicester , U.K. , the international team of 14 astronomers described what they saw as they monitored the explosion of RS Ophiuchi, a recurrent nova that lights up in the sky roughly every 20 years. RS Oph, as it is called, normally a very dim object in the sky, was found to be visible to the unaided eye Feb. 12 by Japanese amateur astronomers.

• Chemists at ASU's Biodesign Institute created a tiny hydrogen-gas generator that they say can be developed into a compact fuel cell package. This generator could then power portable electronic devices three to five times longer than conventional batteries of the same size and weight.

The generator uses a special solution containing borohydride, an alkaline compound that has an unusually high capacity for storing hydrogen, a key element that is used by fuel cells to generate electricity. In laboratory studies, prototype devices have been used to provide sustained power to light bulbs, a radio and a DVD player.

• Professor Joe Wang, director of the Center for Biosensors and Bioelectronics at the Biodesign Institute at ASU, developed a highly sensitive technology to rapidly detect liquid peroxide explosives in as little as 15 seconds. The results were published as a research communication online in the leading international analytical journal, the Analyst (">">w...).

The technology can rapidly detect the two most common peroxide-based explosives, triacetone triperoxide (TATP) and hexamethylene triperoxide diamine (HMTD), in trace amounts down to the parts-per-billion level.

The approach, which is safe, irradiates these explosives with ultraviolet (UV) light, converting the TATP and HMTD into hydrogen peroxide. While a UV lamp system provides results in five minutes, the higher-intensity laser irradiation greatly reduces the time – all the way down to 15 seconds.

Though the final product may be down the road, Wang is working with the commercialization arm of ASU, Arizona Technology Enterprises (AzTE) to engage government and commercial partners to further develop the technology.

• The National Institutes of Health (NIH) program directors awarded a $438,970 grant over two years to ASU geochemist Lynda Williams and microbiologist Shelley Haydel for the study of clay mineral alternative treatment for Buruli ulcer, a flesh-eating bacterial disease found primarily in central and western Africa.

The ASU duo will examine the mechanisms that allow two clays mined in France to heal Buruli ulcer, which has been declared “an emerging public health threat” by the World Health Organization (WHO). Related to leprosy and tuberculosis, the Mycobacterium ulcerans produces a toxin and lesions, and it destroys the fatty tissues under the skin.

Fall freshman class bears witness to university's focus on diversity

December 27, 2006

ASU's fall 2006 freshman class has broken previously established records, with significant gains in diversity, national scholar programs and overall enrollment.

One out of every seven freshmen this fall is from a Hispanic background, as ASU welcomed the most diverse class in its history. The representation of students of color increased 13 percent in one year, with 27.6 percent of the class reporting a minority status. Download Full Image

In the past five years, the number of African-American freshmen has doubled, and enrollment of Asian-American and Native American freshmen has increased by 55 percent and 43 percent, respectively. The population of Hispanic freshmen nearly doubled during this same time period.

Among freshmen from Arizona, 31.6 percent are students of color, up from 30.4 percent in fall 2005 and 25.9 percent in fall 2001.

Trends in scholar programs also signal greater interest by Hispanic students in ASU programs. Eighty-seven National Hispanic Scholars enrolled at ASU, bringing the total National Hispanic Scholar enrollment to 227.

ASU has 188 freshman National Merit Scholars enrolled this fall, bringing ASU's total National Merit Scholar enrollment to 606, among the highest in the nation.

The first-year freshman class reached 9,052, the largest in university history, more than one-third larger than the fall 2001 class and more than double the size of the freshman class in fall 1996. ASU enrolled 5,922 freshmen from Arizona , up nearly 500 compared with fall 2005. Overall enrollment is at 61, 033, for all four campuses.

“We have made significant progress in serving the people of Arizona,” says James Rund, vice president for University Student Initiatives. “Creating opportunities for qualified high school students to pursue their academic dreams continues to be our highest priority.”

Academic Bowl alt="Academic Bowl" hspace="5" vspace="5" width="360" height="239" align="right" />Along with the incredible diversity, ASU also highlighted the knowledge of the students with the university's first-ever Academic Bowl competition, which pitted 16 teams of undergraduate students in an intellectual competition for scholarship prizes and the President's Cup trophy.

The competition, sponsored by the offices of Public Affairs and Students Affairs, was modeled after the national College Bowl. Four-member teams squared off in a question-and-answer format on a wide range of subjects, including current events, history, science, sports and culture. Each participating school and college was asked to select four team members and four alternates based on input that will include a competitive written test offered by each competing school or college. The final decision on team membership was be made by each college's dean.

The Ira A. Fulton School of Engineering took home the inaugural Academic Bowl crown. All four members of the winning team received a $4,500 scholarship, while the winning squad's alternate members and the members of the runners-up team, the W. P. Carey School of Business quartet, will each receive a $1,000 scholarship.

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