Music, movement and maple leaves at ASU Mirabella

The Child Development Lab takes a field trip to ASU’s on-campus retirement community

November 18, 2022

Residents at Mirabella at ASU, a university-based retirement community on the Arizona State University Tempe campus, were paid a special visit recently by the young and curious children from ASU's Child Development Lab. On this field trip, the children and Mirabella residents enjoyed playing, dancing and reading a fall-themed story. 

The group also munched on popcorn, learned about varieties of colorful leaves and sang along to a guitar and vocal performance from Mirabella musician-in-resident Eiress Wicks, who played nursery tunes like “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” and “Five Little Pumpkins.” A Mirabella resident named Bob Glass accompanied Wicks on his own guitar.  Older adult playing a game with young children. The Child Development Lab visits Mirabella for playing, dancing and reading a fall-themed story.

Mirabella at ASU places retirees at the heart of the ASU Tempe campus and its bustling student life to facilitate an intergenerational exchange of living and learning experiences for a thriving community. The community is part of the ASU Learning Enterprise, which designs learning offerings and experiences that serve learners across their entire life span.

“As the New American University, ASU is re-imagining learning across the life span, from pre-K to post-retirement,” said Lindsey Beagley, senior director of lifelong learning engagement for Mirabella at ASU. “The meeting of the two worlds of children from the Child Development Lab visitors, who are some of the youngest members of our community, and Mirabella residents is evidence that connections between generations of learners can be mutually enriching and joyful.”

This isn’t the first field trip of its kind that the children from the Child Development Lab, an early childhood program in the T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics, have taken since Mirabella opened.

Student interns and staff members, who work in the lab to gain experience for their early childhood careers, take the children on supervised campus excursions that promote the children’s early social and cognitive development. With the retirement high-rise only a short walk away, the children and Mirabella residents can enjoy opportunities to interact. 

Mary Warren, a Mirabella resident who participated in the event, said, “We know the brain science about the critical nature of a nurturing adult in a child's first 1,000 days for success in school and life. Plus, it is so fun and refreshing to play, sit and listen to toddlers and preschoolers who are just as delighted to be with us.”

Warren is right about the brain science behind these field trips. According to research, intergenerational activities have benefits beyond being fun; they’re good for both children’s and older adults’ health. Children get to develop language abilities, empathy and social acceptance, while older adults experience improved cognitive health, physical strength, social skills and quality of life. 

At the Child Development Lab’s most recent field trip to Mirabella, these benefits seemed evident. Courtney Romley, the child development manager, said, “Seeing the connection between (Child Development Lab) children and Mirabella residents was even more special than we could have anticipated because it felt as though the children and residents were equally as excited to be spending time with each other. 

“The residents were so welcoming and eager to participate in the activities with the children, which made it easy for the children to engage with comfort and enthusiasm. We are so grateful for all Mirabella did to make it such a great day for our children.”

Jennifer Moore

Communications Specialist Associate, T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics

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ASU researchers developing pioneering drug to treat Alzheimer's disease in Down syndrome patients

November 17, 2022

When a baby is born, each cell in his or her body contains 23 pairs of chromosomes, or 46 chromosomes in total, with half coming from each parent. At least, this is the case for most of us.

The biological machinery responsible for assuring proper chromosome distribution can sometimes go awry. This can result in a range of serious genetic diseases, the most common of which is known as Down syndrome. In this case, an extra copy of chromosome 21 is inherited from one parent. The condition is also known as Trisomy 21.

In addition to an array of purely physical abnormalities, virtually all Down syndrome patients develop Alzheimer’s disease, usually between the ages of 40 and 50. There are no available treatments to prevent or mitigate the progression to Alzheimer’s disease for these individuals.

However, Arizona State University researcher Travis Dunckley and University of Arizona Professor Christopher Hulme and their colleagues have developed a candidate drug they hope may successfully block the development or advancement of Alzheimer’s disease in Down syndrome patients. The drug acts by decreasing the levels of Dyrk1a, a particular type of enzyme known as a kinase, which is overexpressed in Down syndrome patients.

“This particular kinase seems to be involved in a lot of the cognitive deficits of Down syndrome, and particularly in the early-onset Alzheimer's disease of Down syndrome,” says Dunckley, assistant research professor with the ASU-Banner Neurodegenerative Disease Research Center.

Dunckley and Hulme have founded a startup company to push the new drug through additional studies and develop it for human use. The company, Iluminos Therapeutics, LLC, has received a three-year, $3.5 million federal Small Business Technology Transfer grant to test the latest iteration of the drug in a mouse model and perform IND-enabling studies, thereby positioning the compound for clinical trials. 

If successful, the drug will be a medical milestone for those with Down syndrome. It also may represent a new approach to the treatment of late onset Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia in the general population. The methodology may eventually be applied to other neurodegenerative diseases as well.

Team of researchers in lab

Illuminos team (from left to right): Chris Hulme, graduate researcher James Foley, Travis Dunckley.

Genesis of Down syndrome

Many of the abnormalities associated with Down syndrome are believed to derive from a particular area of chromosome 21, known as the Down syndrome critical region. This portion of the chromosome contains a cluster of genes whose overexpression has been linked with telltale characteristics of the disease, including craniofacial abnormalities and peripheral organ dysfunction, as well as the seeds of Alzheimer’s disease.

The design of the new drug was completed over a 10-year period by Hulme, an industry trained medicinal chemist with expertise in developing drugs that inhibit the function of kinases. Ramon Velazquez, an assistant professor also with the Neurodegenerative Disease Research Center, will conduct tests on mouse models of the new kinase inhibitor drug.

Kinases are important regulatory enzymes in the body that add chemicals known as phosphates to other proteins. This process of phosphorylation is critical to many life processes, playing a vital role in embryonic development. In Down’s syndrome, however, an over-phosphorylation of critical proteins can induce three classic hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease.

When a protein known as the amyloid beta precursor protein is hyperphosphorylated by Dyrk1a, it results in the accumulation of amyloid beta plaques in the brain. The hyperphosphorylation of another protein known as Tau results in neurofibrillary tangles within the cell bodies of affected neurons.

Dunckley and his colleagues have also demonstrated that the hyperphosphorylation activity caused by Dyrk1a is linked with neuroinflammation, a characteristic common across neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease. The research shows overexpression of Dyrk1a is linked with elevated levels of an inflammatory cytokine known as TNF alpha. 

A multi-pronged approach

The new drug is particularly exciting because it acts to inhibit Dyrk1a, thereby targeting multiple pathways of neurodegeneration. For this reason, it could potentially break the logjam of existing drug therapies, which typically target just one symptom, often after Alzheimer’s disease has already irreparably ravaged the brain. 

As Dunckley notes, the new insights into the relationship between Dyrk1a overactivity and telltale symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease are the culmination of a long path of investigation and discovery.

“About 15 years ago, I wanted to try to identify new proteins responsible for Tau hyperphosphorylation, and through a series of high-throughput screens, we came upon this Dyrk1a kinase as being important in the process.”

In Down syndrome, the hyperphosphorylation caused by Dyrk1a is an inevitable consequence of the chromosome triplication produced by the disease, including triplication of the Down syndrome critical region, where the Dyrk1a kinase gene resides.

Modeling disease

The research team will use a mouse model of Down syndrome to test a new version of the Dyrk1A kinase inhibitor they have spent years refining.

“Dyrk1a protein levels are elevated in human brain tissue of Down syndrome individuals and in the Down syndrome mouse model, suggesting that it may in fact play a role in regulating various pathogenic mechanisms. These include tau and amyloid beta pathology as well as inflammation, all of which are seen in patients with Down syndrome and Alzheimer’s disease,” Velazquez says. “Having a drug that potentially ameliorates these pathologies in Alzheimer's disease but also for patients with Down syndrome is highly motivating.” 

The researchers will investigate the effects of various dosages of the experimental drug on Alzheimer’s pathology on mouse models, as well as its ability to improve cognitive aspects associated with the disease, including spatial learning and memory.

Design improvements to the kinase inhibitor have enhanced the drug in several ways. The latest version is highly potent and shows high selectivity, meaning it can narrowly distinguish the Dyrk1a kinase from most of the other 500 or so kinases in the body. The inhibitor has a long half-life in the brain of about four hours and shows 100% bioavailability.

Phase one of the project will establish the efficacy of the kinase inhibitor in a mouse model relevant to Down syndrome. The next phase will establish that the drug is safe for human use. Because the first human recipients of the drug are likely to be adolescents with Down syndrome, the drug must meet a very high bar for safety. Once achieved, however, this safety profile should later help secure FDA approval for broader use of the drug to treat Alzheimer’s in the general population. 

Top image courtesy of

Richard Harth

Science writer , Biodesign Institute at ASU


Translating addiction research into real-world interventions

Interdisciplinary research group engages academic, community partners to make a difference in the fight against addiction

November 17, 2022

One of the challenges in combating substance use disorders (SUDs), from nicotine addiction to the opioid epidemic, is the disconnect between the worlds of academic research and community practice. Agencies working to make a difference within local communities often feel they cannot access or benefit from cutting-edge research. 

These community agencies also have no direct way to influence the research agenda, despite having valuable insight into the questions for which answers are most urgently needed and an informed perspective on what approaches are more or less likely to work in real-world settings. Silhouette of a woman leaning against a doorway. In the background is a mountainous landscape. Since the launch of the Substance Use and Addiction Translational Research Network in December 2020, the group has built a rich and diverse community bridging academic researchers and community agencies throughout Arizona, all working in prevention, treatment and policy related to substance use disorders. Photo by Marcos Paulo Prado/Unsplash Download Full Image

A new effort from Arizona State University is hoping to change that, while also providing new, state-of-the-art training for the fight against problems linked to addiction. 

Since the launch of the Substance Use and Addiction Translational Research Network (SATRN) in December 2020, the group has built a rich and diverse community bridging academic researchers and community agencies throughout Arizona, all working in prevention, treatment and policy related to SUDs. SATRN’s mission is to foster communication and collaboration among its affiliates, and to support new research that will have a meaningful impact on individual and societal problems related to addiction.

Leading the SATRN effort is Michelle “Lani” Shiota, an associate professor of psychology at ASU. Her own research investigates positive emotions, emotion regulation, emotion in close relationships and emotion-related mechanisms of behavior change. 

“SATRN is an amazing community, and I’m grateful for all our members who bring diverse knowledge and lived experience to the table,” said Shiota. “So much goodwill and resources are being devoted to issues around substance use disorder. All of us working in this space share a passion for finding ways to improve people’s health and well-being, but it’s a complicated set of intertwined problems, and we may come at them from very different perspectives. Each individual holds one puzzle piece-worth of knowledge. If we can put all those pieces together, we should be able to see the bigger picture that emerges, identify key gaps in the picture where more research is needed, and find the best points of leverage for improving people’s lives.”   

A particularly important partner in this work is SATRN Steering Committee Member Matt Meier, also director of the Master of Science in Addiction Psychology program and co-director of clinical training at the ASU Clinical Psychology Center. Meier is a pivotal figure in multiple efforts related to SUDs across ASU and leads a $1.3 million HRSA grant training providers in addiction treatment and management. This new program aims to expand access to care to more people in need, with particular emphasis on telehealth and cultural competence in working with Native American populations. Meier and Shiota are also working to develop a new program providing online continuing education training that will share cutting-edge science directly with the behavioral health community.  

Another central SATRN initiative is its Glen J. Swette Seed Grant program, which funds innovative, early-stage research led by academic and community partners in collaboration. 

Examples include a project tracking the effects of cannabis legalization in Arizona, led by Madeline Meier of ASU, Anne Boustead of the University of Arizona and the MATFORCE coalition; as well as a new intervention aimed at preventing substance use among children of incarcerated parents, led by ASU’s Liza Hita and Helena Valenzuela of the Arizona Department of Corrections. 

Another seed grant-funded project, led by ASU’s Raminta Daniulaityte and Haley Coles of Sonoran Prevention Works, has studied the potential of drug-checking services to detect fentanyl in street drugs, potentially saving lives.

SATRN also hosts a lunchtime brown-bag talk series each semester of the academic year; working groups on topics of shared interest including harm reduction, youth messaging surrounding marijuana, neonatal abstinence syndrome and new parents, and dissemination, implementation and adaptation across cultural contexts; and an annual meeting where members can network, share knowledge and form new collaborations. 

“Our hope is that through enhanced communication and collaboration, research on addiction and substance use disorders can move at a faster pace and ask the right questions, and that policy is able to follow,” said Shiota. 

To keep up to date on SATRN’s activities, email SATRN Administrative Associate Camille Avila to be added to SATRN’s newsletter and email lists.

Robert Ewing

Marketing and Communications Manager, Department of Psychology


Public affairs, political science alum follows great-grandmother’s legacy of community service

Evelyn Gratts’ life of activism inspires ’21 grad Alisha Cathirell-Tanzer in her AmeriCorps work to reduce poverty in Los Angeles

November 15, 2022

Editor’s note: This is a feature highlighting successful careers in public service as part of ASU’s Salute to Service celebration.

Alisha Cathirell-Tanzer’s great-grandmother, Evelyn Gratts, dedicated her life to the youth of Los Angeles through political activism and battling for change. Alisha Cathirell-Tanzer, School of Public Affairs, alum, 2021 Alisha Cathirell-Tanzer. Photo courtesy Alisha Cathirell-Tanzer Download Full Image

Today Cathirell-Tanzer is also in the thick of public service, working with AmeriCorps to organize volunteers for local nonprofits dedicated to relieving poverty in the nation’s second-largest city. Gratts never went to college, but Cathirell-Tanzer did — recently earning two Arizona State University bachelor’s degrees — and is doing many of the same things her great-grandmother did.

“She was a remarkable woman who lived her life for the children of Los Angeles, but the funny thing is that I didn’t know much about her accomplishments at all,” said Cathirell-Tanzer, who works for L.A. Works, a nonprofit that partners with AmeriCorps to alleviate poverty.

Cathirell-Tanzer couldn’t have asked for a better role model than Gratts, who lived at a time of great social upheaval during the 1960s and '70s. She marched with labor leader Cesar Chavez; campaigned for the first Black female major-party presidential candidate, Shirley Chisholm; and was friends with Los Angeles’ first Black mayor, Tom Bradley.

“She was just Grandmother Gratts to me,” Cathirell-Tanzer said. “I knew we would volunteer and help feed the elderly during the holidays and that she traveled a lot to talk to people, but I never fully understood what was going on until (I participated in) a project at Santa Monica College, where I talked to some of my older relatives about their experiences growing up during the civil rights movement.”

As she researched her great-grandmother, Cathirell-Tanzer said she discovered a woman “who fervently believed that her role was to speak truth to power. She worked tirelessly to speak for the children and Black communities of Los Angeles. Despite not having a higher education or an elected position, she had done exactly what I was going to school to do.”

A returning student, Cathirell-Tanzer earned two Bachelors of Science from ASU in December 2021. The first is in public service and public policy from the School of Public Affairs in the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions, and the second is in political science from the School of Politics and Global Studies in The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, both via ASU Online. She is continuing her higher education, pursuing an online Master of Public Administration degree from the University of Southern California, expecting to graduate in August 2024.

Read on to learn more about Cathirell-Tanzer, her time at ASU and how her work today continues to honor her great-grandmother’s legacy.

Question: Tell us a little about yourself today and your early years.

Answer: I was born in Altadena, California, and I’ve lived here for almost my whole life. After high school, I worked in medical billing, had my daughter, Jade, and lived my best nerd life. Eventually, though, I decided I needed to do more. I started taking classes online at Santa Monica College. SMC helped me figure out that going back to school was possible and helped me see what I could do with that education. But I wanted to do more than what SMC could offer, so I transferred to ASU.

Along with starting at ASU, I also started working at L.A. Works. My job and education complemented each other really well, and I was frequently able to use examples from work in class, or things we had discussed in class for work.

I still live in Altadena with my dad, my 13-year-old daughter, my husband, our baby and an exuberant corgi named Nugget.

Q: You’ve said you’re following in your great-grandmother’s footsteps. Tell us more about her and the importance of having a strong connection to her legacy.

A: From a young age, she was dedicated to her community. As a young woman, in a time when women, especially Black women like her, were broadly discouraged from driving, she learned how to drive and maintain cars, and then proceeded to teach others in her neighborhood. This early, hands-on activism would grow into a passion for education and fighting to bring resources to underserved communities. ... She became an education advocate and lobbyist at City Hall, at the state Capitol in Sacramento and even in Washington, D.C.

One of her great successes was helping bring Head Start to Los Angeles. Her tireless fight for education led to the city paying tribute to her by changing the law on the books to allow her to be the first living person in Los Angeles to have two elementary schools named after her.

She passed when I was young, and my family’s no-nonsense, stoic attitude means that we don’t really talk about past accomplishments, so I hadn’t known any of this. But once I found out, I felt vindicated in my pursuit of higher education, as well as angry that I was fighting the same battles today for my daughter as she fought for hers. She has become a guidepost for me, a reminder that what I want to do is both possible and necessary.

Q: What obstacles related to being a nontraditional student did you face?

A: As a single, working mother, my biggest challenge early in my pursuit of higher education was time. While at SMC, I was able to find a decent part-time job (and met my future husband through mutual friends), which helped give me room to make education part of my life again, but by the time I started at ASU, I had transitioned to working full time at L.A. Works and had to learn to juggle work, parenting, school and being in a relationship.

Another challenge I faced is that I am the first in my immediate family to pursue higher education. My parents and grandparents did not attend college. So while they were supportive, they didn’t really understand what I was going through, and I didn’t have an example to follow.

Q: Today you’re working with AmeriCorps with L.A. Works. What are you doing there? Tell us about the people you serve.

A: I am L.A. Works’ director of AmeriCorps State and National, VISTA. (It’s a mouthful.) L.A. Works’ primary mission is to mobilize volunteers in Los Angeles, typically partnering with other nonprofits or corporations. I work with AmeriCorps (an independent agency of the United States government formerly known as the Corporation for National and Community Service) to place AmeriCorps members at local nonprofits.

Our VISTA members serve a term of one year at nonprofits focused on alleviating poverty in Los Angeles. These volunteers provide professional-level services to build the capacity of their host organization. In return, they receive a stipend and an award upon completion of their term of service. Our VISTA host sites focus on everything from literacy programs to food insecurity projects.

Around the time I graduated from ASU, I also led an effort to secure a grant through the new Public Health Program, which will place full- and part-time volunteers at public health nonprofit organizations to help build public health initiatives serving underserved communities across Los Angeles.

Q: How did your time as a student prepare you for life after graduation?

A: It is impossible for me to detangle life after graduation and before. I started my position at L.A. Works very close to when I started at ASU, and the two experiences are entwined.

In almost every class, I found things that I could relate immediately to my job. And in almost every class, I was able to use my experiences at my job to inform my work. For example, at the same time as I took a class that focused heavily on intergovernmental and extragovernmental cooperation, I was heavily involved with the California Climate Action Corps, a statewide program to place volunteers at organizations focused on environmental goals. This program involved heavy interaction between state and local governments, as well as government agencies and nonprofits. Not only was I able to use my experience in papers, but the subjects covered in class helped me and my team to build and manage the program more effectively.

My education provided me with real and actionable knowledge that I was able to put to use immediately. My ability to grow our programs and manage a growing team — along with my promotion to director — would have been impossible without the things I learned at Watts.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: As a working mom, online education was a must, and ASU’s program was the best fit for me out of all the programs I applied to. I was extremely happy with the ease of use of ASU’s systems and the transparency of the application process and what the road to my degree entailed. Other programs seemed too convoluted, or their systems were difficult to use, or their classes were handled in a way that was too inflexible to fit my life. I knew what degree I wanted to pursue from the start, so I liked that ASU gave me a map of what I would need to take, giving me clear goals to pursue.

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

A: For those who are already in the thick of it, run your race to the best of your abilities. You got this. My final semester at ASU was a doozy. I found out in July that I was pregnant, so my then-fiancé and I decided to step up our original plan for our wedding from March 2022 (after graduation) to October 2021 (before graduation). So I ended up planning our destination wedding while doing my senior capstone. At the six-month mark of my pregnancy, right after our wedding, my son decided that I had my fun and began really kicking my butt. I got gestational hypertension, carpal tunnel and had three final papers due. Life is going to throw everything it’s got at you, but even with huge obstacles, you can do the work. Sometimes you’ll have to ask for help or extensions, but if you just keep focused on getting the next assignment done, then the next, you will get there.

For those who are getting started, be precise and purposeful about plotting out your classes. I made sure I plotted out at least two semesters in advance, so I was never stuck if a class wasn’t available that semester. Check your road map and make sure not to leave off any little requirements until too late. Also, try to game the system a bit and find things that will satisfy multiple requirements; that will make sure you have room for the things you want to focus on.

Lastly, don’t completely lose who you are and what you love. Academia can be rigorous, but once it's done and you achieved your degree, then what? You still have to be a whole person, so never lose your hobbies or the things that made you happy on the way to achieving your goals.

Q: What is something you think would surprise people to learn about you?

A: It doesn’t come up a lot in school and work, so I think people are often surprised at how big a nerd I am. I have a huge collection of dice. I met my husband because of our mutual love of a Dungeons & Dragons actual-play podcast. I read comics and watch anime. I try to have all the consoles when I can afford them. I love cheesy Kindle Unlimited romance stories. School takes a lot of time and effort; it’s important to try to keep in touch with the things you love. I might not have enough time to play D&D or do cosplay these days, but they’re still important parts of who I am.

Q: What is your life motto in one sentence?

A: My family are very practical people, so I think our motto would be, “When it comes to helping others, get it done.”

Mark J. Scarp

Media Relations Officer, Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions


What can be done about cynicism, hopelessness in the face of climate change?

Conservationist and writer William deBuys to give talk on how to not lose heart while looking at our planetary predicament

November 15, 2022

On Wednesday, Nov. 16, conservationist and writer William deBuys will be presenting a lecture titled, “Rediscovering Earth in an Age of Loss,” on the way people view and have viewed climate change and species loss over the last 50 years. 

DeBuys is the author of 10 books, including his most recent, "The Trail to Kanjiroba: Rediscovering Earth in an Age of Loss,” published in 2021. He has been a Kluge Distinguished Visiting Scholar at the Library of Congress, a Guggenheim Fellow, and a Lyndhurst Fellow. He was the founding chair of the Valles Caldera Trust, responsible for administering the 89,000-acre Valles Caldera National Preserve in northern New Mexico. A glacier with many peaks and ridges Photo courtesy of Download Full Image

This lecture is hosted by the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies, the School for the Future of Innovation in Society and the Arizona Historical Society and will begin at 6 p.m. at the Arizona Heritage Center, 1300 N. College Ave., Tempe. 

Prior to the lecture, attendees can explore the Climates of Inequality exhibit at the center, which explores environmental injustices in over 20 communities and how these communities are confronting the climate crisis.

We sat down with deBuys to talk about his research and latest book. 

Question: When did you first begin conducting climate research, and what brought you to this discipline?

William deBuys

Answer: I have been aware of the threat of climate change since reading Bill McKibben’s “The End of Nature” in 1989. In January 2006, however, I saw a map depicting future water woes that would afflict the Southwest and the world. The challenge embodied in the map inspired me to search out the people who made the map and find out how they reached their conclusions. That was the beginning of the research for “A Great Aridness.”

Q: The “Trail to Kanjiroba” is the third book in a trilogy that began with “A Great Aridness.” Tell us about that journey? How do these books fit together?

A: The first book, “A Great Aridness,” was a deep dive into the dynamics and probable effects of climate change in the Southwest. The second, “The Last Unicorn,” told the story of a wildlife expedition I accompanied into the remote and little-explored mountains separating Vietnam and Lao People's Democratic Republic. Our quarry was the rarest, largest terrestrial mammal on Earth, a forest browser called the saola, which looks like a beautiful, stocky antelope. We found no saola, and today the species is at the very brink of extinction, but we encountered much evidence of the ghoulish wildlife trade that provides animals and animal parts for traditional medicine practices throughout much of East Asia. “The Last Unicorn” is ultimately an adventure story and a tribute to one of the planet’s most enigmatic creatures, but it is also an account of a grisly theater in humankind’s global assault on wildlife. 

After those two books, I needed renewal. I needed to answer the question, “How do we face the facts of climate change and biodiversity loss without losing heart? How do we take heart and increase our efforts to protect the beauty and splendor of the natural world?”

I hasten to add that the trilogy was unplanned. In fact I would never have had the audacity to set out on such a large project at the outset. It had to develop organically out of real and personally pressing questions.

Q: One of the striking things about “A Trail to Kanjiroba” and “The Last Unicorn” is the stunning loss of biodiversity in the past 50 years. What are the implications of that change, and how do we explain that loss to our neighbors or our children?

A: I have a young grandchild. When I am with her, I am struck by how animals dominate her books and toys, which are full of elephants, alligators, turtles and countless other species. These animals embody the wonder of the world. That’s why we delight our children with their images. Yet today, there exist only about a third of the number of wild mammals and birds that existed when I was in college. Large oceanic fish are down by 90%. And the culprit, even more than the poachers serving the wildlife trade in Southeast Asia, is the habitat loss, pollution and general rapacity of industrial civilization in which we all share responsibility. Like climate change, this is a solvable problem. We can do much better. We must.

Q: Climate change is often viewed as an exclusively policy and scientific issue; your work — especially “Trail to Kanjiroba” — brings a deep emotional connection to the problem, and the planet. Why does emotion belong in this conversation, and how might we inject human compassion into the discussion? 

A: We can only meet the challenges of the future if we avoid cynicism, numbness and despair. The cynical forces that benefit from the problems beleaguering the planet would be delighted if we all sank into mindless consumerism. And, alas, far too often that’s what many of us are doing. To remain engaged and focused, to keep fighting for solutions, we have to stoke our passion for justice and for the beauty of our lands and waters. We also have to be prepared to grieve over inevitable losses and yet carry on. We can only do this as whole people, unified in body, mind and spirit. The challenges we face are not a numbers game. Reason alone will not take us through them. We have to have heart.

Q: “A Great Aridness” was published over a decade ago. Where does Arizona stand now?

A: Except for people who live under an ideological rock, everybody in the Southwest knows that water supplies are getting stretched to the breaking point and that our forests are succumbing to fires, insects and drought as never before. For a long time, climate scientists have told us to prepare for these changes, but we have done a lackluster job of heeding their warnings. Pretty much all the predictions of the climate models are coming true, except in one respect — they are arriving faster than forecast. The further truth is this: Future changes will not proceed in easy manageable increments; they will tend to snowball. The time for hemming and hawing is long past. 

Q: The challenges facing the Colorado River and Arizona, specifically the increasing urban demand and declining water levels, are not unique when it comes to America’s rivers, or those around the world. Could you speak to some of the more innovative ways that communities along rivers have been responding?

A: We are going to see big reallocations of our declining water resources from agriculture to urban and industrial uses. We Southwesterners should be devoting our social energy and imagination to how we make those reallocations as equitable as possible. Here I am thinking not so much of land and water rights owners, as I suspect they will be compensated and do all right, but of farmworkers, equipment salespeople and the others, like schoolteachers, who get paid from the tax stream of the agricultural economy.

Q: In your own words, why is your research important?

A: I am not sure I can answer that question. The research is important to me personally, and I hope by sharing it, it becomes important to others. I don’t expect it to change people’s minds directly, but perhaps as one more quantum in a sea of information, something I have written might help to change the balance of social understanding. If nothing else, I am bearing witness to my world. In terms of my own interior dialogue, this is something I am obliged to do if I am to be at peace with myself.

Register to attend deBuys’ talk on the Arizona Historical Society’s website.

Rachel Bunning

Communications program coordinator, School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies

Meet student researchers impacting real-world challenges

ASU students presenting at the FURI Symposium are developing solutions for data science, sustainable plastic, cybersecurity, new computing paradigms and more

November 15, 2022

Viewing Mars in virtual reality, developing durable and recyclable plastic, investigating electric vehicle cybersecurity and boosting brain-inspired computing are just some of the ways Arizona State University students are engaging in creative problem-solving through hands-on research.

Students in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at ASU have a variety of opportunities to apply their classroom knowledge in diverse research pursuits. Their work is making a difference in their communities by addressing real-world challenges in data science, education, energy, health, security and sustainability. Software engineering major Kaycee Nienhuis and computer science graduate student Radhika Ganapathy look at images on a computer screen with a virtual reality headset on a desk as part of MORE research with the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at ASU. Radhika Ganapathy (right) looks at Mars rover image data with Arizona State University Meteor Studio colleague Kaycee Nienhuis, a software engineering major, as part of a research project with the Master’s Opportunity for Research in Engineering, or MORE, program to help visualize data for mission planning and other applications. Ganapathy is one of many student researchers in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at ASU helping to solve real-world problems through hands-on research. Photo by Erika Gronek/ASU Download Full Image

The Fulton Undergraduate Research Initiative, or FURI, and the Master’s Opportunity for Research in Engineering, or MORE, programs give students valuable experiences in which they spend a semester conceptualizing an idea, developing a plan and investigating their research question with a faculty mentor.

Students in the Grand Challenges Scholars Program, or GCSP, have the option of conducting research as part of the program’s rigorous competency requirements that uniquely prepare them to solve complex global societal challenges.

Through these three programs, students enhance their ability to innovate, think independently and solve problems in their communities. The technical and soft skills they gain support their career and pursuits of advanced degrees.

Twice per year, students who participate in FURI, MORE and GCSP are invited to present their research findings at the FURI Symposium.

Learn about four Fulton Schools students participating in the fall 2022 FURI Symposium. Meet them and more than 60 other student investigators at the event, which is open to the public from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 18, at the Sun Devil Fitness Complex on the ASU Tempe campus.

A look at some of the projects

Radhika Ganapathy

Computer science graduate student Radhika Ganapathy is building a pipeline for Mars image data to be processed and viewed in extended reality applications like virtual reality.

Images taken by Mars rovers are not viewable in their original format, so Ganapathy is working with Robert LiKamWa, an associate professor of electrical engineering in the Fulton Schools with a dual appointment in ASU's School of Arts, Media and Engineering, and LiKamWa’s Meteor Studio extended reality research lab to create a new open-source tool to view Mars rover images for a variety of applications.

Computer science graduate student Radhika Ganapathy demonstrates the use of virtual reality to visualize data in the ASU Meteor Studio as part of her MORE research project in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

Computer science graduate student Radhika Ganapathy (right) is helping people visualize Mars image data with virtual reality in her MORE research project with ASU Meteor Studio member Kaycee Nienhuis, a software engineering undergraduate student. Photo by Erika Gronek/ASU

Question: Why did you choose the project you’re working on?

Ganapathy: My interests lie in solving real-world problems related to data and human visual perception. In particular, I am inclined toward understanding the way people look at and interact with visual data. I got an opportunity to work under Dr. Robert LiKamWa and (graduate research assistant) Lauren Gold at Meteor Studios on their Mars Data Explore team. The project entailed scraping and processing planetary data to make it usable in an extended reality environment. I chose to work on this project because it was riveting and would serve as a great asset to the mixed-reality planetary projects that are in the works at ASU.

Q: How will your engineering research project impact the world?

Ganapathy: There are very few open-source tools available to scrape and access planetary data, mainly images, that are being recorded by rovers on Mars. The data that NASA publishes through the Planetary Data System is not in a viewable format. They use their native image format that requires processing before it can be used for any application.

Through the pipeline I am building, one can download and view Martian images that are being captured by the Perseverance Rover during the Mars 2020 mission. This open-source project can be used by the world to scrape Mars data and use it for various applications. Currently, the data is going to be used for the project “Mars on the Field,” a pilot project undertaken by the ASU Interplanetary Initiative. This will also be crucial for planetary scientists to conduct rover planning and prototype pilot missions in virtual reality before executing them on Mars.

Learn more about Ganapathy’s fall 2022 MORE project.

Micayla Corker

Micayla Corker is a chemical engineering junior in the FURI program working with Kailong Jin, an assistant professor of chemical engineering. She wants to reduce the proliferation of single-use plastics by modifying a recyclable polymer — a material like plastic or proteins made of very large molecules — to improve its durability for use in 3D printing and other applications where single-use plastics are the norm.

Corker’s work was also sponsored by W. L. Gore & Associates, which provides extra funding for outstanding FURI and MORE projects for one semester.

Chemical engineering student Micayla Corker works with equipment in a lab as part of the FURI program at the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at ASU.

Chemical engineering junior Micayla Corker is studying recyclable polymers in her FURI project to help reduce the amount of single-use plastics used in a variety of applications, including 3D printing. Photo by Erika Gronek/ASU

Q: Why did you choose the project you’re working on?

Corker: I chose this project, which focuses on sustainable polymers for improved circularity, because I’ve always had a passion for sustainability and was interested in learning more about polymers. This project was a very hands-on way for me to combine both of those principles.

Q: How will your engineering research project impact the world?

Corker: Today, plastics have a wide variety of uses, such as fabrics in fashion, IV tubes in medicine and steering wheels in the automotive industry. However, most plastics that are produced are single-use and discarded, making up the majority of human waste per year. My research project will help combat this issue by making a recyclable polymer with the thermal and mechanical properties necessary to replace single-use plastics in various applications.

Q: How do you see this experience helping with your career goals?

Corker: My involvement in FURI and other extracurriculars will help me establish myself as someone who is excited to learn, is a dedicated student and a hard worker. I am currently looking for internships, and having experience to talk about during interviews is very helpful. Also, because I am interested in pursuing a career in materials manufacturing, my experience with polymers shows that I have a unique perspective to offer. 

Learn more about Corker’s fall 2022 FURI project.

Saif Elsaady

Saif Elsaady, a sophomore in the engineering program’s electrical systems concentration, is interested in electric vehicles, or EVs.

Elsaady is conducting research on the cybersecurity of electric vehicles to help owners guard against potential cyberattacks with Ayan Mallik, an assistant professor of engineering, as part of the FURI program. He says he was surprised by the simplicity of electric vehicles and has been excited to explore how they work.

Engineering student Saif Elsaady works with Assistant Professor Ayan Mallik to explore electric vehicle cybersecurity as part of the FURI program in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at ASU.

Engineering sophomore Saif Elsaady (right) is investigating the cybersecurity of electric vehicles and their chargers with Assistant Professor Ayan Mallik (left) as part of the FURI program. Photo by Erika Gronek/ASU

Q: What made you want to get involved in FURI and the project you chose?

Elsaady: The idea of learning more and expanding my network has always been of interest to me. I’ve always wanted to learn more about electric cars and the specific differences they have from internal combustion engine vehicles. I chose this project because it is an opportunity to do that.

Q: How will your engineering research project impact the world?

Elsaady: Cyberattacks are a major threat to electric vehicles and chargers. This engineering research project will help impact the world in that it will help people better prepare against cyberattacks on electric cars.

Plugging an electric vehicle into a charging station allows it to draw power from the grid. Chargers power an electric motor, which rotates the wheels, by storing the electricity in rechargeable batteries, which then provide power for the motor as needed. The microcontroller and charging system within the car are the main targets of cyberattacks in electric cars.

Attackers can use different methods to overcharge or undercharge a car’s battery, as well as obtain information regarding the owner of the vehicle from the charging station. The biggest issue I seek to address is limiting cyberattacks and ensuring EV safety and preparedness with software modifications.

Learn more about Elsaady’s fall 2022 FURI project.

Sritharini Radhakrishnan

Electrical engineering senior Sritharini Radhakrishnan is working to improve brain-inspired, or neuromorphic, computing through her FURI project with Ivan Sanchez Esqueda, an assistant professor of electrical engineering.

Her work focuses on testing a certain type of memristor, a new type of electric circuit component that retains memory even without power. 

Electrical engineering student Sritharini Radhakrishnan is researching memristors through FURI in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at ASU.

Electrical engineering Sritharini Radhakrishnan is exploring components of brain-inspired computing called memristors in her FURI research project. Photo by Erika Gronek/ASU

Q: How will your engineering research project impact the world?

Radhakrishnan: This project will make a difference in the field by providing more substantial evidence of 2D memristor array capabilities and the potential of neuromorphic computing systems.

Everyone in the field aims to advance neuromorphic computing to the point that any device using the current von Neumann computing architecture can be replaced with a neuromorphic one. To achieve such a goal, it is vital to show that the neuromorphic computing scheme is competitive with the von Neumann one by demonstrating that neuromorphic circuits can carry out complex operations faster and with greater efficiency.

My FURI project will show how an array of 2D hexagonal boron nitride (h-BN) memristor devices can perform the dot-product operation, a function common to all machine learning algorithms. To further the demonstration, the project will show that the h-BN memristor array can perform linear and logistic regression.

Q: How do you see this experience helping with your career goals?

Radhakrishnan: This experience has opened my mind to pursuing a graduate degree in engineering. Both industry and academic research are great places to practice clever thinking in the face of complex challenges. But I think the latter is better suited to me because of the space I’ll have to figure out how all the electrical engineering tools I’ve gained so far can help me become a better problem-solver.

The knowledge I gained working with h-BN memristors as a resistive random-access memory device helped me to land a memory validation internship with Intel and a research aide position working with memristor technology developed by Sandia National Laboratories with electrical engineering Associate Professor Matthew Marinella.

Learn more about Radhakrishnan’s fall 2022 FURI project.

Monique Clement

Lead communications specialist, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


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ASU summit addresses diversity, inclusion in STEM

November 15, 2022

Kristen Parrish opened last week's Natural Sciences Inclusion Summit 2022 with words that set the stage for the daylong event. 

“It’s all about connections,” said the associate director of the Research for Inclusive STEM Education (RISE) Center at Arizona State University.

The summit, which took place Nov. 9 at ASU's Memorial Union, brought together 19 speakers from the university community to discuss current research that identifies and addresses inequities in STEM education. The event was hosted by The College of LIberal Arts and Sciences and the RISE Center.

“The point of today is to walk away with more connections and identify ways that we can work together and support one another,” Parrish said. “That is the goal of our session.” 

With nearly 300 people participating both online and in person, there was a good chance of reaching that goal.

Sara Brownell, director of the RISE Center and an organizer of the event, was thrilled with the turnout.

After two years of online programming, “we wanted to really give people the opportunity to come together and build community,” said Brownell, who is also an education researcher and teaches undergraduate biology at ASU.

The theme of inclusiveness permeated the entire day. In addition to deans and university leaders, organizers intentionally included a range of professors, faculty members and students from various backgrounds to deliver the 10-minute, lightning-style talks.

“We were really intentional about the talks,” Brownell said. “We wanted to make sure that multiple voices were heard, not just across disciplines but also in terms of position.”

Including more students

Lisa Magana started the day celebrating a major milestone — ASU’s recent distinction by the U.S. Department of Education as a Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI). That recognition means at least 25% of the full-time undergraduate students enrolled at ASU are Hispanic. 

“This is a really big deal for ASU,” said Magana, associate dean of diversity, equity and inclusion for The College. “And it’s not just the demographics. It’s the policies and nationally recognized programs that support the retention and graduation of Latino students.”

“What can we do to create a more inclusive future for the academic enterprise?” asked Kenro Kusumi, dean of natural sciences, as the summit began. “What kind of methods of instruction can we use to reach more learners and a broader and more diverse set of learners?

“That’s what we want to know today. We’re all very engaged in research and activities to create an environment that is inclusive — where everyone can thrive.”

Research, results and more

Nearly every talk had some element of interactivity to it — allowing participants to be more engaged in the summit and connected with others. 

During one talk, PhD student Carly Busch talked about her research on the diversity of identities. Busch said that when professors — particularly those from stigmatized communities — reveal what may be described as their unseen identity, they can play a powerful role in making students with similar identities feel more comfortable and connected. 

Other talks touched on reaching and retaining online students.

Julie Greenwood discussed the unique academic challenges online students face and how systems such as InScribe, which empowers students by connecting them to the answers, resources and people they need to succeed, can help.

“We have learning assistance in the community almost 24/7,” said Greenwood, vice dean for educational initiatives at EdPlus, which works to increase student success and reduce barriers to achievement. “There's always someone there who can help support them.”

During the lunch poster session, the Memorial Union's Arizona Ballroom was buzzing as attendees spoke to 23 researchers about their poster presentations. 

A few examples:

  • PhD student Baylee Edwards explored the experiences of Christian students in undergraduate biology classes.
  • PhD student Amalie Strange's presentation focused on a digital interactive beehive tour for low income students “to experience a connection with honeybees.”
  • ASU Instructor Ally Hamie’s poster presentation was on how faculty members’ perceptions of students — particularly underrepresented minority students — can have a direct impact on their direction in STEM programs. “There really is science behind this,” Hamie said.
Natural Science Inclusion Summit features research presentations.

Summit attendees look at posters showing undergraduate and graduate students' research at the Natural Sciences Inclusion Summit 2022, on Nov. 9, in the Memorial Union. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News

A future of increased inclusion

Executive Vice President and University Provost Nancy Gonzales wrapped up the discussions of the day.

“I believe our ability to diversify the sciences and focus on equity and inclusion is actually fundamental to addressing some of the challenges we’re seeing in higher education today,” she said. 

Gonzales discussed the university's initiatives related to Indigenioius, Black and online students, and reflected on the univeristy's new HSI status and the increase in first-generation and Pell Grant-eligible students.

“If you look across the board, we’ve made tremendous gains in increasing the diversity of our students to more closely match the diversity of our state,” Gonzales said.

She said ASU plans for continued success and that summit researchers will play a part in those plans.

“Ultimately, the goal is to go beyond special programs to inclusion for all students in scalable ways,” she said. “We are trying to really examine everything we are doing and we really need the ideas you are developing to bring into our redesign process.” 

Top photo: PhD student Amalie Strange presents her research on equitable access to nature during last week's Natural Sciences Inclusion Summit 2022. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News

Dolores Tropiano

Reporter , ASU News

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This imaginative tech is transforming conservation

November 14, 2022

Conservation is a call to protect and restore life on our planet, and the need is urgent. But the scientists who guide this work are limited by the amount of ground they can cover. At Arizona State University’s Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science, researchers are expanding their reach — and their senses — with labs that fly, drones that swim, cameras that orbit and other imaginative technology to study ecosystems around the world.

The center, a unit of the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory, leads environmental research that helps communities adapt to and address the effects of global environmental change.

“To do something at a scale beyond your visual, temporal or programmatic reach requires technology,” says Greg Asner, who directs the center. “It’s not the answer to conservation, but you won’t get the conservation done without it.”

photo of interior of GAO shows two front-facing chairs, two chairs facing large monitors and a copper sensor mount in the back

Step inside the Global Airborne Observatory plane and you’ll see a carbon fiber interior with computer screens on one wall behind the pilot and co-pilot chairs, a supercomputer hard drive the size of a small filing cabinet, and in the back a giant copper cylinder on a rolling, pneumatic mount that holds all the sensor heads. Photo courtesy of Greg Asner

It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s … no, wait, it is a plane

The Global Airborne Observatory is a Dornier 228 airplane. Formerly a 21-seater, it has been gutted and crammed with an array of scanners and supercomputers, making it a high-tech hub for environmental science.

As the plane scans regions of the Earth below, it gathers a slew of measurements and uses artificial intelligence to get a picture of an ecosystem’s health.

Asner and his team help nations identify areas with the greatest variety of life, called biodiversity, to decide where to center conservation efforts.

“We discovered those with the airborne observatory, and then many of those became new protected areas — new national parks, for example,” says Asner, who is also a professor in the School of Ocean Futures.

Since joining ASU in 2019, he has focused much of his effort on mapping the world’s coral reefs for the Allan Coral Atlas. The project measures not just where reefs are, but also their health and the surrounding environmental conditions. This data gives governments and conservation groups guidance on where to set aside protected marine areas and where to focus resources.

>>RELATED: Read more about how Allen Coral Atlas tracks reef threats and drives ocean sustainability

illustration of GAO showing sensors, supercomputer and control panels inside. The plane flies over water and scans for high-res images, 3D maps and chemical signatures.

The Global Airborne Observatory takes three main types of measurements: 3D images for mapping, “hyperspectral” images for chemical signatures, and ultra-high-resolution images for detailed visuals. Illustration by Shireen Dooling

The plane takes three main types of measurements. The first, 3D imaging, uses proprietary laser technology to see beneath the tops of trees or the water’s surface all the way to the forest or ocean floor, and all the structures and life-forms in between.

It also takes “hyperspectral” images, which go beyond visible wavelengths of light to capture those across the entire electromagnetic spectrum. From these images, the team can tell what chemicals are present, which they use to measure oil spills or chemical leaks.

The third type of data is ultra-high-resolution images. If the chemical scans reveal a methane leak in an agricultural area, for example, the high-res camera can zoom in to see exactly which cattle paddock it’s coming from.

Saddle up, satellites

In addition to flying for the Allen Coral Atlas project, Asner is using the plane to prepare for an upcoming project called Carbon Mapper in partnership with Planet, an organization that provides daily satellite data. The project will allow researchers to see the day-by-day changes happening in ecosystems all over Earth.

Carbon Mapper’s two satellites, which are expected to launch in August 2023, have some of the same technology on board as the plane. Before the launch, the plane is flying over the U.S. to gather sample data. This data will supplement future satellite data as well as train Carbon Mapper’s machine-learning software to better analyze what it finds.

Once the satellites are in operation, Carbon Mapper will observe methane and carbon dioxide emissions, land use and agricultural pollution, and coastal water quality. It will also begin a new stage for the Allen Coral Atlas team, who will use the newer technology to improve their coral maps.

photo of ohia tree in bloom

The Hawaiian ohia tree is vulnerable to disease, but the Spectranomics research project may help conservationists track the spread of disease and find resistant tree populations. Photo courtesy of Robin Martin

Sensing some chemistry here

Robin Martin is the brains behind the Global Airborne Observatory’s ability to detect the chemicals in an environment based on spectral imaging. Through her research project, Spectranomics, she found an amazing second use for this information. She can tell plant and coral species apart based on their unique chemical signatures. This lets her see which species are living in a certain area.

Megan Seely, an ASU geography graduate student, is using Spectranomics to tell apart different varieties of ohia, a tree that grows in Hawaii. She hopes to map the spread of a disease called rapid ohia death to find out if some types of ohia are more resistant than others.

“Spectranomics was developed to expand our knowledge of how remote sensing properties, particularly spectra, measure the underlying chemistry that has evolved through time,” says Martin, an associate professor in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning and a core faculty member of the center.

Martin had to do a lot of groundwork before the observatory plane was able to do its remote sensing from the sky. To develop this method, she sampled tropical trees, ground up their leaves in the lab, measured 23 chemical traits from each sample, and then used statistical analysis to match those traits to spectral signatures that the plane can recognize. Her lab has archived over 10,000 tree species.

“One of the advantages of being able to use remote sensing is that you can take measurements in places that you can’t physically get to, and you can also look at patterns over much larger areas, which then reveal more about the landscape than if you’re walking around measuring plots, for example,” she says.

In the future, she will be able to tap into Carbon Mapper’s sensing power to take measurements more frequently than she can with the plane.

>>RELATED: Watch Asner and research collaborator Martin in a new YouTube Originals documentary about leaders who are addressing the planet’s environmental crisis

Grad student checks drone equipment on a boat

Engineering graduate student Aravind Adhith Pandian Saravanakumaran checks drone equipment on an ocean field trip during the Bermuda Institute of Oceanic Sciences’ Mid-Atlantic Robotics IN Education (MARINE) program. Photo courtesy of Jnaneshwar Das

Seaworthy robot crew

Jnaneshwar Das, director of the Distributed Robotic Exploration and Mapping Systems (DREAMS) Labbuilds teams of autonomous bots and drones that gather environmental data. As a core faculty member in the Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science, he is developing underwater drones and other robots to analyze the ocean floor in collaboration with Asner and Martin.

Typically, they need divers to take mapping equipment underwater to calibrate the plane’s measurements. Using drones that learn from scientists and collaborate with them means more reef coverage and less required diving time.

“Technology can make us more efficient and can kind of expand our senses. It helps us to do dull and dangerous things,” says Das, who is also an assistant research professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration. “There’s a symbiosis that’s happening.”

Since the project’s beginnings as a sketch of an underwater drone on a napkin, it has grown into a veritable crew of seafaring bots, including the underwater drone, small flying drones, trebuchet-launched cameras and a robotic boat that ferries all of them over the water.

Last summer, DREAMS Lab collaborated with the Bermuda Institute of Oceanic Sciences (BIOS) to create an educational course for Bermudian youths through the Mid-Atlantic Robotics IN Education (MARINE) program. BIOS announced a partnership with ASU last year and is now part of the Global Futures Laboratory.

Two ASU students from the lab spent part of their summer in Bermuda testing the DREAMS Lab equipment in the ocean and using it to introduce marine technology to students from the MARINE program.

Rodney Staggers Jr., now an engineering alumnus, and Aravind Adhith Pandian Saravanakumaran, an engineering graduate student, worked together on building and testing the drones in Arizona so they could withstand the ocean’s extreme conditions. Saravanakumaran focused on the “brains” of the drones, the automation software that guides them, while Staggers concentrated on the “bodies” by designing their durable hardware. Throughout the process, they learned from each other’s specialties and gained an appreciation for what engineering has to offer the planet.

satellite image of tributary flowing into sea, with illustration of phytoplankton, sediment and colored dissolved organic matter

Satellites and machine learning help ASU researcher Jiwei Li gather information about water quality by measuring aspects like cloudiness, colored dissolved organic matter (CDOM) and the chlorophyll present in phytoplankton. Image courtesy of Jiwei Li

The change of tides

Jiwei Li uses satellite images and machine learning to study shallow water quality. Li is part of the center’s core faculty and is an assistant professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration.

Shallow water is not as widely studied as deep ocean water, but it’s vital to the planet’s health. It is home to precious coral reefs, carbon-capturing seagrass and other aquatic wildlife, and it’s often a place where the land’s nutrients and pollutants flow into the water.

Thomas Ingalls is a geological sciences graduate student working in Li’s lab. He sees shallow water as an important resource for nations seeking to lower their carbon emissions. That’s because these aquatic environments are also good at storing carbon.

By gathering millions of shallow water spectral images from satellites around the world, Li’s team creates regional mosaic maps. Machine learning helps turn that data into information about the water's quality by measuring aspects like cloudiness, amount of dissolved organic matter and amount of the photosynthesis pigment chlorophyll a. They also map coral reefs and monitor their health in collaboration with the Allen Coral Atlas project.

“The water quality and turbidity are especially dynamic. It’s not like a forest that doesn’t change much in one or two years. Water might change day by day,” Li says. “We need to use as many satellites as possible to increase the chances that we observe the water conditions.”

The Carbon Mapper satellites will be able to see over 50 times as many spectral bands as traditional satellites, promising a wealth of data. The technology will boost Li and Ingalls’ ability to detect water quality, carbon content, microbe species, seagrasses and pollution sources.

Knowledge makes the best policy

The Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science doesn’t stop at using its tech for research. A defining trait of the center is its goal to turn its findings into action, including helping to create informed policies.

Part of that process involves closing the gap between policymakers and experts such as Indigenous communities and scientists.

“In conservation research, there are traditional knowledges that come from people conserving and utilizing their areas for many generations,” Martin says. “Technology brings numbers to what is already known by those communities, but it acts as a way to translate information. It can give a visual picture that is sometimes more helpful to when you want to go to a policymaker and explain why we need to protect an area.”

Li adds, “Sometimes the people using the technology don’t have a clear sense that what they can do can actually help people in policymaking. And policymakers don’t know what the technology side can give them. The Allen Coral Atlas is an example of a beautiful bridge that connects both.”

The Allen Coral Atlas has helped nations’ leaders understand how to meet their goals for the 30 by 30 initiative, an agreement by over 100 countries that aims to protect 30% of Earth’s land and ocean by 2030. And it’s only one of many efforts at the center aiming for action and better policy. The Nature Conservancy’s Caribbean Division has used Li’s satellite work to plan its coral conservation efforts in that region. Martin’s use of Spectranomics in Peru led to the creation of a new national park. Seely is collaborating with the U.S. Forest Service and Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources to help protect ohia. And the Global Airborne Observatory has helped the state of Hawaii act to protect its coral reefs.

While technology has advanced researchers’ ability to understand the environment, the need for this information continues to grow beyond what they can provide. Even planes can only travel so far in a day.

The satellite technology from Carbon Mapper will be the next big advancement to help close this gap, giving policymakers around the world more immediate access to the knowledge they need and making an environmentally sustainable future possible all the sooner.

The research efforts described in this article are funded in part by Vulcan Inc., Pew Trust, Avatar Alliance Foundation, Dalio Philanthropies, and the John D and Catherine T MacArthur Foundation.

Top photo: Alumnus Rodney Staggers Jr. and grad student Aravind Adhith Pandian Saravanakumaran stand on a boat in Bermuda and launch their small robotic boat, which ferries several other pieces of equipment.

Mikala Kass

Communications Specialist , ASU Knowledge Enterprise


Humanities projects receive funding for Latino research and scholarship

November 14, 2022

Three project teams of principal investigators at Arizona State University have received funding from the Crossing Latinidades Humanities Research Initiative, a subaward of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, at the University of Illinois Chicago. 

The working groups are:  People sitting around a table. The Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies working group, Bridging the Shakespeare–Latinx Divide, holds its first meeting. Download Full Image

  • Bridging the Shakespeare–Latinx Divide: Principal Investigators Ruben Espinosa, ASU; Ayanna Thompson, ASU; Kyle Grady, University of California, Irvine; and Joseph Ortiz, University of Texas at El Paso.

  • The Latinx Past: Archive, Memory, Speculation: Principal Investigators Kirsten Silva Gruesz, University of California, Santa Cruz; Vanessa Pérez-Rosario, CUNY Graduate Center and Queens College; and Anita Huizar-Hernández, ASU.

  • Race Laws in the U.S. Southwest: Research Working Group to Document Laws and Their Impacts 1836–Present: Principal Investigators Monica Muñoz Martinez, University of Texas at Austin; Julian Lim, ASU; and Ana Elizabeth Rosas, University of California, Irvine.

    Housed within the Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies at ASU, the Bridging the Shakespeare–LatinxA gender-neutral term preferred by some for Latinos and Latinas. Divide working group will collaborate, share research, organize symposia and change the face of early-modern literary studies. 

    The three doctoral fellows in each of the project’s two years will participate in, and curate the speakers and specific themes for, each of the two symposia. In this way, they actively guide the conversations about the value of Latino studies in the ongoing shaping of Shakespeare and early-modern studies for Latino students.  

    The project team’s aim is to show these students why their analyses, performances and adaptations of Shakespeare can transform the field by fostering cross-institutional and cross-regional dialogues within the humanities about national and linguistic identity, immigration, race, ethnicity, economics, ethics, citizenship and social justice — all issues that define, in part, the Latino experience in the U.S. 

    “There is vibrant history of Latina/o/x engagement with Shakespeare — from Teatro Campesino to Cantinflas, from local adaptations in la frontera to major productions at the Public Theater in New York, from the fiction of Emma Perez to that of Arturo Islas,” said Espinosa, associate director at the Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies and associate professor in the Department of English 

    “This working group will, in part, interrogate how these Latino/a/x intersections with Shakespeare open doors to reimagine not only Shakespeare’s cultural capital, but also the relevance of Latino/a/x studies to humanistic inquiry more broadly.”

    Housed at the University of California, Santa Cruz, The Latinx Past: Archive, Memory, Speculation working group will both study and utilize through practice the geographically dispersed collections of multilingual documents and multimedia objects that constitute the Latino archive. 

    The group aims to produce new modes of thinking about the Latino past by engaging models of temporality that do not presume common origins or unbroken continuities and traditions. Realizing the potential of this grant’s “Crossing Latinidades” theme, it will circulate knowledge among scholars at different career stages who come in with varying regional and ethno-national interests. 

    A group of six core faculty will share with the graduate fellows a scaffolded set of activities that will begin each year with monthly meetings as a reading group, move through multiple virtual and in-person archive visits and culminate in presentations of original work at public symposia. 

    “One of the main goals of our working group is to rethink how we approach the Latinx past not only as scholars but also as teachers,” said Huizar-Hernández, associate professor in the School of International Letters and Cultures

    “I'm especially happy to bring this work to ASU, which is where I began my own studies as an undergraduate many years ago.”

    The Crossing Latinidades Humanities Research Initiative is a product of the new Alliance of Hispanic Serving Research Universities consortium, which includes all 20 Hispanic-Serving Institutions in the U.S. that have the R1 designation. The consortium focuses its efforts on increasing the number of Latino students pursuing doctoral degrees and advancing to academic positions.

    Award recipients will receive $310,000 and support from six doctoral fellows. In addition, each principal investigator will receive one course release per year for two years.

    “ASU’s designation as a Hispanic-Serving Institution recognizes our continual efforts to expand educational access for our diverse student population. I’m thrilled to see faculty throughout the humanities division who are taking this call for inclusion and accessibility to heart by developing new opportunities for Latinx doctoral students,” said Jeffrey Cohen, dean of humanities at The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. 

    “These fellowships will not only provide these students with essential research experience but will also inform the future of the humanities discipline with their unique perspectives and backgrounds.”

    Leah Newsom contributed to this story. 

Lauren Whitby

Digital Marketing Manager, The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences


Phage Hunters: A course that advances the undergraduate research experience at ASU

Course-based Undergraduate Research Experiences (CUREs) train, support undergrads during early research careers

November 14, 2022

Most students are drawn to STEM disciplines because of their passion for the sciences and strong drive to affect meaningful change in the world. However, the leap from passion to experienced researcher is not always a simple one. Many students don’t know where to start in gaining their own research experiences, and putting together resumes and applications for graduate schools or industry positions can often feel very intimidating.

Mentoring programs provide vital support as students navigate these challenges. Assistant Professor Susanne Pfeifer from the School of Life Sciences has developed a Course-based Undergraduate Research Experience (CURE) called Phage Hunters to give students the opportunity to gain hands-on experience in the laboratory and publish meaningful research.  ASU undergrad standing next to a poster at a conference. Undergraduate researcher Sarah Weiss presented her CURE program research at the Annual Meeting of the American Society for Microbiology. Photo courtesy Susanne Pfeifer Download Full Image

"As part of this CURE, students gain hands-on and marketable experience with genomic data generation and analysis, and they design science-outreach projects to share this work with the community, for example, at local grade schools," Pfeifer said.  

The CURE program is supported by the National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development Program and by Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Science Education Alliance-Phage Hunters Advancing Genomics and Evolutionary Science.

Since it started in fall 2019, 71 undergraduate students with different backgrounds and experience levels have joined the CURE program. Students from various departments, including the School of Life Sciences, the School of Molecular Sciences, the School of Politics and Global Studies and the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences, have participated. 

Pfeifer believes that diversity in research is vital. 

“I firmly believe that undergraduates play an important role in vibrant (and in our case interdisciplinary) research environments as research teams collectively benefit from the enriching differences in our experiences, perspectives and ways of thinking," she said. 

Phage Hunter Fall cohort

Students of the fall 2022 cohort investigating bacteriophage genomic diversity. Photo Courtesy Susanne Pfeifer

Pfeifer investigates genetic and evolutionary processes across different species, from single individuals to whole population dynamics. With this course, she has opened the doors of her laboratory to undergraduate students ready to step up their research careers. 

"Each semester, the topics may vary, but in general, students will learn computational genomics techniques to better understand the evolution and genetics of bacteria-infecting viruses (i.e., bacteriophages)," she said. 

Thanks to their experience in the Phage Hunters CURE, undergraduate students, in collaboration with graduate TAs, have published the results of their research in high-impact microbiology journals. Most recently, students published four articles from the spring 2022 session. 

Two articles characterize the genome sequences of the Gordonia bacteriophage BiggityBass and the mycobacteriophage Phegasus, and the other two perform phylogenomic analyses and predict host ranges for all Gordonia terrae cluster DR and cluster P mycobacteriophages known to date. 

For undergraduates, having the opportunity to publish and start building their credentials in academia so early in their careers is priceless. 

"The published research performed by the undergraduates trained and mentored by me in this CURE is just one example of the achievements of our dedicated and talented ASU undergraduates," Pfeifer said. 

The CURE program is open to all undergraduates seeking to advance their research careers. If you are a student interested in joining the CURE program, read more about the research performed in the Pfeifer Lab or contact Pfeifer directly via email. 

Pfeifer is affiliated with the School of Life Sciences, the Biodesign Center for Mechanisms of Evolution and the Center for Evolution and Medicine.

This article was prepared in collaboration with Susanne Pfeifer, School of Life Sciences Graduate Science Writer Anaissa Ruiz-Tejada and School of Life Sciences Manager of Marketing and Communications Dominique Perkins.