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Anna Montana Cirell

With a major research university right in our backyard, a strong military presence and innovative companies throughout the metro region, there’s often a plethora of interesting science and technology news to be found in Southern Arizona. Here’s a breakdown of the most interesting recent developments.


Helping the Hospitals. More than 100 faculty, staff and health care professionals from the University of Arizona and connected Tucson facilities are joining together to manufacture personal protective equipment for local hospitals in need. As the national stockpile of personal protective equipment ran dry, Kasi Kiehlbaugh, director of the UA's Health Sciences Design Program organized the "AZ Makers Fighting COVID-19" online group. The group is using laser cutters to manufacture face shields out of plastic at a faster rate than 3D printers. In addition, they are also using 3D printers to create a mold for respirators to filter out the virus. In one week, the group has produced roughly 3,000 face shields, which will be immediately packaged and sent out for use. However, this will only begin to chip away at the estimated 130,000 face shields Pima County needs, according to Peter Jansen, assistant professor in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences' School of Information. This work is in addition to UA's College of Engineering and College of Medicine 3D-printing N-95 masks for local health workers.

Rural Hotspots. On Wednesday, April 8. Gov. Doug Ducey announced a "Mobile Hotspot Donation Drive" to help students without home internet access to continue their education during the COVID-19 emergency. With all public schools in the state closed until at least the end of the April, and classes transitioning online, many students in rural communities without access to home internet are being left with few options to continue their schooling. To kick the drive off, the Arizona Department of Administration identified more than 200 hotspot devices that the state is offering to students. The Arizona Department of Education is working with schools throughout the state to match the hotspot devices to students who have access to take-home computers provided by their schools, but do not have home internet service. The Drive is part of a partnership between the Arizona Commerce Authority and ADE.

“Teachers and parents are going above and beyond to create virtual and take-home learning opportunities for our students,” Ducey said during the drive's announcement. "We want every student to have access to engaging instruction material while schools are closed. That’s why we’re inviting our private and public partners to help us connect our students to the online resources they need.”

Arizona COVID-19 Genomics Union. The UA's Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology is joining forces with The Pathogen and Microbiome Institute at Northern Arizona University and the Translational Genomics Research Institute to track the spread and evolution of coronavirus in Arizona. The newly founded “Arizona COVID-19 Genomics Union” will examine samples from COVID-19 patients to analyze the virus' genetic code, map out where it has transmitted and hopefully aid in developing a vaccine. The SARS-CoV-2 virus genome sequencing will be coordinated by ACGU member David Engelthaler, Arizona's former state epidemiologist and state biodefense coordinator. Other ACGU members include NAU's Paul Keim, a researcher on pathogens such as plague and anthrax, and UA's Michael Worobey, head of the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and a member of university's BIO5 Institute.