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Biosphere 2 

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.


From Pima to Paris. The University of Arizona has entered into a partnership with the French National Centre for Scientific Research to establish an international research center that will focus on environmental, data and climate science. The new “France-Arizona Institute for Global Grand Challenges” is based at UA and will utilize each establishments’ science strengths: CNRS’ telescopes, particle accelerators and large-scale research facilities across five continents; and UA’s expertise in the fields of optical sciences, data science and environmental research. But what made UA the ideal partner for CNRS is Biosphere 2, the large greenhouse-like facility north of Tucson, which is “the only place in the world where scientists can simulate climate change and study its effects on entire ecosystems in one location.” Though UA and CNRS have previously collaborated on multiple projects, UA says the new Institute will tackle issues such as sustainability and resilience in arid lands; how biomes connect and respond to global change; the nature of dark matter and dark energy; and equitability in the digital revolution. 

“Global challenges simply require global solutions,” said UA president Robert Robbins. “Working in partnership provides our institutions the opportunity to create and innovate in unique ways that we could not attempt or accomplish on our own... We look forward to the center being a hub of global collaboration for the Americas – a point of entry and exchange with the rest of the world and for our hemisphere.”


Furthering Fabrication.The National Science Foundation recently awarded local startup Paramium Technologies a $250,000 Small Business Innovation Research grant to conduct research and development on “efficient manufacturing methods for radio antenna reflectors.” Paramium Technologies’ work aims to enhance access to the internet by increasing prototyping capabilities for antenna designers. Their core product is freeform curved metal panels created with electromagnetic thermoforming technology that both heats and presses the panels. The process uses hybrid effects of localized induction heating  and electromagnetic force. According to Paramium, the adjustable panel molds adapt to the desired shape without machining or hardware changes. The NSF is an independent federal agency with a budget of about $8.5 billion that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering.


Consumption Calendar. The Centers for Disease Control rank obesity and its associated complications as the second leading cause of preventable death in the United States (second only to smoking), accounting for 18% of deaths among Americans aged 40 and 85. Overconsumption of saturated fats and sugar rank among the primary causes for obesity, but research aimed at improving health can be impeded due to limitations in accurately tracking people’s food intake. To solve this disconnect, the University of Arizona is developing a dietary assessment app that will help participants of nutrition studies more accurately track their saturated fat and added sugar intake. 

The National Institutes of Health recently awarded UA Health Sciences a five-year, $3 million grant to develop the app, which will prompt participants throughout the day to report their meals from a list of commonly consumed foods and beverages that contribute the greatest amounts of saturated fat or added sugar in the American diet. Researchers will use the data for a more accurate picture of food consumption, allowing them to make better recommendations to improve health and wellness. According to UA, traditional nutritional studies used mobile apps to deliver “brief, automated surveys to participants periodically throughout the day. These assessments are generally study-specific and not optimized for widespread use in the research community.” This new app is considered the first research-quality, fully automated mobile dietary assessment tool that can be used by researchers to collect dietary data within an “ecological momentary assessment” basis.