Hand Sun And Blue Sky

With a major research university right in our backyard, a strong military presence and innovative companies spread 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 the region:

Sun Desalination. A team of University of Arizona scientists is developing a solar-powered desalination system that uses less energy and could provide more water for arid regions like Arizona. Funded by a $500,000 grant from the Department of Energy, the solar-powered desalination system recovers water from the “concentrated waste streams” formed from other types of desalination like reverse osmosis. When reverse osmosis occurs, 20 to 50 percent of the water that enters the system remains as a concentrated waste stream. This new solar-powered desalination system also uses photovoltaics and membrane distillation to capture water as efficiently as possible. The team is conducting their research at the UA Optical Sciences Center’s solar testbed. The system employs membrane distillation, which creates a temperature gradient to separate contaminants. The photovoltaics used, which is the technology used in solar panels, converts the sun’s light directly into electricity using semiconductor material. This means the system can serve off-grid areas, such as Native American reservations. 

“The benefit of using both CSP (concentrated solar power) and PV (photovoltaics) is that we can double the energy efficiency compared to existing thermal desalination systems that just use PV or CSP,” said Kerri Hickenbottom, assistant professor of chemical and environmental engineering and principal investigator for the project. “This off-grid system will use renewable energy resources to transform the way we manage high-salinity concentrate typically considered as waste streams.”


Elemental Achievements. The Tucson-based Research Corporation for Science Advancement recently announced the winners of its SEED Awards, which grants $50,000 for research projects and $25,000 for educational projects. The SEED (Singular Exceptional Endeavors of Discovery) Awards are part of ResCorp’s Cottrell Scholar program, and supports “teacher-scholars who are recognized by their scientific communities for the quality and innovation of their research programs and their potential for academic leadership.” This year’s winners all won awards for research. The winners are: Richard Brutchey from the University of Southern California, for optimization of quantum dot nanofabrication; Mark Bussell from Western Washington University, for research in solar fuel production; Seth Herzon from Yale University, for practical methods for oxygen–oxygen bond formation; Hanadi Sleiman from McGill University, for research on DNA hydrogels; Brian Stoltz from California Institute of Technology, for small molecule electron crystallography; and Ann West from University of Oklahoma, for research on anaerobic microbial pathogens. According to senior program director Silvia Ronco, this year’s proposals were extremely strong and came from a diverse pool of Cottrell Scholars, institutions, and chemistry subfields. With these awards, recipients will be able to jump-start “innovative, high-risk, high-reward projects.”


Engineering Speaker Series. The University of Arizona’s College of Engineering is hosting a virtual speaker series that looks “Into the future With Wildcats Engineers.” At the weekly video series, researchers will discuss their high-profile work ranging from aerospace engineering to sustainable development. The webinars will be hosted by college dean David Hahn. At the Sept. 2 webinar “Fast Forwarding to Driverless Cars and Smart Traffic,” transportation experts Jonathan Sprinkle and Yao-Jan Wu will discuss their research on driverless cars, connected vehicles and automated traffic control. At the Sept. 9 webinar “The Future Is Now with Quantum Networks,” engineers Bane Vasic and Zheshen Zhang will discuss an unhackable internet, super-precise GPS, unprecedented computing speed and other quantum possibilities. The 45-minute webinars begin at noon. Learn more and register at engineering.arizona.edu/speakers