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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.

Smartphones and Depression. While a growing body of evidence connects technology addiction with depression and loneliness, it’s been unclear which leads to the other. Does constant smartphone usage make people depressed, or are depressed people more likely to spend time on their smartphones? A new study from researchers at the University of Arizona’s College of Social and Behavioral Sciences found that “smartphone dependency predicts higher reports of depressive symptoms and loneliness, rather than the other way around.” The study examined 346 people aged 17-20 and the links between their “smartphone engagement and psychological well-being.” According to researcher Matthew Lapierre, the main takeaway from the study is smartphone dependency directly predicts later depressive symptoms. The study recommended health practitioners communicate with patients and parents about the links between smartphone use and psychological well-being. 

Tech Jobs in Arizona. The Arizona Technology Council recently announced Arizona’s tech sector is “growing at a rate 40 percent faster than the U.S. overall.” The announcement was in the Arizona Technology Council’s quarterly impact report, which found the state has added 2,600 technology jobs since the beginning of the year. This brings the total number of technology-related jobs in Arizona to more than 180,000. These jobs tend to be high-paying, more than average Arizona wages, with an average annual salary of more than $80,000. Even more, these types of jobs are seeing consistent wage growth. This means Arizona’s technology wages are now 20 percent higher than the national average. And although these STEM-related jobs generally require higher-education, nearly 30 percent of these STEM post-secondary graduates are staying in the state to work.

Quantum Sounds. A new paper published by researchers at the University of Arizona’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering shows the possibility for acoustic waves to work in quantum information processing. In traditional computing, information is stored in binary (with a value of either 0 or 1), but in quantum computing, information can be stored in both positions at once (described as a superposition). While this massively increases the potential for computing, these entangled quantum bit states, or qubits, usually last less than a second before collapsing. Units of light are used in quantum mechanics for data processing, but the UA researchers are taking this a step further. In their paper “The sound of Bell states” they demonstrated for the first time that “classical nonseparability” can be applied to acoustic waves, not just light waves. “Light lasers and single photons are part of the field photonics, but soundwaves fall under the umbrella of phononics, or the study of phonons,” said Pierre Deymier, MSE department head. “In addition to being stable, classically entangled acoustic waves are easy to interact with and manipulate.”

Treating Chemotherapy Pain without Opioids. Researchers at UA Health Sciences are researching an effective, non-opioid treatment for neuropathic pain caused by chemotherapy. While chemotherapy remains one of the key treatments for cancer, it often causes damaging side effects, such as chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN), which is defined as damage to the nerves outside the brain and spinal cord, and is detected in 64 percent of cancer patients. In an attempt to create a less addictive treatment for CIPN, researchers are developing “potent and selective T-type calcium channel antagonists.” While initial results in pain management on rodent models have been promising, the research is still in its very early stages. According to professor of pharmacology Rajesh Khanna, this is the first step in developing non-opioid pain treatments for CIPN. This research is partially funded by a $340,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health as part of the “Helping to End Addiction Long-Term” initiative.