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DESI’s fully installed focal plane features 5,000 automated robotic positioners, each carrying a fiber-optic cable to gather galaxies’ light.


Thousands of Robotic Eyes. A new instrument at the Nicholas U. Mayall Telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory outside Tucson recently underwent its first test: aiming its array of 5,000 fiber-optic “eyes” into the night sky to explore the mystery of dark energy. The Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument, or DESI, is designed to aim at far-away galaxies and gather their light, in order to “precisely map their distance from Earth and gauge how much the universe expanded as this light traveled to Earth.” This process measures the universe’s rate of expansion in order to create a 3D map of the stars and galaxies around us. At its most efficient, DESI can examine a new set of 5,000 galaxies every 20 minutes. By mapping the distance to 35 million galaxies over its five-year run, DESI will also examine how dark energy has sped up the universe’s expansion. Dark energy is believed to make up 68 percent of the universe, and hypothesized to be uniform across space. This most recent test prepares DESI to begin its official start of observations in early 2020. “With DESI, we are combining a modern instrument with a venerable old telescope to make a state-of-the-art survey machine,” said Lori Allen, director of Kitt Peak National Observatory.

Defending Cyberspace. The National Science Foundation recently renewed a $3.6 million grant to support the national CyberCorps: Scholarship for Service program, which offers cybersecurity students financial support in exchange for government work after they graduate. The University of Arizona participates in the CyberCorps via their two-year AZSecure Cybersecurity Fellowship, which covers tuition and fees for graduate students and provides $34,000 per academic year. CyberCorps students engage in protecting services like banking, IT and military operations from cyber security threats. Of the 77 institutions involved in CyberCorps, UA is considered a “top-of-the-line” school, with a 95 percent graduation rate and 100 percent hiring rate from the government. This new funding helps those students receive advanced training, and paves the way for careers in the FBI, National Security Agency and more. Roughly 30 UA students have been engaged in the program since 2013, and this renewed funding will allow some 20 more students to join the program over the next five to seven years.

SARSEF Announces 2019-2020 Programs. The Southern Arizona Research, Science and Engineering Foundation recently announced the new dates for their series of programs after several internal changes earlier this year. After the retirement of CEO Kathleen Bethel and taking over the UA’s Racing the Sun program, SARSEF announced their Arizona STEM Adventure would take place Nov. 22 and their Science and Engineering Fair would last from March 11 to 14, 2020. At the Arizona STEM Adventure, 1,000 4th through 8th grade students will get to explore STEM programming while their teachers receive two hours of professional development. At the Science and Engineering Fair, SARSEF’s largest event of the year, local students have the opportunity to show off their science projects for the chance to win more than $100,000 in scholarships, trips and prizes. Racing the Sun, where high school teams design, build and race solar-powered go-karts, takes place on April 25, 2020.

Funding Cancer Prevention. The National Cancer Institute awarded the UA Cancer Center one of its largest grants ever: $8.6 million to fund the UA Cancer Prevention Clinical Trials Network, one of only three networks in the nation to perform “early-phase cancer-prevention clinical trials.” With this new funding, the UA Cancer Center will collaborate with local organizations to design and conduct early-phase cancer trials to assess the cancer preventive potential of repurposed drugs, food and dietary supplements, topical drugs and cancer vaccines.