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Nearly two dozen University of Arizona researchers, students and staff were part of an award-winning effort to photograph a black hole earlier this year. 

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.

UA researchers among winners of $3 million science prize. The Event Horizon Telescope team, which revealed the first-ever image of a black hole April 10, recently won the 2020 Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics. This prize, often called one of the “Oscars of Science” comes with a $3 million prize. That prize money will be split equally among all 347 members of the Event Horizon Telescope team, who co-authored the discovery in six different scientific papers. Among the Event Horizon Telescope team are 21 University of Arizona researchers, students and telescope staff. The Event Horizon Telescope team managed to capture the first direct visual evidence of a supermassive black hole thanks to collaborations between multiple telescopes and universities across the world. The black hole in question lies at the center of Messier 87, a massive galaxy in the Virgo cluster roughly 55 million light-years from Earth. When the prize money is divided equally among all 347 team members, each person will receive more than $8,000. 

Replacing Coal with Solar. Arizona’s electric utilities could save more than $3 billion by replacing all their remaining coal-burning power plants with renewable energy resources, according to a new study by Strategen Consulting. The “Arizona Coal Plant Valuation” study found that replacing Arizona’s 11 coal-generating units by 2023 could save billions of dollars due to solar panels’ cheaper energy production, and reduction of the “the societal costs of greenhouse gas emissions” on health and climate. The study found the levelized cost of energy for coal is roughly $50/MWh, while wind energy levels around $44/MWh, and solar levels around $34/MWh. According to the study, “While there is a clear intention to move away from coal-burning generation, the pace is not fast enough to fully capture the economic benefits of this transition, and Arizona ratepayers might end up paying more than they should to keep expensive coal units operating for several more decades.”

UA partners with TEP to reduce emissions. Since 2015, the UA’s overall emissions have decreased by more than 12 percent. But this is only the beginning of a clean energy shift on campus. The UA recently announced a partnership with Tucson Electric Power to purchase solar and wind power in order to cut all of its “purchased power needs.” As part of the partnership, TEP will dedicate parts of two renewable energy projects to UA’s energy needs, including a wind farm and a solar farm. The agreement provides the university with affordable access to energy from those two systems for 20 years. If the Arizona Corporation Commission approves the TEP agreement, UA will be the largest research university in the country to have a plan to offset the entirety of its greenhouse gases caused by generating electricity, heat or steam purchased from a utility provider.

Pregnancy safety. The Arizona Department of Health Services received a $10.5 million grant from the Department of Health and Human Services to reduce the risk of maternal mortality. The grant, which will distribute $2.1 million a year for the next five years, will “facilitate improved access to care in communities that have limited or no access for pregnant and postpartum women throughout Arizona.” The funding will also support the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists’ Alliance for Innovation in Maternal Health. Arizona is one of only nine states awarded this federal grant.