FLW Observatory

Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory - “FLWO”. 

With a major research university right in our back yard, 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:


Preparing for First Light. The Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory, located on Mount Hopkins near Amado, Arizona, recently unveiled its new prototype Schwarzschild-Couder Telescope, expected for first use early this year. The new telescope will be used for observing gamma rays, the most energetic form of electromagnetic radiation, often formed from solar flares. According to the observatory, “The [telescopes]’s complex dual-mirror optical system improves on the single-mirror designs traditionally used in gamma-ray telescopes by dramatically enhancing the optical quality of their focused light over a large region of the sky, and by enabling the use of compact, highly-efficient photo-sensors in the telescope camera.” The new telescope is planned to be used in the Cherenkov Telescope Array, a multinational project to build collaborative gamma-ray telescopes. Other locations of the array include Chile and Germany.


Progress at Congress. Hotel Congress is redefining virtually every aspect of its facility in attempts to curtail waste and save energy. Beyond creating a dedicated “Green Team” of employees, HoCo has begun solar heating its water, which created a 35 to 40 percent decrease in energy use; installed “Eco Blue Urinals” which have so far saved over 1.5 million gallons of water; begun recycling 99 percent of waste; switched from plastic straws to glass straws; installed bed pillows made from fibers of recycled water bottle caps; switched from plastic to compostable to-go drink cups and more. Hotel Congress has a few things lined up for future reduction too, including rainwater harvesting.


A Better, Faster Diagnostic. Cryptosporidiosis infects almost 750,000 people each year, killing 100,000 globally in 2010. This parasitic disease affects the small intestine and occasionally the respiratory tract. In most instances, healthy people recover in a few weeks, but for people with weakened immune systems, the extended infection can be much more dangerous. Due to how fast the infection can spread, early diagnosis is crucial. Dr. Michael Riggs, a veterinarian and professor in the UA Department of Animal and Comparative Biomedical Sciences, has developed a series of antibodies that have proven useful for detecting Crypto. Currently, detecting crypto is costly and difficult, but this new panel of “monoclonal antibodies” leads to a better, faster diagnosis. According to Riggs, “These antibodies are a useful resource for a broad range of research and development purposes… After years of development and characterization, we decided to make them available to others for a variety of applications which are expected to advance the field.”


Water, Not Heat: How Climate Change Damages Forests. According to new research from an international team including Arizona scientists, the growth of forests all over the world is becoming more water-limited as the climate warms. The researchers examined tree rings from two different periods, 1930 to 1960 versus 1960 to 1990, to examine how temperatures affect growth. The ring-width measurements were taken from trees at about 2,700 sites spanning every continent except Antarctica. Comparing the two time periods, the average temperature increased 0.9 degrees Fahrenheit and the land area where tree growth was primarily limited by temperature shrank by 3.3 million square miles, an area about the size of Brazil. The team’s paper, “Twentieth century redistribution in climatic drivers of global tree growth,” was published online in Science Advances.