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University of Arizona astronomers Elisabeth Krause and Tim Eifler received Early Career Research Awards to study dark matter and dark energy.

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.

Dark Matter, Bright Futures. Two University of Arizona astronomers received an Early Career Research Award from the U.S. Department of Energy to further their research into dark matter and dark energy. Assistant professors of astronomy Elisabeth Krause and Tim Eifler were two of 73 selected, and will receive $750,000 over five years to continue their research. Both astronomers joined the Steward Observatory in August 2018, and hope to improve scientific understanding of dark energy and dark matter. Although it is little understood, dark matter is believed to make up the majority of all the matter in the universe. It has not been observed directly, though its presence is implied in gravitational effects. Dark energy is similarly mysterious, being a hypothesized form of energy that influences the expansion of the universe. Krause and Eifler’s research programs will “enable the analysis and combination of various galaxy observations to understand the nature of dark energy, as well as dark matter.” Of the award, Krause said: “I’m really glad to receive funding for five years. It’s an unusually long duration, so having a consistent stream of funding means we can take on bigger projects. It’s also very nice recognition after many years of work.”

“No Emission” Transit. The City of Tucson will soon own a new fleet of electric busses thanks to a $2.6 million grant from the Federal Transit Administration. The “Low-No Grant” is part of a program that provides funding to state and local governments to purchase or lease zero- and low-emission transit buses. Tucson is one of 38 cities awarded the grant, and the only recipient in Arizona. The grant will pay for at least three, 40-foot-long electric buses that will replace the aging biodiesel buses in the current Sun Tran fleet. Tucson Electric Power is assisting the city with the installation of the electric charging stations. The busses are expected to arrive within 12 months.

License Scanners. Marana police will soon be able to scan drivers licenses and vehicle registration with new hardware and software provided by the State of Arizona. On Tuesday, Aug. 6, the Marana Town Council approved a contract between the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety and the Town of Marana for grant funding for the Traffic and Criminal Software program. The “AzTraCS Implementation Program” provides $35,480 to purchase 60 printers and their accessories. Marana police currently handwrite collision reports, which “are time-consuming and allow the possibility of input error.” But the AzTraCS program allows officers to scan and digitize the information, which reduces collision reporting time by an estimated 75 percent. AzTraCS automatically generates a PDF file upon completion, which is then submitted electronically. 

Spacecraft Shrouds. Tucson’s Paragon Space Development Corporation and partner Thin Red Line Aerospace recently received a NASA Tipping Point Award. The award, which focuses on collaborations with commercial space companies, will fund further development of Paragon’s Cryogenic Encapsulating Launch Shroud and Insulated Upper Stage (CELSIUS) technology. CELSIUS is a multi-layer insulation and micrometeoroid protection system that can be installed on space launch vehicle tanks. The system is applicable to large structures, including cryogenic tanks. CELSIUS is designed to “survive the thermal, aerodynamic and vibration loads of rocket launch and flight” and then is deployed to extend loiter duration on-orbit and protect spacecraft tanks.

QuakeWrap earns EPA funding. A local infrastructure repair company is one of 21 small businesses to receive a combined $2.3 million in green-technology funding from the EPA. QuakeWrap earned the funding for their “Trenchless Water Main Point Repairs with SuperLaminate” proposal, aimed at using specialized fiber reinforced laminates to repair water main leaks that cost cities and counties millions of dollars a year in drinking water loss. The new repair method is called “trenchless” and is expected to stop leaks in city main water pipes without excavation. QuakeWrap President Mo Ehsani described the difference between their proposed pipe repair and previous repair systems like the difference between landlines and mobile phones. After receiving this funding, the 21 companies are eligible to compete for a “Phase II award” of up to $300,000 to further develop and commercialize their technologies.

Invention Ascension. The University of Arizona broke a record in Fiscal Year 2019, disclosing 284 inventions, which is more than any other year in the university’s history. These inventions came from multiple departments within the university, including the Colleges of Medicine, Science, Engineering, Agriculture and Life Sciences, and Optical Sciences. Along with these released inventions, Tech Launch Arizona, the UA office that commercializes inventions stemming from research, filed 341 patents and launched 11 startup companies. These startup companies include Clean Earth Tech, which is bringing a new biocompatible material for dust control to market; Fibronox, which is working to treat fibrotic disorders; and EARDG Photonics Inc., which developed enhanced augmented reality display glasses.