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.
Augmented, Not Virtual, Reality. Two University of Arizona optical science professors have launched a startup to bring augmented reality goggles to the public. Whereas virtual reality goggles create entirely digital environments, augmented reality goggles are semi-transparent and project images onto the lens, allowing for users to see the real world but with added digital elements. Ph.D.s Nasser Peyghambarian and Lloyd LaComb formed EARDG Photonics Inc., licensing their technology through Tech Launch Arizona. EARDG uses three new technologies based on Peyghambarian’s research: “novel photorefractive polymers, a system for recording holograms, and a means of producing 3D telepresence.” According to the senior licensing manager for the College of Optical Sciences, this technology breaks new ground because, while previous holographic lenses are written with lasers into media with “permanent or very slow decay rates,” EARDG’s technology allows for 3D images to be “written and refreshed at 30 [frames] per second, a rate that the brain processes as true video.”
SARSEF Fair’s Top Project Winner. Immaculate Heart High School junior Annalisa Minke took home first place at the Southern Arizona Research, Science and Engineering Foundation’s 2019 Science Project Fair. Minke won grand prize for her project: “Investigating How Water Vapor Emission Impacts The Temperature Of The Troposphere.” Her project measures the effect additional water vapor causes on the troposphere, the lowest region of the atmosphere. The project was made to “uncover whether or not the water vapor produced by human transportation and industry is effecting [sic] global warming along with carbon dioxide.” According to the project abstract, the water vapor caused a lasting temperature effect at about 6500 m or 0.65 scale meters, because the water vapor releases its energy when it freezes. The temperature was 0ºC and increased by 0.7ºC per milliliter of water added.
Surgeries Begin at Banner UMC’s New Tower. A new nine-story patient tower at Banner – University Medical Center Tucson opened April 22, with its first surgeries taking place April 29. After nearly four years of construction, the $446 million tower includes more than 200 private rooms and 20 operating rooms. According to Dr. Chad Whelan, CEO of Banner - UMC, this new building is aimed to be a “21st-century academic medical center” with a focus on technology and innovation. The new building, named Tower 1, has already taken in many patients from the original hospital building, which opened in 1971.
Birds of a Feather. In 1944, paleontologist George Gaylord Simpson, a former UA professor of geosciences, said the speed of evolution is determined by the “fluctuating dependencies” organisms have on the resources and other species surrounding them. For many decades, this claim was difficult to test due to the “ubiquitous and ephemeral” nature of species interactions. But a new study by UA ecology professor Alexander Badyaev connects the development of color diversity in birds to the speed of evolution. Badyaev’s team examined how the biochemical pathways in nearly 300 bird species changed over 50 million years. The researchers found “the way biochemical processes are structured in birds holds the key to understanding how species gain and lose their reliance on others in their communities.” This builds on and strengthens both Darwin’s theory of natural selection and Simpson’s idea that an organism’s evolution depends on others in their community.
A Moon of Methane. Researchers at UA stumbled upon a methane coating wrapping halfway around the surface of Titan, Saturn’s largest moon. In a new paper published in the Nature Astronomy journal, UA researcher Caitlin Griffith details how sunlight breaks apart molecules of methane in Titan’s atmosphere, and the “atmospheric haze settles to the surface and accumulates.” Therefore, this layer of methane on Titan’s surface is made up of past atmospheres. According to the paper’s abstract, “Our analysis detected an ice-rich linear feature of bedrock, which extends a length equivalent to 40 percent of Titan’s circumference. This corridor is puzzling because it does not correlate with topography or measurements of the subsurface.” The “linear ice corridor” was discovered by analyzing thousands of images of Titan’s surface by Cassini’s Visible and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer.
Fighting Alzheimer’s from Multiple Directions. The Health Institute on Aging has awarded Dr. Roberta Diaz Brinton, director of the Center for Innovation in Brain Science, a five-year, $1.8 million grant to develop a unique training program of diverse scientists to research Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases. Brinton has dedicated her career to the study of Alzheimer’s, and has designed “an innovative, collaborative training program that is patient-inspired and data driven” known as the University of Arizona Translational Research on Alzheimer’s Disease and AD Related Dementias program, or AZ-TRADD. To achieve the program’s goal, Brinton has an “all brains on deck” approach. AZ-TRADD’s goal is to train the next generation of Alzheimer’s researchers by combining clinical and big data science. The AZ–TRADD training program will recruit predoctoral pharmacy and medical students to serve as fellows.