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A section of the Amazon rainforest canopy as seen by the Global Airborne Observatory.

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.

Online Battleground. The National Science Foundation recently awarded the University of Arizona two grants totaling $1.5 million to fund defense against online hackers. The first grant, for nearly $1 million, supports research designed to “protect high-tech scientific instruments from cyberattacks.” According to Hsinchun Chen, Regents Professor of management information systems at the Eller College of Management, lack of research is one of the major difficulties in protecting scientific instruments from cyberattacks. This grant will allow a team to use artificial intelligence to study hackers and categorize hundreds of thousands of cybersecurity risks. The second grant of $500,000 comes from NSF’s Secure and Trustworthy Cyberspace program to fund a team of researchers to “gather and analyze data on emerging threats in international hacker markets operating in Russia and China.”

Stopping Stinknet. Staff from several Pima County departments are partnering with the Arizona Native Plant Society to fend off an invasive plant already prevalent in multiple areas of Maricopa County. The invasive plant “stinknet,” or oncosiphon piluliferum, is native to South Africa and will soon be classified as a noxious weed. Stinknet spread throughout the Phoenix area in 2005, reaching through parts of the Tonto National Forest, as well as along parts of I-17 and I-10. In Tucson, stinknet has already spread around parts of the Chuck Huckelberry Loop. In an attempt to stop it, Pima County’s Regional Flood Control District is working with Arizona Native Plant Society to kill outbreaks of the plant around Tucson. Pima’s Office of Sustainability and Conservation is also working with the Pima Natural Resources, Parks and Recreation Department to eradicate the plant along the Loop. Stinknet features yellow, orb-like flowers on simple green stalks and can range from small bushels to full fields.  

Airborne Observatory. An international team of scientists led by the University of Arizona is using aerial measurements to improve carbon cycling models in tropical forests. Researchers are using the “Global Airborne Observatory” to show how combining ground measurements of carbon with aerial measurements via aircraft can improve the modeling and prediction of the “role that tropical forests play in the global carbon cycle.” The GAO, owned by Arizona State University, is a complete airborne laboratory based on a modified Dornier 228-202 aircraft. Researchers are using the aircraft to measure forests in Peru and the Andes Mountains. 

STEM Summer Camp. iD Tech, a computer summer camp based out of California, is coming to Tucson. Planned to start in 2020, iD Tech allows students to take courses in a wide variety of STEM subjects, including coding, game design, artificial intelligence and video creation. Courses are one-week long and will be based at the University of Arizona. iD Tech operates STEM camps at more than 150 locations worldwide with an annual enrollment of more than 50,000 students. The camps are planned to not only engage those students interested in working with computers, but prepare them for a career in technology and cybersecurity. According to CyberSeek, an initiative funded by the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education, the U.S. faced a shortfall of almost 314,000 cybersecurity professionals as of January 2019. The number of unfilled cybersecurity jobs has grown by more than 50 percent since 2015.