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 science and technology news to be found in Southern Arizona. Here’s a breakdown of the most interesting recent developments.
Vector files for bankruptcy. After suspending the production of their rockets and satellite equipment in August, the local aerospace company Vector Launch filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy Dec. 13. Last August, only two days after announcing they secured a multi-million-dollar NASA contract, Vector Launch paused most of its operations due to a “significant change in financing.” This report was followed by announcements that CEO Jim Cantrell had left the company. With their recent bankruptcy filing, Vector said that the Lockheed Martin Corporation planned to purchase some of their technology. Previously, Vector designed technology to connect startup space businesses with "affordable and reliable space access." This included designing "micro satellites" and the space software system "GalacticSky" to allow satellites to operate with different applications. GalacticSky is one of the technologies Lockheed Martin expressed interest in purchasing for $2.5 million.
Startup Impacts. A new study conducted by the McGuire Center for Entrepreneurship at the Eller College of Management found that from fiscal years 2016 to 2018, startup businesses from the University of Arizona generated more than half a billion dollars for the state. During those three years, Tech Launch Arizona, the UA office that commercializes inventions stemming from university research, helped launch 71 startups. Those 71 businesses created more than 5,000 jobs, produced $25.4 million in state and local taxes, and generated a $585.7 million positive economic impact for Arizona. In fiscal year 2019, TLA continued supporting startups, including EARDG Photonics Inc., which is developing augmented reality glasses; Clean Earth Tech, which is bringing a "new biocompatible material for dust control" to the market; and Extreme CER-Nano, which is developing a high temperature graphene-based ceramic material for extreme environments. The UA has created 164 startups since 1984, but more than 90 of those have occurred since TLA launched in 2012.
Simulating Droughts. While the Sonoran Desert is plenty dry, it also contains Biosphere 2, a contained research facility that houses multiple ecosystems under glass. Among these ecosystems are a simulated rainforest, which just received a deluge after a two-month drought. This rain was the result of University of Arizona research project to better understand drought cycles. Researchers released 12,000 gallons of water onto the tropical trees in an attempt to understand "from top to bottom – from soils to canopy – the resiliency and vulnerability of plants, microbes and their interactions to environmental stress" said Laura Meredith, rainforest science director for Biosphere 2. During the measurements, nearly two miles of tubing and hundreds of sensors were placed in the forest environment to measure everything from "carbon pools in the atmosphere" to soil processes. Understanding the complete reaction a forest has to drought gives researchers a better understanding of climate change and forest resilience.
Understanding Aging. A UA health science professor recently received a $4.5 million award from the National Institutes of Health in order to pursue a new way to study human aging. Dr. Janko Nikolich-Zugich, co-director of the University of Arizona Center on Aging, will study how common infections, as well as psychological and physical stressors, can affect our lifespans and aging processes via mice. Nikolich-Zugich's study examines the differences between common mice compared to laboratory mice, which often live "ultra clean" lives free of infections and stress. Nikolich-Zugich will replicate a natural aging process with laboratory mice, intermingling them with domestic mice so they will carry common microbes to learn how they impact the mice’s immune systems over time. Nikolich-Zugich will also study mice carrying "cytomegalovirus," which affects roughly half of all humans and is often contracted at a young age. The National Institutes of Health grant is called a MERIT Award (Method to Extend Research in Time), and is designed for experienced researchers to spend less time on grant applications and more time on their research.