Virtual Reality and Healthcare Symposium

Marvin Slepian, co-chair of the 2019 Virtual Reality and Healthcare Symposium. 

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:

Virtual Reality and Healthcare. The University of Arizona Department of Biomedical Engineering recently hosted its third annual Virtual Reality and Healthcare Symposium, showcasing the latest developments at the crossroads of biomedical innovation. Highlights of the event include VR technology helping medical students practice surgery and augmenting pictures for advanced age progression technology. Beyond hard science, the event also pointed out the emotional benefits of VR, such as helping children prepare for major surgeries by giving them virtual hospital tours and using virtual avatars for physicians to communicate with patients in different languages. Conference co-chair Walter Greenleaf, a behavioral neuroscientist at Stanford University, stated that every medical device is being reinvented, and that academic research indicates that VR can effectively treat a wide variety of clinical problems, ranging from addictions to stroke to PTSD. 

Roche Tissue Diagnostics announces new chief, focuses on Tucson. Jill German, the recently appointed leader of Roche Tissue Diagnostics in Oro Valley, is no stranger to Tucson. Having worked in medicine since the 1980s, German began working at Roche in 2004 as business director, before becoming vice president of sales, life cycle leader, and finally president of Roche Tissue Diagnostics. Looking forward, German plans for the Northwestern laboratory to continue their relationship with local colleges, and develop “digital pathology” which is technological management of medical slides. German says, “We’re a global company and it’s important we act globally, but also locally… Roche globally is absolutely committed to Tucson.”

Pollination with Drones. The University of Arizona Department of Engineering  recently teamed up with the McGuire Center for Entrepreneurship and the Yuma Center of Excellence for Desert Agriculture to develop a startup business plan for a drone designed to pollinate date palms. In Yuma, farmers currently pollinate their date palms in a relatively inefficient manner; they distribute pollen, which costs about $1,000 per liter, with a device similar to a leaf blower. But this recent technological advancement, which has a flying drone and a simple pollen-release switch, is saving time, money and pollen. The team is also developing software that will identify when the drone is over a date palm and should be dispensing pollen, further saving time and resources by making the drone autonomous. While still in development, the team is also working with Tech Launch Arizona to make the robots a reality. 

Tucsonan Leads National Space Society. The board of directors for the National Space Society recently voted to appoint Tucson meteorite specialist Geoffrey Notkin as its new president. NSS is an “an independent, educational, grassroots, non-profit organization dedicated to the creation of a spacefaring civilization.” Notkin, CEO of Aerolite Meteorites and host of the television show Meteorite Men, has served on the NSS Board of Governors since 2015, and been a space enthusiast and advocate for even longer. In his new role, Notkin will serve as spokesman for the society working to further its goals and objectives.