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Using virtual reality goggles, students can simultaneously explore the Nano 2020 environment.


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.

VR Classrooms. New technology at the University of Arizona is allowing students and teachers to work with objects that were once impossibly small. Nano 2020 is a UA-led initiative to educate students in the rapidly expanding field of nanotechnology by using virtual reality. Nanotechnology refers to particles and devices that are at the scale of 100 nanometers or less, far smaller than the diameter of a human hair. While these objects are impossible to see with the naked eye, the “Nano 2020 virtual reality classroom” uses VR goggles, allowing students to interact with and better understand objects on nanoscale proportions within a digital workspace. Nano 2020 is the result of a five-year, multi-university project to create “globally relevant and implementable curricula and instructional technologies”. The goal was to create an online suite of college courses that can be accessed by teachers and students around the world. This open-course curriculum includes VR classes on “glycobiology, optical microscopy and histology, nanomicroscopy techniques, nutritional genomics, applications of magnetic nanotechnology” and more. The Nano 2020 project was funded from a National Institute of Food and Agriculture Higher Education Challenge grant through the Department of Agriculture. According to Nano 2020 founder Randy Burd, “An online open platform will exist where people can download components and courses, and all of it is framed by the technology, so that these experiences and research can be shared over this virtual reality component.”

Universal Avionics partners with MD Helicopters. Universal Avionics, an aerospace technology corporation headquartered in Tucson, recently announced a strategic partnership with MD Helicopters Inc. to integrate their InSight Display System as the “full-digital flight deck solution” for MD Helicopters’ 900/902 Explorer. This partnership means MD Helicopters will integrate the InSight Display System into the production of new helicopters, and retrofit their existing 900/902 Explorer helicopters. Using the new InSight Display System for the MD 900/902 Explorer will replace steam gauge displays with new LCD displays with LED backlighting, allowing for the latest moving maps, electronic charts, rotor data and more. As the MD 900/902 Explorer helicopters are designed for a number of uses, the Universal Avionics InSight technology can be used to present a wide array of data and graphics. According to MD Helicopters CEO Lynn Tilton, Universal Avionics’s InSight Display System was selected for use because of its capability and flexibility, and is able to meet the current and future requirements of MD’s operators.

Data Management Startup. The University of Arizona’s Center for Innovation recently announced its newest startup: Clear Core. The Tucson-based data management company specializes in supporting financial institutions through technology. Their services include anti-fraud measures, performance reporting and data rendering. Their patent-pending technology can be “built from the ground up for completely new systems or it can enhance an existing data warehouse and a business intelligence team already employed.” Clear Core’s goal is to redefine how financial institutions use and manage their data by ensuring all information is “clean, secure and accessible.” The UA Center for Innovation is a “startup incubator” that provides newer companies with the resources needed to expand their business. Since its inception in 2003, the Center for Innovation has served more than 120 companies. The Center for Innovation is part of Tech Parks Arizona. 

According to Clear Core founder Buck Strasser, “Being connected to the community and leveraging local resources is just as important to Clear Core as finding partners who are technology driven, forward-thinking and collaborative. We found all of that and more in collaboration with the UA Center for Innovation and taking residence in their secure, modern workspace at UA Tech Park on Rita Road. The wealth of knowledge, insight, and assets that the team has will make Clear Core’s vision, of making data easy for financial institutions, a reality in 2020.”