ASU Wrigley Institute News

Weighing the benefits and costs of gene-modifying technology

July 17, 2014

jimcollinsJames Collins, a senior sustainability scientist and evolutionary ecologist at ASU, leads an interdisciplinary team of researchers studying the role of host-pathogen interactions in species decline and extinction.  Through a paper published in the journal Science, the team aims to initiate a conversation about the scientific, ethical and regulatory issues that could arise from the use of a genetic engineering technology called gene drives.

Using a new genome-editing tool, scientists can, in principle, accurately insert, replace, delete or regulate genes in many different bisexual species. The technology could be used to eliminate insect-borne diseases like malaria, eradicate invasive species and reverse pesticide and herbicide resistance. Nonetheless, there are concerns regarding unexpected and possibly harmful side effects.

Collins’ paper proposes instituting safety measures to control these possible effects. It suggests that gene drives be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, taking into account the trait, species and ecosystem in question. Controlled testing in laboratories located in areas where target species can’t survive and reproduce, or development of an alteration-reversing version for every single gene drive are additional examples of precautionary actions.

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Scientist discusses wearable sensors at sustainable health forum

July 11, 2014

lee hartwellLee Hartwell, distinguished sustainability scientist and chief scientist for the Center for Sustainable Health, was among the speakers at the Forum for Sustainable Health, an annual event hosted by ASU’s Center for Sustainable Health. This year, the forum served as a formal kick-off the Center’s new “Project HoneyBee,” an endeavor to develop wearable sensors that improve patient outcomes while reducing costs.

According to Hartwell, who underscored the current technological challenges of the wearable sensors market, the task of will not be easy. “Within 10 years, every patient will be monitored by devices,” he says. “While there are lots of new discoveries, the translation into the clinic for utility is nearly zero. We need to create a process to make this technology reliable and useful, with new capabilities, to find out the best application that will have the greatest impact on medicine, and give patients control of their own health.”

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ASU-led study represents first step toward artificial photosynthesis

July 9, 2014

photosynthesisDepartment of Chemistry and Biochemistry Professor Petra Fromme and two distinguished sustainability scientists, Tom and Ana Moore, are among the authors of a study recently published in Nature. Through snapshots obtained using the world’s most powerful X-ray laser, the study presents the photosynthetic process as water is split into protons, electrons and oxygen.

This study represents a significant first step toward the development of artificial systems that not only mimic, but surpass the efficiency of natural systems. By revealing the mechanism of the water splitting process, researchers are closer to reaching one of the major goals of the ASU Center for Bio-Inspired Solar Fuel Production: the creation of an artificial leaf.

This work builds on Fromme’s earlier work, which used the same X-ray laser to determine the structure of a protein. Named by Science Magazine as one of the Top 10 Breakthroughs of 2012, researchers used 178,875 individual laser pulses to generate a diffraction pattern that helped them to decipher the protein’s structure.

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DCDC co-director discusses Lake Mead’s historic drop on KJZZ

July 9, 2014

lake-mead-may-2009According to a report released by the Bureau of Reclamation, Lake Mead — the reservoir created by Hoover Dam — is expected to drop to a level not seen since it was initially filled in the 1930s. Because Lake Mead serves as a major source of the Southwest’s Colorado River water, the drop has certain implications for Arizona. Dave White, senior sustainability scientist and co-director of Decision Center for a Desert City (DCDC), discussed several of these during an interview with KJZZ “Here and Now” host Steve Goldstein.

“State and regional water resource managers deserve accolades for the last 100 years of water management and the effectiveness of those strategies to support the economic growth and development of the region,” White said. “What we need to do now is focus the conversation on the next 100 years, because there are new sets of problems ahead where our historical solutions will not be effective.”

The lake is anticipated to decline to a level of 1,081.75 feet during the week of July 7, and to 1,080 feet around November of this year. The Bureau of Reclamation says that water obligations to states like Arizona, California and Nevada will be met at least through next year.

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ASU engineering team is one of 16 selected for EcoCAR 3 competition

July 8, 2014

ecocar3_-_teamASU is one of sixteen universities selected to participate in EcoCAR 3, a competition launched by the U.S. Department of Energy and General Motors Co. The competition represents an effort to bring the automotive industry into a cleaner energy future while providing engineering students with real-world training. Over the next four years, a team of automotive-engineering students from the Polytechnic Campus will work to transform a Chevrolet Camaro into an energy efficient vehicle that operates using fossil fuels.

According to a recent Arizona Republic article, each of the 16 competing universities will receive $63 million in the form of hardware, software and other funds. During the first year, the universities will use these funds to design prototypes using software and simulations. They will then assemble their prototypes during the second year, refine them during the third year and add any finishing touches while launching marketing campaigns during the final year. Abdel Mayyas, engineering faculty lead of the project, says that the EcoCAR 3 competition represents an opportunity for ASU to be recognized as a top automotive-engineering program in the western U.S.

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Seed grant engages citizens in Arizona water management

July 7, 2014

Monica_Elser_800pxMonica Elser, education manager for the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability, was awarded a Citizen Science and Engagement seed grant along with Dara Wald, a Center for Policy Informatics (CPI) postdoctoral fellow. The grant, presented by the Office of the Vice President for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, will develop the project “Citizen Science to Forecast the Future of a Desert City,” which builds on current research efforts at both CPI and Decision Center for a Desert City (DCDC).

The project aims to develop a web-based water-reporting site, MyFuturePhoenix, to engage citizens in water management efforts. Initially, high school students will track, classify and analyze personal water use data. Once connected to WaterSim, a water policy and management simulation model developed by DCDC, participants will be able to visualize the collective effect of water use decisions made today on the Phoenix area in the year 2050.

According to Wald, “This citizen science initiative has the potential to contribute data that is currently not available for university researchers, and to collect much more data than one agency or researcher could collect alone.”

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New energy certificate aims to advance solar expertise on global scale

July 2, 2014

biodesign-solararray-0033A new Solar Energy Engineering & Commercialization certificate aims to provide engineers like those leading renewable energy development in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, with the specialized training they require. The three-week program focuses on solar technologies with particular emphasis on their production and application. The curriculum also explores the social and environmental aspects of the industry, as well as project management, finance, economics and supply chain management.

An additional attraction of the program is that it can be customized to meet the specific needs of individual companies, agencies and other organizations. Through a partnership with Tempe-based First Solar, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of thin-film solar cells, a custom version was developed to educate engineers with the Dubai Energy and Water Authority (DEWA). This partnership represents an effort to support the Green Economy for Sustainable Development Initiative launched by Dubai’s leaders, as well as an aspiration to advance solar energy expertise throughout the world.

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Partnership with US territory to transform energy use and education

July 2, 2014

Virgin IslandsAs an extension of its dedication to sustainability and global engagement, Arizona State University is partnering with the U.S. Virgin Islands to help the territory reduce fossil fuel consumption and transform renewable energy resource use. The partnership unites world-class ASU faculty with U.S. Virgin Islands leaders in the development of renewable energy practices, the invigoration of the renewable energy market and the expansion of energy education.

“We are excited to be partnering with the U. S. Virgin Islands and to help them develop new renewable energy practices and expand upon energy research and education,” said Sethuraman “Panch” Panchanathan, senior vice president of Knowledge Enterprise Development at ASU. “This collaboration is a great opportunity for the university to work side by side with the Virgin Island leaders, utilities and university to create solutions to sustainability challenges that face our communities locally and globally.”

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Sustainability scientist appointed Howard Hughes professor

June 30, 2014

anbar2014-editAriel Anbar, a distinguished sustainability scientist and biogeochemist, has been selected as Arizona State University’s first Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professor. The Maryland-based biomedical research institute announced its 15 appointments, representatives of 13 universities, on June 30. This honor recognizes Anbar as a pioneer in his field and includes a five-year, $1 million grant to support his research and educational activities.

Since the inception of the institute’s professor program in 2002, and including the new group of 2014 professors, only 55 scientists have received Howard Hughes Medical Institute appointments. These professors are regarded as accomplished research scientists working to change undergraduate science education in the United States. Anbar was named an ASU President’s Professor in 2013 in recognition of his efforts to enhance online education. He is dedicated to developing the medium so as to better educate and encourage a generation that has grown up with the Internet.

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Scientist promotes conservation through worldwide workshops

June 30, 2014

pearsonAfter encountering a number of Latin American school children who were unfamiliar with the species native to their home countries, Dave Pearson — a sustainability scientist and research professor in the School of Life Sciences — found that such knowledge was key to grasping concepts like conservation. This motivated him to host his first biodiversity workshop, which occurred while he was working toward his master’s degree in Peru. Thirty years later, Pearson travels the world, holding frequent biodiversity workshops for children, adults and university students alike.

In mid-July, Pearson will host yet another workshop, this one at the Peruvian Amazonian Research Institute in Iquitos, Peru. Here he will teach dozens of university students about critical thinking, the scientific method and sustainable biodiversity. Such workshops are part of Pearson’s broader plan, which is to empower the people of each country he visits to solve ecological problems in their own way. He states that other conservation efforts have failed because foreign solutions do not necessarily work for everyone.

“…when I visit other countries…I work with them rather than tell them how things work,” Pearson says. “…these are Peruvian problems with Peruvian solutions, and they know their culture well enough to make the changes their way.”

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National business magazine cites ASU’s carbon neutrality efforts

June 27, 2014

carbon neutralityA testament to ASU’s carbon neutrality efforts, a cover story in the June 2014 issue of Business Officer magazine titled “Going for Zero” cites multiple examples of the university’s sustainability features. The article’s opening paragraph references the 78,000 photovoltaic panels on ASU property, which outnumber its 76,000 students. It also features numerous quotes from Morgan R. Olsen, ASU’s executive vice president, treasurer and chief financial officer, which highlight the value of these infrastructure improvements.

 “On the research front, one of the things we can contribute is the training of millions of people we educate every year to become leaders of tomorrow,” Olsen is quoted as saying. “While in some respects higher education has a small physical footprint compared to the rest of world, from an environmental standpoint we have an outsized ability to have positive impact through our education mission.”

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Student tracks drought conditions using cosmic-ray sensor

June 26, 2014

drought sensor 2Under the supervision of sustainability scientist Enrique Vivoni, ecohydrology graduate student Adam Schreiner-McGraw is examining the effects of land cover changes on water cycle, as well as possible consequences for ecosystem functioning, runoff generation and soil erosion. Using solar-powered sensors affiliated with a National Science Foundation-supported project called COSMOS, Schreiner-McGraw is measuring soil moisture in four Southwestern ecosystems.

The cosmic-ray sensors, which are roughly the size of a person and shaped like a space shuttle, are particularly useful because they provide a single soil moisture value for a large region. This average assists in the tracking of drought conditions and improves water management. Schreiner-McGraw hopes that the measurements obtained by these soil moisture sensors can be used to enhance watershed hydrology models, which commonly assess the impacts of land cover and climate change.

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Sustainable Agriculture: The Future is Biological

Thought Leader Series

June 19, 2014

Tony-Michaels-bioag-May14-smA Thought Leader Series Piece

By Dr. Anthony Michaels

Note: Dr. Anthony Michaels (Tony) is an internationally known environmental scientist who has been a leader in both academia and business. On May 15, 2014, Dr. Michaels became CEO of Midwestern BioAg, the industry leader in biological agriculture and one of the pioneers in sustainable food production.

Can We Feed Nine Billion People While Improving the Environment?
As the world population grows to nine billion people, we face many fundamental questions. How can we improve agricultural production to feed that many people? How can we improve farm economics? How can we reduce climate impacts, minimize the nitrogen runoff that creates dead zones in oceans and reverse soil erosion? How can we create nutrient-rich foods? I believe that a big part of the answer is biological agriculture.

Biological agriculture is an integrated farming system. It combines the best historical practices, honed over centuries, with the strength of the latest scientific discoveries. It promotes natural biological processes to dramatically improve agricultural yields and reduce farm costs.

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ASU awarded $20M to assess climate change risks and resilience

June 18, 2014

asu_nga_security_and_climate_change_foresight_initiativeIn an effort to anticipate and mitigate the national security risks associated with climate change, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) has awarded Arizona State University a grant of $20 million. This five-year partnership known as the Foresight Initiative will examine how climate change affects resources and contributes to political unrest, as well as articulate sustainability and resilience strategies.

Leveraging computing and system modeling initiatives at ASU and with partner organizations, the Foresight Initiative will apply cloud technologies, advances in natural user interfaces and machine learning in order to address challenges driven by the volume and character of future persistent data flows. The resulting capabilities will not only allow analysts and decision-makers to interact with diverse data sets in a simulation environment, they will help them assess the effectiveness of plans, policies and decisions, as well. ASU departments that will be integral to this work include the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, College of Public Programs, Decision Theater Network and Decision Center for a Desert City.

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ASU awards budding innovators at international Intel fair

June 17, 2014

kelly_with_winners1,700 high school students from more than 70 countries presented their sustainability-inspired innovations at this year’s Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF), held in Los Angeles from May 11-16. After standing before hundreds of scientists, professionals, professors and judges, five were presented with $2,500 ASU Sustainability Solutions Awards by Arizona State University’s Rob and Melani Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiatives.

The bright individuals honored for projects that go beyond academic boundaries to solve real-world issues are Lewis Nitschinsk from Australia, Hans Pande from Utah, Shreya Nandy and Kopal Gupta from India, and Naveena Bontha from Washington.

“We want to recognize these young leaders of our future to encourage them to pursue the solutions they create that address food security, climate change, health threats and more,” said Kelly Saunders, Sustainability Solutions Award presenter and project coordinator for the Initiative’s Sustainability Solutions Festival. “Our world’s future is represented by these students who want to make the world a better place.”

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Panchanathan appointed to National Science Board by President Obama

June 13, 2014

ASU Sustainability Scientist Sethuraman “Panch” PanchanathanArizona State University’s Sethuraman “Panch” Panchanathan has been appointed to the U.S. National Science Board, which serves as an advisory body to the U.S. President and Congress on science and engineering issues and establishes policies of the National Science Foundation.

Panchanathan, ASU’s senior vice president of the Office of Knowledge Enterprise Development and the leader of ASU’s research, entrepreneurship and economic development efforts, is the first American of Indian origin to be appointed to this preeminent board.

“Panch exemplifies the spirit of innovation, entrepreneurship and social responsibility that ASU aims to cultivate,” said ASU President Michael Crow. “It is fitting that he be on this important board so that his influence can extend to the benefit of the nation.”

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DCDC brief explores vulnerability of Southwest’s agriculture

June 13, 2014

cotton_policyBrief_264Decision Center for a Desert City, a unit of the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability, has released a policy brief on the complexities of agricultural water and climate vulnerability in the southwestern United States. Authored by Professors Hallie Eakin, Rimjhim Aggarwal, Abigail York and Graduate Research Assistant Skaidra Smith-Heisters, the policy brief discusses the many variables affecting agriculture, as well as the needed policy discussions surrounding them.

The brief, titled Understanding Agricultural Vulnerability in the Southwest, outlines how agriculture’s dependence on climate-sensitive resources like water and energy makes it especially vulnerable to climate change. It highlights the additional research needed to understand agriculture’s role in an urbanizing context, and encourages weighing the costs and benefits of agricultural water usage in an urban system. The brief recommends incorporating the agricultural sector into broader discussions regarding policy and planning for the central Arizona region.

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Sustainability scientist preps for busy year as head of national chapter

June 12, 2014

franklin_0708 (1)Janet Franklin, a distinguished sustainability scientist and professor in ASU’s School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, recently began her term as president of the U.S. national chapter of the International Association for Landscape Ecology (US-IALE). Landscape ecology is an interdisciplinary field that concentrates on understanding ecological processes at the landscape scale and improving land management.

According to Franklin, the chapter she now heads will be very busy over the next year. A primary focus is preparing to host the IALE World Congress, held every four years and scheduled to convene in July 2015. While overseeing congress preparations, Franklin will continue her research, which examines the dynamics of terrestrial plant communities with a particular focus on the impact of human-caused landscape change.

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Pasqualetti proposes solutions at water issues symposium

June 9, 2014

GeothermalSenior Sustainability Scientist Martin Pasqualetti presented at a recent symposium entitled “Uncommon Dialogue: US-Mexico Transboundary Water Issues.” He was one of seven speakers at the event, which was organized by Stanford University groups the Bill Lane Center for the American West and the Woods Institute for the Environment.

Pasqualetti’s presentation “Resource Conflicts: The Water/Energy Nexus in the Desert Southwest,” which highlighted his paper “Mixing Energy and Water at the US/Mexico Border,” proposed that land used for irrigated agriculture in the Imperial Valley of California be repurposed in favor of renewable energy development. Such a move would save water for other uses and decrease carbon emissions from conventional generation while providing economic benefit.

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Sustainability scientist explains bacteria as fuel to radio audience

June 7, 2014

rittman_bruce_8557aBruce Rittmann, director of The Biodesign Institute and a distinguished sustainability scientist, recently appeared on the Australian radio program The Science Show. Here he discussed the fuel-producing potential of cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae, with the show’s host Robyn Williams.

During the program, Rittman described his team’s work to replace many of the substances we currently source from petroleum, such as diesel and jet fuel, with cynobacteria. He explained that these smaller, more simple organisms are up to 100 times more efficient in their use of sunlight than plants like green algae. Additionally, they are more easily managed and can utilize carbon dioxide from facilities like power plants for photosynthetic purposes.

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