The UA in 2013, A Retrospective

Dec. 23, 2013

How is the UA changing your world?

One need only take a look at some of the top news stories of the year.

Not only is the UA training thousands of work-force ready students, but University students, faculty and staff are working – often in partnership and deep collaboration with community partners – to strengthen communities, improve health care and drastically shift what we know and understand about our world and the universe.

New Concepts, New Discoveries

We learned through the work of UA doctoral student Jay Sanguinetti that our brains perceive objects in everyday life, but that we may never be aware of that. Did you get that – your brain sees things that you do not see. Sanguinetti's work challenges currently accepted models about how the brain processes visual information.

On a related note, UA researchers have found in a recent study that ultrasound waves applied to specific areas of the brain appear able to alter patients' moods. Stuart Hameroff, professor emeritus of the UA's departments of anesthesiology and psychology and director of the UA's Center for Consciousness Studies, is lead author on the first clinical study of brain ultrasound, which was published in the journal Brain Stimulation. The findings could lead to new treatments for psychological and psychiatric disorders.

In yet another study led by Janelle Wohltmann, a graduate student in the UA department of psychology, preliminary research findings suggests that men and women older than 65 who learn to use Facebook could see a boost in cognitive function

On the medical side of the house, two surgeons at the UA Medical Center have performed the world's first robotic implantation of a ventricular assist device. The Heartware Ventricular Assist Device is a small, mechanical device that is attached to the heart to help pump blood throughout the body. It is intended to sustain the function of the heart while leaving the organ almost entirely intact.

And broccoli-based ointment? Yes, UA cancer researcher Sally Dickinson is exploring the potential benefits of applying such an ointment to the skin. Her research focuses on how sulforaphane – a naturally occurring compound in broccoli with established chemopreventive properties – could possibly be used to help patients reduce their risk for skin cancer.

Also, UA scientists have discovered an unknown mechanism that establishes polarity in developing nerve cells. Understanding how nerve cells make connections is an important step in developing cures for nerve damage resulting from spinal cord injuries or neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

And in the area of business, UA entrepreneures – students and faculty, alike have developed an app (right) that helps busy students find out when their friends are free, in real-time; multimedia program notes designed to enhance the classical music concert experience; a subscription-based coffee business; and a site that connects professionals and mentors instantaneously, among numerous other things.

Such engagement is important and impactful that the UA's McGuire Center for Entrepreneurship won this year's Innovator of the Year award in the academia category at the Governor's Celebration of Innovation. And U.S. News & World Report ranks the UA's renowed McGuire Entrepreneurship Program one of the best programs in the country.

Expanding our Global, Celestial Knowledge

UA researchers and scholars are expanding what we know and understand, whether it be around our daily interactions or what the stars behold. Having expanded knowledge helps us to make important choices about how we live and engage with others.

Are you that parent who writes your child's essays, cover letters and job applications? Do you call in to encourage employers to give your son or daughter a strong look? If so, you may be doing yourself and your child a disservice. Chris Segrin, who heads the UA communication department, and his collaborators found that it is one thing to be a nurturing, supportive and concerned parent, but numerous negative consequences can result when parents exert too much control over their adult children's lives.

And did you know that sweet potatoes and yams are not synonymous? That's a fact worth knowing, especially for cocktail conversations.

Related to our earth-bound understanding, after a nearly 5,000-year vigil upon a Nevada mountaintop, an ancient tree found its home in the UA Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research. A member of the long-lived Bristlecone pine species, the tree called Prometheus is the oldest individual ever known to have lived. Its age was not accurately known until a few years ago.

And in the realm of astronomy, UA scientists recently unveiled the Giant Magellan Telescope’s third primary mirror. The third mirror – dubbed GMT3 – was cast in August at the Steward Observatory Mirror Lab, the only facility in the world capable of creating mirrors of this size. Only a few days ago, technicians at the lab lifted the lid off the rotating furnace, removing a mold in which 20 tons of molten borosilicate glass slowly cooled into the desired parabolic shape, under the close watch of mirror lab staff to make sure the nascent mirror took shape free from any flaws such as gas bubbles, impurities or even cracks.

The UA also is leading OSIRIS-REx, NASA's first mission to a pristine carbonaceous asteroid that may hold clues to the origins of life in our solar system. Under this pioneering effort, the UA officially kicked off its 999 days-to-launch countdown with a social media and outreach campaign.

Also, thanks to new technology developed in part at the UA, astronomers can now view objects in the sky at unprecedented sharpness in visible light. Using a telescope mirror that vibrates a thousand times each second to counteract atmospheric flickering, the team has achieved image resolution capabilities that could see a baseball diamond on the moon. While UA astrophotographer Adam Block at UA's Mount Lemmon SkyCenter was not involved in the research, he took an amazing wide-field view image (right) of the Orion nebula's central region using the Schulman Telescope atop Mt Lemmon.

And another major boon: Vanessa Bailey, a fifth-year graduate student in the UA's Department of Astronomy, led an international team of astronomers, discovering the most distantly orbiting planet found to date around a single, sun-like star. The exoplanet, located outside of our solar system, weighs in at 11 times Jupiter’s mass and is orbiting its star at 650 times the average Earth-Sun distance. It's name: planet HD 106906 b. 

Better Medical Pracitce + Health Research = Improved Health Services

Here's another point of pride: More than 100 Tucson physicians with The University of Arizona Health Network are ranked among the 2013 Best Doctors in America and are featured in Tucson Lifestyle magazine's July issue on Best Doctors in Tucson.

Also, in recognition of the scholarly impact of its faculty, its cutting-edge technology and the varied opportunities it offers to its students, the UA's College of Nursing has earned the No. 20 spot among the "Top 30 Cutting-Edge Nursing Schools."

Related to the health sciences, UA physicians and researchers are working to enhance and expand quality health care, whether it be working in tandem with rural communities or developing new techniques, methods and devices meant to improve a person's quality of life and quality of care.

UA associate professor Wolfgang Fink is researching ways to improve retinal implants for people who have lost their sight. Implant patients can usually detect the presence of light, but the images they see are very low resolution. Fink and his colleagues think they can improve the technology so that implant patients could make out something as detailed as a bird flying in the sky.

The UA Integrative Health Center in Phoenix provides conventional medical care plus complementary care – including acupuncture, chiropractic care, mind-body therapies, nutrition evaluations, health coaching and wellness groups, as well as classes like yoga and Tai Chi. The center, the first in the nation to implement the integrative primary care model developed at the UA's Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, is celebrating its one-year anniversary this month.

And did you know that UA researchers led a team that discovered that venom of spiders in the genus Loxosceles, which contains about 100 spider species including the brown recluse, produces a different chemical product in the human body than scientists believed? The finding has implications for understanding how these spider bites affect humans and for the development of possible treatments for the bites. 

And for all you drives, to help motorists avoid the dangers of dust storms (right), Kirk Astroth, assistant dean of the UA College of Life Sciences, developed a mobile app that takes weather-service alerts, maps them and directs them to a subscriber's phone, along with the pull-aside advisory. The app also offers tips on what to do if you get caught in a storm.

And in support of college students, The Buzz program developed at the UA has involved thousands of students since 2010 in alcohol prevention and education programming. So popular is the program that it has been piloted at Northern Arizona University with other institutions taking an interest.

The Wildcat Way

"The Wildcat Way" – what do we mean when we evoke this notion? Think connection, compassion and selfless service. So important are these values to the University that we incorporated "The Wildcat Way" as its own tag on the UA's official blog.

The notion directly aligns with the UA's "Never Settle Strategic Academic and Business Plan," one that promotes 100 percent student engagement, among a number of other critically important initiatives.

For example, a group of students in the UA's Bureau of Applied Research in Anthropology partnered with the Pima County Public Library to produce a series of videos introducing non-English speakers to local library services. Also, the UA's Educational Interpreting Program teaches students to become interpreters through real-world experiences working with deaf and hard of hearing children in educational settings. Such experiences are some of the reasons why UA graduates are among the most employable.

Courtney Slanaker, a UA Honors College student in the UA Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, founded Walk With, an organization that is working with communities in Guatemala to build a new clinic and install water purification systems, among other things. 

But the notion extends beyond the student population.

Consider Edward Reid, who has worked as a UA trumpet professor in the School of Music for 20 years. As an Arizona Assurance mentor, Reid mentors Tucson native Kenneth Saufley, who he encouraged to apply to attend the UA.

And in true partnership form, members of the UA community and those in the business, government and nonprofit sectors collaborate to organize and host Tucson Meet Yourself, which has seen tremendous growth and community impact over its 40-year history. Today, its participating clubs and organizations collect more than $250,000 in sales annually, dollars that are reinvested locally. And the festival is now poised to expand to other parts of the state.

At the end of the year, the UA's athletics department – as it had done multiple times before – surprised Tanya, Alexander and Amelia Campbell with a reunion with of Master Sgt. Chris Campbell of Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. The result? A tearjerker.

Building a Stronger UA

In areas that are both structural and progammatic, the UA and its partners are working to best preserve the institution's legacy while strengthening its impact and reach.

Old Main encapsulates the UA's history, traditions, legacy and success. A major fundraising initiative is underway to renovate and restore the UA building, ensuring that it will be accessible for generations to come.

Across campus, Tucsonans Cole and Jeannie Davis have committed a $6 million leadership gift to the UA in order to initiate the first phase of renovations to McKale Memorial Center. The Davis family has now reached $10 million in giving to Arizona’s athletics department, which also includes a leadership gift for the construction of the Richard Jefferson Gymnasium, its strength and conditioning center, and basketball locker room and hallway renovations in McKale.

And, campus-wide, the institution has initiated a plan that UA President Ann Weaver Hart said will position the University to become a "super land-grant."

And as mentioned earlier, the UA's "Never Settle" plan is designed to ensure that the UA can more aptly address some of the state's most pressing education and workforce development needs while graduating more students who are better prepared for the workforce, doubling research expenditures and improving health care.

For other important and significant news of the year, read:

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