News and Updates


Jennifer Patience, associate professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration, will talk about exoplanets as part of ASU’s Astronomy Public Lecture Series.

The lecture titled “Exoplanets -- Exploring the Diversity of Other Worlds,” will be held at 7:30 p.m., April 12, in the Marston Exploration Theatre. It is the last lecture of the semester.

Detecting, characterizing, and modeling extrasolar planets are among the fastest-growing and most exciting fields in current international astrophysics research. Thus far, over 800 exoplanets have been discovered and the study of their surprisingly diverse properties has both challenged and revolutionized the understanding of planet formation and helped place the Solar System in a broader context. The results of planet search programs have revealed planetary systems very different from the Solar System – some with giant Jupiters forever locked with one hemisphere facing the host star, others with multiple Jovian planets in delicately-balanced eccentric orbits, and still others with mere rubble orbiting the compact remnants of exploded stars.

Come learn about some of the intriguing planetary systems orbiting other stars and find out about some future directions in this exciting area of astronomy.

After the lecture, explore the new interactive displays in Interdisciplinary Science and Technology Building IV (ISTB 4), which is located at the corner of McAllister and Terrace on the Tempe campus. Students will be around to answer questions about astronomy and the exhibits.

The ASU Astronomy Public Lecture Series, created by the astronomy graduate students, in conjunction with the ASU Astronomy Club occurs once a month.

For more information, visit:

The School of Earth and Space Exploration is an academic unit of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.



Three outstanding faculty members will be honored as President’s Professors at the 2013 Faculty Excellence Awards on April 16, at the Memorial Union Ventana Ballroom on the Tempe campus.

The 2013 President’s Professors are: Ricardo Alarcon, professor in the Physics Department in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; Ariel Anbar, professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration and the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; and Alexandra Brewis Slade, director and professor in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and ASU-Mayo Clinic Obesity Solutions director of operations in the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost.

President’s Professorships honor faculty members who have made substantial contributions to undergraduate education at ASU. The awardees are chosen based on a variety of criteria: mastery of subject matter, enthusiasm and innovation in the learning and teaching process, ability to engage students both within and outside the classroom, ability to inspire independent and original thinking in students and to stimulate students to do creative work, innovation in course and curriculum design, and scholarly contributions.

Alarcon has made a substantial contribution to excellence in teaching, particularly through general studies and physics with more than 2,500 students benefiting from his instruction and research mentorship. He is a pioneer in the use of digital teaching technologies in lecture classes and he consistently earns favorable student evaluation scores.

Known to share his knowledge, Alarcon improves the overall instructional tools available to others, thereby enhancing educational effectiveness. Of particular note is the innovative and engaging online format that he has developed in introductory physics and in general studies that feature the richness of in-class sections.

His research is a crucial component of several high profile projects where experiments are conducted at national laboratories. Alarcon is a fellow of the American Physics Society, a leader in the field of nuclear physics and recently served on the National Research Council committee on the “Assessment and Outlook for Nuclear Physics.” He is currently the Physics’ Associate Chair of Academics at ASU.

Anbar has made a sustained and substantial contribution to earth science and chemistry general curricula from the introductory to the specialized level. Most recently, Anbar led the development of the innovative Habitable Worlds online course. Engaging to students across the board, they learn about the search for life on other worlds as a context for learning basic concepts in biology, chemistry, geology and physics in an integrative manner. More than 1,000 students have taken the class, learning through inquiry-driven exploration that science is not just a body of facts but is the process by which important questions are explored.

Habitable Worlds utilizes teaching tools such as the “Habitable Hunt” – where students search for an inhabited world in a personalized, randomized field of stars, as well as an intelligent tutoring system and virtual field trips. Anbar was asked to do a TED-Ed video about the class and recently received National Science Foundation funding to enhance the course as a platform for teaching scientific reasoning. In addition to Habitable Worlds, his student evaluations and the opinion of his peers hold Anbar in the highest regard as he seamlessly integrates his research and teaching portfolios.

Brewis Slade is a key force in the creation of multiple extremely successful experiential education initiatives in the School of Social Evolution and Social Change. This includes current study abroad programs in seven nations, all of which she has lead herself. More than 500 undergraduate students have been able to participate in hands-on, transformative experiences as they travel internationally with School of Human Evolution and Social Change faculty ASU faculty in the summers. In addition, she facilitated the establishment of undergraduate global internships in India, Costa Rica and many other countries, and a school-wide research apprenticeship program that offers undergraduate students multiple and diverse opportunities to engage in intensive, real-world research.

Brewis Slade spearheaded the creation of the popular interdisciplinary bachelor's degree in global health that integrates perspectives from a wide array of fields in the life and social sciences to address health inequalities and create sustainable health solutions. Known as an effective and dynamic teacher of global health and anthropology students in both online and in-person classes, as well as a world-renowned scholar in the fields of medical and nutritional anthropology, Brewis Slade inspires students from undergraduates to doctoral candidates.

Photo: This year's President’s Professors are (left to right) Ricardo Alarcon, Ariel Anbar and Alexandra Brewis Slade.

(Julie Newberg)


There is a formal award ceremony April 16 at 4 p.m. in the Memorial Union.

A team of Arizona State University researchers and students recently returned from Hermosillo, Mexico where they taught a two-day watershed modeling workshop at the University of Sonora.
The workshop, funded by the National Science Foundation, was attended by water stakeholders from Sonora, Mexico. The 75 attendees were invited to learn and experiment with hydrologic models and their utility for addressing the impacts of climate change on water resources. Leaders from government agencies in charge of water, environmental and agricultural management, along with researchers from three academic institutions comprised the majority of the attendees.
“Climate Change and the Water Resources of the Rio Sonora Basin”, the title of the workshop (translated to English), was the first of three participatory modeling workshops to be carried out as part of the project. The workshops are part of a joint project between ASU and Michigan Technological University, and builds on prior work at ASU and Michigan Tech in watershed research within Mexico and other developing countries.
“We prepared a series of hands-on activities that introduced the attendees to hydrologic models and their use for making water management decisions,” explained Enrique Vivoni, the project’s principal investigator at ASU and an associate professor with a joint appointment in ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.
The overall goal of the participatory watershed modeling, according to Vivoni, was to explore with participants alternative water management scenarios for water supply and flood control of the Rio Sonora, in the face of forecasts from climate change. Do they want to manage hazards and availability through new reservoirs? If so, where should these be located? If not, what other management alternatives – reforestation or conservation areas, aquifer storage and recovery, etc. – would they like to explore with the aid of hydrologic modeling tools?
Vivoni’s research group prepared 25 laptops with various software programs and had participants use these for different hydrologic analyses and modeling activities. ASU participants led several discussions and activities, and included: Agustin Robles-Morua, a postdoctoral researcher in the School of Earth and Space Exploration; Kelsii Dana, a graduate student pursuing a master’s degree in Geological Sciences; and Mariela Castaneda, an undergraduate student pursuing two bachelor’s degrees in Earth and Environmental Studies and in Sustainability.
Dana introduced the participants to HEC-HMS hydrologic modeling software and its potential application in the Rio Sonora. HEC-HMS is distributed by the Army Corps of Engineers and is used to model the physical processes of a watershed, such as precipitation inputs and the resulting runoff outputs. She wrote step-by-step tutorials for the workshops and walked the participants through participatory modeling exercises.
“Delivering my portions of the workshop helped me learn how to teach computer-related material effectively in a group setting,” says Dana. “The best part of the experience was interacting and networking with water stakeholders from all over Sonora. Everyone is really invested in the water future of the state and there were a lot of great discussions.”
Castaneda, who helped with registration logistics, software tutorials and translation issues, agreed that the best part of the experience was interacting with participants from a variety of backgrounds in an international setting.
“As an undergraduate student, I don’t have the science expertise that the other organizers have so I feel very fortunate to be on board with an international research project such as this. But I would say my background in Earth and Environmental Studies and Sustainability helped me understand the concepts around which the workshop was developed,” says Castaneda.
“This was a very successful, well-planned and executed workshop that engaged the participants greatly in the topic area and provided hands-on experiences with hydrologic modeling. Two follow-on workshops scheduled for May 6 and June 17 will be conducted with the same participants to discuss additional scenarios, including water demand, climate change and ecosystem conservation alternatives,” says Vivoni.
An outcome of the series of participatory modeling workshops will be to assess the effectiveness of modeling tools. The team plans to determine if models of varying levels of sophistication can affect participants’ knowledge about water resources in the Rio Sonora. They also intend to look at the roles modeling tools play in regions with sparse data and resources but major future challenges related to water.
For more information, visit the ASU Hydrology page at:
Photo: Kelsii Dana instructs the participants on HEC-HMS hydrologic modeling software and its potential application in the Rio Sonora. Dana, a graduate student pursuing a master’s degree in Geological Sciences, wrote step-by-step tutorials for the workshops and walked the participants through participatory modeling exercises. Photo courtesy of Kelsii Dana

(Nikki Cassis)


Mark Brodie with Phoenix's NPR station KJZZ interviewed Jim Bell, a professor in ASU's School of Earth and Space Exploration, about NASA's Mars Curiosity Rover. Bell discussed why the rover will be on its own for a little while starting this week and what it will do in the interim. Bell plays a leading role in the targeting and interpretation of images recovered from the science cameras – Mast Camera (Mastcam), Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI), and the Mars Descent Imager (MARDI).

You can listen to the interview here:


The Arizona Republic published an op-ed on March 31 in the Southeast Valley Opinions section by State Representative Andrew Sherwood describing why investment in science is important for Arizona.

"According to the Arizona Board of Regents, Arizona’s university research enterprises in 2012 created 15 startup companies, nearly 400 invention disclosures and 47 U.S. patents. It infused $1 billion of investment capital into our state’s economy. All of this is the result of university research," wrote Sherwood in the column.

“Before my visit to [ASU’s Interdisciplinary Science and Technology Building IV], a constituent described it to me as “the scientific community’s next flagship.” After my visit, I can tell you this is not an exaggeration,” he wrote.

Sherwood highlighted the facility’s impressive first floor gallery space and glass-fronted labs designed to engage visitors from the Valley and beyond. He writes that the facility “inspires the excitement of Earth and space sciences and the technologies that make new discoveries possible.”

The piece, "My Turn: Scientific research at ASU vital for state’s future," can be read online here:



The Origins Project at Arizona State University is sponsoring the live broadcast of Science Friday on campus this Friday, March 29, as a part of the Origins Stories weekend. Several faculty members from ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration will be part of the program.
National Public Radio’s Science Friday will broadcast its show live from ASU's Downtown Campus. Hosted by Ira Flatow, Science Friday is a weekly science talk show, broadcast live over public radio stations nationwide from 2-4 p.m. Eastern time as part of NPR's ‘Talk of the Nation’ programming. The program focuses on timely science topics and panels of expert guests join Flatow, a veteran science journalist, to discuss science – and to take questions from listeners during the call-in portion of the program.
This Friday’s program will shine the spotlight on cosmologist Meenakshi Wadhwa, director of the Center for Meteorite Studies, and planetary geologist Erik Asphaug, the Ronald Greeley Chair of Planetary Science. Both are professors in the School of Earth and Space Exploration in ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
During the first hour of the show, Flatow and Wadhwa will discuss the science of meteoritics broadly, and then more specifically the research conducted at ASU and its collection. With Asphaug, the topic of discussion will be planetary collisions large and small – the giant impacts that made the Earth and Moon and other planets, and the smaller ones today that announce themselves as explosions in the sky, and are a very unique kind of natural hazard. 
The guests for the second hour are Richard Dawkins, Ian McEwan, and Lawrence Krauss, Foundation Professor and Inaugural Director of the Origins Project.
Below are the audio links to the sections involving SESE faculty, in the order they aired:

Erik Asphaug:

Lawrence Krauss et al:

Mini Wadhwa:

It opened with the topic of life in the Sonora desert with Ferran Garcia-Pichel et al.

(Nikki Cassis)



The Physics/SESE Student Success Center is now open in PSF 186.

Formerly the Dietz Museum of Geology, the facility is available for student tutoring from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. TAs for SESE intro level classes will be holding their office hours in this room.

There are group tables with connection to a shared monitor to work with TAs and tables for small groups. There are also two small conference rooms that can be scheduled. Info on scheduling the conference rooms will be forthcoming.

This facility, shared with Physics, is a wonderful place to meet and work with students and serves as an excellent environment to provide help for students of all levels.

A grand opening ceremony will be held in a few weeks – watch for it.

For a schedule of the times and availability of TAs, click here.



Phil Mauskopf, professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration, will talk about the Big Bang as part of ASU’s Astronomy Public Lecture Series.

The lecture titled “Echoes of the Big Bang: Images of the Primordial Universe and the Cosmic Microwave Background,” will be held at 7:30 p.m., March 22, in the Marston Exploration Theatre.

On March 21, 2013 (one day before this lecture) NASA and the European Space Agency will release the first set of images of the entire sky as it appears at close-to-millimeter wavelengths of light taken by the PLANCK satellite. These maps will show us what the universe looked like billions of years ago before there were any stars or galaxies, as well as provide images of the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) radiation.
After its accidental discovery in 1965, physicists quickly identified the CMB as a key piece of evidence supporting the theory that the universe began with a hot Big Bang. Many experiments including the PLANCK satellite, launched in 2009, have already provided measurements that tell us a great deal about the origin and characteristics of our universe, mounting evidence for the existence of otherwise unknown substances such as dark matter and dark energy and precisely determining many fundamental parameters of the universe.
After the lecture, explore the new interactive displays in Interdisciplinary Science and Technology Building IV (ISTB 4), which is located at the corner of McAllister and Terrace on the Tempe campus. Students will be around to answer questions about astronomy and the exhibits.
The ASU Astronomy Public Lecture Series, created by the astronomy graduate students, in conjunction with the ASU Astronomy Club occurs once a month. The next Earth & Space Astronomy Open House will be held from 8 to 10 p.m., March 29.


(Nikki Cassis)


NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory (MSL, aka Curiosity rover), was sent to answer a simple question: was Mars ever hospitable to life? The recent discovery of life-supporting chemical ingredients in a rock sample drilled by the rover on the Red Planet, suggests scientists finally have an answer.
Curiosity relies on a suite of science instruments to acquire information about the geology, atmosphere, environmental conditions, and potential biosignatures on Mars.
Arizona State University professors, researchers and students from the School of Earth and Space Exploration, as well as alumni, are involved with several of the rover’s instruments.
Professor Meenakshi Wadhwa is a collaborator with the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument, essentially an analytical chemistry system. Located inside the rover, SAM examines the chemistry of samples it ingests. Wadhwa is one of the scientists who guides Curiosity to interesting targets and interprets data from the mission. Amy McAdam, an ASU alumna, is also working on SAM.
Professor Jack Farmer is a science team member for Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin), which is designed to examine the chemical and mineralogical properties of rocks and soils. Over the past few months he has been supporting mission operations (mainly the CheMin instrument team and as a Geology Theme Group participant), planning observations and analyzing downlinked data.
Last week, the rover’s science team announced that an analysis of rock by the SAM and CheMin instruments indicates that past environmental conditions were favorable for microbial life.
“CheMin’s initial analysis of a core taken from the Yellowknife Bay bedrock site has confirmed the presence of up to 20% by weight phyllosilicates (clays), minerals that require water for their formation. This has significantly advanced our understanding of habitable environments at Gale Crater earlier in the history of Mars,” said Farmer. 

A picture is worth 1000 words


The rover also carries a state-of-the-art imaging system comprised of 17 cameras. Professor Jim Bell plays a leading role in the targeting and interpretation of images recovered from the science cameras – Mast Camera (Mastcam), Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI), and the Mars Descent Imager (MARDI).
The rover’s Mastcam, which takes color images and color video footage of the Martian terrain, can also serve as a mineral-detecting and hydration-detecting tool, reported Bell. “Some iron-bearing rocks and minerals can be detected and mapped with Mastcam’s near-infrared filters,” he said.
Using both the infrared-imaging capability of Mastcam and another instrument that shoots neutrons into the ground to probe for hydrogen, researchers have found more hydration of minerals near the clay-bearing rock than at locations Curiosity visited earlier.
Ratios of brightness in different Mastcam near-infrared wavelengths can indicate the presence of some hydrated minerals. The technique was used to check rocks in the Yellowknife Bay area where Curiosity’s drill last month collected the first powder from the interior of a rock. Some rocks in Yellowknife Bay are crisscrossed with bright veins.
“With Mastcam, we see elevated hydration signals in the veins that we don’t see in the rest of the rock,” said Melissa Rice, a postdoc at the California Institute of Technology and one of Bell’s former graduate students. “The bright veins contain hydrated minerals that are different from the clay minerals in the surrounding rock matrix.”
Bell’s research program was responsible for developing the “hydration index” results that Rice will present today (March 18) at a news briefing at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in The Woodlands, Texas.
Professor Alberto Behar is co-investigator on DAN, the Russian-made Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons instrument, which detects hydrogen beneath the rover. Behar is part of the team defining what the DAN instrument does on a sol to sol basis, developing the commands for new investigations, and analyzing the telemetry data to determine the state of health of the instrument.
“Variability in DAN data has been used to identify when we have crossed into a compositionally unique terrain. It has measured the highest water content on terrain traversed to be 7 weight percent water,” said Behar.

On the home front


Not all the fun is 200 million miles away on the Martian surface. Bell, research staff member Austin Godber, and a group of undergraduate and graduate students are developing key parts of the Mastcam color image data-processing pipeline at ASU. Similar data processing work is also going on at ASU for images streaming back from NASA’s older rover, Opportunity, which landed in 2004 but is still operating well. Bell is the lead scientist for Opportunity’s Pancam stereo color imaging cameras. 
The rover camera work involves analyzing images of the Mastcam and Pancam color calibration targets and developing computer routines that allow the results from those cal-target images to be applied to images of soils, rocks, and mountain scenes in Curiosity’s Gale Crater field site and along Opportunity’s traverse in Meridiani Planum, half a planet away from Gale Crater.
“We brought swatches of known colors with us to Mars. If we process the images to get those colors right, we know we’re getting the colors right when we look out at the landscape,” said Bell.
One of the other exciting aspects of the work is that ASU students and staff are among the first people on Earth to work with new images radioed back from both rovers on Mars every day.
“Who knows what discoveries we’ll make – but whatever they are, they might be noticed first by an ASU undergrad or grad student, toiling away in the night calibrating some of the latest images from the Red Planet. That’s pretty cool work,” said Bell. Some of that cool work is being conducted on the ground floor of the new Interdisciplinary Science and Technology Building IV in the Mission Operations Center, where Bell, staff, and students process images and hold occasional meetings with scientists and mission operations staff from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.
To watch the press briefing live at 1 p.m. EDT / 10 a.m. Arizona time, visit:
Caption: Jim Bell, a professor in ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration, stands in front of one of the few 1:1 full-scale models of the largest exploration vehicle ever sent to another planet: Mars Science Laboratory (MSL, aka Curiosity rover). Bell and several other ASU faculty members, researchers and students are involved with Curiosity. Visitors can see the life-size replica of the rover and the Mission Operations Center, where Bell, staff, and students process images, in the new Interdisciplinary Science and Technology Building IV. Credit: Andy DeLisle
(Nikki Cassis)




According to U.S. News & World Report’s 2013 edition of “America’s Best Graduate Schools,” the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University ranks among the top 20 graduate schools in the country.

The publication’s recently released list ranks ASU’s earth sciences program 17th among public and private graduate programs, making it the highest ranking science program at ASU, and among the top 10 universities in the western United States. More than 100 earth sciences graduate programs were surveyed.

This year, two out of four specialty earth science programs were ranked in the top 20 in the nation. These include geochemistry (ranked 16th) and geology (ranked 17th).

As a result of its strong, diversified team, the school has become involved in a number of high-profile projects, such as the National Science Foundation’s EarthScope program and the development of geologic training programs for NASA’s astronaut candidate class, all of which have dramatically increased the visibility and standing of the school.

This ranking, however, does not reflect the teaching and research efforts of the school’s faculty in astronomy, astrophysics, and cosmology.

Tied for 17th, the rankings overall put ASU on par with earth sciences graduate programs at Brown University; University of California, Los Angeles; University of California, Davis; University of California, San Diego; and University of Chicago.