News and Updates


The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera's May 31 Image of the Day featured Anaxagoras, a crater located on the lunar far side. Visible in the image is the impact melt-covered floor. To learn why impact melts are exciting to lunar geologists and how the features of this particular crater formed, visit:


Image: Boulders clustered on a positive relief bulge in an impact melt deposit on the floor of Anaxagoras crater (73.5°S, 349.7°E); most of the boulders are 10 - 30 m across. LROC NAC M155309869R, image width is 910 m [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University].


Eight years ago Cami Miron Skiba left the life she had known in Romania for a new start in America. Today she is not only Kip Hodges’ assistant (and time keeper), but also a published author. (Read the SESE Source version)

So, Cami, you are officially a published author now – congratulations! Your book, Hidden Heart, is a riveting story that I’ve personally read three times. What can you tell readers about this book?
Thanks, Nikki, for this amazing opportunity. This is my first interview and I’m absolutely thrilled! To put it in a few words, the story is a tale of love, betrayal and friendship. A woman’s journey to forgiveness and redemption. A man’s fight for a second chance. Dark secrets threatening to destroy everything and more.

The book is being marketed as both a multi-cultural fiction novel and a contemporary romance story. Often the words “romance novel” make us think of those “bodice rippers” of the Harlequin-novel brand in which the beautiful young heroine is emotionally tortured by a dangerous yet handsome hero who in the end falls for her. But there are so many exciting categories of romantic fiction now. The genre includes dozens of sub-genres (from extremely light humorous stories to “vampire romances”). How would you classify your own romantic writing?
This made me laugh, especially the “bodice rippers” description. While my characters live in the modern world, I see what you mean. It gets confusing with so many sub-genres and really finding the right place for my novel took me a while, but it’s safe to say it’s women’s fiction. I do read a lot. I used to read much more, but since I began writing I only average one book per week – a little more if Chris snores [laughs]. I just purchased five new books written by my favorite authors and I look forward to reading each story.

Where did the idea for Hidden Heart originate?
There is a lot of abuse going on around us and we have no idea what hardship some people endure. Abused women is a very sensitive subject to me and I wanted my book to bring awareness to this plague, no matter what side of the world it happens.

You’ve been working as Kip’s assistant for a few years now. Did something at work inspire you to become a writer or have you always wanted to be a writer?
And I intend of retiring from this position – if I can keep Kip working for about 18 more years. [Laughs] I’m still working on that; he is hard to convince.
To answer your question, I always wanted to write. To be more exact, sometime during high school I discovered a notebook of my older sister in which she penned a young adult love story. She never finished it, but to this day I remember it very clearly, wishing for the heroes to have had a happy ending.

I never had the confidence I could do it (write), but wished and dreamed of it, until one day during summer of 2009, driving down the road with my son Patrick we had a conversation about following our dreams. I told him about my dream of writing novels. He listened and said, “Why don’t you do it, Mom? Just sit down and write. I’m sure you can do it.” And for some reason his simple words and his trust in me was reason enough to begin writing.

Your lead character Tessa is a pretty strong-willed young woman. Does she bare much resemblance to anyone we might know, Cami? [Wink, wink]
I’m an angel, what are you suggesting? I’m always drawn to books that have strong-willed heroines, women that no matter what life throws at them, they fight back and survive. Women who know what they want and go after it. Women who have values and a backbone, as we Romanians say. Basically, women who refuse to be victims.

The book is based in the once communist country of Romania, where you grew up. You relied on your personal experience living there to build the story. Was it painful to write about some of those circumstances, or was it sort of therapeutic?
To some degree it’s more disappointment than pain, with the way things are still happening there (the corruption, the political chaos, the bribing, etc. despite communism being eradicated over twenty years ago).

Not many people know that way back before moving to the U.S. I came out of an abusive relationship. Tessa goes through the same type of heartbreak, but she finds healing and moves on- like I did. And if my book can give hope to at least one woman, then I’m okay with that.

Many new writers enter their books into writing contests to bring their work to the attention of editors and agents. Is that something that you have thought about doing, or have done?
Since my book was finalized this past December, I’m just now starting to look into entering it in contests. I once submitted a partial and received two excellent reviews (out of three), which helped my confidence. There is an upcoming contest with a deadline for submission in the middle of April. I will keep you posted.

Do you have any plans to write another romance story or perhaps pursue a different genre?

Actually, my second novel is about 80% done, with heavy editing going on in parallel. My goal is to have it ready for publishing sometime in the beginning of winter. I have two more stories outlined and two others in an “embryo” stage. I have learned to never say never, but I think I will stick with romance/women fiction/multicultural for a while.

Learn more about Cami at:


(Nikki Cassis)


Spirit, the little Mars rover that could, had a spectacular career, exceeding all expectations. In an interview airing on NPR’s All Things Considered May 31, Professor Jim Bell, who was in charge of the main cameras on the rover, discusses the excitement of the early days of Spirit, the breath-taking images and the science that was unearthed.

Read the story or listen to the interview:


Learn more about Professor Jim Bell:


Professor Paul Davies likes to ask big questions. But how did the freethinking cosmologist suddenly find himself probing the physics of cancer? You’ll have to read this incredibly entertaining story published today in Nature.

Read it here:


Space Grant Symposium as seen through the eyes of writing intern Matthew Button

It was rainy April 9, too rainy, and Tempe sidewalks pool up when the water comes. But there we were anyway, a large group of mostly intelligent young adults all dressed up in our finest clothes sitting together in a banquet room on the second floor of ASU’s Memorial Union. This was the 20th annual Arizona/NASA Space Grant Undergraduate Research Symposium – my first one.

It was a rather a serious affair from the attire and the décor to the entirely appropriate chocolate chip muffins, decidedly becoming fruit platters, and perfectly official black plastic plates.
We had our printed abstract books in hand, pondering to ourselves about when we would have to present, shying away from that stern old man or that skinny fellow who we didn’t know or had not heard of.

My shoes are wet; though it isn’t humid it is damp. Perhaps it’s caused by the palpable nervousness in the air. We listen to one another speaking seriously – no professionally – about our research. Collective murmurs and commentary escape the nervous lips of speakers yet to present: “Measuring Tidal Features in Galaxy Clusters? Oh my, that sounds stupendously cooler than ours, can we top an act like that? What room am I in? Section F, oh that can’t be good.” The most troubling part: fearing that your presentation will be brutally cut off if you go a minute over seven minutes. I’m exaggerating, slightly, but the thought was present. 

To be honest, I didn’t know too many people there so it wasn’t until a man named Barron Orr started speaking that I really focused on what was happening.

“You are going to have to be like a rock climber today,” he said, “balancing on the edge of your fears, dangling from a single edge, full exposure.”

Unfortunately I had seen the movie 127 Hours the weekend before and I wondered if I could indeed cut off my own arm for these people. But as I began to watch the presentations of my fellow NASA Space Grant interns I actually took Orr’s speech, his metaphor about total exposure, in a different way. Collectively we teetered – the occasional speaker had the jitters, someone paused too long, or broken slides threatened rhythm – but no one fell over the precipice of personal exposure. In the end we triumphed over a much different ledge, a much taller, and a much bolder, sheerer obstacle than our public speaking qualms.

For the last six months each of us has worked routinely on some project or another. I suppose in our routines we can forget about the work we do, forget about the significance we make, and even trivialize the small impacts we make toward science. Science in itself is a big thing, but it is as much a cliff, more a cliff than any public presentation.

When we look at new rocket fuels, map out planets, simulate space, when we reach out into realms of thought and innovation far beyond, we are climbing steep cliff walls. When a scientist offers up his research, his arctic sea ice variability, his unmanned air vehicle teams, her models of primitive life to a community of peers,  we state our claims and say, “Here, here is what I’ve done, these are the facts I cling to, this is the ledge I cling too. Here is my data, my work ethic, and my interpretation. Ask me about Martian climates, question me on plate tectonics, and interrogate me on uranium isotopes.”

What’s nerve wracking is not the big screen, the suited onlookers, or the wistful gaze of moderators but the thought that you haven’t worked hard enough that you strode into the sideline of the observable world and you were wrong. So each of us, interns and mentors listened, for seven hours to presentations, engaged and skeptical, wondering all together, altogether wondering, but most importantly validating.

With over 200 guests at the banquet Friday night and 250 plus guests at Saturday’s Symposium, it made for a long weekend but it was worth it to see around 140 interns from six schools in AZ present.

The 2011 symposium brought together the brightest and best collegiate students of Arizona, to both critique and validate each other’s work, to assure one another that we are young scientists, but our work is not insignificant. That, if even for only seven minutes the rhetoric devices of science writing, the atom beam measurements, and nanostructure printing techniques matter to a small community.

We show off, clinging fully exposed to our body of facts and ask to be judged, watched, and engaged. We present facts, we ask questions, but most importantly we endeavor toward novel ideas and new concepts. This is science; this is peer review. The Arizona NASA Space Grant program looks to foster this communal exploration building the youth of today into the men and woman that climb bravely into the explorative worlds of tomorrow.

Image: Undergraduate intern Zureyma (Zuri) Martinez, a senior majoring in biochemistry, presents her research on the sequencing genes for metal transport and storage from sediments collected from hot springs at Yellowstone National Park.

(Matthew Button)


The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) looks similar to a satellite dish balancing atop a platform. When launched later this decade, this new generation of telescope will orbit the Sun-Earth system at a distance four times farther than the Moon, replacing the Hubble Space Telescope as man’s most powerful tool for peering into the deep and unknown regions of space. (Read in the SESE Source)

While Hubble is roughly the size of a school bus, its scientific successor JWST is a 6.2-ton tennis court of the finest observational technologies that modern space agencies can provide. Its primary mirror is seven times the area of Hubble’s, and this larger light collecting area means that it can peer significantly farther back in time than Hubble. JWST’s gold-coated hexagonal beryllium mirror segments can be individually calibrated to focus together at distances far enough in time and space to view infant galaxies that formed just after the Big Bang.

SESE’s Rogier Windhorst has since 2002 collaborated on the design and imminent deployment of the instrument that is tasked to look for the First Light Epoch of the universe, the birth of stars, the assembling of galaxies and planets, and the possibility of life in these fringes of observable space.

Unlike Hubble, JWST will observe primarily in the infrared. Hubble’s science pushed astronomers to look at longer wavelengths, to “go well beyond” what Hubble has already done. Though JWST’s pictures may not be as colorful as Hubble’s that are taken in the ultra-violet and visible range, the longer wavelength means that dust and gas clouds are no longer a major obstruction. Hidden stars and star-forming regions can be more clearly seen. Stars and planets that are just forming lie hidden behind cloaks of dust that absorb visible light. However, infrared light emitted by these regions can penetrate this dusty shroud and reveal what is inside.

JWST is much more advanced than Hubble; it could produce a sharp image of a U.S. penny from 24 miles away. Its multi-ranging infrared cameras and spectrographs are so sensitive that a massive sun shield must block the light of earth, moon and the sun. Imaging is so precise, NASA has carefully taken into account the miniscule amount of beryllium lost during polishing processes because it could slightly affect the images.

When launched this decade the telescope will emerge like a cocooned butterfly, its flexible sun shield blocking the receptors and rear solar panels absorbing the light of cold space. It will orbit in the distant L2 orbit zone, requiring a small amount of thrust to keep in a stable orbit around the sun-earth system well away from the earth and the moon. The telescope must operate efficiently at -385 F, normal temperatures for the space nearly a million miles from Earth.

“It is a mammoth project and you might be thinking this is never going to work, but every mechanism is redundant, every tiny actuator has been tested, and all the techniques and equipment has been employed on ground-based telescopes for years,” says Windhorst.

Parts and mechanisms go through numerous movements and tests. The mirrors, for example, are violently shaken to simulate liftoff conditions. Much care is taken to assure the nearly 6.5-billion-dollar project goes smoothly over its projected 10-year lifetime. Windhorst is on the project to help sure NASA doesn’t mess up JWST’s ability to carry out its science; teleconferences, meetings with scientist, engineers, manufacturers and assembling plants are part of his duties to check the quality and condition of JWST.

“If you look at Hubble’s images of deep space you can see a lot of things. The larger bright blobs are foreground stars or galaxies; these are like rain drops on the windshield. We’re looking at the smaller and dimmer lights, which are not stars but galaxies – collections of billions of stars like the sun, 5 to 13 billion lightyears from Earth. Hubble can only see the galaxies that are at wavelengths as red as 1.7 microns, and so far most of these objects appear to be dim and red,” Windhorst explains.

These distant galaxies are very far away, and are expanding away rapidly from our solar system. This expansion of the universe creates a kind of Doppler effect, and thus the distance of these galaxies can be determined by their amount of “redshift”. Hubble can only see as far as redshifts of eight, which is roughly 13 billion light years away from earth, whereas JWST can see as far as redshift 20 or more. At such a massive distance, the light from faraway galaxies can actually bend around more nearby galaxies and make the distant galaxies seem brighter or fractured – an effect known as gravitational lensing.

The gravitational lensing effect can also make distant galaxies appear at the edge of more nearby galaxies in the foreground, and make them appear brighter or larger than they actually are. Areas of extreme gravitation make light appear as though it is distorted by a lens. JWST will be looking so deeply into the beginning of the universe where the first stars started shining, that changing the images to compensate for gravitational lensing may be a challenge.

What is perhaps even more interesting is that this phenomenon can actually help scientists see even beyond the range of their telescopes at galaxies that are otherwise beyond the range of our telescopes. Gravitational lensing actually allows us to notice these even more distant worlds without improving the quality of our telescopes. “What amazes me most is the profundity of it all, and the possibilities of what we could find when we peer within around 100-200 million years of the Big Bang; we’re going to be looking at the epoch of First Light,” Windhorst says.

Other people involved with JWST at ASU are research scientists Seth Cohen and Rolf Jansen, as well as a number of graduate students and postdocs. Faculty at ASU, such as professors Bowman, Butler, Groppi, Malhotra, Rhoads, Scowen and their research groups, as well as thousands of scientists worldwide will be using JWST as one of their main scientific tools to the explore the earliest stages of the cosmos and star-formation.

To probe the secret birthplace of the stars and to see farther back in time and space than mankind has ever seen – this is the purpose and potential of JWST, and the impassioning possibility that moves Windhorst and others to check, and recheck that each aspect of the mission goes swimmingly. Because unlike Hubble, stowed safely in Earth’s orbit, no maintenance can be performed on JWST. Once its five-layered sun shield unfolds and starts toward the frigid clarity of remote space, NASA can only watch…but oh what a view it will be!


(Matthew Button)


A newly announced NASA mission to collect a sample of an asteroid and return it to Earth will include an instrument built at Arizona State University's School of Earth and Space Exploration (SESE). The ASU instrument will analyze long-wavelength infrared light emitted from the asteroid to map the minerals on its surface. The device is a modified version of the highly successful miniature infrared spectrometers carried on Spirit and Opportunity, NASA's twin Mars Exploration Rovers.

The new asteroid sample-return mission is called OSIRIS-REx, an acronym standing for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, and Regolith EXplorer. The Principal Investigator for the mission is Michael Drake of the University of Arizona in Tucson, and the mission is part of NASA's New Frontiers program.

The mission's goals are to return a sample of rocks, soil, and dust from a pristine carbonaceous asteroid, map the asteroid's global properties down to submillimeter scales, characterize this class of asteroid for comparison with meteorites, and measure a subtle effect of sunlight that can alter the orbits of asteroids.

"The OSIRIS-REx mission is an important milestone for planetary science in the state of Arizona," says Kip Hodges, director of ASU's School of Earth and Space Exploration. "I am very excited at the prospects of building closer research collaborations with our friends and colleagues at the University of Arizona."

The instrument to be built at ASU is the OSIRIS-REx Thermal Emission Spectrometer, or OTES for short. It will be the first complex electro-optical instrument for spaceflight to be built at ASU.

A first for ASU

"In the past, each of the five instruments we’ve built for NASA were built at an aerospace company in California," says Philip Christensen, Instrument Scientist for OTES. He is Regents' Professor of Geological Sciences in the School of Earth and Space Exploration, part of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. "For the first time, a piece of complicated space hardware will be built on the ASU campus."

Christensen adds, "This is something we've been working toward for 15 years. It's is a major step forward for ASU — I can count on one hand the number of universities that can do this."

Greg Mehall is Project Engineer for OTES at ASU and has overseen the technical development of several previous ASU flight instruments. "We've worked hard over the past few years to create the infrastructure at ASU necessary to support such an endeavor," he says. "We recently developed two prototype flight instruments based on the Mars rover infrared spectrometers. They're representative prototypes for OTES."

The instrument also fits into a bigger picture at ASU. Hodges explains, "OTES demonstrates that SESE is now ready not just to operate instruments in space from the ASU campus, but to fabricate space-ready hardware in-house." In many ways, he says, "OTES is proof of the promise of SESE, an academic unit designed to integrate science and engineering research and education. We are very fortunate to work at a university that supports such a groundbreaking enterprise."

OTES will be built in cleanroom facilities in the new Interdisciplinary Science and Technology Building (ISTB) 4, currently being constructed on the Tempe campus. "ISTB-4 is a remarkable building that will not only support advanced research by SESE and other academic and research units, but will also serve as a public showcase for scientific exploration," Hodges notes. "The OTES fabrication facility will be on the first floor of ISTB-4, in space designed for public viewing through high-bay windows. It will be fantastic to be able to use this state-of-the-art laboratory as a teaching tool."

Rendezvous in space

If all goes as planned, OSIRIS-REx will launch in September 2016 and rendezvous with asteroid 1999 RQ36 in November 2019. It will spend up to 15 months surveying the asteroid's mineralogy with OTES and another spectrometer working at shorter visible and infrared wavelengths. A suite of three visible-light cameras and a laser altimeter will complete the picture of the asteroid.

"The infrared is great for identifying minerals," says Christensen. "OTES will map the composition of the asteroid in order to identify the best region to sample."

Mission scientists will then select a target area. The spacecraft will approach the asteroid, touch it very briefly, and collect at least 60 grams (2 ounces) of dust, soil, and rubble from its surface. With sample collection completed, OSIRIS-REx will cruise back to Earth and use a separable return capsule to deliver the sample to a landing site in Utah in September 2023. After flying past Earth, the spacecraft should be available to survey other asteroids, although it will not be able to collect samples from them.

Little push here, little nudge there

Asteroid 1999 RQ36 has an unmemorable designation, but it's a space rock scientists want to keep a close eye on. With an orbit that brings it inside Earth's orbit, it is the most accessible asteroid rich in organic materials from the early solar system. RQ36 is about 575 meters (1,900 feet) wide, roughly spherical, and spins once every 4.3 hours. Reflecting only three percent of the sunlight falling on it, the asteroid is about as dark as a charcoal briquette.

Many asteroids have similar properties; what gives RQ36 special interest is that it comes within 450,000 kilometers (280,000 miles) of Earth. It's also the asteroid with the highest known probability of hitting Earth — there's about one chance in 1,800 for an impact in the year 2170.

As part of its mission goals, OSIRIS-REx will seek to measure the Yarkovsky effect, a weak but steady thrust produced by sunlight when it falls on a spinning object. The effect arises from the fact that, all else being equal, sunlit ground is warmer in the afternoon than the same ground is in the morning, because sunlight has had longer to heat it.

This means that the afternoon side of a rotating object in space radiates more heat than the morning side, thus producing an extremely small thrust. For objects as massive as planets, the effect is negligible. But for small bodies like RQ36 the effect could change its orbit. OSIRIS-REx will help scientists assess how fast RQ36's orbit is changing and gather information useful for future generations, which may have to take action to deflect the asteroid.

New frontiers

For his part, Christensen is enjoying the change in scientific targets. "After spending most of my career studying Mars, it's going to be exciting and challenging for me and my research group to focus our attention to the origin and history of asteroids."

OSIRIS-REx is the third mission chosen in NASA's New Frontiers program for unmanned planetary missions. Its budget (not counting lauch vehicle) is approximately $800 million, of which the OTES budget is about $17 million.

OSIRIS-REx is managed by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center (Greenbelt, Maryland) and the University of Arizona (Tucson). The University of Arizona is also responsible for coordinating the science team, science operations, data archiving, education and public outreach, and building the visible-light camera suite. NASA Goddard is building the visible near-infrared spectrometer. Lockheed Martin Space Systems (Littleton, Colorado) is building the spacecraft bus, sampling system, and sample return capsule, plus handling mission operations. The Canadian Space Agency (Ottawa, Ontario) is building the laser altimeter, KinetX is providing the spacecraft navigation, and NASA's Johnson Space Center (Houston, Texas) will curate the samples.


Photo: Philip Christensen (left) and Kip Hodges shared a happy moment after hearing NASA announce the selection of the OSIRIS-REx New Frontiers mission to collect samples from a small asteroid. This UofA-led mission includes the OSIRIS-REx Thermal Emission Spectrometer (OTES), which will be built at Arizona State University’s Tempe campus by Christensen’s research group. Christensen, an ASU Regents’ Professor of Geological Sciences, and Hodges, director of ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration, were with about 40 students, faculty and staff gathered at ASU’s Mars Space Flight Facility to hear the NASA announcement. More information at (Photo by Tom Story)


(Robert Burnham)


SESE doctoral student Michael Rutkowski has received a prestigious Fulbright Research Scholarship to continue his research on the compositions and ages of the stellar populations extant in distant early-type galaxies at Yonsei University in South Korea. (read story in the SESE Source)

Rutkowski, who received his masters in astrophysics through SESE based on work on X-ray supernova remnants, will begin his Fulbright-sponsored research in November.

“With the Fulbright Scholar program you specify preferences for multiple sites where you would like to carry out your research, but my first and only choice was South Korea to work with Professor Sukyoung Yi,” says Rutkowski. With his research interests in South Korea tied to his doctoral research, specifically older stellar populations in early-type galaxies and the morphology of UV light profiles of those galaxies, which Yonsei University has both experience and familiarity with, it was an easy decision for Rutkowski.

The Fulbright Scholar Program, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, is the largest U.S. international exchange program for students, scholars, and professionals in the world. It currently operates in more than 155 countries, with recipients chosen based on their academic merit and leadership potential.

During his year in South Korea, Rutkowski will work at Yonsei University in Seoul with Yi’s Galaxy Evolution team of students and post-docs. He will be using Hubble Space Telescope multi-wavelength imaging to better understand the compositions and ages of the stellar populations extant in distant early-type galaxies.

Rutkowski grew up in Urbanna, Va. and attended Hampden Sydney College, a small private liberal arts school in Va., double-majoring in physics and mathematics before pursuing his masters degree at ASU. Once he completes his doctorate in late 2012/early 2013, Rutkowski hopes to continue his research, as a post-doc at a research university or NASA facility, into the nature of stellar populations in early-type galaxies over the past 6 billion years. He also intends on applying to a number of public policy fellowships that would put him near Capitol Hill and back on the East Coast.

“If we (in the astrophysics community) are going to conduct all of the research that we think is important, we are going to have to look more often to international collaborations. As missions and observatories grow increasingly more expensive, and public investment in a diverse program of fundamental, experimental science declines, we’ll have to split the cost with international collaborators if our missions are going to fly,” explains Rutkowski.

“I hope that this experience increases the opportunities for joint research programs with Korea, a nation that is dramatically ramping up their investment in launch vehicle, detector, and satellite technologies. Collaborations will enhance the science programs of both nations. With some nations in the region moving to weaponize space, I think my emphasis on the use of space-based observatories for scientific purposes in my proposal caught the interest of the State department officials that reviewed my application.”

As for spending a year abroad, Rutkowski looks forward to it, but expects the transition will take a little longer than in the past.

“Each country always has its various cultural or social mores to be aware of but in most of the countries in which I’ve lived abroad, like Australia or England when I was studying mathematics at Sydney University as an undergraduate or at Oxford University as part of my dissertation, you can learn those quickly,” he says, adding, “Only on short trips to Europe or Central America have there been language barriers to overcome.”

The de facto language of science is English, so he won’t have to worry about learning enough Korean to deliver talks to the community at Yonsei and at conferences.

Professor Rogier Windhorst, Rutkowski’s advisor, enthusiastically endorsed his application, saying, “Michael has excelled at ASU since setting foot on campus,” says Windhorst. “He is intelligent, intellectually curious, passionate about science, and committed to making a difference in the world. That combination will take him far.”

Rutkowski is one of 17 ASU students to have won Fulbright awards to study and teach abroad next year, in 14 different countries.


Photo by Tom Story

(Nikki Cassis)



Erin DiMaggio, a Ph.D. candidate in Geological Sciences in SESE, received a $15,000 Scholar Award from the Philanthropic and Educational Organization (PEO), which awards competitive scholarships to women attending graduate school in the United States and Canada.

DiMaggio, who grew up in the greater Detroit, Michigan area, received a B.S. in Geological Sciences from the University of Michigan in 2004. Working with Professor Ramon Arrowsmith, she earned a M.S in Geological Sciences from ASU in 2007.

Her current research focuses on interpreting the Earth’s sedimentary record to extract information about the mechanisms and history of plate tectonic rifting (including volcanism and faulting) and the implications for paleoenvironmental changes during a crucial period of human evolution 2-3 million years ago. DiMaggio conducts her field investigations in the Afar Depression in Ethiopia. Her research contributes to understanding past environments in East Africa during a particularly interesting period of biologic, climatic, and structural change.

“Showing future employers that you can independently secure funding to support your research is big plus,” says DiMaggio, who plans to use the Scholar Award to fund her upcoming field season in Ethiopia in October. “I am honored to be recognized by such a wonderful organization of women.”

The P.E.O. was founded in 1869 to bring women increased opportunities for higher education. The Scholar Awards program began in 1991 to provide merit-based awards for women in the U.S. and Canada who are either pursuing a doctoral level degree or are engaged in postdoctoral research at an accredited college, university or institution.


Tut Gatyiel, the son of a Sudanese chieftain and recent graduate has a story perhaps even more exciting, and certainly more harrowing, than any of the research gracing the walls of the Physical Sciences F-Wing. This is a story of a young man’s long journey, and the future he sees ahead. Read the SESE Source version.

Gatyiel was born in Bentiu, Unity State, Southern Sudan amid the eleven-year cease fire between the first and second Sudanese Civil Wars. Growing up Gatyiel witnessed the brutal conflict between the Arab Muslim leadership and southern Christian indigenous people like his tribe. At age eight he was forced to flee his parents and flee violence toward Khartoum while northern soldiers destroyed his village. In Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, Gatyiel could not attend public school because he did not embrace Islamic views.

“This was the first time I experienced discrimination. I was very fortunate to have been able to attend St. Peter and Paul Catholic Missionary School where I was baptized and able to get an education,” Gatyiel recalls.

While in Khartoum, Gatyiel saw the displacement of many of his people by the governmental militia. Immersed in this environment of loss and desperation he became an advocate for Sudanese human rights – unfortunately his message was not received by the rest of the world. To this day Gatyiel feels as though the trials and tribulations of the Sudanese people have not received proper media coverage.

“What happened in my country is much, much worse than what you can see on the news from Libya. There was much more bloodshed than the events being covered now. Because there was not a lot of media coverage I felt very frustrated and helpless with the troubles of the Sudanese,” Gatyiel explains.

Amid his youthful hopelessness for his country’s condition, Gatyiel returned to his village, a scene of more destruction; a theme which he had become too accustomed to. As he reached his tribe he was greeted by an Anti-Nof air raid by the north Sudan government. Now only a teenager Gatyiel was caught in the middle of a bombing attack that forced him to run from fire and explosions. And quite a long run it became. He and countless other parentless, homeless, hungry and unnoticed children walked for nearly 1,000 miles to Panyido Refugee Camp in Ethiopia. As many as 27,000 children like him walked in a kind of aimless clout to reach the camp across the border where safety and security, in a primitive sense, could at long last be obtained. Here, miraculously, Gatyiel met some of his immediate family members. But the salvation was short lived. Just two years later in 1991 civil war erupted in Ethiopia, and the refugees of Panyido, Gatyiel included, were forced at gunpoint to return to Sudan. The path back to his homeland was even more perilous this time.

“This was a terrible trip because in order to return to Sudan we had to cross the Gila River, which was very deep, had many crocodiles, and was overflowing because it was during the rainy season,” Gatyiel explains. It is estimated that as many as 2,000 children lost their lives, drowning in the river crossing. Gatyiel like many others on that fateful day watched crocodiles tear at unfortunate refugees making their way back to a ruined homeland.

River crossings were not the only dangers. The government of the north continued to bomb as the refugees passed across the border. Red Cross and United Nations Children Fund lead the troupe of children, a group that would come to be called “The Lost Boys of Sudan” on yet another 1,000 mile barefoot trek to Kenya. Still hindered by disease, thirst, and starvation as many as 6,000 more children lost their lives on this leg of the journey, some horrifically to wild animals like lions that preyed on the weary travelers. Gatyiel explains that only by the protection of God was he able to survive with his cousins and nephews the entire year-long journey into Kakuma Refugee Camp. Here Gatyiel involved himself in the relief efforts and made known the struggles of the Sudanese by addressing the Kenyan media, and working under the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees as a recreation coordinator.

“I organized young men and women to participate in social, athletic and recreational activities. I tutored many students in math, history and geography. This was a very fulfilling time in my life and I am very proud that I was able to contribute and enriching other young peoples’ lives,” Gatyiel notes.

In 1999, Gatyiel applied for resettlement in the US with the immediate family he had in the refugee camp. After a 36-hour plane ride Gatyiel and his family were the first of Sudanese settlers to arrive in Phoenix. Once in the Valley of the Sun, Gatyiel endured a state of continuous culture shock.

“So many things here are different; many of the doors open automatically, there is running water and electrical light you can use anywhere. Really, all of these things, everyday things, were surprising to me,” Gatyiel explains.

Now there are roughly 600 “Lost Boys” settled in the Phoenix area, all thanks to an organization called The Lost Boys of Sudan, which has aided in the relocation of refugees to Phoenix. Gatyiel is the president of the Arizona Lost Boys Advisory Council that helps its refugee members realize their dreams in the US. Gatyiel himself received a special scholarship which allowed him to attend ASU and receive a B.S. degree in geology from SESE.

“I chose geology because when I was traveling through all of these places in Sudan and Ethiopia and Kenya, I was always wondering why the landscapes were different, wondering what made them the way they were,” Gatyiel says. Gatyiel is also very interested in concentrating further in petroleum, as that natural resource is a root for much of the conflict in Sudan. As son of a chieftain Gatyiel holds a position of leadership amongst his ravaged people, and he’s doing what he can to help.

“I am definitely an American,” he says. “I may travel to Sudan to see relatives and friends and help how I can, but this is my home now.”

The Lost Boys Organization is part of a larger national network that re-unites families ravaged by war. The Arizona chapter is always looking for donations to sustain and aid refugees as they pursue their dreams. Their website offers more information and opportunities to help like “The Cow Project” where supporters can purchase cultural cow sculptures to help pay for educational expenses of the boys.

Listen to Gatyiel’s KJZZ/NPR interview.

Image: Tut Gatyiel was about the same age as these Sudanese children when he was forced to flee his family. Credit: Photo by Peter Martell/IRIN.

(Matthew Button)