News and Updates


Keith Morrison, a SESE doctoral student, received an ARCS scholarship (second year) for his work on antibacterial clays. His work was highlighted on the ARCS National website.

He published a paper in the November 2013 journal of Environmental Geochemistry and Health on antibacterial clay research. The article was titled “Mineralogical Variables that Control the Antibacterial Effectiveness of a Natural Clay Deposit.” Morrison is concerned with the health risks due to the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacterial strains. He is researching finding alternatives to conventional antimicrobials. His paper focused on an antibacterial clay deposit near Crater Lake, Oregon.


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Herschel discovers mature galaxies in the young Universe

New Herschel results have given us a remarkable insight into the internal dynamics of two young galaxies. Surprisingly, they have shown that just a few billion years after the big bang, some galaxies were rotating in a mature way, seemingly having completed the accumulation of their gas reservoirs.

When galaxies form, they accumulate mass by gravitationally attracting vast, external gas clouds. As the gas clouds are consumed by the galaxy, they fall into haphazard orbits. These disordered paths cause turbulence in the host galaxies, which can drive star formation.

To investigate the internal conditions of forming galaxies James Rhoads and Sangeeta Malhotra, both from Arizona State University, and colleagues targeted two young galaxies, known as SDSS0901 and the Clone. The light from both galaxies has taken 10 billion years to reach us across space. Thus, we are seeing them when they were comparatively young. Rhoads studies galaxy formation, galaxy evolution, the reionization of intergalactic hydrogen by early galaxies. Malhotra’s research ranges from properties of dust and gas in the (relatively nearby) interstellar medium to some of the farthest known galaxies. In recent years they have also collaborated on finding and characterizing galaxies in the cosmic dawn, when the universe was less than a billion years old. The current project focuses on a somewhat later time, the high noon of star formation in the universe – a time when the universe was about 3 billion years old, and when star birth in galaxies was much more active than it is today.

“The purpose of this project is to study the physical conditions of gas in those galaxies. We wanted to know: are they similar to the galaxies around us or is there some difference in their physical conditions,” says Rhoads.

The two galaxies they choose to study are average galaxies for that time in cosmic history. This means that they are about 10-20 percent the size of our Milky Way, which is considered an average galaxy in the present-day Universe.

Studying galaxies so far away is usually challenging because they appear too dim to study effectively but in this case, the researchers were helped by a cosmic mirage known as a gravitational lens. The two galaxies both sit behind intervening groups of galaxies, whose gravity warps space. As described by Albert Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, this warping acts like a lens. Although it distorts the images of the young galaxies, it helps by magnifying their light, thus bringing them within reach of Herschel’s HIFI instrument.

The researchers used HIFI to investigate the infrared light of ionized carbon, which is emitted at a wavelength of 158 micrometers. This spectral line is produced in the clouds that surround star forming regions. HIFI showed the line was broadened into a double peak, and this allowed the motion of the gas to be fitted with a model.

“The two peaks represent two sides of a rotating galaxy. One side is rotating away from us and the other is coming towards us. The broadening of the peaks gives us an indication of the randomness of the motion on top of rotation,” explains Malhotra.

Firstly, the team fitted the overall rotation of the galaxy, and then the turbulence in the gas clouds. To their surprise they found that galaxy S0901 was extremely well behaved. Instead of turbulence, it was found to be in orderly rotation, much more akin to the majestic galaxies of today.

“Usually, when astronomers examine galaxies at this early era, they find that turbulence plays a much greater role than it does in modern galaxies. But S0901 is a clear exception to that pattern, and the Clone could be another,” says Rhoads.

The Clone, the second galaxy in their study, could also be fitted by an orderly rotation. However, because it was somewhat dimmer, the quality of the data was not so good. This meant that the data could also be fitted with a highly turbulent model, as conventional wisdom would expect.

“Galaxies 10 billion years ago were making stars more actively than they do now,” says Malhotra, "They usually also show more turbulence, likely because they are accumulating gas faster than a modern galaxy does. But here we have cases of early galaxies that combine the ‘calm’ rotation of a modern one with the active star formation of their early peers. This suggests first that these galaxies have finished accumulating their gas, at least for now. But it also seems that turbulence is not actually required to trigger that early, active star formation."

Malhotra acknowledges the preliminary nature of their study. “This is not the last word on this. We need a bigger sample to be sure of our conclusions,” she says.

But that bigger sample will not be investigated by Herschel. As predicted, the liquid helium coolant needed to keep HIFI and Herschel’s other instruments working ran out in April 2013. Instead the researchers hope to continue the work pioneered by Herschel using the Atacama Large Millimetre Array (ALMA), a ground-based array of 66 radio dishes in Chile.

“It is mind-boggling that with Herschel/HIFI – admittedly with the help of gravitational lensing – it has been possible to study the internal gas kinematics in galaxies when the universe was only a few billion years old, and what we can learn about them this way. This pioneering work by Herschel is bound to be continued,” says Göran Pilbratt, Herschel Project Scientist at ESA.

Photo: The young galaxy SDSS090122.37+181432.3. It is distorted because of gravitational lensing. Credit: NASA/STScI; S. Allam and team; and the Master Lens Database (, L. A. Moustakas, K. Stewart, et al (2014).

(Nikki Cassis)


An article in Scientific American by Peter Byrne chronicles his experience with geologist Paul Knauth in Death Valley. Knauth led the reporter to an approximately 750-million-year-old cave; Knauth would like to find microfossils in the cave to add to the body of evidence that supports his evolutionary model. According to Knauth, life did not solely thrive in the seas during the Precambrian era. The surviving land-based fossils are most likely to be tiny and hidden in “geological time capsules,” such as the Death Valley cave, which has withstood volcanoes, glaciers and the clashing of continental plates.

Photo by Peter Byrne

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The Zebulon Pearce Distinguished Teaching and Outstanding Lecturer Awards were established in memory of Zebulon Pearce, who graduated from Territorial Normal School at Tempe (now ASU) with teacher's credentials in 1899. These awards recognize teaching excellence in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

The four awardees to be honored for their contributions in natural sciences, humanities and social sciences for 2014 are:

• Philip Christensen, Regents’ Professor, School of Earth and Space Exploration
• Edward Mallot, assistant professor, Department of English
• Natalie Wilkens, assistant professor, T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics
• Mariana Bahtchevanova, senior lecturer, School of International Letters and Cultures

“The college has dozens and dozens of top-flight teachers across all fields. But amid all of this talent, there are exceptional teachers, and we recognize them with this award,” says Patrick Kenney, interim dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and professor in the School of Politics and Global Studies.

A noted planetary geologist, Christensen came to Arizona State University in 1981 and is the Ed and Helen Korrick Professor of Geological Sciences. The designer and principal investigator for instruments on past and current NASA missions to Mars, Christensen says his approach to teaching is to engage students as much as possible in the experimental design, generation and interpretation of real data.

"For example," he says, "in my freshman course the students design, build, fly and analyze a system. I don't give them an approach, but instead specify a science objective.

"Most teams end up building some type of system to launch a camera into the air," he explains. "It's remarkable how different the approaches are that the student teams take. Some use balloons, others use water rockets, catapults, CO2 cannons or kites." The camera timing systems are equally inventive, he says, ranging from melting ice and rubber bands to kitchen timers.

Christensen says, "The point of this project is to create an open-ended objective that encourages students to explore and learn what they decide they need to know in order to solve a real scientific question."

One student who took the course says, "By the end of the course, I realized that I was hooked on exploring earth and space. I'm now planning to be a teacher upon graduation, so I can share my excitement about earth sciences with a new generation."

"For me," says Christensen, "education is about inspiring students to learn on their own. Our job as teachers is to give them the tools and point them in the right direction. But then we must encourage them to do more than they think they can, and instill in them the excitement of learning and discovering."

Humanities matter

Selected as the 2014 distinguished teacher in the humanities, Mallot says that his first objective is to inspire more global, multifaceted thinking. He teaches 20th century British literature, classes on postcolonial writers and sexuality studies to both undergraduate and graduate students.

Literary and cultural studies matter, Mallot believes, because they “help students pry open their world a little bit more, to experience cultures, traditions and values different from their own.”

One student writes: “Dr. Mallot is one of the most inspiring and intelligent teachers I’ve ever had. He always asks the kinds of question that provoke students to think in more depth about the texts. His methodology led to an engaged classroom, where every student felt valued in discussion. I feel that I learned a lot about how to teach effectively from him.”

“Dr. Mallot is a superb teacher,” says Mark Lussier, chair of ASU’s Department of English. “His mastery of the materials in his field, which includes a vast geographical range – from Southeast Asia and India to European and American postcolonial work – is beyond dispute, and his ability to challenge his students through this material, even as he inspires their highest efforts, is a finely balanced talent much sought, but less often observed.”

Social sciences leader

A relative newcomer to the T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics and ASU’s social sciences program – ranked 9th in the U.S. – Wilkens has quickly proven to be an insightful mentor and exceptional teacher. A developmental psychologist who studies children’s socio-emotional development, she is also an expert in statistical modeling. Wilkens reaches a broad student demographic in her courses by interweaving current pop culture figures and events with statistics, bringing what is a complex topic for many to a “down-to-earth level.”

Among Wilkens’ letters of support are many who spoke of how she “puts her heart and soul into advising graduate students.” From how to write expert publications, how to interview and negotiate job contracts, they speak of how she has guided them through the challenges of developing a university career.

“She encouraged us to be brave and confident,” writes one graduate. “She is one of the top professors of my university career” and “one of the few talented professors that could make a comparison between rapper P. Diddy and p-values,” said others, now in successful careers.

'Outstanding Lecturer'

The sole awardee in the category of “Outstanding Lecturer” is French and linguistics expert Bahtchevanova. Noted for her hard work, intelligence, mastery of multiple languages and exceptional teaching, she has taught undergraduate lower and upper division, graduate courses and actively supported the annual School of International Letters and Cultures Language Fair that draws more than 1,000 high schools to campus.

Fascinated by the scientific study of human languages and the art of teaching, she says her approach pushes students to learn critical thinking skills by investigating questions about important aspects of language: how we produce and interpret language sounds, how we create and use words and sentences in different contexts, how we learn language, why bilinguals codeswitch, why we make “errors” in speech and writing, or why languages change. Her students said that she “deeply cares about our success” and that “Dr. Bahtchevanova has allowed me to realize that ‘class’ is never over and that ‘learning’ can never be stopped.”

Award recipients, including the Gary S. Krahenbuhl Difference Maker Award winner, professor Madeline Spring, will be honored at a faculty awards luncheon and at convocation ceremonies for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, to be held at 8 a.m. and 12:30 p.m., May 15, at Wells Fargo Arena.

Photo: Planetary geologist Philip Christensen is one of four faculty members in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences to be honored with a Zebulon Pearce Distinguished Teaching Award or Outstanding Lecturer Award in 2014.
Photo by: Tom Story

(Peggy Coulombe)


Due to its proximity to the major tectonic plate boundaries of the Pacific Ring of Fire, Japan has had a long history of earthquakes and seismic activity. As a recipient of a National Science Foundation East Asia and Pacific Summer Institutes (EAPSI) Fellowship, ASU geological sciences graduate student Emily Kleber is spending her summer assessing seismic risk in Japan, focusing on the Itoigawa Shizuoka Tectonic Line. Her research begins June 17 at the University of Hiroshima (Japan) under Dr. Koji Okumura.

The two-month-long EAPSI program provides students in science, engineering, and education first-hand research experience working with a host scientist in Australia, China, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, Singapore, or Taiwan.

Trained as a geologist and GIS specialist, Kleber has a Bachelor of Science in geology with a minor in GIS from University of California, Davis. She has worked extensively with light detection and ranging (lidar) data, which uses light to measure variable distances to the Earth and create precise, three-dimensional models of the surface. As part of Professor Ramon Arrowsmith’s Active Tectonics group at ASU, she has gained experience applying high resolution topographic data to studying earthquake geology.

“Being an EAPSI fellow is a once in a lifetime experience. I will be studying the tectonics of a completely different setting and interacting with scientists in a different research infrastructure,” says Kleber. “I will share my experiences studying the San Andreas Fault in California and perform my own short-term seismic hazard study to better understand how earthquake science is used in Japan to inform policy decisions.”

Kleber benefited from pre-existing collaborations between the Active Tectonics group, and Japanese institutions and scientists. Arrowsmith’s group has hosted international researchers including the most recent visitor, Dr. Tadashi Maruyama of the Geological Survey of Japan.

“There are strong research ties between the Active Tectonics group at ASU, the Southern California Earthquake Center’s Virtual Institute for the Study of Earthquake Systems and several research institutions in Japan. I applied to this fellowship in order to continue building these connections and seek a unique research experience in a tectonically and culturally significant area for earthquake geology,” says Kleber.

During her weeks abroad, Kleber will be organizing and leading a short course at the Geological Survey of Japan in applying high resolution topographic data to active tectonics studies. She will also visit the Geological Survey of Japan in Tsukuba, which is an area outside of Tokyo, and will be traveling to the North Island of Hokkaido to attend the Asia Oceania Geosciences Society’s meeting.

In addition to her research, Kleber is also heavily involved in the daily operations of an NSF-funded high resolution topographic data distribution portal called OpenTopography (, which makes earth science related lidar data available for free online. Someday, she would like to be part of seismic hazard assessment teams to help better inform public activities surrounding earthquakes.

The NSF EAPSI program provides U.S. graduate students in science and engineering a first-hand research experience in their respective location. The goals of the program are to introduce students to East Asia and Pacific science and engineering in the context of a research setting, and to help students initiate scientific relationships that will better enable future collaboration with foreign counterparts.

Arrowsmith, her advisor, is excited about Kleber’s opportunity. “I am happy that Emily will be able to have this great educational experience working with our close Japanese colleagues to develop new methods using high resolution topography to map active faults,” he remarked. “It is a competitive program and an honor for her to receive this prestigious award. It is a nice indication of her hard working and motivated nature.”

(Nikki Cassis)


Lindy Elkins-Tanton, an expert in planet formation and evolution, has been named director of Arizona State University’s School of Earth and Space Exploration.

Elkins-Tanton, whose appointment takes effect on July 1, 2014, comes to ASU from the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, D.C., where she served as director of the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism. There, she was responsible for leading the department in the pursuit of ‘big’ science questions, high risk investigations and long-term research.

“Dr. Elkins-Tanton’s expertise, experience and vision fit perfectly with the core strengths that the School of Earth and Space Exploration have established in the geological sciences, astronomy, astrophysics and cosmology,” said Ferran Garcia-Pichel, dean of natural sciences, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “The school is at the forefront of developing new transdisciplinary links among the sciences. We are fortunate to attract this exceptional scientist to lead it.”

As a researcher, Elkins-Tanton’s own interests are interdisciplinary in nature. Her scientific studies explore planetary formation, magma oceans and subsequent planetary evolution, formation of large volcanic provinces, and interactions between silicate planets and their atmospheres. After graduating from MIT with a bachelor’s degree in geology and a master’s in geochemistry, she spent eight years working in business, with five years spent writing business plans for young high-tech ventures, before returning to MIT for her doctorate. She went on to pursue research opportunities at Brown University, then joined the MIT faculty. Within 10 years of completing her doctorate, as an associate professor in geology, she was recruited to the directorship position at Carnegie.

According to Elkins-Tanton, ASU and the School of Earth and Space Exploration appealed to her for being unique in academia in their vision and action.

“At SESE I am looking forward to working more with students, and to helping the fantastic faculty bring their transdisciplinary scientific and engineering research to the next level. With the size and resources of the school, SESE is a leader in Earth and space research, and is poised for more. The energy and direction at ASU is compelling and I am eager to join the movement,” said Elkins-Tanton.

Elkins-Tanton has received numerous scholarly honors, including being named a two-time National Academy of Sciences Kavli Frontiers of Science Fellow and serving on the National Academy of Sciences Decadal Survey Mars panel. In 2008, she was awarded a five-year National Science Foundation CAREER award, and, in 2009, was named Outstanding MIT Faculty Undergraduate Research Mentor. She was awarded the Explorers Club Lowell Thomas prize and the second edition of her six-book series “The Solar System,” a reference series for libraries, was released in 2010. She was named the Astor Fellow at Oxford University in 2013.

Photo credit: MIT

(Nikki Cassis)


ASU researchers build their own ‘patch of asteroid’ inside of a small spinning satellite

A dozen astronauts have walked on the moon, and several rovers have been piloted on Mars, giving us a good understanding of these off world environments. But when it comes to asteroids, scientists enter uncharted territory.

Landing on an asteroid is notoriously difficult.

Asteroids have very little gravity, because they have very little mass. Most of them appear to be rubble piles held together loosely, with surfaces covered in boulders and gravels and fine materials, much like the moon, but with a lot more cohesion. On an asteroid, a rock the size of a bank building weighs as much as a cricket on Earth, making an astronaut like a superman. But what would you anchor to, what you would land on, and how would you move around?

Because scientists and engineers don’t know the most basic mechanical properties of an asteroid, sending a billion dollar landing mission to an asteroid is risky and even likely to fail, until some preliminary investigations are conducted, requiring years of lead time.

A team at Arizona State University is looking to mitigate that risk and improve that schedule by building its own ‘patch of asteroid’ inside of a small spinning satellite costing less than $100,000. The project is called the Asteroid Origins Satellite, or AOSAT I.

“Landing on asteroids is one of the biggest challenges of our time,” roboticist Jekan Thanga said.
Thanga, an assistant professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration at ASU, is the engineering principal investigator for AOSAT I. “And space agencies worldwide, including NASA, are very focused on meeting that challenge.”

Erik Asphaug, a planetary scientist and professor at ASU, is the science principal investigator for AOSAT I. He and Thanga plan on launching a miniature satellite later this year that will serve as the world’s first CubeSat microgravity laboratory. A CubeSat is a modular small satellite with a 10-by-10 centimeter base and various unit lengths. AOSAT I will be a 3U configuration, about the size of a loaf of bread, with two spun-up laboratories in the outer units, each housing a patch of real asteroid surface material.

In the first flight, one chamber will be filled to a depth of a few centimeters with very fine material representative of interstellar dust, or the fine ‘ponds’ seen on several asteroids. The second chamber, otherwise identical, will be filled with bits of shock-fragmented chondrite meteorite material. Once launched into space and freely orbiting, these rocks will just tumble around – itself an interesting experiment. But to build a realistic regolith surface for scientists to explore, the satellite is spun, to create microgravity-like conditions.

“We’re taking asteroid material that landed on Earth and sending it back into space,” Asphaug said. “It’s a low cost laboratory that really physically builds a patch of asteroid. It’ll be asteroid gravity. It’ll be made of asteroid stuff. We can do all sorts of experiments.”

To simulate the gravity field of a 300 meter diameter asteroid, AOSAT I spins once every 4.5 minutes. It can spin faster to reproduce the regolith (surface material) conditions for much larger asteroids. This spin configuration is easily attained and stabilized by off the shelf approaches, making it a great approach for students to learn on.

While much of the CubeSat is off the shelf, the approach is novel. CubeSats have typically been used to test engineering designs in space, since it is a really constrained and relatively new form factor. Great science has been performed on CubeSats, although this has been only observational so far. CubeSats have not yet been used to do “test tube and beaker-type” experiments of the sort that are planned for AOSAT I, Thanga said.

Experiments will be conducted robotically in the end chambers. When AOSAT I is not spinning, it is a zero-gravity capsule. Here experiments will be done to understand how dust clumps together to form asteroids – a process that plays out in zero gravity over long timescales. A simple robotic plunger is being designed to interact with the patch of regolith, and can be used to accrete a globule of particles, a miniature rubble pile asteroid that can be spun and shaken, observed by stereo cameras.

When AOSAT I starts to spin, these piles of grains will get accelerated to the outer walls. Observing that process will tell us much about nebular grain behavior and microgravity particle flows on asteroids, for example following the formation of a crater.

Once the spinning AOSAT I has stabilized (once per few minutes), experiments will be conducted to give a better understanding of what asteroid surfaces are like. “The questions are very basic, and that’s what makes this so much fun,” says Asphaug. When you push slowly on a rock, does it lock into place, or does it push aside the other rocks and slide into the surface? Do patterns form when you send a vibration through the regolith? Does cohesion dominate overwhelmingly over gravity, so that rocks stick together into aggregates? What happens when you charge the particles?

Asphaug and Thanga hope to answer these questions to help determine what kinds of devices would be best for landing on real asteroids. “An asteroid could just be lots of rock just grouped together into this larger entity, but there’s nothing holding it together,” Thanga said. “So if something is going to grapple and try to land on this, there’s nothing to grapple to.”

Despite the small scale of the experiments (the asteroid patch will be slightly smaller than a CD case), Asphaug and Thanga are confident in the real-world applications of AOSAT.

“These rocks might not be able to tell the difference, whether they are in the AOSAT centrifuge, or back on their home asteroid,” says Asphaug. Once the AOSAT is spun up to mimic the gravity field of a ~300 m asteroid (gravity field 10-5 that of Earth), then it can be used to test mechanisms for asteroid landing. The first AOSAT will use a simple arm that does some basic interactions, while next generation AOSATs will be configured with more advanced robotic equipment.

Thanga uses the analogy of a wind tunnel to describe the scientific approach to their experiments. In a wind tunnel, researchers subject small-scale models of aircraft to conditions they expect in flight. The calculations and designs are then scaled up and applied to the real thing. “We can test asteroids in this wind tunnel-like analogous system, prove and disprove theories, and get a better understanding of our models,” says Thanga.

Landing on an asteroid may be extremely difficult, but it’s also an extremely desirable goal, from many points of view. Mining asteroids, colonizing asteroids, or using asteroids as stepping stones to Mars and the other planets used to be the stuff of science fiction. Now it is on the desk of NASA administrators, who are being asked to find ways to divert hazardous asteroids, and to discover new ways to utilize asteroids, and to involve asteroids as part of the astronaut pathway to Mars.

Viranga Perera, a graduate student at ASU who is managing the project systems engineering, thinks it is “fascinating that this very low cost AOSAT platform can be used to study such a fundamental concept as planetary accretion, and that it can serve as a test bed for future asteroid sample return missions.”

Image: Artist rendering of AOSAT. Image credit: Sean Amidan

(Kristen Hwang)


ASU’s Earth & Space Open House is set to take place from 7 to 10 p.m., April 25, at the Interdisciplinary Science and Technology Building IV (ISTB 4) on ASU’s Tempe campus. This is the last open house for the semester.

Visitors to the free event can attend a public lecture, gaze at the sky through telescopes, watch science demonstrations and explore the interactive displays in ISTB 4, which is located at the corner of McAllister and Terrace.

The theme for this open house is Mars and the Curiosity rover and it will feature a public lecture by Lauren Edgar, School of Earth and Space Exploration postdoctoral fellow. The lecture, titled “Water on Mars: Recent Results from the Curiosity Rover,” will be held at 8 p.m. in the Marston Exploration Theater.

Lectures are 45 minutes long, followed by a 15-minute Q-and-A session. Seating is on a first-come basis.

There will be two 3-D planetarium shows in the Marston Exploration Theater at 7 p.m. and 9:15 p.m. Telescopes will be set up from 8 to 10 p.m. next to Skyscape art installation.

To get to the open house, go to the main entrance of ISTB 4, located on the building’s north side.

The monthly open house is partially sponsored by the School of Earth and Space Exploration, GeoClub and AstroDevils: ASU Astronomy Club. Earth & Space Open House will return in the fall on Sept. 26.

For more information, visit or

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

(Nikki Cassis)



Arizona State University professor Lawrence Krauss was honored at the Academia Film Olomouc, near Prague, for his contributions to public understanding of science, and for his work in increasing awareness of science in society. The Academia Film Olomouc award for Outstanding Communication of Science was presented at a special ceremony on April 19, in Olomouc, Czech Republic.

Academia Film Olomouc (AFO) is an international festival of science documentary films, the largest such festival in Europe, held annually under the patronage of the Palacky University in Olomouc. The festival features science and educational films from the fields of the humanities, natural and social sciences, educational programs of both domestic and foreign television productions, and current science, artistic and technological progress.

“It is surprising and humbling to be recognized like this in such a distant and beautiful country,” Krauss said. “It is very heartwarming to feel one’s work has had some global impact, but more importantly, it vividly demonstrates that science is truly a global human activity which can be enjoyed across cultures, languages and religions, and provides a universal language that can bring people together.

“This wonderful award emboldens me to continue to reach out, both with my scientific research and my efforts to encourage the use of science and reason to help inspire young people and also guide public policy,” he added. “It was also wonderful to see the reaction to our new film, 'The Unbelievers,' which was screened to a sell-out crowd at the festival.”

Krauss is being recognized by AFO “because of his wide involvement in the popularization and communication of science,” said Jakub Rális, program manager for Academia Film Olomouc. “He has devoted a lot of energy to communicating physics and the social importance of science and critical thinking in general.” He was also cited for “his work in cross-topic issues where science meets popular culture, art and humanities.”

Krauss is internationally known for his work in theoretical physics, including his prescient predictions of the existence of dark energy and also of gravitational waves from the early universe, both of which have helped push forward the frontiers of cosmology. He is also a well-known author and science communicator. In addition to being a Foundation Professor at Arizona State University, Krauss is the director of the Origins Project, which explores key questions about our origins, who we are and where we came from, and then holds open forums to encourage public participation.

Krauss is the only physicist to receive major awards from all three U.S. physics societies: the American Physical Society, the American Institute of Physics and the American Association of Physics Teachers. He was given the 2012 Public Service Award from the National Science Board for his efforts in communicating science to general audiences.

Krauss has authored more than 300 scientific publications and nine books, including his most recent best-seller, “A Universe from Nothing,” which offers provocative, revelatory answers to the most basic philosophical questions of existence. It was on the New York Times best-seller list for nonfiction within a week of its release.

Krauss also wrote the international best-seller “The Physics of Star Trek,” an entertaining and eye-opening tour of the Star Trek universe, and “Beyond Star Trek,” which addressed recent exciting discoveries in physics and astronomy, and takes a look how the laws of physics relate to notions from popular culture. A book on physicist Richard Feynman, “Quantum Man,” was awarded the 2011 Book of the Year by Physics World magazine in the UK.

Krauss has been a frequent commentator and columnist for newspapers such as the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. He has written regular columns for New Scientist and Scientific American, and appears routinely on radio and television.

He continues to be a leader in his field as he serves as a co-chair of the board of sponsors of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, on the board of directors of the Federation of American Scientists and is one of the founders of ScienceDebate2012.

Photo: Lawrence Krauss was recently honored with the Academia Film Olomouc award for Outstanding Communication of Science.
Photo by: Andy DeLisle

(Skip Derra)


The ASU School of Film, Dance and Theatre in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts and San Diego-based theater company Circle Circle dot dot, in collaboration with scientists from the School of Earth and Space Exploration and the Mars Rover team at ASU, are premiering the play "Red Planet Respite."

Some 30 ASU scientists worked with San Diego-based theatre company Circle Circle dot dot to inspire “Red Planet Respite.” This unique production was developed with the School of Earth and Space Exploration and the Mars Rover team at ASU along with School of Film, Dance and Theatre alumna Katie Harroff and her fellow artist at Circle Circle dot dot, Saroya Rowley. Written and co-directed by Harroff and Rowley, the play tells the story of the first test crew sent to experience an intergalactic resort on Mars.

Set in 2044, the play follows the would-be crew of the first Mars space voyage, a team comprised of both scientists and elite citizens. The idea for the plot arose out of some of the concerns that the real ASU scientists had for the future of space exploration, which emerged during discussions the ASU artists and scientists have held over the course of the past five years. In the play, the struggle for funding boils down to a compromise between Mars America, a scientific organization, and Globalcom, a multinational, which agrees to fund the colony as a luxurious resort as well as a scientific institute. When a disaster strikes back on Earth, the crew must face consequences and psychological extremities they could never prepare for.

Harroff drew inspiration for the piece from her experiences with community-based theatre during her time as a graduate student at ASU.

“As a student in 2007, we worked with the Mars Space Flight Facility to create a short show about the Rovers,” Harroff says. “That particular class and work inspired me to develop my company, Circle Circle dot dot. I found it fitting to pick up where I left off with this opportunity and develop a full production about exploration and the future of human civilization and colonizing Mars.”

Patrick Young, ASU assistant professor of theoretical astrophysics, and doctoral student Karen Knierman were among the scientists who worked on the project. The pair helped shape the play’s futuristic backdrop. “All of the science in the production is based on realistic projections of what the future might hold,” Harroff says, “but it's still definitely a science-fiction grab-bag.”

The scientists and artists have found great benefits to merging resources. “We had the best time speculating and fantasizing artistically,” says Harroff. “The thing that was the most rewarding to me was how much in common art and science really do have with each other. I found it incredible to see how perfectly we fit together. In fact, this experience has inspired an entire Season of Science for Circle Circle dot dot.”

“Red Planet Respite” will make its California debut in San Diego later this year.

“Any chance for the scientific community to reach out to people in other walks of life should be seized,” adds Young, who received a writing credit on the play. “Personally, I was interested in the project’s ability to increase public understanding and attitudes towards science by collaborating with artists. Showing that fields as different as astrophysics and theatre can not only share ideas but really collaborate to create new content is powerful.”

Where: Lyceum Theatre, 901 S. Forest Mall, ASU’s Tempe campus

When: April 18-19 at 7:30 p.m.; April 24-26 at 7:30 p.m.; April 27 at 2 p.m.

Cost: $8-$16; Herberger Institute students are offered free admission on tickets reserved in advance

Public contact: Herberger Institute box office, 480.965.6447; School of Film, Dance and Theatre, 480.965.5337