News and Updates


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.


Groundbreaking work that straddles the fence between geochemistry and medicine was the subject of a recent article appearing on AZ Central. The March 6 article, written by Dianna M. Náñez, examined the research of a team of Arizona State University researchers that are pioneering a new technique that could detect certain cancers earlier.

Ariel Anbar, a professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration and the Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry at ASU, has been working to refine a technique that would measure calcium isotopes in blood and urine samples.

Bone loss occurs in a number of cancers in their advanced stages. By the time these changes can be detected by X-rays, as a loss of bone density, significant damage has already occurred.

With the new technique, bone loss is detected by carefully analyzing the isotopes of the chemical element calcium that are naturally present in urine.

"The hope is to establish a biomarker that would detect the spread of breast cancer to bone tissue earlier, detect a precursor condition tied to bone-density loss in patients that may develop multiple myeloma and assess whether cancer and bone-loss treatments are working," Náñez writes.
Melanie Channon, a Bisgrove Scholar recipient, joined Anbar’s team as a postdoctoral research assistant. Her award funding will allow her to dedicate the next two years cancer research.

Anbar and Channon’s research piqued the interest of Mayo Clinic doctors who have provided blood and urine samples from their cancer patients.

Access to full article is below.

Image: This image of the Caduceus, a century-old symbol of medicine, merged with a rock hammer, the traditional symbol of geology, illustrates the research by scientists at Arizona State University and NASA who are developing a new approach to the medical challenge of detecting bone loss by applying a technique that originated in the Earth sciences. Image created by Susan Selkirk/School of Earth and Space Exploration/Arizona State University


(Nikki Cassis)


Many consumers have started replacing traditional incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) to reduce utility bills. CFLs are made of glass tubes filled with gas and a small amount of mercury.

In an online article posted on Chemical & Engineering News Feb. 22, writer Catherine M. Cooney reviews research recently published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology and highlights the importance of tracking mercury’s movement in the environment.

As more people start using the newer lighting source, increasing numbers of fluorescent bulbs end up in landfills, where the toxic metal contained in the bulbs could leach into groundwater.

Research by Chris Mead, a graduate student in ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration, published in the Feb. 4 issue of the journal Environmental Science and Technology, suggests that researchers could track the mercury from fluorescent bulbs by looking for its unique isotopic signature. This distinct isotope signal could help researchers track the toxic metal’s movement in the environment.

As part of his graduate work, Mead developed an improved method for analyzing mercury isotopes.

“We were all very surprised by just how unusual the isotope fractionation – or signal – was in the CFLs. The mystery of how that fractionation could occur turned out to be very interesting to solve,” says Mead. The research was conducted in the lab of Ariel Anbar, Mead’s advisor and a professor in ASU’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry and the School of Earth and Space Exploration in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

(Nikki Cassis)



ISTB 4 recognized for green design, construction, operation and becomes largest LEED certified research building at ASU

The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) has awarded Arizona State University’s newest research center, Interdisciplinary Science and Technology Building IV (ISTB 4) with LEED® certification at the Gold level, making it ASU’s largest LEED certified research building. The 298,000-square-foot structure houses ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration, Security and Defense System Initiative and the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

HDR, as executive architect, collaborated with architectural design firm Ehrlich Architects, on this uniquely sustainable research and laboratory building.

Formally opened in September 2012, ISTB 4 joins several other ASU buildings that currently participate in the USGBC’s LEED rating systems. Since July 2006, ASU has completed 18 certified LEED projects which are comprised of 36 buildings plus the second floor of the Memorial Union. To become LEED Gold certified, the buildings had to meet exacting standards for energy use, lighting, water and material use, as well as incorporate a variety of sustainable strategies.

The $110 million, seven-story ISTB 4 building achieved 46 total points under the LEED for New Construction version 2.2 rating system. In order to earn LEED Gold, a project must achieve between 39 and 50 points.

As Sustainable Designer, Mathew Cunha-Rigby, LEED AP BD+C, point outs, “The entire project team worked together throughout design and construction to make ISTB 4 a high-performance building that met its sustainability goals. The building had a complex, energy intensive program; and to be able to reduce expected energy use by almost half is a testament to the work of everyone involved in the project. This reaffirms that we have the ability to make well-designed, energy efficient buildings without significant impacts to the project. ISTB 4 demonstrates ASU’s leadership in campus sustainability and its commitment to a better future.”

One of the major project goals for the building was to reduce energy as much as possible— when fully occupied, it is estimated that ISTB 4’s energy use will be nearly one-half that of a typical laboratory building.

Some of the green design and construction features implemented in the building include:

  • Optimal building orientation based on local climate conditions and a high performance façade with vertical sunshades to reduce heat gain and incorporate passive cooling strategies.
  • Efficient Building Systems. The design optimized the building envelope and integrated extremely efficient mechanical systems to reduce energy use by 40.7 percent below a typical laboratory building.
  • On-site renewable energy. ASU allocated energy produced by the photovoltaic array on the parking structure adjacent to ISTB 4, supplying an additional 11.6 percent of its energy use beyond the savings achieved by the building design. The renewable energy reduced the building’s energy costs by over 16 percent, because the peak energy load is also reduced.
  • Minimized resource use. Local building materials, extracted and manufactured within 500 miles of the site, exceeded 44 percent of the material cost under MRc5, Regional Materials. ISTB 4 earned an additional LEED credit for exemplary performance by achieving this threshold.
  • Daylighting. The building envelope and the interior space are designed to admit natural light into as many spaces as possible, and a central atrium brings daylight deep into the building interior.

ASU has the largest number of LEED-certified buildings throughout the Copper State and claims the top spot for achieving the state’s first-ever LEED platinum certification in July 2007 with the Tempe campus’s Biodesign Building B.

Additional link:

Caption: Left to Right: Ryan Abbot, Mathew Chaney, Curtis Slife, Doug Wignall, LEED Plaque,
Robert Page (Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences), Paul Johnson (Dean of the Fulton Schools of Engingeering), and Kip Hodges (Founding Director of the School of Earth and Space Exploration). Credit: Tom Story

(Nikki Cassis)



Letting secondary school students use an operating NASA spacecraft to take images of Mars is about as hands-on as science education can get. Nor are the students just aiming the space camera randomly. Instead, they are targeting an image on the Red Planet's surface to answer a scientific question about Mars that the students themselves have developed.

That's the exciting premise of the award-winning Mars Student Imaging Project (MSIP). A key component of NASA’s Mars Public Engagement Program, MSIP is led by Arizona State University's Mars Education Program. This week the prestigious journal Science, published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, is announcing that this innovative, student-focused project will receive the Science Prize for Inquiry-Based Instruction.

At Arizona State University, Sheri Klug Boonstra directs the ASU Mars Education Program under the mentorship of Philip Christensen. He is the principal investigator for the Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS), a visible and infrared camera on NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter. He is also Regents' Professor of Geological Sciences in ASU's School of Earth and Space Exploration, part of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences on the Tempe campus.

The Mars Student Imaging Project began in 2002, when Christensen made THEMIS instrument time available for students in grades 5 through early college who enroll in the science class project. Since then more than 35,000 students nationwide have participated. The schools have been public and private, urban, suburban, and rural, and of all sizes, grade levels, and student abilities. In an event that made headlines internationally in 2010, a 7th-grade MSIP class in rural California discovered a cave on Mars previously unknown to scientists.

"As a kid, I was very interested in space, but there was no way for me to participate," says Christensen. "So when NASA put Mars Odyssey and our THEMIS camera in orbit, a lightbulb went on. At last we had an opportunity to let students participate – and to trust them to do real science."

The central idea, says Klug Boonstra, revolves around inquiry-based learning. "Students in an MSIP class develop their own research question about Mars. They identify where on Mars to take an image to answer that question, and then they target the THEMIS camera on Mars Odyssey to take the image."

But that's just the beginning, she explains. "After the image is sent to Earth, the students analyze it and many other THEMIS images, collect data from them, and develop an answer to their question." Finally, she says, the students present their answer to a symposium of working Mars scientists for comment and critique.

The entire process vividly teaches students how real scientists do science by leading them through the same process that the professionals follow.

Klug Boonstra says that students today – far more comfortable with technology than previous generations – love knowing that they can do real research, rather than lab exercises that just repeat what's already been done. "They want to know that there are still things left for them to discover," she says. "Here are kids in middle school with the capability to discover something in real life. Kids today want that kind of chance at something extraordinary."

"At a time when the U.S. critically needs to develop the next generation of scientists and engineers, such student-led discoveries speak to the power of engaging students in authentic research in their classrooms today," said Jim Green, director of NASA's Planetary Science Division in Washington, D.C. "Not only is the chance to explore Mars motivating, it shows students they are fully capable of entering challenging and exciting STEM fields." STEM stands for in science, technology, engineering, and math.

"The Mars Student Imaging Project is a perfect example of how NASA can use its missions and programs to inspire the next generation of explorers," said Leland Melvin, NASA associate administrator for education. "If we want our students to become tomorrow's scientists and engineers, we need to give them opportunities to do real-world - or in this case, out-of-this-world - scientific research, using all of the tools of 21st century learning."

Over the years, the MSIP curriculum has evolved to stay in step with national standards for for STEM education. It is carefully structured to enable teachers and students without much knowledge of planetary geology to have successful experiences.

"You don't have to be a planetary geologist to be successful," says Klug Boonstra. "We want teachers to feel completely comfortable responding to a student's questions by saying, 'That's a great question. I have no idea what the answer is.' The teacher doesn't have to be a know-it-all."

In addition, says Klug Boonstra, "while MSIP is specifically involved with Mars, the project allows many avenues of investigation that connect with traditionally taught disciplines such as earth science, biology, and chemistry. It's an immersive project with incredible benefits in terms of students understanding both science and the process of science."


Photo: In the Mars Student Imaging Project, students work together to develop a question about Mars, target an image using a NASA spacecraft, receive their image and analyse it, and write a formal scientific report on their findings. The project has won the Science magazine Prize for Inquiry-Based Instruction. Photo by: Arizona State University/Sheri Klug Boonstra

(Robert Burnham)