Science on Display at UArizona

By Loni Nannini

In an increasingly virtual world, the University of Arizona College of Science continues its concerted effort to promote outreach that encourages people from all walks of life to experience science in real-time through settings unique to the desert Southwest. 

“The College of Science offers real opportunities to increase engagement and boost awareness with members of our community,” said Michael Luria, assistant dean, corporate and community engagement for the College of Science. “Many people are not aware of the fabulous opportunities for everyone in the public to engage in science happening in real-time in our own backyard.”

The engagement opportunities − many of which are free − provide a portal to a multitude of world-class research in earth and environmental sciences, space sciences, ecology, biology and more.

Bringing Science to Life: College of Science Lectures and Science City

The free, annual College of Sciences Lecture Series held each spring in Centennial Hall highlights topics in cosmology, neuroscience, transformative science, life science, evolution and climate change. It marked its 17th season in 2022 with “Minerals,” an in-depth overview of the building blocks of the solar system, earth and civilization. Find more information online at www.science.arizona.edu/community-engagement/public/arizona-science-lecture-series. 

Adults and children of all ages can find hands-on science inspiration at Science City at the Tucson Festival of Books. Comprised of thematic “neighborhoods” that span the worlds of science and technology, Science City features more than 100 free, hands-on activities, demonstrations and opportunities to meet renowned authors and researchers. Visit www.sciencecity.arizona.edu/openhousetours for more information. 

Rooted in UArizona − Laboratory of Tree Ring Research: LTRR

The Laboratory of Tree Ring Research, located in the Bryant Bannister Tree-Ring Building at 1215 E. Lowell St., is open to the public for free tours led by volunteer docents. The lab is the birthplace of dendrochronology, the study of human societies, ecosystems and the earth’s climate using the growth rings of trees. 

The discipline was pioneered at UArizona in 1937 by Andrew Ellicott Douglass, an astronomer whose interest in predicting climate futures led him to examine rings of trees to see how they were shaped by weather.

“One of the fascinating aspects is that an astronomer who started using growth rings of trees and developed the science of dendrochronology then made his biggest breakthroughs in archeology, which speaks strongly to the interdisciplinary tradition that we uphold today in the LTRR,” said David Frank, director of the Laboratory of Tree Ring Research.

For more information, including an online Tree-Ring Talk Seminar, visit www.ltrr.arizona.edu.

A Rainforest in the Desert: Biosphere 2

Just 30 minutes from north Tucson on Highway 77 sits Biosphere 2, the world’s largest controlled environment dedicated to understanding the impact of global climate change on complex systems. Open every day except Christmas and Thanksgiving, one of the many things visitors will find is a fully established rainforest inhabited by more than 100 species of plants.

“We can make changes in temperature, moisture and carbon dioxide to allow researchers to gain greater understanding of the intricacies and complexities that impact not only one individual species, but the whole system,” said John Adams, deputy director at Biosphere 2. For more information, visit www.biosphere2.org. 

Alfie Norville Gem & Mineral Museum

Just minutes from campus on the lower level of the Pima County Courthouse, the newly opened Alfie Norville Gem & Mineral Museum literally rocks.

With 2,200 specimens on display and another 20,000 in-house for research and education, the museum also boasts NASA’s largest moon rock on loan for display and a one-of-a-kind gemstone tapestry featuring 26,000 perfectly matched diamonds, rubies, emeralds and sapphires.

“We have interactive displays that show the importance of mining and explain how technology uses minerals in everyday life,” said Eric Fritz, executive director of the museum. The museum is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. For more information, visit www.gemandmineralmuseum.arizona.edu.

Science in Place at Tumamoc Hill

A walking trail, a cultural trail and a research lab, the Desert Laboratory on Tumamoc Hill is minutes from campus just west of A Mountain. It is the world’s only outdoor lab representing the formal pursuit of science specifically focused on desert environments and cultures. 

Started in 1903, the lab features more than 6,000 individual saguaros and 12 10-meter-square plots of naturally occurring flora that have been monitored for more than 100 years. The site is home to 30 additional active research projects and natural history collections which catalogue important faunistic and floristic changes to the desert Southwest over the last 50,000 years.

“It is an experiment in finding ways to tell the story of science in place, and we are excited and committed to making that work relevant since the culture of this space is relevant to all of society,” said Benjamin Wilder, director of the Desert Laboratory on Tumamoc Hill. For more information, visit www.tumamoc.arizona.edu.

Mt. Lemmon SkyCenter

Mt. Lemmon SkyCenter, located at 9,157 feet in the Catalina Mountains just a short drive from Tucson, offers visitors experiences in the natural history of the Sky Islands by day and a view into the universe by night with two of the largest telescopes available to the public in the Southwest − the Schulman 32-inch and the Phillips 24-inch telescopes. 

“Everything we do is to help people appreciate why we study astronomy and to relate our current understanding of the universe to our existence in the past, present and future,” said Alan Strauss, director of the Mt. Lemmon SkyCenter.

The SkyCenter offers several public outreach opportunities such as SkyNights, a five-hour program for youth and adults that includes an astronomy lecture and guided navigation of the night sky; Virtual Private Star Parties offering at-home night viewing through the Schulman Telescope and educational conversation with astronomy professionals; Astronomer Nights observing programs and much more. To buy a ticket or register for an event, or for more information, visit www.skycenter.arizona.edu. 

Richard F. Caris Mirror Lab

Beneath the east side of Arizona Stadium is a globally renowned center for creation of the world’s largest optics for telescopes on the ground and in space, The Richard F. Caris Mirror Lab.

The one-of-a-kind lab, which is part of Steward Observatory, offers insight into the fabrication of cutting-edge mirrors for telescopes − including seven 8.4-meter mirrors for the $2 billion Giant Magellan Telescope project slated for completion in 2029. Each $30 million mirror takes a year to cast followed by at least three years of surface generating and polishing. 

The Mirror Lab also offers a lens into astronomy at UArizona − which receives $100 million to $140 million annually − and the overall astronomy industry in Arizona. 

“The economic impact of the astronomy industry is like a Super Bowl coming to the state every year and half or two years,” said Buell Jannuzi, director of the Steward Observatory and head of the Department of Astronomy at UArizona.  

Public tours of the Mirror Lab, which were suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic, are slated to reopen soon. Visit www.mirrorlab.arizona.edu for more information.

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