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With a major research university right in our backyard, a strong military presence and innovative companies throughout the metro region, there’s often a plethora of interesting science and technology news to be found in Southern Arizona. Here’s a breakdown of the most interesting recent developments.

 

Design Day. Senior students in the University of Arizona’s College of Engineering recently presented their longtime projects for the college’s annual Craig M. Berge Design Day. Unlike previous years, for 2021 the 99 student teams presented their projects over video. But similar to previous years, multiple student teams took home large awards for this work. This year, more than $46,000 was awarded to various student teams working with industry and university sponsors. The winners of the $7,500 Craig M. Berge Dean’s Award for Most Outstanding Project created a “solar-powered, autonomous rover” to monitor Oso Grande, which is Tucson Electric Power’s wind turbine facility in New Mexico. The rover prototype is based on an electric all-terrain vehicle and has devices to autonomously record wind turbine efficiency, wind speed and direction. Other winning projects included a sensor system enabling Reid Park Zoo animals to switch on fans and misters for themselves; a device to capture grasshoppers and remove the pests from agricultural fields; short-wave infrared beacons that can be deployed by a drone to mark targets in the field; and a system to maintain positive pressure in a closed habitat, potentially for crew quarters on the Moon and Mars. For more information, visit icap.engineering.arizona.edu

 

Solar-Powered Go-Karts. On Saturday, April 24, 56 Arizona high school students gathered at the Musselman Honda Circuit south of Tucson to race the solar-powered go-karts they designed and built as teams, with the help of coaches and community mentors. The solar-powered race is hosted by the Southern Arizona Research, Science and Engineering Foundation, who took the project’s helm in 2019. According to SARSEF, nine teams from six schools competed at Race Day 2021. Teams were evaluated on the presentation of their design and build process, participation throughout the school year, and the performance of their kart during the race. Students raced both standard and maker go-karts. Standard karts use a pre-fabricated steel frame chassis, while maker karts are for teams who build the kart from the ground up. Ultimately, Salpointe High School’s standard kart ranked as the grand champion, while Pinetop-based Blue Ridge High School’s maker kart won the innovation award. In the Standard Kart Division, the Efficiency Award went to Tanque Verde Solar Flares, and the Endurance and Speed Awards went to the Center for Academic Success. In the Maker Kart Division, the Efficiency Award went to Salpointe High School, and the Endurance and Speed Awards went to Surprise-based Shadow Ridge High School. 

 

Redder Planet. New research out of the University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory indicates comparatively new volcanic activity on Mars, raising questions about how recently the planet was habitable. The eruption in the study likely occurred in the past 50,000 years — a long time for humans, but a far cry from what was previously believed to the most recent volcanic activity, some 3 million years ago. Using data from satellites orbiting Mars, the researchers identified a previously unknown volcanic deposit that is eight miles wide and located in the Elysium Planitia plain near the planet’s equator. 

“This may be the youngest volcanic deposit yet documented on Mars,” said lead study author David Horvath, who previously served as a UA postdoctoral researcher, and is currently a research scientist at the Tucson-based Planetary Science Institute. “The young age of this deposit absolutely raises the possibility that there could still be volcanic activity on Mars.”

The study, “Evidence for geologically recent explosive volcanism in Elysium Planitia, Mars” was published in the science journal Icarus.

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