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.
Searching for Gravity Waves. The University of Arizona’s Steward Observatory and the Catalina Sky Survey recently unveiled SAGUARO: Searches After Gravitational waves Using Arizona Observatories. This local collaboration seeks out the bursts of light that could result from massive collisions deep in the universe. When large objects like black holes collide and merge, they produce gravitational waves, rippling space and time. SAGUARO is searching not just for these collisions, for the bursts of light thought to accompany these collisions, which could be the sources of many rare heavy elements. The searching began this April, and after only a few weeks, SAGUARO noticed three massive collisions. While none of these resulted in spotting the optical counterparts to the collisions, the team found several supernovae and near-Earth objects. The SAGUARO team is also planning on working with a second telescope, the Catalina Sky Survey’s 0.7-meter Schmidt telescope, to search for these optical counterparts.
Brain Inflammation connected to Tinnitus. Tinnitus, a constant and sometimes debilitating ringing in the ears, affects more than 50 million Americans. And while there are certain tips and tricks for lessening tinnitus, there is no cure. But new research by the University of Arizona’s College of Medicine may be leading the way to stop the ceaseless noise for many. Associate professor of physiology Shaowen Bao and his colleagues are examining potential treatments for tinnitus by examining brain inflammation in mice that have noise-induced hearing loss. Loud noises over long periods of time can damage hearing and cause inflammation in the brain’s auditory regions, called neuroinflammation. The researchers found “inflammation in a sound-processing region of the brain triggers evidence of tinnitus.” According to Bao, “People have found clues for the cause of tinnitus, but because many parallel components are involved, we would block one component, then we would have to block another, then another still. Neuroinflammation seems to be involved in many of these components. We hope blocking neuroinflammation will give us a better chance to block them all, thereby stopping the tinnitus.” However, more research on the subject is required before patient treatments begin.
STEMAZing Goes to Peru. Representatives from STEMAZing, a local program that teaches educators how to better engage students in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math, recently travelled to Peru to participate in the First Hemispheric International Fellowship for STEM Teachers. STEMAZing project director DaNel Hogan and early childhood educator Carmen Barnes spent 10 days in Peru sharing STEM best practices with more than 100 international educators from North and South American and Caribbean countries. But this isn’t the first time STEMAZing has aided science teachers from other countries; in 2018, Barnes and Hogan taught Honduran science teachers how proper education extends beyond culture or language. The STEMAZing Project is a program of the Pima County School Superintendent’s Office.
Reducing Opioids in Casas Adobes. Arizona saw nearly 1,000 deaths due to opioids in 2017, and that number is only growing. In an attempt to combat this increasing health crisis, dental surgeons at Casas Adobes Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery are switching to non-opioid prescriptions after common dental procedures, like wisdom tooth extractions. Drs. Jay Schmidt and Adam Kaiser said they can often prescribe upwards of 50 pills after oral surgery. But now they are switching certain prescriptions to Exparel (liposomal bupivacaine), which is a sodium channel blocker that can relieve pain without an opioid. According to a study from the Stanford University School of Medicine, “receiving opioids from dental providers is linked with elevated risk for continued opioid use and abuse.” Of nearly 15,000 young people who received initial opioid prescriptions from their dentists in 2015, 5.8 percent were diagnosed with opioid abuse during the 12 months after the initial prescription.