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.
Cupreous Cleansing. University of Arizona immunobiologist Michael Johnson is using a five-year, $1.9 million grant from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences to explore the antibiotic properties of copper. While humans have long used copper for its antibacterial properties (such as storing food in copper pots) Johnson’s work will examine the copper-sensing protein CopY, found inside bacterial cells. Bacteria need metals like iron to survive. In fact, bacterial cells need iron so much they don’t even get rid of it, only to let it in to their bodies. But pathogenic bacteria don’t want or need copper; it’s deadly to them. If researchers can find out how to target CopY—some bacteria’s only defense against copper—it would weaken them and help humans in the fight against diseases like pneumonia, ear infections, meningitis and pink eye.
Arizona’s “Rural Renewable” Energies Generate Nearly $10 Billion. The Yuma County Chamber of Commerce recently released the economic impact study, “The Economic Benefits of Arizona Rural Renewable Energy Facilities” which found rural renewable energies contributed $9.4 billion to Arizona’s economy from 2001 to 2017. The report also found economic benefits of rural renewable energies include 17,971 Arizona jobs and $16.7 million in state and local tax revenues benefiting Arizona. “Rural Arizona has some of the best solar resources in the country and this report shows in great detail how the industry is benefiting our state with increased jobs and economic opportunities,” said Jaime Molera, Arizona Director of The Western Way.
Million-dollar Water Filter. While polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, were once used in firefighting and kitchenware for their ability to repel liquids, they are now known to cause cancer and immune system damage. The EPA now limits the amount of PFAS allowed in water supplies to 70 parts per trillion, but this doesn’t fix already contaminated waters. A University of Arizona engineering team is using a $1.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Defense to develop a new method for removing PFAS contaminants from groundwater. The UA engineering team is working on a new class of “super sorbents” that will specially bond to PFAS to remove the chemicals from groundwater.
Bridging the “Talent Gap.” The National Science Foundation gave a CAREER award to Yong Ge, assistant professor of Management Information Systems at the UA Eller College of Management. A CAREER award is regarded as one of the National Science Foundation’s most prestigious awards, consisting of $500,000 over five years used to support “early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization.” Ge received the award for his proposal to develop advanced machine learning and data analytics to bridge the “talent gap” between employers and job-seekers, particularly in STEM fields. Ge’s project has three focuses: collecting career data via machine learning, measuring the talent gap, and developing solutions to bridge the gap.