Wednesday, October 5, 2011

A West World of Outreach, Biosphere 2 is a Zion for Science

Posted By on Wed, Oct 5, 2011 at 9:35 AM

Averaging 100,000 visitors per year, the University of Arizona’s Biosphere 2 provides an opportunity for science and the public to have a better dialogue.

The sprawling 40-acre campus in Oracle, Ariz., first came into the UA’s management four and a half years ago after Columbia University abandoned the project after more than a decade of running scientific research. A major part of the UA taking over, said Dr. Travis Huxman, director of Biosphere 2 and B2 Earthscience, was a major push to improve the public’s science literacy.

“We want to be a science place in the public face. We feel like we can be a tool to bring the university to the public,” Huxman said. “We also have this very important communication role. Our faculty out here have a written role of doing public outreach and engagement. It’s part of their job description and we hold them to it.”

Matt Adamson, the senior program coordinator for Biosphere 2, echoed Huxman’s sentiments, highlighting the mission’s focus on improving science literacy through the public’s interaction with researchers during tours.

“The idea is we have that researcher communicate directly to the public, explaining what they’re doing, why it’s important to do here, what they hope to learn, and, most importantly, what the impact will be on that member of the public,” Adamson said. Researchers are defined as everyone from undergraduate research assistants all the way up to the primary researchers themselves, he said.

Tremendous risks accompany great opportunities, Huxman said. And what is inherent with Biosphere 2 is the monetary risks in a bad economy, but the upside of improving science education and public awareness trumps the challenges that have come, and those that have yet to come.

“We really thought about the potential of this building when we took it over,” Huxman said. “We really feel like we have an obligation to build something here, to use the capacities of the building to do something big.”

——-

Some things you can look forward to when you visit...

The Rainforest biome is awesome. It is not like any other rainforest in the world. In fact, it probably has samples from EVERY rainforest in the world.

Neill Prohaska, a UA research assistant, works as the in-house, industrial climber for Bio2. Prohashka is also an avid rock climber.
  • JOHN DE DIOS
  • Neill Prohaska, a UA research assistant, works as the in-house, industrial climber for Bio2. Prohaska is also an avid rock climber.

Two things to watch for if you visit (click the link above) - their in-house Spider-man (photographed) and, at night time, the place is overrun by roaches!

Eek!

Luckily, for the latter, that only happens after hours.

The Ocean Biome is a beautiful, cool section of Bio2. It is used for research on virus and plankton.
  • JOHN DE DIOS
  • The Ocean Biome is a beautiful, cool section of Bio2. It is used for research on virus and plankton.

• The Ocean biome is really cool. So cool, I almost ended up taking a dive with my camera! Thanks to Charlie, the one original tech left from the first time the place opened, I was able to take a little boat (pictured) into the 25-foot deep ocean. However, the oar broke, and the boat was a little wobbly. BUT it was Awesome! Thanks Charlie and I wish I can do it again soon!

The boat I took out onto the ocean with tech guy Charlie, one of the original engineers from when the Biosphere still opened.
  • JOHN DE DIOS
  • The boat I took out onto the ocean with tech guy Charlie, one of the original engineers from when the Biosphere still opened.

Unfortunately, the coral in the ocean is dead, but there are still a bunch of fish if you look in the observation area. Neato!

• On top of those two awesome biomes are the Savannah, Marshlands, and Desert that you can also explore and enjoy.

• One of the newer things being explored at Bio 2 is the concept of making the 40-acre campus into a Model City for sustainability. Within the next year, you will begin to see more and more photovoltaic panels being installed, along with water harvesting drums, to power and supply water for casitas, visitor center and eventually, a large part of the entire system.

• Biosphere 2 is part of Tucson's rich scientific community along with the SkyCenter up on Mt. Lemmon, the monthly Science Cafes at Cushing's Street Bar, Flandrau Science Center, Kitt Peak, and many more spread throughout the region.

There are so many cool things at the Biosphere 2 that I cannot just go on and on about it here. You should definitely check it out!

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