'What If?' Series at Biosphere 2

Biosphere 2 continues its popular series of special Saturday events. Each week, meet new scientists and learn about their innovative work here at the world’s largest living research center. These special talks will occur for each tour starting between 12 p.m. and 2 p.m.; exact tour times change weekly (find visitor information here). The researcher will give a brief presentation about his or her work (similar to a TED talk) at the beginning of each tour scheduled to occur between 12 and 2 p.m.  The researcher is then available for informal discussion in the tour lobby between tours.  Each Saturday event is included with your admission - or become a member to access events throughout the year!

As part of the 'What If?' Series, visitors to Biosphere 2 will have a chance to explore the facility and hear from renowned experts on how they use science and large-scale research tools to address the toughest social and scientific challenges. Each event includes family-friendly adventure with hands-on science activities.

No RSVP or registration is required for these special events, and all activities are included in the standard admission price. Mark your calendar to save the date for these fun, informative events!

WHAT: 'What If?' Series
WHEN: During and between tours departing from 12 to 2 PM.
WHERE: UA Biosphere 2, 32540 S. Biosphere Road, Oracle, Ariz. 85623 

Upcoming 'What If? Events

APRIL 2017: Earth Month at UA Biosphere 2

A Celebration of Science, Sustainability, and the Environment!
Special activities on Earth Day, Saturday, April 22nd as part of the global celebration of Earth Day and the 10th Anniversary of University of Arizona’s research and education programs at Biosphere 2.

Each Saturday in April, Biosphere 2’s successful What If? events will invite the public to visit with experts and explore topics that focus on Sustainable Ecosystems:
• April 1: Jaguars and Wildlife, UA Udall Center - AND special Ocean Beach Tours with hermit crab releases! The Tucson Electric Vehicle Association (TEVA) will be on hand with electric cars! Their mission is to promote a greater adoption of environmentally clean, sustainable, petroleum-free transportation.
• April 8: Hopi Farming Practices, UA School of Natural Resources and the Environment - AND special Rainforest Tours and ladybug releases!
• April 15: Green Spaces and Mental Health, SNRE
• April 22: Bats' Role in the Environment, SNRE and UA Arid Lands Resource Sciences - AND: Hermit Crab and Ladybug Releases! New Civic Farms Vertical Farm Complex Groundbreaking! Tesla Motors Exhibit! City of Gastronomy Celebration! Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum Animals! And much more...
• April 29: The Ecosystems of Dry Grasslands, SNRE and UA Udall Center

In addition to Biosphere 2’s regular tours and Saturday What If? programming, Earth Day, April 22nd, will feature a series of speaker presentations and panel discussions about Food, Energy, Water, and Earth to be held in a tent on Biosphere 2’s lawn.

Please note that all events/activities are subject to change based on availability.

Upcoming 'What If? Series in April 2017

April 2017 Monthly Theme: Ecosystem Services
Ecosystem services are the benefits humans receive from ecosystems such as food, erosion control, water quantity and quality, and flood protection. The López-Hoffman Lab uses the concept of ecosystem services as a means to evaluate the complex interactions between ecosystems and species, the services they provide, and human well-being.

The Biosphere 2 What If presentations this month—from staff and students in the López-Hoffman Lab—will explain various types of ecosystem services and their value to people.

Laura López-Hoffman is an Associate Professor at the Udall Center for Studies in Public Policy and School of Natural Resources and the Environment at the University of Arizona.

April 1:
What if jaguars protected wildlife?
Aaron Lien, Ph.D., Senior Researcher, Udall Center for Studies in Public Policy, and member, López-Hoffman Lab, University of Arizona
April 8:
What if we farmed like the Hopi?
Michael Kotutwa Johnson, Ph.D. student, School of Natural Resources & the Environment, and member, López-Hoffman Lab, University of Arizona
April 15:
What if green space cured your blues?
Claudia Reynoso, M.S. student, School of Natural Resources and the Environment, and member, López-Hoffman Lab, University of Arizona
Aprill 22:
What if bats disappeared?
Sofia Rodriguez McGoffin, undergraduate, UA School of Natural Resources & Environment
Kaitlin Libby, undergraduate, UA School of Information Sciences
Ta-Ken Huang, Ph.D. student, UA Arid Lands Resources Science
(Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum will have live bats on hand)
April 29:
What if dry grasslands made waters flow?
Natayla Robbins Sherman, M.S. student, UA School of Natural Resources and the Environment, and member, López-Hoffman Lab
Aaron Lien, Ph.D., Senior Researcher, UA Udall Center for Studies in Public Policy, and member, López-Hoffman Lab

Previous 'What If? Events

'What If?' Series in March, 2017

March 2017 Monthly Theme: Women and girls in science and all STEM fields

Mar 4:
“What if we taught girls that they're brilliant?: Developing Confident STEM Girls Who Become STEM Professionals
DaNel Hogan, Director of the STEMAZing Project, Office of Pima County Superintendent
Dr. Jill Williams, Director of the Women in Science and Engineering Program at U of A

 Join two brilliant and dynamic scientist-educators to learn more about empowering girls to pursue science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).

Mar 11:
“What if soil microbes control our atmosphere??
Dr. Laura Meredith, Assistant Professor of Ecosystem Genomics, School of Natural Resources and the Environment and the BIO5 Institute

Photo Credit: Laura Meredith, spatially complex microbial community pulled apart

I am an interdisciplinary scientist working on research questions at the intersection of environmental microbiology and atmospheric chemistry. Microorganisms have produced dramatic shifts in the composition of the Earth’s atmosphere, and they continue to drive significant exchange of trace gases and aerosols between the land, oceans, and atmosphere. My group focuses on microbes and enzymes that strongly affect atmospheric chemistry. In addition to work in the lab, our study systems include temperate forests, the tropical Amazon, and now the Landscape Evolution Observatory at Biosphere 2!

Prior to my SNRE position, I was an Associate Research Scientist with Scott Saleska (University of Arizona) and an Atmospheric and Geospace Sciences NSF Postdoctoral Fellow in Paula Welander’s geobiology lab (Stanford University) and Joe Berry‘s trace gas lab (Carnegie Institution for Science). I earned my PhD in Climate Physics and Chemistry from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) with Ron Prinn and my BS in Chemistry from the California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly), San Luis Obispo.

Mar 18:
“What if everyone loved insects as much as they loved sports?
Dr. Cara Gibson, Assistant Professor of Practice, Director of Science Communications, Dept. of Entomology

Artwork: Cara Gibson

More than half of Earth’s described species are insects, and although this “smaller majority" silently carries out incredibly important work, such as pest control and pollination, few people give them much thought. Cara, who also teaches courses in Entomology and directs the Arizona Insect Festival — a big, bug science party on the UA campus, is excited for you to come and appreciate your tiny neighbors in a new light.

Mar 25:
“What if all girls were best friends with numbers? Engaging girls early and often with mathematics to build confidence

Amy Been, Graduate Research Assistant and Ph.D. student in mathematics education, College of Education, University of Arizona

Photo Credit: The STEMAZing Project

'What If?' Series in December, 2016

December 2016 Monthly Theme: What if all food is local?

Dec 3:
“What if we produce our food under solar panels?”
Dr. Greg Barron-Gafford, Plant Physiologist, UA Assistant Professor in the School of Natural Resources and the Environment and an Assistant Professor of Biogeography and Ecosystem Science in the School of Geography & Development and with Biosphere 2. 

Photo Credit: Marsha Colbert

Dr. Barron-Gafford is applying our understanding of plant ecology to “green” solar energy production. Plants act as little evaporative coolers, releasing water when they photosynthesize. Solar panels can be cooled by this effect when the appropriate plants are grown underneath; the panels provide the plants some shade. Come learn more about “agrivoltaics” and how it can be used to provide food in places like southern Arizona!

Dec 10:
“What if we cultivate food vertically?”
Dr. Murat Kacira, UA Professor in Agriculture and Biosystems Engineering Department and the Controlled Environment Agriculture Center

Photo Credit: Dr. Kacira, Verticle CEA in China

Dr. Kacira received his bachelor’s degree from Cukurova University, Adana, Turkey and his Masters and Doctorate from The Ohio State University. His research and teaching features design, development and implementation of autonomous plant growth and health sensing & monitoring, climate control technologies, and alternative energy applications to create resource use efficient controlled environment agriculture systems.

Dec 17:
“What if we grow school gardens?”
Moses Thompson, School Garden Program Coordinator with Tucson Unified School District and the UA Community and School Garden Program, School of Geography and Development

Photo Credit: Laura Markowitz, AZPM producer, Manzo Elementary School

As the coordinator between the Tucson Unified School District and the University of Arizona Community and School Garden Program, Moses Thompson helps teachers start school gardens to promote both healthy eating and learning. In 2006, he cofounded the Manzo Ecology Program and in 2012 the US Green Building Council recognized Manzo Elementary with a national Green Schools Award. Mr. Thompson’s work has been featured in the British Journal of Medicine, National Geographic, School Counselor Magazine, Arizona Illustrated and Edible Baja Arizona. In 2011, he was awarded Arizona School Counselor of the Year and in 2014 he was recognized by the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce as a distinguished community leader.

'What If?' Series in November, 2016

November 2016 Monthly Theme: What if we can 'see' underground?

Nov 5:
"What if soil is alive?"
Dr. Rachel Gallery, Microbial Ecologist, UA Assistant Professor in the School of Natural Resources and the Environment

Photo Credit: Katie Scott, drawing of Soil Diversity

Rachel Gallery is an Assistant Professor of Microbial Ecology in the School of Natural Resources and the Environment, and Investigator on the Catalina-Jemez Critical Zone Observatory at the University of Arizona. Her research examines the role of plant-microbe interactions on community diversity, how disturbance alters the diversity and function of plant and soil microbiomes, and the impacts of these changes on carbon storage and nutrient cycling.

Nov 12:
"What if climate change affects groundwater?"
Dr. Tom Meixner, Professor in Hydrology and Water Resources, Associate Department Head, Hydrology and Atmospheric Sciences Department

Dr. Tom Meixner received his PhD in 1999 from the University of Arizona with work focused on Alpine Biogeochemistry (interactions of water, life and rocks on mountains). After 6 years at the University of California Riverside modeling both alpine and semi-arid systems, he returned to UA as an associate professor in Hydrology and Water Resources. His research continues to fulfill his boyhood ambitions dreamed while playing in streams and digging in gardens in Maryland.

Nov 19:
"What if we could measure soil formation in real time?"
Michael Pohlmann, PhD Candidate, UA Soil, Water and Environmental Science Department

Photo Credit: Ben Paras

Michael Pohlmann is a PhD Candidate in Environmental Science, the University of Arizona Soil, Water and Environmental Science Department of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, with a research emphasis on mineral and organic matter interaction in the critical zone. He is studying pyrogenic (fire-formed) carbon distribution following wildfire in high elevation catchments being studied by the Catalina-Jemez Critical Zone Observatory. More about Catalina-Jemez Critical Zone Observatory's work at

Nov 26:
"What if lake sediments can provide clues to human ancestry?"
Anne Billingsley, PhD Candidate, UA Geosciences, The Hominin Sites and Paleolakes Drilling Project

Photo Credit: Emma McNulty

Anne Billingsley is a University of Arizona PhD candidate in Geosciences. She is working on the Hominin Sites and Paleolakes Drilling Project with Dr. Andrew Cohen studying the implications of African paleoclimate and regional paleoenvironmental changes on hominin evolution, migrations and extinctions, read more at She analyzes drill cores from East Africa Rift Valley lakes to develop a climate history of the region in the context of human ancestral evolution. This combines her interest in pools of water and collections of mud with her amazement of how humans and the environment interact.

'What If?' Series in October, 2016

October 2016 Monthly Theme: What if we could “see” in the dark?

Oct 1:
"What if we can see wild cats in the dark?"
Ashwin Naidu

Photo Credit: Fred Hood

Ashwin Naidu received his Ph.D. and M.S. degrees in Wildlife Conservation and Management from the University of Arizona (UA). His work focuses on applying interdisciplinary scientific and educational approaches for the conservation and management of endangered species and their habitats.  Dr. Naidu is a UA Carson Earth Fellow, an invited member of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, Species Survival Commission (IUCN/SSC) Cat Specialist Group, representative of the UA Wild Cat Research and Conservation Center, and President of the Fishing Cat Conservancy.

Oct 8:
"What if we can see the edges of the universe?"
Cathi Duncan

Photo Credit: Background CD

Ms. Cathi Duncan is a University of Arizona alumna whose primary focus has been to enhance the public’s knowledge and support of science and technology through her work with the UA Steward Observatory for the past 13 years. As a Senior Program Coordinator, she handles community relations, media and tours for the UA Richard F. Caris Mirror Lab and Steward Observatory. Tours of the mirror lab demonstrate the design and construction of the honeycomb, glass mirrors inside some of the world’s largest telescopes, including the Giant Magellan Telescope planned to be operational in 2021 in Northern Chile and the Large Binocular Telescope atop Mount Graham in eastern Arizona.

Oct 15:
"What if we can observe what big cats eat after dark?"
Melanie Culver

Photo Credit: A Naidu

Melanie Culver is a University of Arizona Assistant Professor in the Wildlife Conservation and Management Program in the School of Natural Resources and the Environment. She also serves as the Assistant Leader of the USGS Arizona Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit and as the current Chair of the Genetics Graduate Interdisciplinary Program at the University of Arizona. Dr. Culver’s research focuses on conservation genetics using a variety of genetic and genomic markers to examine biodiversity, taxonomy, population subdivision, paternity, kinship, and molecular ecology of many species including the Florida panther, puma, black bear, Mexican wolf, coyote, masked bobwhite, black-tailed prairie-dog, pronghorn, bighorn sheep, caracara, water shrew, and mussels.

Oct 22:
"What if we shine light on the moth’s world?"
John Palting

Photo Credit: John Palting

John Palting is a PhD student at the University of Arizona who is particularly fond of moths (order Lepidoptera) and has spent the last 35 years getting to know the moth fauna of the sky islands region. Moths outnumber the better-known butterflies 16 to 1! Come learn about these mostly nocturnal creatures and their critical role in our ecosystem.

Oct 29:
"What if wolves can be seen after dark?"
Josh Hoskinson

Photo Credit: Mexican Gray Wolf Interagency Field Team

Josh Hoskinson is a Master of Science student in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Arizona advised by Dr. Melanie Culver. He also is a Sky School Instructor at the Mount Lemmon Sky Center, which involves leading K-12 students to develop science projects using an inquiry-based methodology. His current research involves the Mexican gray wolves in the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area in Arizona and New Mexico to see if they have influenced the distribution and density of coyotes (and possibly foxes) in the region.

'What If?' Series in September, 2016

Sept. 3:
“What if we could grow food on the moon?”
Sean Gellenbeck, UA graduate student in Agriculture and Biosystems Engineering

Photo Credit: Ren Hinks

The University of Arizona graduate student Sean Gellenbeck (UA graduate student in Agriculture and Biosystems Engineering) asking “What if we can grow food on the moon?” and features the prototype Lunar Greenhouse project which is housed at Biosphere 2 and is part of the University of Arizona College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ University of Arizona Controlled Environment Agriculture Center.

Sept. 10:
“What if Biosphere 2 offers a window to the future?”
John Adams, Biosphere 2 Deputy Director

Photo Credit: Ren Hinks

John Adams: If you wish to study the underlying causes of a specific disease, you start by examining an animal model that would simulate the human condition. If you want to study a subset of geological events on earth, also known as Biosphere 1, you might design a miniature system, but what do you do if you want to study the B1's entire complex geology, environment and ecology?  Well, you build Biosphere 2. And so, in 1987 a vision was born, to assemble steel, concrete, soil, sea water, and plants to build a model of B1 consisting of five biomes.  For two decades, John Adams has helped drive the evolution of Biosphere 2 through positions of progressive responsibility and oversight. Today as Biosphere 2’s Deputy Director Adams holds responsibility for planning and direction of site operations and Under the Glass activities, serving as B2's primary spokesperson and media contact, overseeing biome management, energy management and facilities maintenance and setting the vision for public outreach.

Sept. 17:
“What if you could study hillslopes under glass?”
Antonio Meira, UA soil scientist and graduate student

Photo Credit: Ren Hinks

Antonio Meira: Antonio Meira is a PhD student in Hydrology and Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Arizona. Antonio works at the Biosphere 2's Landscape Evolution Observatory (LEO). His research focuses on detecting and understanding the hydrological behavior of coevolving soils and vegetation through their electrical properties.

Sept. 24:
“What if we could get clues to the solar system’s origin from an asteroid?”
Dolores Hill, Senior Research Specialist, UA Lunar and Planetary Lab. Launch is scheduled for Thursday, September 8, beginning at 4:05 PM Mountain Standard Time and can be observed on NASA –TV.

Dolores Hill, Senior Research Specialist at the University of Arizona Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, Co-Lead on the OSIRIS REx Target Asteroids! citizen science program, and a meteoriticist, was selected a 2013 White House Citizen Science Champion of Change. She facilitates increases in scientific literacy through outreach programs in the community and citizen science projects including those aimed at amateur astronomers. Her research focus is to learn more about our solar system by analyzing meteorites.

'What If?' Series in April, 2016

April 2, available 12-2 p.m. as part of scheduled tours
What if we didn't have any climate records?
Mike Crimmins, Associate Professor, Department of Soil, Water, and Environmental Science, University of Arizona and Climate Science Extension Specialist, University of Arizona Cooperative Extension

Mike Crimmins, University of Arizona Associate Professor and Extension Specialist, conducts applied climate science research to support natural resource management and agriculture across the southwest U.S. He works directly with resource managers, farmers, and ranchers to use climate information to support planning and decision making. Dr. Crimmins' work is about one third research and two thirds extension, and is focused on engaging and supporting stakeholders with applied climate research and outreach across the region.

April 9, activities and events happening throughout the day
What if the Biosphere 2 ocean can help us appreciate the Earth's oceans?
Ocean Appreciation Day at Biosphere 2

Celebrate the ocean with us!

  • Special tours of the ocean biome
  • Observe scuba divers in the ocean
  • The Edge of the Sea of Cortez author, Marilyn Malone, will share her expertise and fabulous photos of marine creatures.
  • Enjoy hands-on activities and displays
  • Student short-film presentations
  • More!

April 16, available 12-2 p.m. as part of scheduled tours
What if we could achieve environmental health justice?
Monica Ramirez Andreotta, Assistant Professor, Department of Soil, Water, and Environmental Science, University of Arizona, with a joint appointment in the College of Public Health, University of Arizona

Monica Ramirez Andreotta researches environmental health including contamination and remediation of polluted soil and air and creates citizen science projects alongside community members in order to achieve environmental health justice.

April 23, available 12-2 p.m. as part of scheduled tours
What if we could see the climate of Arizona by mid-century?
Jonathan Overpeck, Thomas R. Brown Distinguished Professor of Science, Regent’s Professor of Geosciences and Atmospheric Sciences, University of Arizona. Co-founder and Director, Institute of the Environment, University of Arizona. In 2007 and 2014, Professor Overpeck was a Coordinating Lead Author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 4th and 5th Assessments, winning the Nobel Peace Prize with his fellow lead authors for the former.

Jonathan Overpeck (“Peck”) is a climate scientist who has written over 190 published works on climate and the environmental sciences, served as a Coordinating Lead Author for the Nobel Prize winning IPCC 4th Assessment (2007), and also as a Lead Author for the IPCC 5th Assessment (2014). Other awards include the US Dept. of Commerce Gold Medal, a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Walter Orr Roberts award of the American Meteorological Society, and the Quivira Coalition’s Radical Center Award for his work with rural ranchers and land managers. Peck has active climate research programs on five continents, loves trying to understand drought and megadrought dynamics (and risk) the world over, and is also the lead investigator of CLIMAS and the SW Climate Science Center – two major programs focused on regional climate adaptation. He has appeared and testified before Congress multiple times, is a Fellow of AGU and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and tweets about climate-related issues @TucsonPeck.

April 30, available 12-2 p.m. as part of scheduled tours
What if Arizona has wild jaguars?
Aletris Neils, University of Arizona School of Natural Resources & the Environment

Aletris Neils is a Ph.D. candidate with the University of Arizona School of Natural Resources & the Environment. She is the founder & executive director of Conservation CATalyst, a non-profit organization dedicated to conservation and research of the 39 wild cat species extant in the world. She has spent several years researching the caracal in Namibia. Closer to home, she has taught in southern Arizona schools, co-creating the Project Wild CAT (Cats And Teacher) program.

'What If?' Series in March, 2016

March 26, available 12-2 p.m. as part of scheduled tours
What if we could construct resilient built environments?
Meredith Sattler, Assistant Professor, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, University of Arizona Affiliated Faculty at Biosphere 2

Meredith Sattler is trained as an architect, an environmentalist, and an artist. Her current research and teaching interests include conceptualizations of dynamic sustainable architectural systems in historic and current contexts; interdisciplinary structure and practice within functional territories between design and the ecological sciences; and the designer’s influence on the health of natural environment-technology-human interactions. Previously, Ms. Sattler worked for Buro Happold Consulting Engineers, the Institute of Fine Arts New York University’s Samothrace, Greece archeological site, Thomas Properties Group, Inc., and in the Film Industry. She is founder and lead designer of cambioform, a furniture and environmental design studio, and has exhibited and published nationally.

March 19, available 12-2 p.m. as part of scheduled tours
What if asteroid samples reveal clues to our solar system’s origin?
Dolores Hill, Senior Research Specialist, University of Arizona Lunar & Planetary Laboratory

Dolores Hill, Senior Research Specialist at the University of Arizona Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, Co-Lead on the OSIRIS REx Target Asteroids! citizen science program, and a meteoriticist, was selected a 2013 White House Citizen Science Champion of Change. She facilitates increases in scientific literacy through outreach programs in the community and citizen science projects including those aimed at amateur astronomers. Her research focus is to learn more about our solar system by analyzing meteorites.

March 12, available 12-2 p.m. as part of scheduled tours
What if we can build landscapes in a bottle?
Allan Ortega-Gutiérrez, Structural Engineer, M3 Engineering & Technology Corp

Allan Ortega-Gutiérrez is a Professional Engineer with M3 Engineering and Technology Corporation. He is a structural engineer and was instrumental in the structural design and construction phases of Biosphere 2’s Landscape Evolution Observatory (LEO). LEO’s three hill slopes sit on load cells, creating the world’s largest lysimeters measuring changing weights of the landscapes as water is added, runs off, or leaves through evaporation (and, once plants are added, also through transpiration). The entire LEO structure had to be built within the existing space frame where Biospherians once grew food crops during the closed-system missions in the early 1990’s.

March 5, available 12-2 p.m. as part of scheduled tours
What if farming could be done vertically?
Joel Cuello, Professor, University of Arizona Department of Agricultural & Biosystems Engineering, BIO5 Institute

Joel Cuello is a globally recognized expert in the engineering of sustainable biological and agricultural innovations. His technical expertise in both engineering and biology provides the platform for the engineering of agricultural and biological systems with emphasis in optimizing performance while fostering resource sustainability and environmental protection. He has designed, constructed and implemented varied types of engineered agricultural or biological innovations, including those applied in bioregenerative space life support, crop hydroponics, plant tissue culture, micropropagation, industrial mass production of algae and plant cell and microbial cultures for production of biomass, nutraceuticals, pharmaceuticals, etc.


'What If?' Series in February, 2016

February 27, Tours beginning between 12:00 - 2:00 p.m.
What if the climate change forecasts for the Southwest are right?
Gregg Garfin, University of Arizona Institute of the Environment and School of Natural Resources & Environment

Gregg Garfin, Associate Professor and Associate Extension Specialist in Climate, Natural Resources and Policy, conducts collaborative research and policy planning with decision-makers in the Southwest. His activities are focused on climate variability, drought, and adaptation to a changing climate. His latest work examines the need to prepare for complex and intersecting hazards, such as large fires and post-fire floods, and the intersection of drought, heat waves, power outages, and public health risks. He is co-convening lead author for the Southwest chapter in the 2014 National Climate Assessment. He also leads a University of Arizona initiative on Arts and the Environment.

February 20, Tours beginning between 12:00 - 2:00 p.m.
What if tropical rainforests are resilient to climate change?
Joost Van Haren, University of Arizona Honors College and Biosphere 2

Born and raised in the Netherlands, Joost van Haren first came to Arizona to run the analytical facilities at Biosphere 2. He currently works as an assistant research professor at Biosphere 2 directing studies in the rainforest habitat. Joost (pronounced ‘Yost’) has degrees in the earth sciences from the Netherlands and Yale. For his Ph.D. at the University of Arizona, Joost studied important soil-plant-atmosphere interactions that influence greenhouse gas production by soil bacteria in Brazil. Among many other projects, Joost uses Biosphere 2 to study drought effects on carbon cycling rates in tropical rainforests. He also teaches innovative courses as a faculty member in the UA Honors College.

February 13, 12:00 - 2:00 p.m.
What if corals can survive a warming climate?
Julia Cole, University of Arizona Geosciences and Biosphere 2

Julia Cole is Research Director for the Biosphere 2 Ocean, UA Professor of Geosciences and Atmospheric Sciences, and chair of the Graduate Interdisciplinary Program in Global Change. Her research focuses on understanding environmental changes with substantial ecological or human impacts. A particular focus has been coral reef environments, and her current coral work emphasizes Pacific sites from the Great Barrier Reef to the Galápagos. She is also working to characterize past drought in semiarid and monsoon regions, and to assess and improve the ability of climate models to simulate future changes. She has held competitive fellowships in climate communication and teaches classes in oceanography, global change, paleoclimate, and environmental communication.

February 6, 12:00 - 2:00 p.m.
What if we can make renewable energy production even "greener"?
Greg Barron-Gafford, University of Arizona School of Geography and Biosphere 2

Greg Barron-Gafford studies how semiarid plants and ecosystems respond to threats from drought, climate change, and human pressures like over grazing or clearing for renewable energy production. Greg has been using our understanding of plant ecology to “green” solar energy production areas. Plants are like little evaporative coolers, releasing water when they photosynthesize. By growing appropriate plants underneath, solar panels can be cooled by this effect, in exchange for providing some appreciated shade. It seems like a win-win. Come learn more about Biosphere 2’s role in this novel linkage of natural and built ecosystems.


'What If?' Series in January, 2016

January 30, 12:00 - 2:00 p.m.
What if we knew what dark matter is?
Elliott Cheu, Associate Dean & Professor of Physics, College of Science, University of Arizona

Elliott Cheu's research focuses on searches for Supersymmetry and new phenomena at the Large Hadron Collider (= giant physics tool underground in Europe). He was one of the leaders of the team that established the existence of direct CP (charge conjugation and parity inversion – come learn about it!) violation, which is one of the components required to explain the observed matter/anti-matter asymmetry in the Universe. He oversees education for all University of Arizona (UA) science students, facilitates UA Science outreach in Arizona, and has served on national review committees for the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy.

January 23, 12:00 - 2:00 p.m.
What if we could make food production more efficient? How to repurpose food waste.
Linda Leigh, Original Biosphere 2 closed-system mission crew member from the early 1990's

Linda Leigh has worked as team botanist studying the reintroduction of the grey wolf to the temperate rainforest of western Washington state, and she's studied the potential of native desert species as agricultural crops and the ecosystem impact of a road proposed for the Alaska Peninsula in the tundra biome. Starting in 1985, Linda directed the design and installation of plants and soils for the desert, savannah, and rainforest biomes of Biosphere 2, and joined the crew as a “Biospherian” in 1991. After the two-year mission in the completely sealed environment concluded, Linda completed a doctorate in Systems Ecology and Energy Analysis, using data from the Biosphere 2 rainforest as part of the study. Now focusing on decomposition, she started Vermillion Wormery in 2009 in Oracle, AZ, where she partners with thousands of worms, people and businesses to transform organic waste materials into a beautiful soil amendment.

January 16, 12:00 - 2:00 p.m.
What if we could understand the fate of water in semi-arid environments? How will humans and ecosystems fare in the desert southwest? Where will the water go?
Biosphere 2 Landscape Evolution Observatory Research Team

Graduate students Antonio Meira and Yadi Wang will discuss how research on the LEO experimental apparatus will advance our understanding of how climate change may impact water resources and ecosystems in arid environments. This understanding will result from iterations of well-designed physical experiments with LEO and virtual experiments with mathematical models of coupled ecohydrological processes. Since LEO resides within the climate controlled Biosphere 2 facility, learn how researchers can perform manipulative experiments to examine how the water, soil, plant, and microbes respond to diverse scenarios of climate (air temperature and rainfall).

January 9, 12:00 - 2:00 p.m.
What if tree-rings, that record the past, can help us predict the future?
Paul Sheppard, University of Arizona Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research

Paul Sheppard, University of Arizona Associate Professor in the Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research, studies how growth rings formed in trees can be used to understand past and current events and possible future conditions. Applications of this science called dendrochronology, which was founded at the University of Arizona in the early 1900s, include: describing fire history for ecologists; delineating past droughts to better understand climate change; dating past volcanic eruptions including Arizona’s Sunset Crater for geologists; and estimating human habitation dates for cliff dwellings in the study of human culture and anthropology. Dr. Sheppard also uses tree-rings to study public health issues, pollution, and other components of environmental change. Learn more at

January 2, 12:00 - 2:00 p.m.
What if reptiles could reveal nature’s secrets? From novel medicines to impacts of climate shifts.
Kevin Bonine, University of Arizona Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology

Kevin Bonine's present research on reptiles and amphibians includes Gila monsters and canyon treefrogs, with emphasis on natural history, ecology, population genetics, and conservation. Kevin teaches many well-regarded UA courses, including introductory biology, herpetology, conservation biology, and vertebrate physiology. One of his newer courses is a collaboration with ASDM and Biosphere 2, titled Sonoran Desert Discovery, wherein UA students teach desert ecology to school children and the public. In 2012 Kevin was recognized with the UA College of Science’s Distinguished Early-Career Teaching Award. Kevin is also Director of Outreach Initiatives in the College of Science at the University of Arizona and serves on the boards of directors of the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Friends of Saguaro National Park, and the Intercultural Center for the Study of Deserts and Oceans (CEDO) in Puerto Peñasco, Sonora.


'What If?' Series in December, 2015

December 26, 2015; 12:00 - 2:00 p.m.
Space Exploration and Amazing Images
Adam Block, University of Arizona Steward Observatory, University of Arizona SkyCenter, Mt. Lemmon

Adam Block is the Manager and Primary Speaker at the University of Arizona's SkyCenter, based on Mt. Lemmon just north of Tucson. Adam is most well-known for his abilities to speak and communicate difficult concepts in astronomy in simple and creative ways, and over the past 15+ years he has hosted many thousands of exciting evenings for public audiences. Adam is also a world-renowned astrophotographer, and his images have been published in magazines, books, posters, and widely on the internet. His images have graced NASA's "Astronomy Picture of the Day" website more than 70 times and have been used as reference images by amateur and professional astronomers alike. In 2012 he was the recipient of the "Hubble Award" from the Advanced Imaging Conference- one of the highest awards in astrophotography.

December 19, 2015; SPECIAL DOUBLE-HEADER!
11 a.m. - 1 p.m. Asteroid Detection in our own Backyard
Eric Christensen, Catalina Sky Survey, University of Arizona Steward Observatory, Mt. Lemmon

Eric Christensen is a staff scientist in the University of Arizona (UA) Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, and he is the Director of the UA Catalina Sky Survey (CSS). CSS is a NASA-funded project that searches for and discovers comets, asteroids, and near-Earth objects (NEOs), specifically potentially hazardous asteroids that may pose a threat of impact. The NEO Observations Program is a result of a United States 1998 congressional directive to NASA to begin a program to identify 1 kilometre or larger objects to around 90 percent confidence level or better. CSS, located in the Catalina Mountains north of Tucson, carries out these searches using a 1.5 meter f/2 telescope and a 68 cm f/ 1.7 Schmidt telescope. In 2005, CSS became the most prolific NEO survey surpassing Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research (LINEAR) in total number of NEOs and potentially hazardous asteroids discovered each year since.

1 p.m. - 3 p.m. Asteroid Sampling
Tim Swindle, University of Arizona Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, OSIRIS-REx mission

Tim Swindle is the Head of the University of Arizona (UA) Department of Planetary Sciences and the Director of the UA Lunar and Planetary Laboratory. His area of specialization is cosmochemistry and he uses measurements of the noble gases in extraterrestrial materials (lunar samples and meteorites) to study the evolution of the solar system. Additionally, he is a collaborator on the OSIRIS-REx mission. This space mission, launching in 2016, will send a spacecraft to the asteroid Bennu, collect a sample, and return it to Earth in 2023. OSIRIS-REx seeks answers to questions that are central to the human experience: Where did we come from? What is our destiny? Bennu, an asteroid that records the earliest history of our Solar System, may contain the molecular precursors to the origin of life and the Earth’s oceans.

December 12, 2015; 12:00 - 2:00 p.m.
Growing Food on Mars!
Gene Giacomelli, Lunar Greenhouse Module, University of Arizona Controlled Environment Agricultural Center

Gene Giacomelli is the director of the University of Arizona Controlled Environment Agriculture Center (CEAC). CEAC is an interdisciplinary education, research, and outreach program for greenhouse and other advanced technology systems. Gene teaches Controlled Environment Systems which is an introduction to the technical aspects of greenhouse design, environmental control, nutrient delivery systems, hydroponic crop production, intensive field production systems, and post-harvest handling and storage of crops. He also serves as the Principal Investigator of the prototype Lunar Greenhouse (LGH). The LGH is an innovative hydroponic plant growth chamber centered on using plants to sustain a continuous vegetarian diet for astronauts.

December 5, 2015; 12:00 - 2:00 p.m.
The World's Largest Telescope Mirrors
Cathi Duncan, Richard Caris Mirror Laboratory, University of Arizona Steward Observatory

Cathi Duncan has been employed with Steward Observatory for the past 12 years. In her current role, she handles community relations for the University of Arizona Richard F. Caris Mirror Lab and Steward Observatory. Her primary focus is to enhance the public’s knowledge and support of scientific research and technology. The Richard F. Caris Mirror Lab offers tours where you can see a telescope mirror the size of a three-story building and learn about the ground-breaking engineering, revolutionary optical technology and unparalleled manufacturing techniques that go into their creation. Cathi is a native Tucsonan and UA Alum and has served for seven years as a project manager for a NASA Astrobiology grant at the University of Arizona.