UA Science Cafes

Discover the fascinating science happening all around us at the UA Science Café series. The 2015-2016 Science Café series is brought to you by UA Science. A Science Café brings the community together with a UA scientist in a casual setting. You’ll learn about the latest research, get to know the people behind the science, and have the opportunity to ask questions. We have four separate series at different locations this fall, all with their own themes for fascinating science discussions. Come join the conversation!

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To jump to the Fall 2015 schedule, click here!

To see the Fall 2015 brochure, click here!


  • Downtown Science Café at Magpie’s Gourmet Pizza, 605 N. 4th Ave., Tucson, 520-628-1661
    • Contact: Shipherd Reed, Operations & Communications Manager, 520-621-4516
    • Fall Series Title: The Earth's Critical Zone

You can think of the “Critical Zone” as the living skin of the planet, the thin layer on the surface that supports life. We live in the Critical Zone, and so do all the plants and animals that make our world such an amazing place. Teams of scientists at the University of Arizona work together to study how all the different parts of the Critical Zone - the rocks and the water and the soil and all the many forms of life, from microbes to tall trees - interact to enable life on Earth. This Science Café series will explore how all the different natural systems function together, a journey that will help us all understand the wonders of the Critical Zone and how we depend on it for the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat.

  • Borderlands Brewing, Science Café at Borderlands Brewing Co., 119 E. Toole Ave. Tucson, 520-261-8773 
    • Contact: Nicole Fischer, PhD Candidate: Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, 302-545-9554
    • Fall Series Title: The Mathematics of Health & Disease

The UA School of Mathematical Sciences is deeply engaged in research that impacts everything. We create higher precision and lower risk medical imaging techniques, study models of blood flow and oxygen transport in organs, mine data to understand cancer, improve its diagnosis, treatment, and prevention. The heart of each problem is mathematical in nature—so are the solutions. As we enter the future, math continues to play a key role in our pursuit of smarter, happier, and more efficient lives. Join us this fall at Borderlands Brewing Company to learn more about math’s centrality to everything.

  • Science Café at Tumamoc Hill Off West Anklam Rd., just west of North Silverbell Rd.

The Science Café at Tumamoc Hill provides speakers on topics that relate to the science, history, archeology, and educational mission of Tumamoc Hill. Not everyone knows Tumamoc Hill even though it rises just west of downtown. If you’re looking at “A” Mountain (Sentinel Peak) from downtown Tucson, then Tumamoc is the big hill just to the right, the one with the radio antennas on top. The lectures are held in the library of the old Desert Laboratory, the buildings that are roughly half-way up the Hill. You can’t drive up Tumamoc Hill, but you can walk up and there is a shuttle provided for the lectures. The staff asks that you make a reservation for the lecture series so they can prepare for the right number of people, just send an email to or call 520-629-9455.

  • SaddleBrooke Science Café
    • Desert View Performing Arts Center, 39900 Clubhouse Drive, SaddleBrooke, AZ
    • Contact: Erin Deely, UA Science Outreach, 520-621-3374
    • Fall Series Title: It's About Time

​This series will explore the endless dimensions of time, from its many microcosms, to its cosmic vastness. The talks bring to the stage experts in Cosmology, Geosciences, Atomic Physics, Neuroscience and Evolutionary Ecology, tasked to explore the relevance of time and its relation to their discipline.

Science Field(s): Archaeology, Astronomy, Biology, Chemistry, Earth Sciences, Ecology, Geology, History, Mathematics, Physics, etc.

Cost: Free to the public but seating is limited

Contact:  Erin Deely, UA Science Outreach, 520-621-3374



Fall 2015 Schedule



  • Tuesday, September 8
  • 6:00 p.m.
  • Presenter: Leslie Boyer, MD, Director: (VIPER) Institute

Serum, Scorpions, Scientists and Smugglers: a century of anti-venom development across the Arizona-Sonora line 


  • Thursday, September 17
  • 6:00 p.m.
  • Presenter: Joe Watkins, UA Mathematics & Statistics GIDP Chair

Not Your Parents’ Genes: How Mathematics and Primates Help Us Understand Human Evolution and Health

Your de novo mutations are those in your cells that were not present in either of your parents. Such mutations are the drivers of evolution and can be the source of disease.

Using the modern techniques of next generation genomic sequencing, we will examine the role of de novo mutations in two contexts. We will first discuss how the discovery of these mutations has been used to explain the source of severe neurological conditions. We will also talk about a project that will look at de novo mutations in primates and how these investigations will give us insights both into evolution and into questions of human health.


  • Tuesday, September 22
  • 6:00 p.m.
  • Presenter: Jon Chorover, Principal Investigator, UA Critical Zone Observatory, Professor and Department Head, UA Department of Soil, Water, and Environmental Science

Earth's Critical Zone: The Layer that Sustains Life



  • Thursday, October 8
  • 6:00 p.m.
  • Presenter: Tim Secomb, UA Mathematics & Applied Mathematics GIDP

Blood and Numbers: Impacts of Oxygen Transport in Healthy and Diseased Tissue

The microcirculation is the network of tiny blood vessels that transports oxygen throughout the body. Mathematical models can help us understand oxygen transport, a process that dictates the rate at which our muscles can work, affects the effectiveness of disease treatments, and more. At high altitudes, for example, the oxygen content of our blood decreases, limiting exercise capability in a way that can be predicted mathematically.     

Similarly, our mathematical models enable us to predict how oxygen-transport alters the effectiveness of radiation treatment in cancerous tumors, as cells in regions of low oxygen are more resistant to radiation.

Dr. Secomb will discuss examples of mathematical modeling of oxygen transport, including the transport of a new type of chemotherapy drug that becomes active in low-oxygen regions and can work synergistically with radiation.


  • Tuesday, October 13
  • 6:00 p.m.
  • Presenter: Matt Johnson, Boyce Thompson Arboretum and the University of Arizona

Banking on Legumes: An Adaptive Strategy for the Future

Legumes are the most important group of plants in human nutrition after cereal grains. Following a brief look at legume surveys done on Tumamoc Hill, Matt Johnson will show how the Desert Legume Project (DELP), a joint program of the Boyce Thompson Arboretum and the University of Arizona, is working to conserve legumes for the future, including banking seeds of 1,344 species of legumes from the dry regions of six continents.


  • Tuesday, October 20
  • 6:00 p.m.
  • Presenter: Tom Meixner, Professor, Department of Hydrology and Water Resources

The Many Paths of Water in the Critical Zone



  • Tuesday, November 10
  • 6:00 p.m.
  • Presenters: Aaron D. Flesch and Philip C. Rosen, School of Natural Resources and the Environment, University of Arizona; Peter Holm, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, National Park Service

Lizards and Climate Change in the Sonoran Desert

Tumamoc is home to the oldest continuous plant monitoring program in the world, providing a rich source of information about desert plant responses to climate and other changes. Drs. Flesch, Rosen and Holm will describe their parallel project that has monitored lizard populations in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument for over 25 years. The data they have collected reveals the effects of climate change on desert vertebrates and has important implications for future conservation and land management in the Southwest.


  • Thursday, November 12
  • 6:00 p.m.
  • Leonid Kunyansky, UA Mathematics & Applied Mathematics GIDP

Inward Gaze: Medical Imaging with Sound, Magnets, and Currents

The X-ray tomography, or CAT scan, was invented in the 1960’s. By now, it has become one of the main staples of medical imaging. Since then, many other “tomographies” have been introduced, all based on different types of radiation. MRI, for example, used strong magnetic fields; ultrasound tomography utilizes high-frequency acoustic waves, and there are many more.

Nowadays, in search of better ways to see what matters—tumors, bone cracks, blood clots—scientists are trying to combine several different sorts of waves. My favorite is called “Lorenz Force tomography”. It couples magnetic fields, electric currents and ultrasound waves to produce an image.

Dr. Kunyansky will begin by discussing the physics behind some of the most interesting imaging methods, and we will then take a glimpse at what kind of mathematical problems must be solved to enable these techniques.


  • Tuesday, November 17
  • 6:00 p.m.
  • Presenter: Craig Rasmussen, Associate Professor, Environmental Pedology, Department of Soil, Water, and Environmental Science

Right Beneath Our Feet: Discover the Wonders of Soil


  • Thursday, November 19
  • 6:30 p.m.
  • Presenter: Pierre Meystre, PhD, Regents Professor of Physics & Optical Sciences, Director, B2 Institute

It's About Time

The definition of time may seem completely obvious at first, but when asked, we find it enormously difficult to define it. Quoting Wikipedia, “time has long been a major subject of study in religion, philosophy and science, but defining it in a manner applicable to all fields without circularity has consistently eluded scholars.” This is not too different from Aristotle’s contention more than 2000 years ago that “time is the most unknown of all unknown things.”

Yet, as the great Richard Feynman quipped, “I can live with doubt, and uncertainty, and not knowing. It is much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers that might be wrong.” With this in mind, the talk will discuss our current physical understanding of time. It will then illustrate its ubiquitous and profound impact on our everyday lives with a few examples that, surprisingly perhaps, cover time scales ranging from the age of the Universe to the lifetime of the shortest-lived elementary particles.”



  • Tuesday, December 8
  • 6:00 p.m.
  • Presenter: Rachel Gallery, Assistant Professor, School of Natural Resources and the Environment

The Little Things that Rule the World: Microscopic Life in Soils


  • Thursday, December 10
  • 6:00 p.m.
  • Presenter: Helen (Hao) Zhang, UA Mathematics & Statistics GIDP

Conquering Cancer: Use of Modern Statistics to Improve Diagnosis, Treatment, and Prevention

Cancer is a complex system’s disease. Recent rapid development in biological and medical technologies has fueled crucial advances to finding integrated cancer solutions. Scientists can now examine a tumor and identify associated gene mutations and affected gene expressions. This wealth of information, if properly analyzed, can help reveal the “signature” of tumors, which can in turn help determine effective cancer therapies.

But how do we identify cancer subtype signatures? What are genetic risk factors for each sub-type? What treatment would serve best for individual patients?         

In this Science Café we will explore the key role of modern statistics in identifying a tumor’s signature, and the affordances of big data mining for improving cancer diagnosis, treatment, and prevention. The Café will illustrate how mathematical work done in collaboration with UA Cancer Center researchers and clinicians can advance not just cancer research but also clinical practice.


  • Thursday, December 17
  • 6:30 p.m.
  • Presenter: Thomas Fleming, Astronomer & Senior Lecturer

Cosmological Time

The histories of our lives, our civilization, the human race…even the planet Earth span time periods that are dwarfed in comparison with the age of the Universe.  The Universe in which we exist has been around for about 13.7 billion years.  How do we know this? In this talk, we will tell the story of the detective work done by astronomers and cosmologists to reconstruct the history of our Universe.  This is a remarkable accomplishment when one considers the pieces of this historical puzzle were collected at a time before our Earth even existed!  Fortunately for astronomers, we possess the ultimate time machine: the telescope.