From Our Bodies to the Earth – to the Screen

Nov. 2, 2020


The 2020 Carson Scholars cohort shifted their science communication presentations – the cornerstone of the Carson Scholars Program – to focus on a virtual audience with the October 2020 webinar series, “Intersections of Environment and Justice: From Our Bodies to the Earth.” The 12 Scholars each presented an eight-minute talk on their research and fielded audience questions during the four webinars.


The Future of Food

The first webinar, “The Future of Food,” focused on the changes in food production, digital agriculture technologies, and food access and security. 

In her presentation, “How (and Why) You Should Tattoo Your Greenhouse with Semi-Transparent Solar Panels,” Bekah Waller, PhD candidate in the Department of Biosystems Engineering, discussed her work in greenhouses that allow for food production even in the coldest New England winter months and the hottest Tucson summers. 

Waller’s experience in greenhouses led to her research topic of “tattooing” the greenhouse walls with semi-transparent photovoltaic cells. Greenhouses come with a “cost,” one of the biggest of which is energy. In order to offset that energy cost, these greenhouse tattoos that Waller discusses would help to produce energy for the greenhouse. Watch Bekah Waller’s presentation to learn more.

Ziya Kaya, a PhD candidate in the School of Anthropology, presented “Digitizing Agriculture: Changing Agroecology and Livelihood in Turkey,” in which he spoke about the global digital transformation that has brought technology to farmers. 

This technology can be as simple as pedometers for cows to track their activity, or more complex technologies like data-collection tools for soil and plant health as well as weather conditions to give recommendations to farmers for the future. Learn more about “Agriculture 4.0” and Ziya Kaya’s research in his presentation.

In “Feeding Hungry Cities: Is Urban Agriculture the Answer to Africa’s Food Security Woes?” Julia Davies, PhD candidate in the School of Geography, Development & Environment, takes the audience on a journey of the image of food insecurity in sub-Saharan Africa and how reality doesn’t quite fit that mold.

Food security is a complex issue, and Davies discusses how urban agriculture, often seen as a solution, can be inaccessible for a variety of reasons such as water access, property rights, and time, to name a few. View her full presentation to learn more about food security in sub-Saharan Africa.


Giving Nature a Break: Paths to Sustainability

The second webinar, “Giving Nature a Break: Paths to Sustainability,” brought Scholars together to present on and discuss the increased demand for resources, services, and products as the population grows and technology advances.

The first presentation, “Got Water? The Thirst for Innovation” from Varinia Felix, PhD candidate in the Department of Chemical and Environmental Engineering, presented a shocking number: Tucson, in one month, could fill up the Empire State Building in New York City eight times with the water used.

There are many ways that water can be reused, but there are still difficulties in managing these processes and making sure that the life cycle of a treatment plant can prove its worth. Watch her presentation to learn more about water use and reuse.

In “Turning on the Tap: Building Alternatives to Water Scarcity in Mexico,” Mary-Bell Cruz Ayala, PhD candidate in the Arid Lands Resource Sciences Graduate Interdisciplinary Program, discussed the difficulty of water allocation and use in Mexico. 

Many factors, like seasonal weather patterns and even Mexican law (and corruption), cause water resources to remain difficult to manage. Find out more about water in Mexico in Cruz’s presentation.

Hamid Ghaderi, PhD candidate in the Department of Systems and Industrial Engineering, presented “Value Recovery of Hard Drives: Sustainability vs. Security,” in which he showed the complex system of hard drive reuse. Connecting the hard drive recovery system to a food web, Ghaderi showed the audience how each step in the process – from creation to destruction – affects different outcomes.

The value of recovering hard drives for reuse also depends on the advancement of technology, and on how secure or private information can be “wiped” from hard drives before it can be used for a second life. Learn more about the benefits and questions that come up about hard drive reuse in Ghaderi’s presentation.


The Impacts of Environmental Injustices on Health & Society

The third webinar, “The Impacts of Environmental Injustices on Health & Society,” took on the topic of injustices across race, gender, class, and immigration status when it comes to their environment, such as differential chemical exposures and colonial land use practices, and how these injustices destabilize the lives and health of historically marginalized communities, impacting people on both the local and global level.

Kimberly Parra, PhD candidate in the Department of Epidemiology, discussed her research of “Tracing Pesticides from Womb to Birth in Arizona.” Parra focused on how mothers – and their children – in areas around the nearly 26.2 million acres of farmland in Arizona may be at a higher risk of contamination and disease.

Gestational diabetes and neurological disorders could be the outcome of living within a mile or so of fields using pesticides, and drafts that pick up the pesticides could also be dangerous. Watch Parra’s presentation to hear more.

In “Chemicals at Work: Small Business Exposures in Tucson,” Amanda Lee, PhD candidate in the School of Anthropology, discusses workplace hazards in South Tucson. Salons and auto shops are two workplaces of interest, both of which use harmful chemicals as part of the day-to-day operations.

While personal protective equipment (PPE) can protect people in contact with harmful chemicals, Lee notes that it’s the lowest “control” to avoid hazardous chemicals and policy changes would be the most effective way to protect workers in these environments. Hear more in the full presentation.

In her presentation, “The Environmental Debris of Zimbabwe’s Mining Communities,” Lucy Kirkman, Master of Fine Arts candidate in the Department of English, discussed the town of Eiffel Flats in Zimbabwe and their human rights court case pertaining to the mining operation only a few hundred meters away from schools and residences in the town.

Against the backdrop of economic instability and political corruption – and private companies using their influence in the courts – Kirkman shows how the Eiffel Flats residents are fighting for a basic human right of safety and shelter. See her full presentation to learn more.


(De)Stressing the Earth and Ourselves

The fourth and final webinar of the series, “(De)Stressing the Earth and Ourselves,” discussed past and current environmental changes from soil nutrients that plants use to budget their lives to compromised water quality in large river systems to global warming of the ocean and atmosphere.

Starting at the individual level, Alex Karnish, PhD candidate in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, presented “That’s a Spicy Pepper: Learning How Plants Allocate Resources by Using a Local Pepper.” In this presentation, Karnish explained that plants allocate resources, like nutrients and water, like we allocate time to different aspects of our lives.

The allocation of resources can be distributed differently when looking at different environmental stressors, changing the appearance of the plant – or spiciness of a pepper. Hear about his research in his presentation.

Widening the frame to a whole watershed, JoRee LaFrance, PhD candidate in the Department of Environmental Science, shared “Bimmaaxpée/Sacred Waters: Bridging Traditional Understandings and Science to Protect the Little Bighorn River.” In her presentation, LaFrance discussed her people’s, the Apsáalooke, connection to sacred waters and how she is bridging traditional understandings with hydrologic science.

After her sister became ill after swimming in the Little Bighorn River, LaFrance began to question what was in the water. Watch her presentation to learn more.

Bringing the conversation to an even larger, global scale, Grace Windler, PhD candidate in the Department of Geosciences, presented “Fats from the Past: Using Fossil Molecules to Understand Changes in Earth’s Climate.” Using her research in the Indo-Pacific Warm Pool, Windler dives deeper into how molecules from the sediment at the ocean floor can detail past climates.

With information from ancient molecules informing us about ancient climates, we can better understand our future. See the presentation to understand the global implications of a changing climate.


A big thank you to the wonderful talks from all 12 Carson Scholars and Aaron Bugaj from Biosphere 2, who moderated all four webinars in the series!


Thomas R. Brown Family Foundation

College of Engineering 

College of Science Galileo Circle

Graduate College

Arizona Institute for Resilience

Agnese Nelms Haury Program in Environment & Social Justice

College of Social and Behavioral Sciences