Use-Directed Research to Make the World a Better Place

“Searching for life is cool, Dad, but how does it solve any of our problems here at home?” asked then-11-year-old Nathaniel Anbar. Read some answers to that question below.

Ongoing Efforts

Isotope Biomarkers in Biomedicine

Participant in a biomedical bedrest study at NASA Johnson Space Center. Isotope investigations of these participants pave the way for new cancer biomarkers.

Research by us and others reveals that the same sorts of high precision isotope measurements used to study ancient Earth environments can be used to track changes in the inventories, distributions, reaction pathways, or molecular species of metals and other inorganic elements – aspects of the emerging discipline metallomics – that are implicated in diseases ranging from Alzheimer’s to Wilson’s Disease.

This research points the way to novel isotope biomarkers of disease. For example, we have shown that calcium isotope abundances in blood and urine of participants in NASA bedrest studies vary in concert with changes in bone mineral balance. Such isotope information is almost entirely overlooked in existing biomarker research. In collaboration with partners at the Mayo Clinic, Scottsdale, we are exploring the use of calcium isotope data to track the progress of bone involvement in the disease multiple myeloma. We expect that such applications of isotope data will develop as a major advance in disease biomarkers.

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Metal Stable Isotopes as Pollution Tracers

High precision isotope analyses can also be used to study the human impact on the environment, because the isotope abundances of industrial materials are often different from natural materials.

Two diverse examples currently being studied in our labs are: Iron isotopes in marine aerosols as a way of differentiating natural from anthropogenic sources of this vital nutrient to the oceans; and mercury isotopes as a tool to detect pollution of this toxic element coming from compact fluorescent light bulbs.

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PlanetWorks: Addressing the Anthropocene

Geologists  increasingly describe our age as the “Anthropocene Epoch” – the time when human civilization became the dominant force shaping the surface of the planet. Is the Anthropocene a transient event that will end with our demise or retreat? Or is it a permanent transition that we will someday view as the beginning of our maturation as a planetary species – the period when we faced up to our responsibilities as stewards of the planet, just as we are stewards of our homes, neighborhoods, cities, and nations?

PlanetWorks is an emerging initiative that blends the perspectives on planetary habitability developed by planetary scientists and astrobiologists and the problem-solving knowhow of engineering with the goals of sustainability scientists to secure our future on this planet. We aim to pull together scientists and students from ASU’s School of Earth & Space Exploration, School of Sustainability, and the Fulton School of Engineering, to address this fundamental challenge.

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  • Coming soon!

Something inspirational that Ariel has said about application of research.
— Ariel Anbar, President's Professor

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