For more than 60 years, a nonprofit academy started by 150 Arizona-based scientists has stimulated science research to benefit the Southwest and nudged students out of their shells into science careers, many in Arizona.
This year, the academy reached across the border for the first time to include students from the Universidad Autónoma in Baja California, Mexico.
Today, the organization is called the Arizona-Nevada Academy of Science. Nevada-based researchers and universities joined in 1977 to unify scientific interests for the unique desert region.
Research from both states is published in the academy’s peer-reviewed journal of scientific research, the Journal of the Arizona-Nevada Science Academy.
Students, teachers given steps up
Each year, the nonprofit academy hosts an annual conference where faculty, students and others lecture about their research. High school and college students have the opportunity to receive scholarships, grants and awards, and awards are also given to outstanding teachers and leaders in science.
Students are encouraged to network with other students and potential employers.
“The annual ANAS conference is one of the most student-friendly regional scientific conferences in the country,” said the academy’s board president, Paula Rivadeneira, a professor in the Department of Soil, Water, & Environmental Science at the University of Arizona in Yuma.
“For many of our students, it is their first time traveling away from home and their first time public speaking,” she said. “All students are eligible for awards, which is amazing for their self-esteem and professional development.”
Famous ANAS scholarship recipients
Many scholarship recipients have gone on to have major impacts in Arizona and the world.
Among them is the late Milton Sommerfeld, the “Wizard of Ooze.” Sommerfeld conducted groundbreaking research involving algae as a professor at Arizona State University and served as co-director of the Arizona Center for Algae Technology and Innovation.
Much of his legacy lies in the inception of the Laboratory of Algae Research and Biotechnology, the first national test bed for outdoor algae cultivation. Sommerfeld was instrumental in developing the Algae Testbed Public Private Partnership, which researchers and companies use for third-party technology verification.
Another famous recipient is the late Peter Ffolliott, a professor emeritus of watershed management at the University of Arizona in the School of Natural Resources and the Environment.
Ffolliott’s work in watershed, forestry and sustainable natural resource management has impacted communities and natural resource managers worldwide.
Yuma: shining star in agriculture highlighted this year
At the annual ANAS conference, participants learn about research on topics such as desert soil enrichment, plants that thrive in extreme heat and the Zika virus.
This year, the event was held in Yuma for the first time, highlighting the city’s prosperous farming community.
Known as the Lettuce Capital of the World, Yuma produces 90 percent of all leafy vegetables grown in the nation from November through March. Its agribusiness sector pumps $3.2 billion into the local economy annually, according to the City of Yuma website.
The source of that impressive output lies in cutting-edge technology and rich soil, fed by sediments deposited by the Colorado River over millions of years.
“Our farmers are brilliantly smart. They understand everything about agriculture, from agronomy to advanced mathematics, to figure out how much fertilizer they need, what plant pathogens they are dealing with and how much of our scarce resources, like water, they need to use,” Rivadeneira said. “They really are very science-based, but not many people think of farming that way.”
Inviting university students from Mexico
This was the first time the academy extended an invitation to students in Mexico.
“With all of the negative news about our border, particularly here in Yuma County, I felt strongly about reaching out to my colleagues to the south to let them know that we value them as neighbors and as scientists,” Rivadeneira said.
In another first, local businesses paid all students’ conference costs in exchange for free advertising at the event, she said.
Energizing the academy’s work to promote science careers
Rivadeneira said she is working to create more public awareness and excitement about the academy as it nears its 65th anniversary in 2021.
“There is a renewed excitement about ANAS these days, because we are recruiting younger, more technologically-savvy board members and implementing new and innovative ideas to make our annual conference an even more exciting professional development and networking opportunity for students,” she said.
ANAS is an all-volunteer nonprofit organization. Its board of directors is comprised of professors, researchers and scientists from colleges, universities, organizations and agencies from Arizona and Nevada. Scholarships, grants, awards and events are all supported by membership dues and private donations.
To learn more about the academy, visit AZNVAS.org.