Asteroids, athletics and 'America the Beautiful': The top stories of 2023
From delivering a historic asteroid sample to setting a university record in Fulbright Scholars, the University of Arizona celebrated several newsmaking events in 2023.

By Nick Prevenas, University Communications
Dec. 18, 2023

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Dante Lauretta
Dante Lauretta, UArizona Regents Professor and OSIRIS-REx principal investigator, victoriously returns from the field where he and other scientists sampled the immediate environment around the sample return capsule before towing it away by helicopter. Chris Richards/University Communications

University of Arizona research, scholarship and expertise made headlines around the world once again in 2023.

Whether it was the long-awaited return of the sample from asteroid Bennu or developing a new variety of natural rubber from a sustainable source or showcasing the photography of one of Tucson's most famous residents, UArizona's excellence in a variety of disciplines was on full display this past year.

Here is a selection of the university's top stories of 2023.

A gift from space: UArizona-led OSIRIS-REx mission delivers largest-ever asteroid sample to Earth: Sept. 24

After years of anticipation and hard work by the mission team, the UArizona-led NASA OSIRIS-REx mission successfully landed on Sept. 24 with a capsule containing rocks and dust from the asteroid Bennu in the Utah desert. "It was like seeing an old friend that you hadn't seen for a long time," said Dante Lauretta, Regents Professor and principal investigator for OSIRIS-REx during a post-landing press conference hosted by NASA. "I did want to give it a hug." NASA extended the mission so that the spacecraft can be used to study another near-Earth asteroid named Apophis. (The New York Times, The Associated Press, NPR)

President Robbins hosts The Future of College Athletics summit in Washington, D.C.: June 13

Recognizing that a significant shift is underway in college sports, UArizona President Robert C. Robbins hosted a national summit to seek diverse perspectives and identify potential solutions to some of the complex challenges facing college athletics. The Future of College Athletics summit, held June 7 and 8 at the UArizona Center for Collaboration and Outreach in Washington, D.C., launched a new UArizona program called AZDC, which draws upon the university's intellectual resources to host thought-provoking events that address the pressing issues of today and tomorrow. (USA Today, Sports Illustrated, ESPN’s Paul Finebaum)

Researcher will showcase Native American sign language in Super Bowl performance: Feb. 6

Colin Denny, a research assistant in the UArizona College of Education, performed a sign language interpretation of the song "America the Beautiful" during the Super Bowl pregame show. The performance, he said, was an opportunity to show millions of people that North American Indian Sign Language, despite being centuries old, is still here. (The Washington Post, Yahoo!, CBS News)

UArizona named No. 1 producer of Fulbright Scholars: Feb. 10

UArizona has been ranked the nation's top producer of Fulbright Scholars, setting a new university record for the number of faculty and researchers to receive Fulbright U.S. Scholar awards. A total of 17 faculty members and researchers received Fulbrights in 2022-2023, besting the university's previous record of 11, set in 2020-2021. That number placed the university at No. 1 nationally, tied with Penn State. (The Chronicle of Higher Education, Forbes, University Business Magazine)

Nearby planetary system seen in breathtaking detail: May 8

A team led by UArizona astronomers used NASA's James Webb Space Telescope to image the warm dust around a nearby young star, Fomalhaut, to study the first asteroid belt ever seen outside of our solar system in infrared light. The image shows nested concentric rings of dust, some of which had never been seen before. These belts most likely are carved by the gravitational forces produced by embedded, unseen planets. (The New York Times, BBC, CNN)

Center for Creative Photography events will celebrate 'The Linda McCartney Retrospective': Feb. 16

The UArizona Center for Creative Photography hosted the North American premiere of the "The Linda McCartney Retrospective" exhibit, which appeared at the center from Feb. 25 to Aug. 5. The collection features photos of music icons, including The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix and Aretha Franklin, as well as images of McCartney's domestic life in London and Tucson, giving viewers a look at some of her most intimate relationships. (The Washington Post, Hyperallergic, PaulMcCartney.com)

UArizona leaders highlight campus safety and mental health resources: Aug. 25

As fall semester classes began, UArizona leaders shared resources available to students and employees to stay safe on campus and address their mental health-related challenges. Changes included the formation of a Safety Advisory Commission, made up of university and Tucson community members, and the activation of the university's Incident Command System, which will guide the process to implement recommendations laid out in a report by the independent PAX Group to make campus safer. (Arizona Daily Star, AZPM, KOLD)

How cities are battling extreme heat, and why record-breaking temps don't tell the whole story: July 26

Ladd Keith, a UArizona expert on heat policy and governance, explained how this year's heat wave extended well beyond Phoenix, how cities are addressing extreme heat and why record-breaking temperatures are an incomplete benchmark for understanding the effects of scorching heat. (The Associated Press, CNN, The Hill)

Economic impact of UArizona space sciences rivals that of Super Bowl: Feb. 8

Space may be the final frontier, but it is also the subject of some of UArizona's most financially impactful research. The university's astronomy and space sciences operations generate as much money for the local economy every year as a Super Bowl, according to an economic impact report delivered by Rounds Consulting Group. (AZ Big Media, KJZZ, AZPM)

UArizona engineers lead $70M project to turn desert shrub into rubber: May 8

UArizona researchers are teaming up with Bridgestone Americas Inc. to develop a new variety of natural rubber from a source that is more sustainable and can be grown in the forbidding conditions of the arid Southwest. Kim Ogden, head of the Department of Chemical and Environmental Engineering, is principal investigator on a $70 million, five-year project focused on growing and processing guayule (pronounced why-OO-lee), a hardy, perennial shrub that could be an alternative source of natural rubber. (Tire Business, AZPM, Arizona Daily Star)

Here are some additional stories that generated significant interest:

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