Best (Creative) Use of Natural Light 2012 | James Turrell | People & Places | Phoenix

Internationally acclaimed artist James Turrell isn't easy to find. He's often completing commissions for his sky spaces for private collectors, museums, and public establishments around the country. But Turrell, who's based in Arizona, recently spent a long time on the Arizona State University Campus in Tempe envisioning his latest project. Off of Rural Road, just behind the light-rail stop, is a (still-unnamed, as of press time) installation. Turrell enlisted local architect Will Bruder to help him build a public skyspace that allows viewers to see the sky through a well-lit frame. The concept is hard to describe, but if you step inside any of Turrell's structures and view his lit experiments, you'll understand his fascination with natural light (and you'll never again see the sky as just blue). He finds ways to play with light paths and the changing colors of the sky to create spaces including Knight Rise at Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art and his very mysterious (and not yet open to the public) project inside of Roden Crater.

This year, the Gladiator, Bull Flat, Elwood, and Sunflower fires burned more than 3,000 acres throughout Arizona, and no one was watching more closely than Dr. Stephen Pyne. Pyne's spent 15 years as a wildland firefighter and now is an expert on the history and management of fire, which he teaches at Arizona State University. He also recognizes the irony in his name and what he loves to do — chase, study, and write about fires. Pyne grew up in Phoenix. He went to Brophy Prep and left right after graduation to join the forest fire crew at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon; he says he returned for 15 seasons between studying at Stanford University and the University of Texas at Austin and completing MacArthur, Fulbright, and two National Endowment for the Humanities fellowships.

And after all the awards and interviews, book releases, and recognition, he still answers phone calls and e-mails from around the world to explain wildfire phenomena. This year, over one recent weekend, he shared the reasoning behind names of certain fires, which typically are determined by either the Forest Service, whose employees only name fires after nearby geographic places, or the National Park Service (where Pyne worked), whose employees name them after natural landmarks, popular culture, and particularly memorable girlfriends.

We aren't giving this guy the nod for best weather guy simply because he's got the most awesome name we've heard for a weatherman in the desert. Ken Waters has a cool title, too: warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Phoenix. He collects and interprets data from satellites and radar that allows him to predict when the next haboob is rolling into town. Waters studied weather for years before taking this job; he also served in the U.S. Air Force as a "weather officer." See a video of Waters in action.

We've been a state for a full 100 years now, which means it's high time we stop to take a look back at our roots. This fall and winter, the Arizona State Museum of Anthropology will host "Digging Arizona," an exhibit that will give a glimpse into the anthropological research and history of the state over the past 140 years, from Arizona's indigenous communities to the development of the state's major academic institutions. On the 50th anniversary of the ASU Department of Anthropology (now called the School of Human Evolution and Social Change) the exhibit will examine the impact of anthropology in the state and the contributions made by researchers to the Valley's cultural landscape. We dig!

Here in Phoenix, we may live with extreme heat and monsoon storms — but since pretty much forever, Arizonans have been able to cling to the fact that at least we don't live in a place that has earthquakes. That is, until now. A study conducted by ASU researchers at the School of Earth and Space Exploration using EarthScope data revealed nearly 1,000 quakes over a three-year period from April 2007 through November 2010. Thankfully, most of the seismic activity — 91 percent, in fact — consists of "microquakes," which register magnitudes of 2.0 or below and are not usually felt by humans. While several hundred earthquakes per year may seem high, lead researcher Jeffrey Lockridge points out that most of the state had never been seismically monitored before this, making his the first comprehensive earthquake catalog for the state. Pardon us if we feel a little shaky after that news.

Students at the University of Arizona's College of Medicine-Phoenix get hands-on training with state-of-the-art, computer-controlled mannequins. These mannequins are programmed to behave like real people and give students the chance to learn within a stressful scenario. IVs can be started, drugs administered, and vitals checked all without actually needing to stick a needle in a real person. All this training happens in simulation rooms designed to look and feel like an actual emergency room, operating theater, or labor and delivery room. Instructors observe the learning chaos through slightly creepy one-way glass.

The college itself is housed in a sparkling new building, sheathed in copper plating and located in downtown Phoenix between ASU's Mercado complex and the TGen building.What's more, the program at the Phoenix campus is being built from the ground up as a collaborative and interdisciplinary learning environment between students in the medical, physician assistant, and physical therapist schools — the hope being that students who are trained to think of themselves as part of a healthcare team will be less likely to develop massive House-size egos. The school recently received its preliminary accreditation, which means prospective students can apply directly to the downtown Phoenix campus now. There are only about 300 students on campus today, but they'll be ramping up to more than 1,200 students over the next four years. They'll also be adding additional programs such as a master's in public health.

Best Science Fiction (Or Is It?) About Phoenix

The 33rd Parallel

You don't have to be a believer, a Freemason, or even well-versed in ancient cultures to get swept up in the multi-layered history and archeo-astronomy surrounding the 33rd parallel north latitude. According to legend, Phoenix, which sits at a latitude of 33 degrees and 43 minutes, lies within the influence of the "dragon energy" of this imaginary line around the Earth. In this theory, a "researcher" named Gary A. David chronicles the numerous civilizations all over the world that sit along the parallel. From the Hohokams to the ancient city of Babylon, David believes the 33rd parallel cities demonstrate the mysterious and pervasive connections between Masonic lore, UFOs, and, yes, our own Valley of the Sun.

Within just one degree of the parallel and in the Phoenix metro area, David points to at least a half-dozen historical landmarks and happenings (including the ruins of the astronomical observatory called Casa Grande, the 1997 UFO sighting of the "Phoenix Lights," and the Cirlestone solstice and equinox sun-watch station in the Superstition Mountains) which he says show ancient peoples' attempts to channel the power of the "terrestrial chi." The number and location also hold significance for the Church of Scientology, which developed out of the Hubbard Association of Scientologists, founded right here in Phoenix in 1954. Recently, Scientologist poster boy Tom Cruise has drawn media attention for his "rule of 33" and apparent inclination to divorce his wives (three in total now) at age 33. Other theories point to the imbalanced distribution of wealth: Major financial centers such as London, New York, Chicago, and Switzerland all lie above the 33rd parallel, although the majority of the world's population lives below the line. One theorist notes the large number of death row prisons that sit on or near the "Global Mystery Circle" — including the Arizona Department of Corrections maximum-security prison in Florence. The number is significant in the Bible, some say it holds the key to John F. Kennedy's assassination, and, lucky us, we live in the middle of it all.

Within the walls of a building near the Scottsdale Air Park, Max More, CEO of ALCOR Life Extension Foundation, keeps a watchful eye over his "patients." Here, about 100 bodies or body parts (namely, heads) sit in liquid nitrogen and wait for the time when they're brought back to life.

ALCOR (which stands for Allopathic Cryogenic Rescue) specializes in cryonics, the science of preserving bodies at sub-zero temperatures for eventual reanimation, possibly centuries from now. The Scottsdale facility currently has 70 "neuros" (or heads, including that of baseball great Ted Williams) and 42 whole bodies on ice, ranging from 21 to 101 years old at the time of preservation. The process of preserving patients is relatively straightforward — More and his team collect a patient's body after he or she is legally pronounced dead, technicians remove body fluids and replace them with medical-grade antifreeze, and then they load the bodies, or heads, into large, stainless steel containers called dewers, where they'll remain for the foreseeable future. The cost of extended life isn't cheap — membership runs around $200,000 for full-body preservation and $80,000 for the preservation of a head — but More is a staunch believer. "I've always been interested in life extension," More says. "I don't believe in an afterlife, and if there is an afterlife, it's infinite, so why are we in such a rush to get there?" See a slideshow here.

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