In 1912 when Arizona became a state, the University of Arizona was already two decades old.
Two early achievements shaped the future – building Steward Observatory, the birthplace of UA astronomy, and founding the Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research to explore the new science of dendrochronology.
The UA launched its modern high-tech trajectory 50 years ago when it established the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory. This led to participation in nearly every NASA mission ever since and far more research funding than any UA program.
UA dove full force into research across the sciences in the 1970s under the presidency of John P. Schaefer, who was then a mere 36 years old.
The College of Optical Sciences, the Arizona Cancer Center, the Center for Creative Photography and the Multiple Mirror Telescope on Mount Hopkins all
stemmed directly from Schaefer’s burning ambition to elevate Arizona to the ranks of University of Illinois, where he earned his doctorate in chemistry, Caltech, where he did post-doc work and UC Berkeley, where he taught chemistry before coming to Arizona.
“I knew what a really good university should be like,” Schaefer said. “I had an attitude we could compete with the best of them.”
Just as important was Schaefer’s initiative to add Arizona sports to what became the Pacific-10 Conference, now the Pac-12.
“I wanted Arizona to be associated with the Stanfords and Berkeleys of the world,” Schaefer said. “I told faculty, ‘You have a hunting license to go out in the world and get the best faculty.’”
Phenomenal innovations have emerged from UA laboratories over the past century. Yet the UA is better known for its high-tech accomplishments nationally and internationally than here at home.
“It takes a long time to build a strong reputation,” Schaefer said. “Arizona is well on its way.”
The UA’s biggest mark stretches beyond the earth’s boundaries, whether designing UA instruments aboard NASA planetary missions or supplying optics technologies for major telescopes that scan the universe. The UA gave the world the first close-up views of the moon and Mars, was the first public university to manage a NASA mission and is now leading the OSIRIS-REx mission to an asteroid – the largest research project ever undertaken at the university.
Here on earth, UA research has revealed massive climate and environmental shifts over millennia that are providing insights into global warming today. The first artificial heart to gain U.S. Food & Drug Administration approval stemmed from UA research. The field of management information systems was pioneered at the UA. Soft, strong Pima cotton was developed here, setting the new industry standard for top-quality cotton production.
As Arizona celebrates 100 years of state-hood, its flagship university is a hub of science and technology innovation befitting a top-20 research university, particularly in terms of attracting federal research grants. The next century’s breakthroughs are incubating – right now – in UA laboratories and think tanks.