One of the benefits of living in a university town is that, on any given week, you can cobble together a pretty good education for free.

Last week I missed two talks at Borderlands Brewery on images of Mars and forestry in Guatemala, but managed to learn about life, love, lions, augmented reality and anthropology.


Tucson science lovers packed Centennial Hall for the third in a series of seven Monday night lectures on the topic “Life In the Universe.”

Biologist Brian Enquist explained how he applies complex math to the puzzles of evolution, without requiring you to understand a single equation:

Mammals get 1 billion heartbeats per lifetime, give or take, regardless of their size or normal life span.

Organisms use the same amount of energy, proportionally, regardless of size.

Ancient algae, your lungs, leaves and the branches of trees share similar patterns. The repeating patterns called fractals are ubiquitous in nature.

Every living cell has similar mechanisms, like the citric acid cycle that uses oxygen to convert fuel into energy and carbon dioxide, or — spun backward — does the reverse.

There are rules and principles that govern evolution, said Enquist, a UA professor of ecology and evolutionary biology.

Enquist proposed an either/or choice to the audience in his title: “Life on Earth: By Chance or by Law?”

Did the path of evolution arise from “multiple events that are essentially unpredictable?” he asked, or “is life organized by a set of general rules and principles?”

It’s pretty much both, he said. Evolution followed the rules, interrupted by chance historical happenings — those five mass extinctions, for example.


The city lights are a gorgeous sight from Tumamoc Hill after sunset — if you don’t think too much about the impact of that horizon-spanning glow on the natural habitat.

Melanie Culver thinks about those impacts — and talked about how human habitation affects the ability of mountain lions to range freely and keep their genes flowing.

Culver is a conservation geneticist and assistant professor in the University of Arizona School of Natural Resources and the Environment.

She spoke Tuesday as part of the Science Cafe series of the UA’s College of Science in the historic library midway up Tumamoc Hill, which is a popular run/walk route.

Two studies, which used remote cameras and DNA analysis of cat scat, indicate that puma populations are genetically isolated by major highways. This could be especially true in the Tucson Mountains range, which is encircled by I-10 and the Central Arizona Project canal, though the numbers there are so low that it difficult to draw any conclusions.

The talk was a good excuse for a little exercise and a convenient cop-out for not completing the mile-and-a-half trek, which gains 730 feet in elevation.

The library is a charming, slightly disheveled building, built of lava rock in 1903 as the headquarters of the Carnegie Desert Laboratory.

In places, the building’s original fir floors have been covered over with linoleum squares, but not in the library itself, which also features massive wooden doors with transom windows.

A nice, intimate setting for learning.


This job is exhausting, but somebody has to do it.

I’m sipping a Czech Pilsener at the Playground Bar & Lounge, while watching an enthusiastic group of students “show and tell” about their summer tour of the Jazz Age haunts of African-American expatriate intellectuals in Paris.

The technology that UA professor Bryan Carter employs in his classes might not be considered cutting-edge over at Computer Sciences or Optical Sciences, but it’s a novel application in the mostly analog world of the College of Humanities.

Carter and his students on Wednesday night brought the technology to a downtown bar, where patrons were given a taste of an augmented-reality tour of Paris in the Jazz Age, created by Carter’s study-abroad class last summer.

“Walking the Spirit: Augmenting the Paris Experience” was part of the UA Confluencenter’s “Show and Tell” series.

Carter, an assistant professor in the Africana Studies Department at the UA, took a diverse group of 15 students to Paris, where they toured the book stores, cabarets and cafes frequented by the African-American writers, artists, musicians and performers who expatriated to France after World War I.

The students geo-tagged the images they took of the historic sites and then layered them with photos and video reports of contemporary Paris life and staged re-enactments of historical and imagined happenings.

A technical glitch — the lack of a lightning-to-VGA cord — prevented the class from showing its final product on the multiple big screens above the bar at the Playground.

That created an opportunity for the students to go table-to-table, showing off the digital product on the devices they used to create it — their individual mobile phones and tablets.


Diane Austin, director of the UA’s School of Anthropology, kicked off an exhibit on the school’s first 100 years at the Special Collections Library, with a talk about her famous predecessors and the legacy of their work.

The Anthropology school, which came into being when Byron Cummings arrived to be the first director of the Arizona State Museum, gave birth to 11 other campus units.

The most famous example is the Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research, but Anthropology also begat the radiocarbon lab, the UA Press and even the College of Nursing.

The exhibit, “Celebrating Excellence: 100 Years of UA Anthropology,” includes Cummings’ hand-written résumé along with a variety of photos, documents, pamphlets, articles and books. It runs through July 30.


“It’s easy to be a relationship scientist on Valentine’s Day,” said psychologist David Sbarra.

On other days, he lamented, nobody wants to hear it.

Hard to believe that, especially when Sbarra’s witty accounts of research on love and relationships are accompanied by the music of pianist Paula Fan and the voices of baritone Seth Kershisnik and mezzo Mackenzie Romriell.

It was part of a monthly series of “Creative Collaborations” staged by Fan, a Regents Professor Emerita, for the UA’s Confluencenter Center for Creative Inquiry.

The morning performance, at the UA’s book-

store, breezed through the stages of love: attraction; courtship or falling in love; maintaining, evolving and devolving.

Sbarra, whose own research centers on the physiological effects of loss and separation, ended on a somewhat bright note.

Yes, you fall apart when you lose someone to death, divorce or separation of any sort. Yes, you are at increased risk of death and disease.

But, if you weather the trials and “pull yourself back together,” the risks recede and you might just live a long, healthy life.

Contact reporter Tom Beal at or 573-4158.