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Endowment allows important research to continue at Biosphere 2

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Courtesy John Adams

A view of Biosphere 2 located in Oracle, Arizona. UA President Dr. Robert Robbins called Biosphere 2 “a one-of-a-kind facility where our researchers are answering questions about the interconnectedness of food, water and energy security.” 

Biosphere 2 will continue to operate as one of the world’s most diverse controlled ecological systems thanks in part to a $30 million endowment from its co-founder. 

Philanthropist Edward P. Bass, who financed the Biosphere's creation in 1987, gave the gift to the University of Arizona to help with site operating costs. The gift gives researchers and visitors future opportunities to explore Biosphere 2. 

“It’s a very expensive instrument to run," Joaquin Ruiz, the director of Biosphere 2, said. "You can think about it as an enormous laboratory, and in order for us to be able to run, grants and contracts through the National Science Foundation and other entities that fund Research I [are necessary].”

Ruiz said the endowment will be used to cover part of the operations costs, which total around $6 million per year. Biosphere 2 staff will then rely on the 100,000 visitors to its facility to help with other costs.

About 37 miles lie between the UA campus and Biosphere 2, located in Oracle, which the UA has owned since 2011. The university first began its research in the building in 2007, a move that saved the facility from potential demolition.

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In an email to the UA community, UA President Dr. Robert Robbins called Biosphere 2 “a one-of-a-kind facility where our researchers are answering questions about the interconnectedness of food, water and energy security.”

Ruiz said continued research is important due to the change in climate around the globe. “The issue of global climate change is not an issue of belief, it’s an issue of science, and if you look at the scientists, the great consensus in science is that global climate change is a reality. The data is strong.” 

According to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, “Multiple studies published in peer-reviewed scientific journals (http://climate.nasa.gov/scientific-consensus/#footnote_1) show that 97 percent or more of actively publishing climate scientists agree: Climate-warming trends over the past century are extremely likely due to human activities.”

The inside of Biosphere 2 in the rainforest biome. Co-founder and philanthropist Edward P. Bass granted $30 million toward continuing research at the world renowned facility.

Multiple living systems are studied and maintained by UA researchers and scientists, which include a rain forest, ocean and desert. 

The main mission at Biosphere 2 is to investigate how ecosystems can survive in a changing world. “It is a fact that the corrals are dying all over the world,” Ruiz said, “it is an issue that the rain forests are taking a beating, and those are the kinds of research questions that we can address at the Biosphere.”

Biosphere 2 staff host students of all ages to learn about the importance of STEM careers being used at the facility. 

Kevin Bonine, Biosphere 2 director of outreach and education, said the facility will have a continued opportunity to inspire kids thanks to the endowment gift.  

“It gives us some clarity about what the next decade is going to look like,” Bonine said. “Because it’s an endowment, we get to use a set percentage of the proceeds every year, and that will help us meet our budget objectives.”

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One of those objectives is to create a place where more than 10,000 K-12 students visit Biosphere 2 annually, according to the Biosphere 2 website. “The important thing also, is it's the opportunity to excite kids and to get them to do better in science, to care about math and to stick with those skills,” Bonine said.

According to Bonine, 1,000 UA Honors College freshmen will also be taking tours this semester to observe how UA researchers are studying ecological systems. 

“If we can continue to inspire people to think big and to solve big problems and come up with innovative solutions that protect the planet and help the people that live on it, I think we’ll all be better off,” Bonine said.

Everyone is encouraged to come to visit the facility.

“There is no building like this anywhere in the world," Ruiz said. "The beauty of the structure, the amazing engineering that went behind building it and the experiments that are going on there now will amaze anyone who shows up at the door.”


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