Sparked by film's impact

Grad moving to LA to pursue film dreams, work for ASU's Film Spark program

December 15, 2015

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of student profiles that are part of our December 2015 commencement coverage.

Ashley Peatross always knew she wanted to be involved in entertainment production — she just wasn’t sure where that path would ultimately lead.  Woman looking into the camera. Ashley Peatross is graduating from ASU with a film degree, but she's not leaving the university. Peatross is moving on to work with ASU's Film Spark program in Santa Monica. Download Full Image

The 27-year-old Cleveland transplant came to Arizona State University to study film after obtaining a degree in recording arts and technology from "Tri-C University" (Cuyahoga Community College) in her hometown.

“The reason I came here was not only because I saw the connection to Los Angeles with Hollywood Invades Tempe [a film-screening series at ASU] bringing industry professionals here, but also because this is just a great place to learn, to make mistakes, to get support from your professors. We have a lot of resources that we can use,” Peatross says.

During her time in the School of Film, Dance and Theatre, Peatross was quick to take advantage of these resources.

The first big opportunity for Peatross — who chased her bachelor's in film with a concentration in film and media production — came when she was selected to participate in ASU Film Spark’s Feature Film Internship Initiative for the movie “Car Dogs.”

“I said to myself, ‘I’m a film student — I need to get my hands involved,’ ” Peatross says. “With film, you can’t just teach it [in a classroom]. You have to be on set, you have to learn hands-on. So I thought, why not do it? They brought in industry professionals, they taught us so much, and I learned a tremendous amount about everything.”

Peatross worked as assistant to the line producer, and even took on a small acting role in the film, playing Octavia Spencer’s daughter during the four months of production. But her true passion is directing.

For her senior film capstone project, Peatross got to explore this role; she wrote, produced and directed a film titled “Embrace,” which told the story of a young tattoo artist having to choose between saving his deceased mother’s tattoo shop or pursuing his dream as a fine artist.

“With directing you get to work with actors, you get to see how the story unfolds, you get to communicate with your cast and crew … and when you finally get to say 'action,' and you get to see them actually perform your word and everybody’s behind you supporting you as you’re seeing your project come to life, it’s amazing,” Peatross says.

“Embrace” was selected to be screened at the Fall Film Capstone Showcase, where Peatross was subsequently awarded the F. Miguel Valenti Award for Ethical Filmmaking, which is presented to the project that substantially and significantly represents issues and themes related to ethical inquiries and/or represents complex and difficult subject matter in an ethically responsible and compelling manner.

The future looks bright for this grad. She already has a fellowship lined up post-graduation at the brand-new ASU Film Spark offices in Santa Monica, California. Film Spark is a career accelerator and industry innovation incubator responsible for programs like Hollywood Invades Tempe and the Feature Film Internship Initiative. In just five years, Film Spark has connected ASU students with five Oscar winners, six Oscar nominees, numerous blockbuster producers and many award-winning directors.

Peatross’ ultimate dream? To one day direct and produce a major feature from a major studio that is an action/thriller. She sees it as a specific opportunity for a woman in a genre dominated by men.

“We don’t see enough of a male’s point of view looking through a woman’s lens,” Peatross says. “It’s different and it’s going to be a lot of work. There are a lot of years I still need to get under my belt for that.”

But in the meantime, she’s content to keep working toward those goals, and committing to what she cares about most.

“I love how film, and other kinds of media, can influence you and change your outlook or just make you laugh or cry,” Peatross says. “It can be relaxing or it can be intense and you can learn. It can take you different places, and I like them all.”

Communications Program Coordinator, ASU Art Museum


Deep freeze puts the squeeze on dwarf planet Ceres

ASU scientists have explanation for fresh spots on ancient surface

December 15, 2015

When NASA's Dawn spacecraft approached the dwarf planet Ceres in March this year, scientists and the public alike were intrigued to see that Ceres has an dark, heavily cratered surface with dozens of bright white spots, large and small.

Even more puzzling, the bright spots lie in all kinds of terrain and appear variously as flat patches on the floors of craters and as an isolated peak, in at least one case.

According to Arizona State University's Marc Neveu and Steve Desch, what's emplacing the white material on the surface is what's happening far below. They recently published their model in Geophysical Research Letters to explain what's likely going on.

Ceres orbits the Sun in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, at nearly three times Earth's distance from the Sun. Discovered in 1801 and the largest object in the main belt, Ceres is nearly 600 miles wide.  

Even before Dawn, scientists knew something was up with Ceres. Earth-based observations and data from orbiting space telescopes had shown it has a surface with water-altered minerals and perhaps a tenuous cloud of water vapor around it.

Dawn's data added to the puzzle. The spots have a brightness that points to ice or salts, and as noted above, they appear as both flat and raised structures in many different types of landscape.

"That was a clue for us," said Neveu of ASU's School of Earth and Space Exploration, where he is a postdoctoral researcher working with Desch, a professor of astrophysics in the school.

"Previously published models suggested that Ceres had subsurface liquid water in the past and possibly until today. We also knew that cryovolcanism on Ceres was definitely an option because a present-day underground ocean would be refreezing and pressurizing liquid water down deep."

Cryovolcanism, or cold volcanism, is partly similar to the ordinary (hot) volcanism that occurs on Earth and other rocky planets. The difference is that in the cryo case, what erupts instead of molten rock is molten ice — liquid water or brine. Water ice would quickly sublimate into the vacuum of space at Ceres' surface, leaving behind salt deposits.

Neveu said the pre-Dawn reports of water vapor were tantalizing clues of surface water or young ice.

"When images released by the Dawn team revealed those bright spots, we immediately thought of a cryovolcanic origin," Neveu said.

image of dwarf planet Ceres as seen by NASA's Dawn spacecraft The dark surface of dwarf planet Ceres, seen here in an image from NASA's Dawn mission, shows fresh white spots. ASU researchers Marc Neveu and Steve Desch have an explanation how Ceres gets these puzzling features. Download Full Image

diagram showing ceres internal evolution

Four billion years ago, Ceres formed from a mixture of dust, rocky grains and ices. Today, it has a rocky core under a mantle of ice and rocky fragments. Between the two lie pockets of cold, briny liquid, the source of the white spots on the surface of Ceres. Artwork by Neveu and Desch

Neveu and Desch began with a reasonable assumption that Ceres formed from a mixture of ice and micro-particles of rock and dust. They hypothesized that the rocky particles released heat by radioactive decay. Impacts by meteorites were another likely factor. The heat would melt ice while allowing the denser rock fraction to settle toward the center of Ceres. It would also leave a surface coated with a residue of water-altered minerals.

Said Desch, "Our calculations of Ceres' evolution show that it is just warm enough deep inside Ceres for liquid water to exist." This water, he said, probably has other substances mixed in, making it a brine like seawater. "We calculate a temperature of 240 to 250 Kelvins, or about –27 degrees to –9 degrees Fahrenheit, just warm enough for chloride brines to persist and to be freezing today."

As the brine freezes, Neveu and Desch explained, it will expand (as ice does) and thus raise the pressure on any liquid or briny reservoirs inside Ceres.

"This should drive these fluids up to the surface, where they will erupt as cryovolcanic outflows," according to Neveu.

If cryovolcanism at various places across Ceres’ surface is driven by liquid freezing at depth, this activity may have increased as Ceres has cooled down, making it more likely today.

Cryovolcanism also has a side effect, said Desch: "The eruptions and outflows may contribute to the water vapor being produced at Ceres."

Added Neveu: “Cryovolcanism coming from deep inside Ceres is breathing new activity onto its ancient surface.”

The School of Earth and Space Exploration is a unit in ASU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Robert Burnham

Science writer, School of Earth and Space Exploration