ASU hosts Chinese Language Summer Camp for Arizona students

June 15, 2017

On June 4, thirty middle and high school students arrived at Arizona State University to kick off the ninth annual ASU Startalk Chinese Language Summer Camp.

The camp marks an opportunity for Arizona’s brightest students to come together and develop their Chinese-language skills and cultural understanding. From the day they set foot on the ASU campus, students are immersed in the Chinese language and culture. Students remain at the camp twenty-four hours a day, sleeping in campus dormitories, eating with camp staff and other students, and engaging in full slate of daily activities. Lasting for a total of fifteen days, the camp offers a unique learning environment for its participants who came from nineteen schools in ten cities around the state, Participants pose with the fruits of their labor after practicing calligraphy during Startalk 2017. Download Full Image

The core activity of the camp is Chinese-language instruction. Students spend several hours a day in Chinese classes taught by experienced area instructors and teaching assistants. Classes, which range from the beginner to the intermediate level, are organized around a yearly camp theme. This year’s theme, “Let’s Plan a Family Reunion Trip to China,” places emphasis on giving students the ability to plan travel in Chinese-speaking countries. Students create a travel planner and carry out a variety of in-class activities and presentations based on the camp theme. Students also have individualized tutoring sessions with teaching assistants in the evenings.

Classes are conducted almost entirely in Chinese, forcing students to develop their listening and speaking skills. While full language immersion can be difficult for language learners of any age, learning alongside other highly-motivated students helps create a positive and cooperative educational environment for camp participants, and students note the improvement they make as the camp progresses. At the end of the camp, students create a poster and a slide show presentation advertising a vacation to one of their favorite Chinese cities.

Language instruction, however, is only the beginning of camp activities. Afternoons include hands-on cultural activities with topics such as dance, calligraphy and Chinese knots. Students also participate in evening activities such as Chinese movies and games, and are introduced to a variety of foods through Chinese lunches, a dumpling-making activity and a "fear factor" food-tasting game.

Guest instructors also join the camp to conduct cultural activities; for instance, a disciple of a Shaolin master visited campus this week to give a martial arts class for students. Through these activities, students gain exposure to different aspects of Chinese culture, while learning and practicing specialized Chinese vocabulary related to each activity.

Participants and staff of Startalk 2017 take a break during the intensive fifteen-day program.

 One highlight of the week is an off-campus trip to Mekong Plaza in Mesa. After beginning the day with a dim sum brunch, students are sent on a scavenger hunt at the plaza supermarket. As with other camp activities, students must use their newly-acquired language skills to complete the activity, seeking out a list of Chinese foods and drinks from the variety of items on display at the market. The Mekong field trip gives students an opportunity to utilize their learning in the "real world."

On the last day of the camp, students celebrate and share their progress with friends, family and teachrs by putting on a performance. One aspect of the performance is the presentation of group projects on China’s major cities, done entirely by the students in Chinese. In addition, each does a song and dance number. 

According to program director Xia Zhang, the camp is an enjoyable and valuable experience for students.

“This program strives to provide students with the best learning experience by immersing them in an intensive yet fun environment,” Zhang said. “I hope that through this program, students not only learn a foreign language but also learn to better appreciate another culture.”

After the camp concludes, students will use what they’ve learned as a springboard for further Chinese-language study at their respective schools and colleges. Apart from building their language skills and cultural understanding, students gain exposure to university campus life and build friendships with classmates that last beyond the camp.

Startalk is a presidential initiative funded by the National Security Agency that seeks to expand and improve the instruction and learning of strategically important languages such as Chinese. For the ninth consecutive year, the School of International Letters and Cultures at ASU was selected by the Startalk Central to host the Chinese Language Summer Camp. The camp is largely funded by the U.S. government, and students pay only a nominal fee to attend. Arizona students can apply to attend the camp in the spring of each year.

More information on the camp can be found at or on the program Facebook page at

image title

Tracking the buildup to volcanic eruptions

June 15, 2017

ASU scientists develop technique using tiny crystal 'time capsules' to trace pulses of heat inside a volcano; may help better predict risk

Volcanos that erupt explosively are the most dangerous in the world. When they blow, they eject giant clouds of hot ash mixed with gases at temperatures up to 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit that engulf everything in their way. 

A new technique developed by Arizona State University scientists, working with colleagues in California, Oregon, Michigan, Singapore and New Zealand, lets scientists track the heating history of the molten rock, or magma, that feeds explosive volcanos. The technique uses tiny crystals of zircon that form within the magma. 

The picture coming from the new research, published June 16 in the journal Science, suggests that pulses of heat in the magma before a volcanic eruption both begin and end more abruptly than scientists previously thought. Moreover, the heat pulses last a shorter time than expected. 

The new findings will change how scientists view the internal workings of all volcanos, and it may help them gain a better idea when an active volcano poses the most risk.

The team gathered debris that erupted from New Zealand's Mount Tarawera about 700 years ago. That eruption, roughly five times the size of the 1980 Mount St. Helens eruption, brought to the surface magma that recorded the volcano's thermal history, including the heat pulses leading up to the eruption.

Tiny bits tell a tale

The magma contained zircon crystals, each less than a millimeter long, which were the focus for the ASU scientists on the team. 

"For the first time, we can tell how long ago a given zircon crystal formed — and we can also measure how many heat pulses it has experienced," said geochemist Christy Till, assistant professor in ASU's School of Earth and Space Exploration. She is a co-author of the Science paper. 

"In addition," Till explained, "we can tell how hot those pulses were and how fast the crystals cooled after each of them." This lets geo-scientists build a detailed heat timetable of a volcano's past activity, including what occurred long before any historical records.

"We were especially interested in what events lead up to an eruption," Till said. "To our surprise, we discovered that these zircon crystals are telling us that they mostly led a very sedate, boring life."

The zircon crystals from Mount Tarawera had formed at least tens of thousands of years ago inside the volcano, as molten rock cooled, Till said. "Over their lifespan, they experienced only a few brief heating events, whereas we had expected to see more prolonged pulses of heating."

The secret to the new findings is an advanced mass spectrometer at ASU, one of a small handful of similar instruments in the United States. 

"The key to tracing the thermal history of these crystals is our NanoSIMS instrument," said ASU Research Assistant Professor Maitrayee Bose, who will join the School of Earth and Space Exploration faculty in August. The "SIMS" in the name stands for Secondary Ion Mass Spectrometry, and the "nano" part underscores that it works on very small scales.

As Bose said, "In essence, the NanoSIMS is a highly complex microscope that gives precise information about the elemental and isotopic composition of samples no wider than the width of a human hair." This extreme resolution let the scientists trace successive heat pulses that left marks in the crystals like tree rings.

How does push become bang?

Although the discovery involves microscopic-sized crystals, the results will likely have a large effect on the field of volcanology.

"Our idea of how the magma reservoir below a volcano behaves has evolved a lot over the last 10 or 15 years," Till said.

"It's no longer seen as a big blob of magma that resides below a volcano," Till explained. "Instead, these magma bodies are the result of many smaller injections of very hot magma into a cooler mush of crystals and older magma that lies in the shallower parts of the volcano's interior."

Yet how these injections combine to make an eruption is a matter still to be understood, Till said. As scientists track how heat pulses cool off and magma turns mostly into solid crystals, a basic question keeps returning: What causes a volcano to erupt? 

"It's a process we don't really understand yet," Till said. "Maybe a very large pulse of magma triggers the volcano to blow, or it could be more complicated. Maybe there's another process in which the magma cools off, forms crystals — and out of the still-hot residue, bubbles of gas form which causes the eruption.

"We simply don't know yet."


Top photo: New Zealand's Mount Tarawera volcano has erupted many times. Here an outburst in 1886 broke open a dome of rhyolite rock built by an eruption about 700 years ago. This open rift let the scientists collect tiny zircon crystals from the earlier eruption's debris, visible as outcrops of white-toned rock. Photo by Kari Cooper

Robert Burnham

Science writer , School of Earth and Space Exploration