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Students inspire ASU professor to explore U.S.-Mexico soccer rivalry.
June 15, 2017

Experts explore the cultural, political importance of teams, athletic events

When Jeff Kassing, an Arizona State University professor of communicationsin the New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, asked students in his course on the cultural significance of soccer to select and profile a historic rivalry, he expected them to choose the likes of Barça vs. Real Madrid, Boca Juniors vs. River Plate or Argentina vs. Brazil — but instead many opted for U.S. vs. Mexico. 

“So it was through the eyes of my students that I came to understand the richness and significance of this rivalry and how it presented Mexican-Americans with an opportunity to engage their dual identities,” Kassing told an audience attending an ASU event in Mexico City three days before Sunday’s U.S.-Mexico World Cup qualifying match (spoiler alert in case you have the game on your DVR: it ended in a 1-1 tie).

Perspectives on the U.S.-Mexico Soccer Rivalry: Passion and Politics in Red, White, Blue and Green

Inspired by his students, Kassing then assembled journalists and scholars from both sides of the border to explore this unique rivalry, and the larger relationship it represents, in a forthcoming book he co-edited, “Perspectives on the U.S.-Mexico Soccer Rivalry: Passion and Politics in Red, White, Blue and Green.”

The ASU event “Do Sports Unite or Divide Us?” — held in the Condesa neighborhood’s Impact Hub co-working space — also featured ASU sports historian Victoria Jackson and Mexican journalists Irma Cuevas and Carlos Bravo Regidor.

Bravo, a political columnist who directs the journalism program at Mexico’s prestigious Centro de Investigación y Docencias Económicas (CIDE), said that sports fandom can often be an important source of identity for communities.

“I am a third-generation Barcelona fan, with Catalan ancestors, and that team’s slogan of ‘Mes que un club’ [‘More than a club’] says it all in terms of the cultural and political importance of the team,” Bravo said.

“I think for many of us, you can’t speak of choosing your teams. They choose you.” 

He added that just like politics during the Franco dictatorship made the Barcelona-Real Madrid rivalry all the more consequential, the general perception that President Donald Trump is hostile toward Mexico has added to the passions and intensity surrounding the U.S.-Mexico rivalry for North American soccer supremacy.

Jackson told the audience that sports can be used to lure students into studying and appreciating history. 

“Most students who enroll in my courses are not history majors or even enthusiasts; they’re often sports fans who need a humanities credit,” Jackson said. “I use sport as a means to uncover the broader story of time and place. We place sport in its social, cultural, economic, and political context, and explore how a sporting moment both reflects and influences the society in which it exists. Sure enough, I end up blowing a lot of minds and gaining new humanities converts. Seeing students reach that critical moment of discovery of their love of history is an experience that will never get old for me.”

In addition to getting people to appreciate history, sports can inspire social cohesion and pride in place. Cuevas, who hosts a public-radio sports broadcast across Mexico, noted that at a time when people are disenchanted with politics, sports can help fill the void. 

“Rooting for the national team or our Olympians and sharing in their victories is a way for us to feel a positive form of solidarity and nationalism,” she said. 

Sports panel in Mexico City

Jeff Kassing, Arizona State University professor of communications, speaks during the ASU-hosted panel “Do Sports Unite or Divide Us?” June 8 in Mexico City. The other panelists were (from left): Irma Cuevas, Mexican sports journalist; Carlos Bravo Regidor, political columnist and journalism program director at Mexico’s Centro de Investigación y Docencias Económicas think tank; Andrés Martínez, panel moderator and special adviser to ASU President Michael Crow; and Victoria Jackson, ASU lecturer and sports historian.


Indeed, Bravo cautioned, it’s this kind of feeling that governments often seek to exploit through sporting events that can become vehicles for propaganda. Vladimir Putin, for instance, may be a big sports fan, but his interest in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi and next year’s Russian World Cup transcends sport.

“It’s about how the rest of the world perceives your country, and how your countrymen rally around the flag,” Bravo said.

Jackson pointed out that next year is the 50th anniversary of the Mexico City Olympics, which occurred as the world was convulsed by revolutionary inter-generational fervor. The Olympic Games are mostly remembered in the U.S. for the black power salute of African-American track medalists John Carlos and Tommie Smith, while in Mexico the event is remembered for the massacre of student protesters that preceded it. The authoritarian Mexican government at the time was determined to make a good impression on the world as an Olympic host and sought to quash all dissent before the arrival of foreign journalists, athletes and fans.

“My students have no idea of this horrible massacre in Mexico, but in my course I try to convey to them that it was connected to the same questioning of authority and demands for democracy that were shaking much of the world,” Jackson said.

Back on the current U.S.-Mexico soccer rivalry, Kassing observed that although all good heated rivalries contain a measure of antagonism, there’s also a certain bonding that develops over time between rivals.

“And if there is any confusion about us being in this together in North America, the 2026 World Cup should make a powerful statement,” Kassing said, as it is expected to be jointly awarded to the U.S., Mexico and Canada.

Cuevas agreed that sports can bring our countries together and listed a number of recent efforts by U.S. sports leagues to reach out to Mexican fans, including the two regular-season NBA games the Phoenix Suns played in Mexico City last January.

“I should also note that Mexico has a player in the doubles final of the prestigious Roland Garros tennis tournament this weekend, which is a big deal,” Cuevas said. “And his partner is an American.”

The engaged audience continued the conversation over refreshments after the panel discussion, and many stayed on to watch that evening’s Mexico-Honduras World Cup qualifier.

The panel was moderated by Andrés Martínez, a special adviser to ASU President Michael Crow and a professor of practice at the Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, who is curating a series of such ASU conversations in Mexico City aimed at increasing awareness of the university and its strengths among Mexican media and other influencers. The events also aim to engage with ASU alumni in Mexico City.

“I’m eager to create a steady flow of ASU faculty coming south, sharing their research insights with counterparts in Mexico, and giving Mexicans a taste of what makes ours such an innovative university,” Martinez said. “Thanks to the work of my colleague Rafael Rangel Sostmann and many others, ASU is well-known and admired among university leaders in Mexico, and now we’re also trying to expand this reputation and awareness to the broader public.”


Andrés Martínez contributed to this report. Top photo by Steve Evans (originally posted to Flickr as Inside Soccer City) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

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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