ESPN has been on a stadium tour of sorts. We've been looking for the little known and way cool stories about college football stadiums from Alabama to Tennessee to California, and now Arizona.
On any game day at Arizona Stadium, thousands of fans watch the action on the field. Beneath the stands, however, scientists are doing research to be able to look deep into space and far back into history.
That work all began with a man from Flagstaff. A.E. Douglass was a renowned scientist who helped create the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff before moving to Tuscon. When he arrived at the university, he began to build an observatory there, too. After launching the Steward Observatory, he shifted his focus to the field of dendrochronology -- the study of tree rings to gauge climate history -- and developed a lab on campus for that, too, the first of its kind in the nation.
His work in both fields eventually led to the opening of the facilities under the football stadium. "So one guy that came out of Flagstaff spawned what's happened on the left and right side of the stadium -- at least forged the foundation for them," said Jeffrey Kingsley, the associate director of Steward Observatory.
The tree ring lab no longer operates out of the stadium, but the Caras Mirror Laboratory has become a fixture, building some of the world's largest mirrors used in telescopes like the ones at Steward Observatory. The mirror lab was the brainchild of Arizona professor Dr. Roger Angel, who had an idea to build a spin-cast honeycomb mirror, which he did in his wife's oven. From there, he needed more space to build bigger and bigger mirrors, and the university accommodated him with the facility under the stadium.
"They looked under the east side of the stadium and said, 'We can build a spot for you,'" Kingsley said. "It's progressively grown from there, expanding four or five times since his initial facility."
Today, the Caras Mirror Lab builds large, lightweight mirrors that have been used in the Vatican telescope at Mt. Graham, the Smithsonian and the Magellan Telescope.