Notebook Magazine

Notebook - 2019

Alumni Magazine for the College of Science

Notebook magazine presents the students, alumni, faculty and supporters who make up the College of Science.

  • Dean's Corner:
    Message from Dean Henry S. White.
  • Cameron Owen - Churchill Scholar:
    One of only 15 students nationally to receive the award and the fourth consecutive Churchill Scholar from the University of Utah.
  • Lynn Miller - Alumni Spotlight:
    College of Science Alumni Lynn C. Miller, BS, 1963 in Mathematics.
  • Homecoming 2019:
    Make your travel plans now for Homecoming 2019.
  • The New Face of Science:
    See the changes that define us.
  • Henry S. White:
    A recap of Henry's journey as Dean of the College of Science.
  • Joel Harris - Hunnicutt Endowment:
    Thank you to Michael and Sally Hunnicutt for establishing the Harris Endowed Graduate Scholarship in honor of Professor Joel Harris.
  • Mark Nielsen - Anatomy Fund:
    Biology alumni paying it forward.
  • Convocation 2019:
    We are proud to recognize our exceptional graduating class for 2019 and our convocation speakers Dr. Monica Gandhi BS’91 and Hollie Morales BS‘19.

 

Anna Vickery

“Had I asked myself in high school if I’d end up working with birds for so long — and working towards a Ph.D. for it — I never saw that coming.

It started when I was seven and my mom worked at the Tracy Aviary doing ticket sales and brought my sister and me. We’d run around there all day. We knew where all the duck nests were, and we’d help clean out the emu and turkey vulture enclosures. Eventually, my mom got into bird rehab. Within a couple of years, our house turned into a full-on bird house — in the summers, we’d have anywhere from 20 up a few hundred injured or orphaned birds.

That’s when I started raising pigeons. I’m not sure originally why I was so drawn to them, maybe it was their cute squeaks or their yellow baby down, but that was always my favorite bird. I raised my first pigeon in third grade, and I liked the responsibility of taking care of them. Raising my pet birds and watching the wild ones that were in rehab was really important for me.

I’m a first-generation college student, and college was never really talked about in my family. But in high school, I was lucky to have an awesome biotech teacher who helped me get internships in labs at the U. When I applied here, I wanted to get back into a lab right away. I was introduced to Mike Shapiro and joined his lab, and the first thing I did was catalogue the hundreds of different breeds and their traits. The diversity was striking — there are pigeon breeds with head crests, feathered feet, even different flying behaviors! I’d grown up going to dog shows, cat shows and horse races. But I’d never been to a pigeon show. Most people don’t know how diverse pigeons really are. Now, I get to research the genetic basis for the incredible variation in this species and hope that what we learn can inform us about the molecular basis of similar traits in other species.”

— Anna Vickrey, research assistant and doctoral candidate, School of Biological Sciences, Pigeon Genetics Lab

The Gandhis, BS’86, 91, 92

Last December, when the three Gandhi children, Rajesh BS’86, Monica BS’91 and Leena BS’92 returned home to Salt Lake City—two from one coast, and one from the other—they celebrated their parents fifty-fifth wedding anniversary. As alumni, all three, from the School of Biological Sciences, they must have had a lot to reflect on.

Their father, Om, now aged 84, had brought his young family to the U in 1967 during the “summer of love” from their native India when Rajesh “Tim,” the only child at the time, was three years old. A Professor of Electrical Engineering at the U for over 50 years (and former department chair) Om has since retired. Says Rajesh, “We essentially grew up in the Merrill Engineering Building.” He and his sisters remember department picnics and other college events. “We were especially impressed as children with all of the colored chalk they had in the classrooms,” remembers Rajesh. Both Om and the Gandhi children’s mother (Santosh) had to leave home at a young age to pursue further education. After Om earned his PhD at the University of Michigan in the late 50s, he returned to the subcontinent where he taught physics for a time in a small town in India before accepting an opportunity to return to the U.S. He chose the U.

Once the children were older, Mrs. Gandhi returned to school herself, and even took classes from her husband. Far from showing her favoritism, he insisted on only answering her questions during office hours! She eventually finished her degree in computer programming before taking a position at the Salt Lake branch of 3M.

It was an educated family, for sure, and all in the sciences. It was also a family inextricably tied to the University of Utah. All three of the Gandhi children attended the U because it was local, “a function of my parents’ having to leave home early [in their studies] in post-partition India,” says Monica who attended Harvard for her MD and who is currently Professor of Medicine and Associate Chief of the Division of HIV, Infectious Disease, and Global Medicine at UCSF. She also serves as Medical Director of the Ward 86 HIV Clinic at San Francisco General Hospital, one of the oldest HIV clinics in the country. All three siblings remember the excitement of coming to the U after going to public schools in the 1970s/80s, recalling how it broadened their horizons from the more limited experiences they had growing up.

“We were all pretty much wedded to the U. Part of our ethos growing up” in Utah, continues Monica. Attending the U was liberating, they say, mind-opening with a bit of counter-culture at play after going through the public school system in Salt Lake. And certainly it was formative.

“I was moved to enter HIV care,” says Monica, “after growing up in a place where I saw friends coming out as gay in high school struggle with stigma. I also became interested in infectious diseases, which differentially affect the poor, after going to India several times as a child to visit grandparents and witnessing the stark contrast between rich and poor. This set me on the path to medical school.

” Beginning her sophomore year Monica worked on chemotaxis in E.coli with her undergraduate advisor Dr. John (“Sandy”) Parkinson in his lab. She will be returning to Utah as this year’s convocation speaker in May. She describes the Bay Area where she currently lives as a place “that couldn’t be more different than Utah.” Although San Francisco is generally a place where gay and transgender individuals have sought refuge from more conservative places throughout the U.S., “stigma towards people living with HIV still exists and must constantly be combatted,” she says.

Before Monica enrolled in the U, Rajesh, five years older, worked in Dr. Baldomero “Toto” Olivera’s lab, the celebrated faculty researcher whose subject model is poisonous cone snails. “Toto was an incredible mentor to me and to countless others,” says Rajesh. “He taught me the transformative power of science and set me on the road to a career in biology and medicine. I would not be where I am without his encouragement and influence.”

Rajesh’s U experience was as much about philosophy and history as biology. Both he and Leena remember fondly the five-term Intellectual Traditions of the West colloquia with professors like the beloved theologian and classicist Dr. Sterling McMurrin. “At the U, I experienced a whole new world from my time in public schools,” says Rajesh. “It was a place packed with people of diverse experiences, interests and perspectives. It was a vibrant and exciting place to be.”

Around the time Rajesh entered medical school, also at Harvard, he recalls with Monica, the state of affairs of that singular time in American medical history. “HIV was just ramping up. It was a devastating disease and one that was being defined in front of our eyes.” Between 1988–90, the medical sector was furiously attempting to figure out how the disease manifested itself. Treatments were very poor. He especially admires Kristen Ries, MD, MCAP who for a time was head of the clinic at the U serving HIV/AIDS patients. The difference, he says, between the attitude toward the sick in small towns compared to, again, a place like San Francisco at this time was “very moving to me,” he says. Currently, he practices medicine in Boston where he is a specialist in infectious disease and Medical Director of the HIV Clinic at Massachusetts General Hospital and Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. He is also actively involved in HIV clinical research, working on discovering a cure for HIV—the disease that defined his generation.

While all three Gandhis ended up as medical doctors, Leena, who has focused on oncology for the past 10-plus years, currently leads early drug development at Lilly Pharma. Leena earned her PhD at the University of California Berkeley in DNA replication studies before attending New York University for medical school, followed by her residency at Mass General and a fellowship at Harvard Medical School, both in Boston. She characterizes her experience at the U as providing “a genuine ‘college experience’. [The School of Biological Sciences] …was all about scientific inquiry,” she says. “I learned something every day from [then] junior faculty like Dr. Mary Bekerhle [now head of the Huntsman Cancer Institute].” Leena also worked in Ted and Tucker Gurney’s lab in cell biology.

“The spirit of scientific inquiry was everywhere,” she continues, “and it really motivated me to go on for a PhD in the science of medicine and the early development of drugs… At the U, I learned that science drives how we interact at the macro level. It was very grounding.” With the benefits of the novel field of immune-oncology, Leena still has patients who have been free of cancer for more than ten years. But, of course, there is still work to be done. “At Lilly I’m able to do work at a much larger scale and with a much broader population.”

The Gandhi Effect found in Rajesh, Monica and Leena Gandhi— from “sea to shining sea”—is indeed a rarity, what one might call “A Triple Threat” that the School is proud to embrace.

Our DNA Magazine

Ole Jensen, BS’72

On the surface, Ole Jensen’s start as an undergraduate biology major, angling for medical school, didn’t appear particularly auspicious. His one claim to fame was that as an undergraduate the Salt Lake native was tapped to be a “calf sitter,” which meant that he would sit all night with young bovine used in experiments and monitor their heart rates. The calves were a critical part of the University’s artificial organ program which would eventually produce the world’s first artificial heart in the 1980s.

Not bad for a Utah boy who, when he wasn’t fishing with his Norwegian-born father on the Provo River and elsewhere, spent much of his early life collecting what would become one of the largest insect collections in the state.

It was a heady time to be studying biology at the U. Department Chair Gordon Lark was bringing in guest lecturers and expanding the faculty at a prodigious rate, including micro-biologist Mario Capecchi who would eventually be awarded the Nobel Prize for his work in genetics. Jensen recalls his time in the early seventies as an undergraduate at the U. One day, he says, anatomy professor Stephen Durrant “threw out twenty animal bones spread over a long table and asked the students to identify […them] as part of the midterm exam.” It turned out that the students, who in class had been studying strictly land mammals, got very few correct answers. “One bone that very much perplexed me that I remember to this day,” Jensen continues, “was half of a frontal bone with an ovoid depression. It was from a dolphin: the depression access for the spout!” Needless to say, it was “a particular shock” to find a marine mammal bone in the pile, but it was an experience that Jensen still recalls with some exhilaration.

After graduating from dental school at Northwest University, Jensen continued to Michigan to study oral surgery and, as a post doc, anesthesia, which would eventually lead to a Master’s degree in anesthesiology before returning to the west where he set up practice in Denver. There he plied his trade, as both a science and an art, for the next 38 years. But research has continued to braid its way through his entire professional life—a continuous thread that has kept him at the forefront of the fast-moving field of oral and maxillofacial surgery in which technology, the life sciences and medicine converge. As with many oral surgeons, Jensen performed four-on-one implant operations, which combine bridgework with a maximum of four implants per each of the crescent arrangements or arches.

Eventually, he modified the procedure so that it was less invasive and more intuitive, underscored by his determination to see the implant not as an analogue to a tooth (or teeth) but as a function of bio-mechanical forces, mathematically determined. Eventually he would join forces with business partners to found Clear Choice Dental Implants. “Basically, for five years I wanted to die,” Jensen says of the start-up which now has forty clinics across the nation. The company nearly failed three times, including during the recession of 2008. “I wanted to practice . . . business with integrity, and to be doing things in the best interests of the patients. It’s hard to do that with this kind of work where it’s not too costly and not too difficult for doctors to perform.” In a recent DentalTown podcast, Jensen explains, “If you have a business that is related to dental implants, you’re not going to do stuff that will put the business at risk."

"So this has a business, scientific, and a clinical basis of validity," he says ". . . [and] we stand by the way we treat our edentulous patients… .” Of course success is never final. With his rigorous research background and his bias for asking lots of questions, this time about biofilm, the pervasive glue-like matrix that grows virtually everywhere and can lead to complications in bio-medical work, Jensen took on yet another professional challenge. In September he was hired as Chief Medical Officer for Israel-based NOBIO, helping to create products through Nano-technology in which particles with superior micro-biotic activities are baked into the product to prevent bacteria from growing on surgically implanted devices.

Jensen’s research questions, especially as they’ve related to medicine, have been open ones. “Almost everything I’ve done is in surgery,” he says. “Now I’m doing a project with computers,” referring to his latest adventure. Inspired by the training of pilots who learn to fly by logging many hours in flight simulators, Jensen and his team at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston are developing a program for surgical simulations.

Student Resources

We're here to help. The College of Science offers a wide range of programs designed to improve the educational and social opportunities of students. We invite you to return frequently and learn about the opportunities available.

ACCESS Program for Women in Science and Mathematics

ACCESS is a science and mathematics summer program for women in science and offers $3,500 financial support as well as research laboratory experience one semester during the freshman year.

Science Day at the U

Each fall, high school students are invited to campus to attend a day of science-related workshops with science professors and academic advice. This annual event is absolutely free to students, parents and educators. Lunch is provided.

Chemistry High School Summer Program

The Chemistry High School summer program is available for current sophomores and juniors. The course provides a daily, hands on experience with integrated labs.

Math Circle

Each fall, high school students meet weekly with professors and graduate students to extend their mathematical understanding and problem solving skills.

Summer Mathematics Program for High School Students

The Summer Mathematics Program provides outstanding students an opportunity to develop their talents to the fullest. By presenting intriguing puzzles, challenging problems and powerful ideas the program lays the foundation for future work in mathematics, the sciences, or science related careers.

University Science and Engineering Fair

University Science and Engineering Fair is an annual science competition for students grades 5-12 to stimulate student interest in science and technology.

Quaid Harding

From beekeeping to biology, Quaid Harding is looking for a buzz.

Name: Quaid Harding

Major: Biology

Year: Senior

Hometown: Garner, North Carolina

Interests: President of Beekeeping Association, I also like tennis, and billiards

Prior experience with bees?
Before joining the club I didn’t have any experience with bees.

How did you get into beekeeping?
Beekeeping has always been a topic that I was interested in but it wasn't until transferring to the U that I had the opportunity to work with the club and quickly fell in love.

Tell us about the Beekeeping Club.
We have 149 members, 6 Hives, and more than 300,000 bees.

Tell us something most people don’t know about bees.
Not all bees make honey. In fact most do not make honey or even live in a colony.

Tell us about the Pollination Garden.
I wanted to bring more pollinators to campus so I came up with the idea to add a pollinator garden to a landscaping project that was already underway. I had a vision and found a team to help me bring that vision to life.

How has your extracurricular involvement helped your professional skills.
It has helped me get plenty of practice with grant writing, leading a group, facilitating meetings, building interest, networking, and my favorite learning how to care for the bees and even get honey along the way.

To find out more about the University of Utah Beekeeping Club visit https://bit.ly/30xyIVp.

Zhao Scholarship

Taylor is the first recipient of the Michael Zhao Memorial Scholarship. She’s a senior majoring in mathematics and minoring in computer science and plans to graduate in the spring of 2020.

“The financial assistance provided by the scholarship will be of great help to me in paying for my educational expenses, and it will allow me to concentrate more of my time on studying,” said Walker. “After graduating, I plan on entering the workforce in a math related field. I hope to honor Michael’s legacy in mathematics as I continue to learn about a subject we both enjoy.”

Michael Zhao loved sushi, travel and classical music. His lifelong passion and ardent pursuit, however, was always mathematics. His fascination with math took him from the 100 Club in kindergarten to Cambridge University as a Churchill Scholar. On December 8, 2018, while at Columbia University in New York City chasing his goal of becoming a college professor, Zhao passed away due to a sudden heart attack.

But on April 18, Zhao’s zeal for math continued with the naming of the first recipient of the Michael Zhao Memorial Scholarship. Taylor Walker, a senior studying mathematics and computer science, is the first awardee.

“The scholarship aims to recognize a truly outstanding mathematics student,” said Davar Khoshnevisan, chair of the Department of Mathematics, “which is consistent with celebrating Michael’s memory.”

Zhao grew up in Salt Lake City and attended Skyline High School, where he was first chair in flute and served as captain of the debate team while also attending Canada/USA Mathcamp and taking math courses at the U. As an undergraduate at the U, Zhao received the Eccles Scholarship that supported his studies in the Honors College. Zhao was intrigued by the breadth of study the Honors College offered—a place where he could read Thomas Aquinas and David Hume, while also studying Eastern philosophy and literature from texts like the Bhagavad Gita and the Daodejing.

In 2017 he was the second U student to win the prestigious Churchill Scholarship. “It’s a common perception that skill in mathematics is only due to talent, but hard work counts for much more” Zhao said. “Having mentors is also extremely helpful, and I am indebted to many faculty members, graduate students, and engineers for their guidance and encouragement.”

Many of the faculty in the U’s Math Department have fond memories of working with Zhao. In an interview in 2017, professor of mathematics Gordon Savin, who served as Michael’s honors thesis advisor, said, “Mike is one of the strongest undergraduate students we have had since I have been at the University of Utah, in more than 20 years. For someone his age, he already has an incredible level of maturity and mathematical knowledge."

He also worked with Dragan Miličić. In the same interview, Miličić said, “We often have discussions on various topics related to algebraic geometry, number theory, and representation theory. I was always impressed that talking to Mike feels more like talking with a colleague and not a student.”

Another professor who worked with Zhao was Braxton Osting, who said, “Many people remember Michael as a brilliant student, excelling under an almost impossible course load covering a large range of topics in mathematics and computer science. In spending time with Michael, I also came to know him as a genuinely kind person, generous with his time and helpful to his fellow students.”

After Zhao passed away, math department faculty and fellow Churchill Scholars approached Khoshnevisan with the idea of establishing a scholarship in Zhao’s name. Khoshnevisan got approval from Zhao’s parents. They, along with colleagues, friends and even his high school math teacher, reached out to their community for donations.

The new scholarship, partly funded by the Department of Mathematics and partly by donors, keeps Zhao’s memory alive. If you’d like to contribute to this scholarship, please make checks payable to the Michael Zhao Memorial Scholarship and send donations to the following: Tiffany Jensen Department of Mathematics 155 South 1400 East, JWB 233 Salt Lake City, UT 84112