Notebook 2019

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 Vickrey

“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

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



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

Connor Morgan, BS’19

What does a former Student Body President and Biology alum do after graduating from the U? You start by moving to New Hampshire as a boots-on-the-ground organizer for a presidential candidate.

Connor Morgan (BS,2019) has hung up his cap and gown, and his sojourn at the office of the Associated Students of the University of Utah where he served as president to join candidate and former U.S. Naval Reserve officer Pete Buttigieg, the young mayor of South Bend, IN. Buttigieg, the nation’s first openly gay presidential candidate for a major party, is seeking the Democratic nomination and Morgan is there to help him win the race.

“Right now,” says Morgan, “we’re trying to build relationships with those on our turf, recruiting volunteers who support the mayor and training them on how to recruit their own teams of volunteers.” He says he’s not super excited for the New England winter coming up when there will be more door-to-door canvassing in one of the first states where these sorts of outings either get “legs” or don’t. “But I guess, it’s not too much worse than Utah’s.”

Earlier, at the College of Science convocation and commencement, the double-major (biology and political science) baccalaureate says his face was hurting from smiling so much as he assisted in handing out diplomas and shaking thousands of hands. “But I had a great time.”

While he loved ninety-five percent of the job being student body president, he says he’s now “happy to pass on that other five percent of the job. I’m guessing it will be one of the best jobs I’ve ever had working with student leaders, administrators, faculties, in a collaborative approach with many partners around the U.” One of his ambitions during his own 2018 campaign to represent 32,000 students was to move beyond just developing programs and events, but to have his executive team work internally to create a culture of student advocacy.

“I think student government is unique among other student organizations,” he says. “It was incumbent upon us to advocate on behalf of the student body.”  Through this lens, a movie night became a partnership with the resource office at the Student Union among other collaborations that leveraged the full plate of University offerings.

Morgan also worked to have full participation with the University senators, one each from the colleges and the academic advising center. One of the legacy policies that he and his team led was a push to work more closely with the sustainability and facilities team to recommit to the climate commitment initially made by the University at the end of 2008. The goal? For the University of Utah to be a carbon-neutral campus by 2050 if not by 2032 which is the city of Salt Lake’s target. Before leaving office, Morgan helped set up a task force to reassess the way forward, including the money, infrastructure, energy sources, and sustainable living practices to be folded into the curriculum.

Another related initiative, certainly helped by the nation’s raucous and controversial 2016 presidential election, was to increase the vote in the university community. Under his leadership, campus voting booths increased from six in 2016 to twenty during the most recent mid-terms. “Students are more engaged than they have been in recent memory,” he says. "[Many have felt] disenfranchised and not particularly infatuated with the way things are going–more the [general] direction of things, [than just political] parties. They are eager to do something [about it].”

From the beginning campus safety was a priority for Morgan, so it was deeply ironic that just weeks into fall semester, Lauren McCluskey, a college track star, was murdered on campus by a former acquaintance. Morgan recalls that the days following October 23rd were some of the most formative for him, days that were deeply traumatic. “I didn’t know Lauren personally, and I don’t want to appropriate from her friends, but it was very hard to balance being a twenty-one year-old college student myself with doing my part  to console the student body.”

Morgan visited with McCluskey’s friends, helped plan and then attended the vigil. The October 24th event, he says, was “a really good coping mechanism, especially for student athletes.” The biggest lesson from the tragic ordeal for Morgan was when University trustees expressed their gratitude to him for doing his part. “I thought, ‘Why gratitude for showing up?’ The most important things for a leader to do is not to give a speech or to have the best policy ideas, but to show up. I didn’t know that.” He does now, which triggered new policies and a statement embedded in the ubiquitous class syllabi that looks at campus safety through the lens of interpersonal violence.

There are a lot of things that this twenty-two year old U alumnus now knows, and much of it has been shaped by his generation. "We are very different from our parents,” he muses. “In some sense we have more opportunities like having the breadth of the world’s knowledge at our fingertips; the boom in tech and service jobs, for those who are educated enough in these areas; increasing standard of living for many sectors in our generation. But at the same time in some ways we are more limited [by the] challenges.”

He gives the example that for millennials the country has always been at war. “Most of our adult lives have been dealing with the economic shock of 2008/9. We’ve had a much harder time getting first jobs that can provide for the cost of living, to buy a house. We are the first generation that is expected to have a lower life expectancy and make less money than our parents.”

And then there are the political, social and environmental challenges. “The onus on us is to solve problems through science and [by being] civically engaged.” In important ways, he continues, the democratic process isn’t working for his generation and the ones just ahead of his. “An especially prominent concern with many of the people I grew up with … is that we’ve been in a highly educated bubble: the real world isn’t that bubble.”

As a biology graduate, he is deeply concerned about ignorance over science and the scientific method, but “active distrust of science. In the past science has been labeled elitist, [but] now [it’s] being considered by some as 'fake news.'” While he believes society should heed scientific findings, particularly local and global environmental degradation, it is the job of the new generation to better communicate that science to the public. “Yes, peer reviewed communications are critical,” he says, “but equally if not more important is to share those findings with the public.” Morgan had a great model for outreach and working against what he calls the “science deficit model of communication” from Biology professor Nalini Nadkarni. A forest ecologist, Nadkarni knows from working with populations that range from church-goers to the incarcerated that people don’t like to be lectured to. Instead, her model is to engage and integrate communities, with a two-way collaborative, relational and approachable way of sharing data and experiences.

“The everyday person when they hear that ninety-nine percent of scientists believe in [human-induced] global change … will agree [with them].  The first time I took a step back on how people engage with science it was through rose-colored glasses as a sophomore. I thought that everybody believed in science. That wasn’t true. What are some of the issues are in science communication and how we can bridge some of those gaps?"

As a recent graduate, Morgan’s advice to his fellow Utes is to take advantage of the resources the University of Utah offers. For him being a member of the UtahSwimming and Diving Club helped hi find his passion. “Do academics,” he advises, “but remember college is about much more than that.” Aside from being a great de-stresser, the back-stroker (with a little freestyle and individual medley thrown in) says that clubs also provide an “incredible network of friends” to move forward in life.

Headed eventually for law school, a “couple of years from now,” Morgan hopes that with his background in biology he will be “a scientifically informed policy maker,” whether as an officer in a federal department, or working at the local or state level. A run for public office is a possibility. Currently, being in the petri dish of a presidential campaign in the early weeks of a run for a major party nomination will most likely help him make that decision. Speaking as the public servant that he seems destined to be, he remarks that wherever he ends up he “hopes to be able to do whatever is most needed to be useful.”

Royal Fellow

Christopher HaconMcMinn Presidential Endowed Chair and Distinguished Professor of Mathematics, can now add another honor of a lifetime to his already stellar resume: Election to The Royal Society of London.

Hacon, born in England, is one of 50 eminent scientists elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society, along with 10 Foreign Members, in 2019. Founded in 1660, the Royal Society is the oldest national scientific institution in the world. Through its history, the society has named around 1,600 Fellows and Foreign Members, including around 80 Nobel laureates.

“Of course it is a great honor to be elected to the Royal Society and I am very happy and excited for the positive light it sheds on my research and my department,” Hacon said.

“Over the course of the Royal Society’s vast history, it is our fellowship that has remained a constant thread and the substance from which our purpose has been realized: to use science for the benefit of humanity,” said Royal Society president Venkatraman Ramakrishnan in a release. “It is with great honor that I welcome them as Fellows of the Royal Society.”

“Christopher Hacon,” according to the Royal Society’s biography page, “is a mathematician who specializes in the field of algebraic geometry which, loosely speaking, is a branch of mathematics that studies the geometric properties of sets defined by polynomial equations. Together with his co-authors, Hacon has proved many foundational results on the geometry of higher dimensional algebraic varieties including the celebrated result on the finite generation of canonical rings.” Because algebraic geometry is closely connected to other fields within and beyond mathematics, Hacon’s work has had broad impact.

He has been honored with prestigious awards such as the 2018 Breakthrough Prize in Mathematics, the 2016 EH Moore Research Article Prize, the 2015 Distinguished Scholarly and Creative Research Award from the University of Utah, the 2011 Antonio Feltrinelli Prize in Mathematics Mechanics and Applications, the 2009 Frank Nelson Cole Prize in Algebra and the 2007 Clay Research Award. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a fellow of the American Mathematical Society, a member of the National Academy of Sciences and holds the U’s McMinn Presidential Chair in Mathematics.

Hacon and other newly elected fellows will be formally admitted to the society in July, when they will sign the Charter Book and the Obligation of the Fellows of the Royal Society.

Other U connections in the Royal Society

Venkatraman Ramakrishnan is the current president of the Royal Society of London (elected as a fellow in 2003). He is a 2009 Nobel laureate and taught at the University of Utah from 1995 to 1999.

Simon Tavaré is the director of the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute. He taught at the University of Utah from 1978 to 1981 and from 1984 to 1989. He was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society in 2011.

Philip Maini is the director of the Wolfson Centre for Mathematical Biology at the University of Oxford. He taught at the University of Utah from 1988 to 1990. He was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society in 2015.

John Knox was a leader in the field of gas chromatography and began working with liquid chromatography after a sabbatical fellowship at the University of Utah in 1964. He was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1984. He died in 2018.

UNEWS - 2019 - Paul Gabrielsen