SRI Leaders

Inspire the Next Generation


The Science Research Initiative (SRI) creates opportunities for first-year and transfer students to join a research lab in the College of Science, to begin to learn and master the skills they will need for a successful career in a STEM field.

Faculty can lead a stream of SRI scholars (3-10 students) in their lab on a project of their choosing, that relates to overall research productivity. By participating, faculty can help students gain research skills and mentorship that lead to academic retention, a more positive undergraduate experience and paths to graduate school.

The SRI process:

1. First-year students, upon acceptance to the University of Utah, can apply to the SRI if they intend to declare a major in the College of Science.

2. Upon admittance to the SRI, students are placed into research streams - a group of fellow students working together in the same lab.

3. Once in a lab, the stream is taught the necessary lab skills they will need, as well as begin creating community with their fellow students, faculty, and research lab members.

4. Students work with their stream for an academic year. They will then have the choice to continue with the SRI for a second year, becoming mentors for the next cohort of students, or leaving the lab for new opportunities.

 

We want you to be involved! Email our SRI team today.

 


SRI HOME

 

 

Lake of Dust

Lake of Dust


Is Utah’s great lake turning to dust?

The flat dry lakebed (also called a playa) surrounding Utah’s Great Salt Lake is more than 750 square miles—an area bigger than Houston. The wide-open landscape is surprisingly varied and is the realm of coyotes, bison, and a few hardy plants. It’s probably safe to say that no one knows the Great Salt Lake playa better than University of Utah atmospheric scientist Kevin Perry.

From June 2016 to August 2018, Perry traversed the playa by bike, researching how it contributes to dust in the Salt Lake Valley’s air. In a report prepared for the Utah Department of Natural Resources and Utah Division of Facilities Construction and Management, Perry details the current dust source regions on the playa and explains how declining lake levels, as well as damage to the playa, could make the problem worse.

“A lot of the lake is being protected by a relatively fragile crust,” Perry says. “Only 9% of the lake right now is blowing dust. If the crust were to erode or be destroyed, then a maximum of 22% of the lake would actually have enough silt and clay particles to become dust sources. We know where those sources are. We know what needs to be protected.”

photo: Kevin Perry

A solitary journey
Perry has decades of experience studying how dust is transported through the air. He first delved into the topic as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California at Davis where he used National Park Service measurements of particle composition to prove that high concentrations of mineral dust in the air over the eastern United States during summer originated from Africa. Later, he used these same techniques to track Asian dust originating in the Gobi and Taklamakan deserts as it traversed the Pacific Ocean. “As I’ve lived here in Utah longer,” he says, “I eventually became more interested in the local dust sources.” As the Great Salt Lake water level has declined from its historic high in the 1980s, more and more of the playa is exposed to wind, and dust storms in the Salt Lake Valley have become more frequent. Perry secured funding to study the playa, determine where the dust was coming from and analyze the sources to see if elements present in the dust might pose a health hazard to Wasatch Front residents.

Perry decided he would traverse the playa on a preset grid system, to make sure he wasn’t biased in selecting sampling locations, and to ensure he captured the different kinds of terrain present on the lakebed. He also decided that he would do the survey by himself and do it on a bicycle.

Biking had practical advantages—it was far less costly than operating an ATV, and was much less likely to damage the playa surface. Also, bicycles don’t get stuck in the mud as much as ATVs—Perry says it took him all of 20 minutes to free the bike in his worst incidence of getting stuck.

But Perry also had personal reasons for choosing a bicycle. “I turned 50 during the experiment,” he says, and biking allowed him to revisit his preferred mode of transit for many years when he was younger. “I felt like this was probably my last chance to go do something to really push myself physically,” he says.

photo: Kevin Perry

Surprising variation
So, on days that he wasn’t teaching, including weekends and summers, Perry set off on his bike, trailer in tow, to survey the playa. His colleagues were a bit skeptical. “They thought I was crazy,” Perry says. “They said, ‘Why would you spend two years of your life doing this?’”

But once he got past the edges of the playa, everything, including the bugs, went quiet and he found a terrain full of surprising variation. “You could look 15 yards off to the right and it would look very different than where you’re standing,” he says.

He used a classification system to describe each location. Was there vegetation? How thick was the surface crust and how erodible was it? Were there any other features, such as mineral crystals, sand dunes or, cryptically, rocks with long trails in the playa suggesting they had moved over time? He also took samples to take back to the lab and analyze for percentages of silt and clay.

Perry saw wildlife too: porcupines, pelicans, coyotes, bison—even the tracks of a cougar. “They come out onto the lake bed looking for things,” he says, “I don’t know what they’re looking for, but I was just amazed by the variety in the wildlife that I saw.”

Dust sources
Only about a quarter of the lakebed could potentially generate dust, Perry found. That’s because most of it is covered with a crust that prevents the wind from lofting the dust and carrying it into the Salt Lake Valley. Vegetation, when it is present, can also help to anchor the dust.

How did Perry determine if a location was generating dust? Active dust sources were identified as areas with little or no vegetation, no crust or an erodible shallow crust, and high silt and clay fractions. The “boot test” —kicking the ground several times to see if the surface was susceptible to wind erosion—was a great way to identify these spots in the field. Four dust-generating hotspots were identified: the extreme northwest corner of the playa, the northern Bear River Bay area, Farmington Bay east of Antelope Island and Carrington Bay, on the west shore.

“We now know the elevation of all of those dust sources,” Perry says. “In Farmington Bay, if the lake level were increased to 4,200 feet, it would cover up 75% of the dust hotspots.” Conversely, further reductions in lake levels will likely expose more dust-generating regions. And the destruction of the crust—by ATV activity, for example, would further expand the dust sources.

Perry also analyzed the soil samples for elemental composition to see if dust from the playa might possibly be carrying toxic heavy metals. For most elements, the soil contained too little to be of any health concern. Perry did find elevated levels of arsenic in the soil, but it’s not clear yet how frequently Salt Lake Valley residents are exposed to the dust.

Becoming an advocate
The expansive data set Perry brought off the playa has other applications as well. Researchers studying the effects of dust on snowpack in Utah’s mountains can use the chemical signatures in soil samples to determine where the dust comes from. Ecologists can assess the effects of both nutrients and toxic elements in the dust on near and distant ecosystems. And dust can now become part of the conversation about conserving and protecting the Great Salt Lake.

“I started off as a scientist and I’m starting to feel more like an advocate for the preservation of the lake,” Perry says. “Most people think that any water that goes into the lake is wasted water because it turns salty and we can’t drink it or use it through irrigation. So, there’s this mindset locally that we should use all the water before it gets to the lake because once it gets to the lake, it’s useless.” But each drop, he says, adds to the unique interconnected environment supported by the waters of the Great Salt Lake.

“I’ll look back on this project with fondness,” Perry says. “While you’re actually doing it, it’s hot, it’s unpleasant, it’s a lot of physical work. But just knowing that there’s this resource out there that we need to protect—I’m glad I’ve done it.”

Find the full report, “Results of the Great Salt Lake Dust Plume Study,” here.

 

by Paul Gabrielsen, first published in @theU.

Karl Schwede

Fellow of the American Mathematical Society

Professor Karl Schwede in the U’s Department of Mathematics has been named a member of the 2021 Class of Fellows of the American Mathematical Society (AMS). The Society recognizes members who have made outstanding contributions to the creation, exposition, advancement, communication and utilization of mathematics. Schwede joins 14 other professors in the department who were previously named fellows by the AMS.

“It’s an honor to be named as a fellow of the American Mathematical Society, and I’m grateful for the recognition of my peers in the profession,” said Schwede.

Schwede received his undergraduate degree in mathematics from Whitman College and a Ph.D. in mathematics from the University of Washington. Math was originally third on his list of interests in college, but as he took more advanced math courses, his focus changed to mathematics.

Schwede does basic research in mathematics, studying algebra, geometry and particularly singularities. Much of his work is in the setting of modular arithmetic (also known as clock arithmetic), the same setting as much of our modern communication systems. For example, 5 hours after 10 is 3 or 5+10 = 3. “In this area, I have primarily studied singularities of geometric shapes by algebraic means,” said Schwede. Recently, he has begun working in mixed characteristic, which connects the positive characteristic of clock arithmetic with classical (5+10 = 15) geometric worlds.

He joined the U’s Math Department in 2014 as an associate professor and became a professor in 2018. Last spring, Schwede received a Simons Fellows Award in Mathematics from the Simons Foundation.

 

by Michelle Swaner, originally published in @theU

Giant Poisonous Rats

The secret social lives of giant poisonous rats.

The African crested rat (Lophiomys imhausi) is hardly the continent’s most fearsome-looking creature—the rabbit-sized rodent resembles a gray puffball crossed with a skunk—yet its fur is packed with a poison so lethal it can fell an elephant and just a few milligrams can kill a human. In a Journal of Mammology paper published today, Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, University of Utah and National Museums of Kenya researchers found the African crested rat is the only mammal known to sequester plant toxins for chemical defense and uncovered an unexpected social life—the rats appear to be monogamous and may even form small family units with their offspring.

Sara B. Weinstein and Katrina Nyawira.

“It’s considered a ‘black box’ of a rodent,” said Sara Weinstein, lead author and Smithsonian-Mpala postdoctoral fellow  and postdoctoral researcher at the University of Utah. “We initially wanted to confirm the toxin sequestration behavior was real and along the way discovered something completely unknown about social behavior. Our findings have conservation implications for this mysterious and elusive rat.”

People in East Africa have long suspected the rat to be poisonous. A 2011 paper proposed these large rodents sequester toxins from the poison arrow tree (Acokanthera schimperi). A source of traditional arrow poisons, Acokanthera contains cardenolides, compounds similar to those found in monarch butterflies, cane toads and some human heart medications. Cardenolides, particularly the ones in Acokanthera, are highly toxic to most animals.

“The initial 2011 study observed this behavior in only a single individual. A main goal of our study was to determine how common this exceptional behavior was,” said co-author Denise Dearing from the University of Utah.

When threatened, the African crested rat lives up to its name and erects a crest of hair on its back to reveal a warning on its flanks—black and white stripes running from neck-to-tail on each side of its body. The 2011 study hypothesized that the rats chew the Acokanthera bark and lick the plant toxins into specialized hairs at the center of these stripes.

In the new study, researchers trapped 25 African crested rats, the largest sample size of the species ever trapped. Using motion-activated cameras, they documented nearly 1,000 hours of rat behavior. For the first time, they recorded multiple rats sequestering Acokanthera toxins and discovered many traits that suggest they are social, and likely monogamous.

“Everyone thought it was a solitary animal. I’ve been researching this rat for more than ten years, so you would expect there to be fewer surprises,” said Bernard Agwanda, curator of Mammals at the Museums of Kenya, co-author of this study and the 2011 paper. “This can carry over into conservation policy.”

A rich social life

As a postdoctoral fellow at the Mpala Research Centre, Weinstein first searched for the rats with camera traps, but found that they rarely triggered the cameras. Weinstein was then joined by Katrina Nyawira, the paper’s second author and now a graduate student at Oxford Brookes University. Together, they spent months experimenting with live traps to capture the elusive rodents.

“We talked to rangers and ranchers to ask whether they’d seen anything.” said Nyawira. Eventually they figured out that loading the traps with smelly foods like fish, peanut butter and vanilla, did the trick. “Out of 30 traps, we finally got two animals. That was a win. This thing is really rare.”

Those two animals changed the course of the study. They first caught an individual female, then caught a male at the same site two days later.

The African crested rat.

“We put these two rats together in the enclosure and they started purring and grooming each other. Which was a big surprise, since everyone we talked to thought that they were solitary,” Weinstein said. “I realized that we had a chance to study their social interactions.”

Weinstein and Nyawira transformed an abandoned cow shed into a research station, constructing stalls equipped with ladders and nest boxes to simulate their habitat in tree cavities. They placed cameras in strategic spots of each pen and then analyzed every second of their footage, tracking the total activity, movement and feeding behavior. The aim was to build a baseline of normal behavior before testing whether behavior changed after the rats chewed the toxin cardenolides from the poison arrow tree.

“They’re herbivores, essentially rat-shaped little cows,” Weinstein said. “They spend a lot of time eating, but we also see them walk around, mate, groom, climb up the walls, sleep in the nest box.”

The footage and behavioral observations strongly support a monogamous lifestyle. They share many of the traits common among monogamous animals: large size, a long life span and a slow reproductive rate. Additionally, the researchers trapped a few large juveniles in the same location as adult pairs, suggesting that offspring spend an extended period of time with their parents. In the pens, the paired rats spent more than half of their time near each other, and frequently followed each other around. The researchers also recorded special squeaks, purrs and other communicative noises making up a wide vocal repertoire. Further behavioral studies and field observation would uncover more insights into their reproductive and family life.

After the researchers established a baseline of behavior, they offered rats branches from the poison arrow tree. Although rats did not sequester every time the plant was offered, 10 rats did at least once. They chewed it, mixed it with spit, and licked and chewed it into their specialized hairs. Exposure to the Acokanthera toxins did not alter rat behavior, and neither did eating milkweed, the same cardenolide-enriched plant used as chemical defense by monarch butterflies. Combined, these observations suggest that crested rats are uniquely resistant to these toxins.

“Most people think that it was a myth because of the potency of the tree,” said Nyawira. “But we caught it on video! It was very crazy.”

The rats were selective about using Acokanthera cardenolides, suggesting that rats may be picky about their toxin source, or that anointed toxins remain potent on the fur a long time, just like traditional arrow poisons from the same source.

African crested rat conservation

The African crested rat is listed as IUCN species of least concern, but there’s little actual data on the animals. Agwanda has studied African crested rats for more than a decade—and sees indications that they’re in trouble.

“We don’t have accurate numbers, but we have inferences. There was a time in Nairobi when cars would hit them and there was roadkill everywhere,” said Agwanda, who continues to monitor the populations. “Now encountering them is difficult. Our trapping rate is low. Their population is declining.”

The research team is planning future studies to better understand their physiology and behavior. “We are particularly interested in exploring the genetic mechanisms that allow the crested rats and their parasites to withstand the toxic cardenolides” said co-author Jesús Maldonado of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and Weinstein’s Smithsonian-Mpala Postdoctoral fellowship co-advisor.

“We are looking at a broad range of questions influenced by habitat change. Humans have cleared forests to make farms and roads. We need to understand how that impacts their survival,” Agwanda said. Additionally, Agwanda is building an exhibit at the Museums of Kenya to raise awareness about this unique poisonous animal.

About the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute

The Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute leads the Smithsonian’s global effort to save species, better understand ecosystems and train future generations of conservationists. As Washington, D.C.’s favorite destination for families, the Zoo connects visitors to amazing animals and the people working to save them. In Front Royal, Virginia, across the United States and in more than 30 countries worldwide, Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute scientists and animal care experts tackle some of today’s most complex conservation challenges by applying and sharing what they learn about animal behavior and reproduction, ecology, genetics, migration and conservation sustainability to save wildlife and habitats. Follow the Zoo on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

About the National Museums of Kenya

National Museums of Kenya (NMK) is a state corporation established by an Act of Parliament, the Museums and Heritage Act 2006. NMK is a multi-disciplinary institution whose role is to collect, preserve, study, document and present Kenya’s past and present cultural and natural heritage. This is for the purposes of enhancing knowledge, appreciation, respect and sustainable utilization of these resources for the benefit of Kenya and the world, for now and posterity. NMK’s mutual concern for the welfare of mankind and the conservation of the biological diversity of the East African region and that of the entire planet demands success in such efforts. In addition, NMK manages many Regional Museums, Sites and Monuments of national and international importance alongside priceless collections of Kenya’s living cultural and natural heritage. As an institution that must respond to the growing needs of the society, NMK is striving to contribute in a unique way to the task of national development.

Media Contacts

Sara Weinsteinpostdoctoral researcher at the University of Utah; postdoctoral fellow at the Smithsonian-Mpala

Denise Dearingdistinguished professor and director, School of Biological Sciences

Lisa Potterresearch/science communications specialist, University of Utah Communications
Office: 801-585-3093 Mobile: 949-533-7899 

Adapted from a release by the Carnegie Observatories. Also published in @theU

A Catalyst for Safety

A Catalyst for Safety


In June 2019, a chemical spill in a Department of Chemistry laboratory led to a full department shutdown until a comprehensive safety assessment could be completed. Within days, most laboratories re-opened. Within weeks, the department had put into motion an unprecedented safety makeover in partnership with the Office of Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) and the College of Science. Since then, the college and EHS have enacted creative solutions to rebuild a culture of lab safety from the ground up—and it has paid dividends in implementing safeguards related to COVID-19.

Tommy Primo

“Everyone from the department level up to the President’s Office has made significant changes to how the U regulates laboratory safety,” said Peter Trapa, dean of the College of Science. “By the time COVID-19 hit, we had the right infrastructure, the right coordination between EHS and our own folks, so that we could quickly lead out in the COVID era.”

Committed committees

Matthew Sigman

At the time of the spill, the U’s laboratory safety culture had been through a series of internal and external audits, including one by the Utah State Legislature. The reports identified crucial gaps in safety and made recommendations for improvement. The U has made significant progress addressing these recommendations, including establishing and expanding the number and authority of college and departmental-level safety committees. Within the College of Science, the Departments of Chemistry, Mathematics, Physics & Astronomy and the School of Biological Sciences all have committees made up of staff and faculty who performed routine lab inspections and reported violations. The previous safety system’s structure allowed some violations to remain unresolved. Now, the committees are empowered to recommend how violations get addressed. They’ve also expanded their scope to include postdocs and graduate students who can make suggestions for outdated practices or areas that need attention. In the coming weeks, safety committees will be required in all University colleges.

“To change the safety culture, there has to be the motivation, and it has to be a grassroots effort,” said Matthew Sigman, Peter J. Christine S. Stang Presidential Endowed Chair of Chemistry. “This is a success because it’s collaborative, it’s conversational, and it’s pragmatic. It’s about building relationships and getting buy-in from the top down.”

Sarah Morris-Benavides

In January, EHS and the College of Science jointly hired Sarah Morris-Benavides as the first associate director of safety for the College. Morris-Benavides facilitates communication between researchers, and helps translate regulatory protocols between the college and EHS. She also heads the College of Science’s safety committee that is made up of the department committee chairs. She and the committees have worked closely to ensure that classes and research are conducted safely in light of the coronavirus restrictions.

“I can’t tell you how valuable they’ve been,” said Morris-Benavides of the response to COVID-19. “We had a great benefit that these committees were already established and in place.”

Every month, the college safety committee meets to discuss each department’s safety protocols. “We have the ability to say, ‘Well, here’s something that they’re doing in biology. Does that make sense for physics?” she said. “Chemistry learned a lot from their amazing safety turnaround, and they’ve shared their best practices. It all benefits every department.”

Precipitating solutions

Selma Kadic

The U overhauled the previous laboratory safety system by restructuring EHS directly under the Vice President for Research Office, and Frederick Monette became its new director. This helped rebuild trust between the EHS and researchers, who had historically been at odds.

“Fred Monette was all in right away. His willingness to sit down with people, listen to their concerns, and back it up financially meant a lot to the people in the department,” said Holly Sebahar, professor of chemistry who was the chair of the chemistry safety committee at the time of the shutdown.

Safety violations can be complicated; some are easy fixes, such as ensuring lab members wear proper PPE, but other issues are expensive, such as electrical or ventilation upgrades within older buildings. Traditionally, the burden of arranging infrastructure upgrades and their cost often fell solely on the principal investigator (PI) of the laboratory in question.

Angus Wu

To change that, EHS and the College of Science lobbied for an infrastructure improvement project to fund overdue, expensive safety upgrades in College of Science buildings, many of which were identified as deficiencies during the chemistry shutdown. The resulting $1 million capital improvement project will address electrical upgrades, seismic bracing, and ventilation improvements in several buildings, beginning in January 2021. Addressing these deficiencies in one comprehensive project will be much quicker, more economical, and result in less disruption to laboratory operations compared with the past approach of fixing each issues one by one at the request of individual laboratories.

Working with the College of Science, the VPR Office facilitated the purchase of 20 new refrigerator/freezers rated for storage of flammable chemicals to replace units that failed to meet regulatory requirements, sharing the cost 50/50 with the PIs. These initiatives demonstrated the administration’s commitment to promoting a culture of safety across the university.

From the ground up

As another example of a changed safety culture, the Department of Chemistry aims to incorporate safety in all aspects of academic life. Every speaker, seminar and many group meetings now incorporate a ‘safety moment,’ with each presenter asked to share an example of a safety incident and how they addressed it.

Shelley Minteer

“We have upwards of 30 or 40 external visitors a year. That’s a lot of safety moments. They’ll walk through that experience, then walk through the lab procedures to fix the problem,” Sigman said. “It’s a lessons learned, but also it’s an open conversation. We want to have the lowest risk, but we know when you sign up to be a chemist, you have the danger. Even when you cross the t’s, dot the i’s, something can happen.”

The collaborations go beyond the science—last year, EHS, the College of Science and the College of Mines and Earth Sciences co-hosted a two-day lab safety symposium with speakers and training sessions that addressed all types of issues, from chemical storage to creating effective safety committees. More than 400 staff, students and faculty attended the mandatory event to emphasize that every individual is responsible to making their environment safe. The U is applying that same philosophy for COVID-19.

“As we started going through the safety culture changes, we realized that it’s not that students or post docs or faculty won’t follow safety protocols, they will, if they know where they are, if they can find the paperwork,” said Shelley Minteer, associate chair for faculty for the Department of Chemistry and COVID-19 coordinator for the department. “We learned a lot from the safety ramp up. We need clear guidelines and good communication. We’ve been applying those same principles to COVID.”

 

by Lisa Potter - first published in @theU

 

Scholarships, Grants & Financial Aid

College of Science Scholarship Opportunities


The College of Science offers a number of scholarship opportunities for incoming, undergraduate and graduate students. Scholarship applications may be found through Academic Works, the University's scholarship application portal. Complete the University General Application then you will see the Science scholarship opportunities.

It is highly recommended that all students fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) each year to determine what state or federal aid for which you may be eligible, including work-study opportunities and grants.

First-year and transfer students must have an active Campus Information Services (CIS) account and University E-mail account (UMail) before applying for scholarships.

GRADUATE STUDENT EMERGENCY SCHOLARSHIP

The College of Science Graduate Student Emergency fund can provide financial support when an
unexpected event creates immediate financial hardship. If funds are granted, they do not have to be
repaid.

  • Typical awards made through this program are limited to be between $500 and $2500
  • This program is subject to the availability of funds.
  • If you are receiving financial aid, please contact the financial aid office to see how such an award
    might impact your financial aid.

APPLY NOW!


Incoming Student Opportunities

Scholarship applications are closed for the 2022-23 Academic Year.

Applications will open January 2023.

 


Current Student Opportunities

Scholarship applications are closed for the 2022-23 Academic Year.

Applications will open January 2023.

Questions

Questions about scholarships and financial aid? Make an appointment with a financial aid counselor!

If you have questions about a specific College of Science opportunity, please email office@science.utah.edu.

Departmental Scholarship Opportunities


Office of Nationally competitive scholarships


The Office of Nationally Competitive Scholarships maintains a list of highly prestigious scholarship opportunities. Applications for these opportunities are maintained by this university department.

Molecular Architectures

Science Research Initiative


Development of Unexplored Molecular Architectures

Dr. Ryan Stolley – Research Assistant Professor, Department of Chemistry

 

Dr. Ryan Stolley

As complicated as chemistry can be, really everything is constructed like LEGOs – pieces with limited sizes, shapes, geometries all come together to make the intricate and complex. Because of this, if you look around you, unless it grew from the ground, nearly everything you see has been designed from the atom up. Over the span of human history, we have built an understanding of the matter that comprises our universe and have become quite adept of combining the 100-odd elements into the materials of modern society. Specifically, in organic chemistry – the chemistry of life – we have even less available atoms and possible connections; and given the importance to our existence this field has a very strong grasp on the possible.

So, it is incredible to conceive that in the limited space of atomic composition and connectivity in organic chemistry, a group of relatively simple, diverse, and powerful group of atoms has eluded investigation. Research into frequently observed group of atoms, called functional groups, has a rich history and students in our lab will have the opportunity to expand on lessons of the past - applying classical reaction development techniques - and deriving new paradigms as we investigate this sandbox of fun new pieces of the universe

Our SRI stream will uncover new chemical reactions to build never before seen arrangements of atoms and use a variety of chemical, analytical and computational tools to uncover how these new groups of atoms behave; and to expand on this capability to build ever more complex molecules. In our lab students will learn the principles of organic chemistry and chemical experimentation and the instrumental tools for us to ascertain structure and function of organic molecules.

>> BACK <<

 

James Detling

James K. Detling

 

 

James K. Detling (PhD’69) arrived at the University of Utah from Ohio State University where he had just finished his Master’s degree in botany. He followed his graduate advisor, Dr. Lionel Klikoff, who transferred to the U as a tenure-line faculty member. While his advisor guided Detling’s research and mentored him in the ways of becoming a university faculty member, “perhaps my fondest memories are of Dr. Kimball Harper,” he says. Detling’s PhD research involved a study of physiological ecology of saline-tolerant halophytes in the salt deserts west of Salt Lake City. Of Harper, Detling says, “He always graciously shared his vast knowledge of the ecology of Utah’s various ecosystems, and made himself available to answer questions or discuss ideas. Imagine my disappointment,” he says somewhat cheekily, when several years later he learned that Harper had left the U to join the faculty at the Ute’s traditional rival located south of Salt Lake City: Brigham Young University.

In Utah, Detling enjoyed exploring the mountains and deserts, “first to scout out potential field sites for my research in plant ecology,” he says “and then to explore the fabulous outdoor recreational opportunities they provided.” After teaching at the U for one year as a replacement for Harper who went on sabbatical, he taught at a private liberal arts college in Ohio for five years. Following that, in 1975, he returned to the west, to Colorado State University where he remained on the faculty until his retirement in 2010.

In Fort Collins his professional activities included the study of biotic and abiotic factors affecting both structure and function of grassland ecosystems. On the editorial board of the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, the Berkeley California native was also elected Fellow of The American Association for the Advancement of Science. Additionally, he was also designated an ISI Highly cited researcher.

In the 80s Detling retreated to the field of the mixed-grass prairie at Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota. There he studied and reported on how black-tailed prairie dogs create habitat patches characterized by altered species composition, lower standing crops of plants, but also higher forage quality. “Native wildlife species such as bison, pronghorn, and elk preferentially feed on these prairie dog colonies and likely derive nutritional benefits from doing so,” he reported. Findings supported his hypothesis that genetically-based morphological and physiological differentiation had occurred in several native grass species as a result of strong selection pressures from grazing mammals on prairie dog colonies.

A decade later he turned his attention to “Grassland Vegetation Changes and Nocturnal Global Warming,” resulting in a  paper of the same title co-authored by Richard D. Alward and Daniel G. Michunas published in Science.

Since retirement Detling has continued research on grassland ecology with former students and colleagues. He has also turned from the study of one kind of grassland to another--the golf course—which has come in handy since the advent of the coronavirus pandemic has curtailed other beloved activities: traveling and dining out.

 
by David Pace