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Bert VanderHeiden

Bert VanderHeiden


Bert VanderHeiden’s (BS Physics ’82, MS Physics ’84 and Ph.D. Physics ‘88) first passions were swimming and water polo. In fact, he won the state championship in swimming in 1975, representing Kearns High School. He was also gifted academically—he excelled in math and was interested in the one physics course that was offered at his high school. The class planted the seed for his decision to major in physics.

When it came time for college, VanderHeiden had received a number of swimming scholarships from other universities. But he wanted a university with a strong science and engineering program, and the U fit the bill perfectly. He came to the U and never looked back. He’s proud to be a U alumnus and is even more proud of his wife and daughters, who are also graduates of the university.

“As a first-generation college student and graduate, having a physics degree has been life changing,” said VanderHeiden. “The degree has opened multiple opportunities professionally and provided a foundation for a career in areas that I found interesting and rewarding. Having a physics degree has given me an incredible amount of knowledge about the nature of the universe and the world around us.”

Favorite professors at the U

One of his favorite professors in the Physics Department was the late Dr. Gale Dick. He found Dr. Dick approachable, and he appreciated his way of encouraging students to ask questions until they fully understood the concepts. “I took full advantage of this opportunity to learn whatever I could from him,” said VanderHeiden.

While pursuing a master’s degree in physics, he worked as a swim coach for a youth competitive swim team. He still enjoys sports, and his competitive nature helped to push him through his education and career.

During grad school, he worked as a graduate assistant under the direction of Emeritus Professor Craig Taylor. VanderHeiden’s research focused on magnetic resonance to study semiconductor structure, with a primary focus on amorphous silicon. Amorphous silicon is a form of silicon that is non-crystallized and disordered, meaning that some of the atoms in its chemical structure resist bonding. Amorphous silicon is used in manufacturing thin films for coating a variety of electronic components and also can be applied to glass, plastic, and metals.

Hercules Aerospace and others

VanderHeiden (far left) and flight demo of innovative pulse jet engine.

While working on his Ph.D., a chance recruiting ad from Hercules Aerospace, in West Valley City, Utah, caught his eye. “Hercules was seeking a scientist to explore the possibly of using magnetic resonance in industrial applications. These were the same techniques I was using to study semi-conductors,” said VanderHeiden.

Over the next three years, he was able to continue his classes and research while working at Hercules. After he received his doctorate in 1988, VanderHeiden had an opportunity to do postdoctoral research in amorphous silicon at the National Laboratories. It was a tough choice, but he decided to stay at Hercules because he had been working on several other technical areas of interest for the company and felt the direct application was more suited to his work.

Hercules merged with Orbital ATK, which later merged to become Northrop Grumman. While working for these companies, VanderHeiden’s career progressed from an individual technical contributor to leading a large organization as the vice president of engineering and technology. Eventually, he served as vice president and general manager of operations and later was promoted to vice president of the military and launch segment. “I was fortunate to have a 36-year career working in a highly technical and focused company,” he said. “I had an opportunity to work on products, such as rockets and missiles to advanced aerostructures.”

VanderHeiden is a founding board member of the Utah Stem Action Center, where he served from 2014 to 2020. The center is a public and private partnership with a mission of promoting Science, Technology, Engineering and Math education by identifying and supporting best practices and leveraging resources across education, industry, government, and community partners to support economic prosperity.

Today, VanderHeiden is retired, although he serves as chief operating officer and a member of the board of directors for a startup tech company called North American Wave Engine Corporation. Wave engines are a class of aircraft engines that operate using pressure waves instead of rotating machinery. Intermittent combustion inside a hollow tube produces pressure waves that push hot gases and produce thrust. As a result, wave engines can operate without the use of any moving parts.

Advice for students

“A degree only starts your journey,” he said. “Remember to keep an open mind and understand your passions. Ask yourself what will keep you engaged and motivated. Will your long-term career goals keep you fulfilled, and will this journey fit you and your personality? Then aggressively explore various career options in academia and industry that fit your future.”

VanderHeiden’s life has taken him full circle now, allowing him to return to his love of sports. “I have more time to spend working out, playing water polo, and wake boarding at Lake Powell,” he said. He also enjoys boating, fishing, skiing, and traveling. “My sense of competition keeps me engaged in weightlifting competitions with my grandsons, even though they outdo me. My love of the water and the sky are still my greatest passions. I enjoy those evenings at Lake Powell, lying on the houseboat and looking up at the stars. I’m still inspired by this world and the universe.”

by Michelle Swaner first published at physics.utah.edu

Physics Innovation

Yue Zhao receives Physics Innovation Award

Yue Zhao, assistant professor in the Department of Physics & Astronomy, has received a Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation Fundamental Physics Innovation Award, in association with the American Physical Society. This award supports extended visits between researchers to learn, develop, and share techniques or scientific approaches.

The goal of the award is to stimulate ideas on innovative ways in which emerging technologies can be used to address pressing problems in the physics of fundamental particles and interactions. The rapid developments in quantum-sensing technologies keep pushing the limits of the precision frontier, and some of them provide ideal platforms to search for dark matter candidates.

“The award will allow me to collaborate with experimentalists,” said Zhao, “and investigate the possibilities of applying these fascinating technologies to search for dark matter candidates, especially in the ultralight mass regime, such as axions and dark photons. This award provides travel support for me to visit these experimental labs in order to exchange ideas and gain a more comprehensive understanding about the experimental setup.” He plans to visit a lab at Nanjing University in China.

Particle physics is a discipline within the field that studies the nature of the smallest detectable particles that make up matter and radiation. The Standard Model is the theory that explains what these particles are and how they interact with each other. It was developed by scientists during the 1970s. While the Standard Model explains a lot about the laws of physics, it isn’t able to explain all phenomena, including dark matter.

Zhao studied advanced physics at Peking University and moved to Rutgers University to pursue a Ph.D. He joined the University of Utah in July 2018.

 

By Michele Swaner, first published @ physics.utah.edu

William D. Ohlsen

In Memoriam: Emeritus Professor William D. Ohlsen

Emeritus Professor William David Ohlsen died peacefully at his home in Salt Lake City on August 9, 2021, following a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. He joined the University of Utah faculty in 1961, where he spent 36 years teaching physics and mentoring graduate students. We will miss him.

His research at the U involved the study of defects and dopants in crystalline and amorphous semiconducting solids. Amorphous silicon, crystalline III-V semiconductors, and chalcogenides were the subjects of other investigations.

Bill was born June 8, 1932 in Evanston, Illinois, to Wilma and Edward Ohlsen and grew up in Ames, Iowa.

Bill graduated from Iowa State University in 1954 with a B.S. in Physics and received a Ph.D. in Physics from Cornell University in 1961.

Bill was introduced to the love of his life, Ruth Bradford, in 1955 by Ruth's sister Nancy. Following months of exchanging letters and phone calls, they met for the first time in person on January 1, 1956. They spent a total of four days in each other's presence before marrying on June 16, 1956 in a double wedding ceremony with Nancy and John Clark, Bill's boyhood neighbor and lifelong friend.

Bill was an enthusiastic traveler, visiting twenty-two countries over the course of his life, including two sabbatical trips to Germany. An avid lover of the outdoors, Bill enjoyed skiing, hiking, biking, fishing, hunting, camping, backpacking, and running. At home, he enjoyed classical music, a good book, a good basketball game, and a good beer. He also loved puzzles and games, including chess, sudoku, and the Wall Street Journal Saturday crossword.

He is survived by his wife, Ruth Bradford Ohlsen; three daughters, Diane Ohlsen Guest, Patricia Ohlsen Horton, and Lynn Ohlsen Craig; nine grandchildren; seven great-grandchildren; and his sister, Anita Wald Tuttle.

Bill cared deeply about the environment and lived his principles. For example, he walked or rode his bike to work every day of his life, composted, recycled, participated in highway trash collections, and chose to avoid air travel to the extent possible. Bill will be remembered by all who knew him for his humility, generosity, wisdom, and kindness.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to Save Our Canyons. Visit http://saveourcanyons.org for more information.

 

Adapted from The Salt Lake Tribune by Michele Swaner, first published @ physics.utah.edu

Science Campus

The Science Campus


 

 

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1999 Student Reunion

1999 Reunion


7 Stewart School graduates gather for old times' sake. Visit to U. campus stirs fond memories of '30s.

A group of graduates returned Friday to the University of Utah campus, but it looked a lot different than when they completed classes there in 1933.

But the women, all in their late 70s or early 80s, found one structure, the William M. Stewart Building, looking much the same.Except for missing playground equipment that was outside the building many years ago and some structural changes inside, the ivy-laden building, built in the early 1900s, looked much the same. It is located south of the Utah Museum of Natural History.

The Stewart Training School, a laboratory school for University of Utah students preparing for a teaching career, was where the women either attended kindergarten or first through the ninth grades.

The building housed the school from 1919 to 1966, according to a plaque on the building. It currently houses the university's anthropology program. Many of the Stewart School students, including three of the women in the group Friday, were children of university faculty members.

"Everyone has heard of five-year, 10-year, 20- or even up to 50-year class reunions. But our gathering Friday was to celebrate 66 years. It's unusual for a group to get together after all that time," said Etta Lou Cowles Rose, 81, Walnut Creek, Calif.

A California resident for 54 years, Rose was the "catalyst" for the group getting together for lunch and a brief visit to the school.

The women say many of those who graduated with them in 1933 have moved away or died. They don't know the whereabouts of the rest. But the seven women, most of whom were childhood friends and who grew up in the same neighborhood near the university campus, say they like to keep in touch and to gather together as often as they can.

In 1988, a reunion of many of the former students of the school attracted about 600 to the campus, said Sarah Anne Nelson Jones, who took reservations for that gathering.

Besides Jones and Rose, those who graduated in 1933 and who gathered Friday for lunch or for a visit to the school, are: Gwen Colton Anderson, Betty Jean Neil Anderson, Jacqueline Allen Jeremy and Marsha Ballif Midgley.

Mary Ellen Taylor Jackson, who graduated from the school in 1936 and a close friend of the other women, joined the group.

Several of the women (six live in Salt Lake City) went on after attending Stewart School to attend East High School, the U. or other colleges or universities. Five are graduates of East High and the U.

A visit to the campus brought back many pleasant memories, but some in the group said getting around the campus and finding a parking spot wasn't easy.

"I don't know the university anymore. I get lost up here," said Rose, who toured the campus earlier in the week with a faculty member.

Midgley, 80, who serves on a number of organizations at the U., is a resident of Salt Lake City and more acquainted with how to find her way around on the large campus.

The Cowles Building is named after Rose's father, LeRoy E. Cowles, who was U. president from 1941 to 1945.

Ballif Hall, a men's residence hall, is named after Marsha Ballif Midgley's father, Dean John L. Ballif. He was dean of men at the university.

Mary Ellen Taylor Jackson's father, A. LeRoy Taylor, was dean of the School of Mines and Engineering.

Jackson said she gets together three or four times a year for lunch with quite a large of number of those with whom she graduated in 1936.

"One thing I remember about Stewart School is that the teachers really spent a lot of time getting acquainted with the students. We felt we were really important to them."

Originally published by Douglas D. Palmer in the Desert News.

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Notebook 2021

Notebook Magazine


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Be the Light

Be the light in your community


On July 14-16, 2021, students of the American Indian Services (AIS) Pre-Freshman Engineering Program (AIS PREP) came to the University of Utah to celebrate the completion of their 2021 AIS PREP, co-hosted by the College of Science. AIS PREP is a free program for Native American students to take advanced science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) courses for six weeks for three consecutive summers. At the end of the program, the students earn scholarships to any higher education institution that they choose and continue to receive financial assistance. The 2021 AIS PREP group included 113 students from different Native American tribes: Navajo (Diné), Hopi, Oglala Sioux (Lakota), Shoshone/Bannock, Zuni, Crow, Paiute, and Cheyenne. AIS PREP is focused on making the curriculum culturally sensitive to the Native American students they serve. They bring a unique opportunity to keep the students close to their homes.

“We’re the only non-profit that has taken on such a big program like this. Some of these tribal communities are in rural areas—resources are scarce,” said Meredith Little Lam, project and program manager at AIS and AIS scholarship alumnus. “The whole point of AIS PREP is that we want to make sure we give our Native American students STEM resources that will allow them to succeed in high school.”

The students traveled to the U on July 14 to stay in campus dorms, meet PREP students from other AIS PREP sites, and hear presentations from U staff and College of Science faculty to celebrate the completion of the program. The week ended with a keynote address from the architect, inventor and entrepreneur Alice Min Soo Chun, during which she shared her inspiring story of changing the world by inventing a durable, portable, collapsible solar light.

“These students come from some of the poorest reservations in the United States. This really is a trip of a lifetime for them,” said Little Lam, “Some come from areas where there’s no running water, no electricity. We live in the United States and it’s just appalling that we can’t figure out ways to help these communities. And so, I think that this is a proactive way of getting these students involved in STEM to let them know, ‘You can change your tribal communities. You have it within yourself to be that leader.’”

“The College of Science is honored to have taken part in celebrating this incredible accomplishment of completing AIS PREP,” said Cassie Slattery, director of special projects of the college. “We would be lucky to have any one of these exceptional students pursue science here at the U.”

Anyone can be a scientist


On Thursday, the students learned about a diverse array of topics from speakers, including Donna Eldridge (Navajo/Diné), program manager of Tribal outreach for Health Equity, Diversity, & Inclusion, Amy Sibul of the School of Biological Sciences, Paul Ricketts of the South Physics Observatory, Julie Callahan (Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa) of ASPIRE, and Kyle Ethelbah (Western Apache), director of the U’s TRIO programs. One of the day’s highlights was an explosive presentation from chemist Ryan Stolley. He threw balls of fire, inhaled sulfur hexafluoride to give himself a funny low voice, and had the students freeze flowers with liquid nitrogen and smash them to bits. In between the chemistry magic, Stolley shared his personal story.

“I was a Native American student, of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. When I was young, school was not my focus—I was just getting into trouble. But I got a lucky break and met some chemists who really changed my life,” said Stolley. “Native students are severely underrepresented in STEM disciplines. I love any opportunity to show them that it’s possible to pursue science. I mean, I’m covered in tattoos. Anybody can be a scientist. You just have to be curious.”

Stolley spoke to the students about attending Fort Lewis College, a university in Colorado that offers free tuition to Native American students. He received a doctoral degree in organic chemistry from the U and was a postdoctoral research assistant at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. He returned to Salt Lake City as a research assistant professor first in the Department of Chemistry and now in the College of Science, as well as part owner of a local chemical company.

“Part of what my company does is to make products that help clean contaminants out of water across the Colorado Plateau, especially on Tribal lands,” Stolley said, “I want to get these students thinking about how we can take our science and turn it around to help our Native communities.”

Creating positive memories on campus is part of how AIS PREP helps plant the seed to pursue higher education.

“We’re excited to be partnering with the U and having the ability to connect these students with faculty and current student volunteers who are Native American so that they can instill in their minds that it’s not an impossible dream,” said Little Lam. “Maybe they’ll be teachers and maybe they’ll be researchers, but wherever they may be, they can contribute to their Tribal communities. AIS doesn’t just stop with them after they graduate. We give them financial resources, but also say, ‘Hey, we’re here for you. Even after you finish this program.’”

A problem is an opportunity in disguise

This is the first year that AIS invited a keynote speaker to address the students during their program completion celebration. For Little Lam, Alice Min Soo Chun was the perfect choice. Chun, founder and CEO of Solight Designs, Inc. invented the Solar Puff, a portable, collapsible, self-inflating light powered by the sun. Little Lam met Chun while at Navajo Strong, through which Chun donated Solar Puff lights to families on the Navajo Nation without access to electricity.

“Every problem is an opportunity in disguise,” Chun, who is also a professor at Columbia University, told the AIS PREP graduates. “By doing research and observing, anybody can do this.”

Chun’s passion for solar energy began when her son was diagnosed with asthma, a condition that was aggravated by New York City’s poor air quality. Chun was inspired to find energy solutions that would reduce air pollution and its impacts on respiratory health. She realized that her son’s respiratory issues were global; without access to electricity, millions of people are forced to burn kerosene lanterns for lighting that produce noxious fumes. She saw a need for solar lights that were durable and collapsible, but the only ones available had to be inflated, leaving users vulnerable to bacterial infections. So, she invented a foldable design that drew from her childhood.

“I’m Korean. When I was a little girl, my mother taught me origami when I was young. Origami is an incredibly powerful tool,” she said. “Paper on its own can’t stand up. Fold it once, you have a corner, you have structure.”

Through the “Give a Light” program, Solight Designs has supplied Solar Puffs to Haiti, Puerto Rico, The Florida Keys, Ghana, Ecuador, Miami and more after natural disasters left people without power. During her keynote address, Chun passed out Solar Puff lights to everyone in attendance and turned off the lights. Everyone switched on their solar lanterns, eliciting ooo’s and aww’s. The lights illuminated the entire auditorium, demonstrating the invention’s power.

“I used to get beat up a lot for looking different. So, I became a fighter—not with my fists, but with the light of my heart and mind. You are all light warriors,” Chun said. “My hope is that you leave understanding how powerful you are and that you have the ability to change the world.”

by Lisa Potter - originally published in @theU