Staff Excellence

Staff Excellence

Vicki Nielsen

Vicki Nielsen, Accountant in the Department of Physics & Astronomy, has received a Staff Excellence Award from the College of Science.

“It’s an honor and very exciting to be selected by the College for this special recognition,” said Nielsen. “I’m humbled by the nomination. I’ve received kudos at other jobs but nothing compared to this extraordinary award. Excellence is a word I take seriously, and this a goal to which I will continue to aspire for the Physics Department and the College of Science!”

Nielsen came to accounting through a circuitous route—originally she graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theatre from the U in 1994. She was lucky enough to work and gain practical experience in Pioneer Theatre Company’s costume shop for several years as a student and after graduation. She had always wanted to experience living outside Utah, so she left to backpack across Europe. Eventually she returned to the states, moved to Oregon, and worked different temporary jobs. When she returned to Utah, two genealogy companies she had worked for before hired her to perform searches at the Family History Library for customers and professional genealogists. A close friend who worked in the accounting area in the Department of Physics & Astronomy told Nielsen about a secretarial job opening.

“This was 2006, and it was one of the first group interviews I had, which I found exciting and challenging,” said Nielsen. Once she was hired and began working as a secretary, she was offered part-time work in accounting and, eventually, full-time with payroll duties. “My supervisor at the time said she trusted me with those duties and that gave me confidence. All my work experience has helped me in becoming competent at meeting deadlines, getting tasks accomplished quickly and correctly, and finding fulfillment in helping people”

In her current role, Nielsen communicates with supervisors and new employees throughout the hiring process. She initiates student job changes through HR every semester and department job changes for the new fiscal year. She also works with HR in off-boarding employees to help with a smooth transition as they leave the U. She has frequent interaction with the  U’s office of  International Student & Scholar Services regarding work authorization for department employees.  In addition, she is involved with the department’s graduate program and has a general knowledge of all the business services provided in the Accounting Department.

Nielsen enjoys working in the department, and she values the inclusion and support she finds. She also respects the emphasis on and support for education. “I really love working with all the impressive people in the department who have such insight and drive,” she said. “In turn, I hope this is reflected in how I help people.”

by Michele Swaner, first published @


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Patrick Newman

Patrick Newman

Fort Worth Botanic Garden

As a boy in growing up in Bountiful, Patrick Newman took a bite of a plant he would never forget.

It tasted just like black licorice, which he loved. “I remember being struck at that moment as an 8-year-old boy thinking, ‘Plants can taste like things — what else can plants do?’” says Newman in an article in the Fort Worth Report. “That sort of set me on a path of inquiry and, as a youth, I devoured science.”

“I came to the UofU to be a doctor, and was content with that decision and path until I took a plant physiology class from Leslie Sieburth,” he says of the plant biologist who studies pathologies in arabadopsis. Currently, with Neil Vickers, she is also Co-Director of what is now the School of Biological Sciences. “That course changed my perspective of biology, refocused my interests, and altered my career path—all of which I am extremely grateful for.”

Following graduation from SBS with a BA in 2003, he joined the Peace Corps, volunteering in the Republic of Azerbaijan teaching science and English. Once he’d located a greenhouse there, he started teaching the students about plants and gardening. Following his stint with the Corps, he returned to the U for graduate school—he has an MPA,’10, from the UofU—and to work at Red Butte Garden.

Patrick Newman

After ten years at Red Butte he became the Executive Director of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, TX. Then, in 2020, he was recruited to lead the merger of the Botanical Research Institute of Texas (BRIT) and the Fort Worth Botanical Garden (FWBG).

As President and CEO of BRIT, one of the largest centers for botanical exploration and discovery in the United States, Newman heads up the executive team of the new organization bringing together BRIT’s fundraising, education, and world-class research capabilities with the Garden’s historically significant grounds, event facilities, and horticultural expertise.

Located in the heart of the Fort Worth Cultural District, just minutes from downtown, BRIT’s combined 120-acre campus offers stunning garden views, exciting exhibits, gift shops, and a café. Visitors can spend the day strolling through the Japanese Garden with its koi-filled pools, sculptured hillsides, crafted stonework and dramatic waterfalls. Nearby, one can visit the iconic Rose Garden, with a terraced ramp featuring paths that wind past colorful flower beds amidst a cascade of water down the center.

The Fort Worth Botanic Garden was established in 1934 and is the oldest major botanic garden in Texas. It contains a collection of more than 2,500 species of plants. Long celebrated for its beautiful tropical, rose, and Japanese gardens, the FWBG is composed of 25 specialty garden spaces, including a tropical conservatory, a public perennial trial garden, and naturalized areas and vistas.

Next door, at the BRIT campus, visitors learn more about botanical research through art galleries, libraries, plant collections and science-related exhibits. An international scientific research and learning center, BRIT has a mission to conserve our natural-world heritage by sharing knowledge of the plant world and helping the public understand the value plants bring to life.

Fort Worth Botanic Garden

It would seem to be a perfect job for Newman whose early passion for plant biology coupled with his Master’s Degree in Public Administration has led him to a research institute which serves as a think tank and a catalyst in conservation. Additionally, FWBG | BRIT knows that education is lifelong. “We are dedicated to inspiring nature-lovers of all ages to explore the world around them, discover new interests, and engage their communities in positive change,” reads their website. “… We strive to introduce community members to the wonders of plants and ecology, the importance of conservation and sustainability, and social-emotional learning.”

Newman talks fondly of the friendships he made while at the University of Utah, as well as his avid running career; to date, he has completed 48 marathons in 29 states.

Clearly, however, his passion lies in the world of plants and the broader context of the eco-system that many believe is currently under not only the singular threat of global warming, but the degradation of the planet’s bio-diversity.

“More than ever before,” he says, “the planet needs well-educated and passionate advocates of biodiversity conservation. It also needs an increase of kindness and compassion. The University of Utah and U Biology are the perfect proving ground to develop those attributes in future scholars, doctors, leaders and humanitarians.”

His advice to students? “Take full advantage of all that the U has to offer. And remember that biology is really the study of plants and everything that parasitizes them.”

By David Pace, first published @


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Carbon Nanotubes

Carbon Nanotubes

Vikram Deshpande

Long carbon nanotubes reveal subtleties of quantum mechanics.

Vikram Deshpande had a hunch that carbon nanotubes held a lot of promise as a building block. He suspected that their unusual electrical and thermal properties and extraordinary strength could be modified for specific purposes by adding nanofabricated structures.

Working with nanotubes more than a micron long, the University of Utah physicist and his team found that the nanotubes held surprises, even without being adorned with those structural bells and whistles. “We started seeing all this richness in the data and had to investigate that before making the experiment more complicated,” Deshpande says. “Because they are only a nanometer or so in diameter, they are excellent playgrounds for studying the quantum mechanics of electrons in one dimension.”

But thin walls also mean little shielding. Impurities on the surface scatter electrons in the nanotube, and that initially prevented Deshpande from getting clean data.

His solution was to both clean the nanotubes and run his experiments in a DRY ICE 1.5K 70 mm cryostat made by ICEoxford. The UK-based company’s cryostat allows him to suspend nanotubes between supports and run a current through them. The nanotubes heat up to several hundred degrees, and the impurities are knocked off the surface.

ICEoxford cryogenic equipment.

The setup is cooled by pumped helium-4 at around 1.5 K, which is important, says Deshpande. “A lot of cryogenic equipment is vacuum-based, but the heat injected into the nanotube has no way out except along the tube, which is very ineffective.” Another boon is the fact that the cryostat is top loading so it’s easy to access. Within 12 hours of installing a new sample, the entire system is cooled and ready for testing.

With a good nanotube in place and thoroughly clean, Deshpande applies voltage to inject electrons and explore their quantum behavior.

A major influence on electron behavior inside the nanotube is the quality of the end contacts. The electrons travel unimpeded within the tube, known as the ballistic regime. But the ease at which they can escape the tube affects their behavior radically.

Using low-conductivity contacts, Deshpande’s team measured the energy required to add individual electrons to the tube. Subtle changes in the energy showed that the electrons were falling into an ordered pattern called a Wigner crystal—effectively a solid made of pure electrons—which occurs only at very low density. “Lower electron density is obtained with longer lengths, which make our experimental signature possible,” Deshpande says. His team reported their results in Physical Review Letters (volume 123, page 197701, 2019).

Last year the team published another paper in Physical Review Letters (volume 126, page 216802, 2021) with results from high-conductance contacts. They found the electrons’ wave-functions spread along the tube, creating quantum interference, analogous to light in an interferometer. There was not only interference similar to the Fabry-Perot effect between electrons bouncing back and forth, but also a more subtle interference caused by slight variations in the nanotubes, such as chirality. “These are exquisite measurements of delicate quantum effects that we can only see because our long nanotubes accumulate measurable phase difference between these modes,” Deshpande says.

He has also made use of the DRY ICE cryostat’s ability to apply magnetic fields up to 9 teslas. “If you thought the data so far were rich, you should see what happens in a magnetic field!” he says.

Phil Dooley is a freelance writer and former laser physicist based in Canberra, Australia.


- by Phil Dooley, first published in Physics Today


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Goldwater Scholar

Goldwater Scholar

Rock climbing in Southern Utah.

Alison Wang, a junior in chemistry, has been awarded a prestigious Goldwater Scholarship for 2022-23.

Alison enrolled at the U in 2019 and declared chemistry as her major, with her eyes set on going to medical school. However, her honors general chemistry professor, Luisa Whittaker-Brooks, encouraged her to seek a research opportunity in Caroline Saouma’s lab as a first-year-student.

Unfortunately the pandemic delayed Alison's start to lab work until fall of her sophomore year, but she came to love research – so much so that she now is planning to enroll in either an M.D./Ph.D. or Ph.D. program.

Her research is focused on mechanistic studies for the electrocatalytic reduction to CO2 to CO or formate at Mn centers. She was a UROP scholar (twice), and participated in the department of chemistry’s NSF-funded REU program last summer.

Alison Wang

These opportunities helped Alison gain valuable skills in communicating science, which she refined in February at the Utah Conference on Undergraduate Research (UCUR). She secured funding through the Office of Undergraduate Research (OUR) to present a poster at the spring national American Chemical Society (ACS) meeting in San Diego in March, where she won the division of inorganic chemistry’s undergraduate poster award (one of only five!).

The conference also allowed her to explore other areas of chemistry, and has helped her hone in on the field of bioinorganic chemistry for her Ph.D. She clearly is a chemist who is off to a fantastic research career!

Alison is a first-generation Chinese American, having lived all over the US before graduating high school in Utah. In addition to her studies and research, Alison works at the Utah Lions Eye Bank and as a waitress. In her spare time, she enjoys rock climbing, eating at Osteria Amore, and is helping to train a guide dog.

In addition to the Goldwater scholarship Alison has also received the Laya F. Kesner and Leon Watters Memorial Award, and the Undergraduate Research Scholarship from the University of Utah Department of Chemistry.

Faculty Development

Faculty development program

Supporting Faculty in Professional Growth

The College of Science Faculty Development Program provides funding for tenure-line and career-line faculty to participate in professional development opportunities that will enhance their academic trajectory and/or ability to enrich the college community through ongoing projects.  Examples of opportunities suitable for this program include, but are not limited to, workshops and trainings related to increasing research productivity, effective practices for teaching and/or mentoring, improving time/workload management, and leadership development.   Those who receive funding will also have the opportunity to enrich the college community by sharing what they've learned with their colleagues.

This program covers the cost of registration, travel, and local expenses for a faculty member to attend a professional development event of their choosing.   Remote events and programs are also eligible.  All tenure-line and career-line faculty may apply.

Examples of suitable programs:

  • National Center For Faculty Development and Diversity (NCFDD) Faculty Success Program: This 12-week online program helps tenure-track and tenured faculty with the skills necessary to increase research and writing productivity while maintaining a healthy work-life balance.
  • American Chemical Society (ACS) Leadership Development Program: The ACS LDP curriculum includes both self-paced e-learning courses, and facilitated courses that provide hands-on learning and networking opportunities. Facilitated courses are offered throughout the year at national, regional and local section meetings as well as at the ACS Leadership Institute.
  • Project Kaleidoscope (PKAL) STEM Leadership Institute:  This Institute is uniquely designed for early- and mid-career STEM faculty, principal investigators, and administrators who are engaged in leading initiatives and interventions aimed at transforming undergraduate STEM education in their classrooms, departments, and institutions.
  • HERS Leadership Institute: The HERS Leadership Institute is a transformational, leadership development program for women in higher education, founded to fill leadership pipelines across the United States with dynamic women, each capable of ushering their respective institutions into a more inclusive and equitable future.
  • American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB) IMAGE Grant-Writing Workshop: The ASBMB Interactive Mentoring Activities for Grantsmanship Enhancement grant writing workshop is designed to help early-career scientists and senior postdoctoral fellows write winning proposals for federal research funding.

Application Process

The application includes three parts:

  1. A one-page narrative that describes the program you are applying to attend, the time commitment, what you hope to learn, and how it may impact your professional life or activities.  Include a link to the program's webpage as well as any relevant deadlines.
  2. A budget that includes all necessary expenses to enable your participation.  If the request is for more than $5000, please also include a statement from your chair/director specifying what resources the department/school can supply.
  3. Your CV.

Applications are accepted on a rolling basis and reviewed by a committee of three academic leaders, at least one of whom is from the broader campus community.  You can expect a response within two weeks of submitting your application.


Faculty who receive funding to attend an event or complete a program are expected to attend, participate, and complete any assignments as required by the program.  They will also be expected to share some of what they've learned with others in the college community through an organized activity within 90 days of the event or completion of the program.  This may be done, for example, through a 45 minute presentation to junior faculty or any other appropriate subgroup of faculty.  The Dean's Office will work with you to coordinate this event.

Those who attend leadership programs will also be asked to debrief with their chair/director and the College of Science dean and associate deans upon completion of the program.

For questions, please contact Pearl Sandick, Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs (

Submit application packages (as a pdf file) to


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