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Faculty Giving

Faculty Giving

My wife Tanya Williams and I are happy to be able to provide a planned gift to the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Utah. We moved to Utah in 2010 to establish my Biodiversity and Conservation Ecology laboratory. I am thankful for the research, teaching and service opportunities provided to me by the University of Utah and Tanya is grateful to be able to serve her patients at the U’s School of Medicine.

Our work has benefited greatly from the generosity, resources and collegiality provided to us by the U, its faculty, alumni and other benefactors. This support has enabled me to study, conserve and teach about the world’s endangered, biodiversity and helped Tanya to provide healthcare to the underserved people of this beautiful state.

We hope to “pay it forward” by providing a modest legacy gift for SBS. Planned gifts of this kind will help SBS continue to attract and support the best PhD students in biodiversity research, conservation biology, environmental science, ornithology and wildlife ecology during this time of rapid and devastating global change that requires all hands on deck.

We hope you will join us in making a legacy gift to the School of Biological Sciences.

Çağan H. Şekercioğlu, PhD and Tanya M. Williams, MD


News & Events

News & Events

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Free Natural History Lecture Series – Tuesdays at 6:00pm

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SRI Welcome to Campus Event

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First Week of Classes

One more week before we are back in full swing! A few […]

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Interactive Forest Maps

Wildfire, Drought & Insects

Dying forests in the western U.S.

Threats impacting forests are increasing nationwide.

Planting a tree seems like a generally good thing to do for the environment. Trees, after all, take in carbon dioxide, offsetting some of the emissions that contribute to climate change.

But all of that carbon in trees and forests worldwide could be thrown back into the atmosphere again if the trees burn up in a forest fire. Trees also stop scrubbing carbon dioxide from the air if they die due to drought or insect damage.

The likelihood of those threats impacting forests is increasing nationwide, according to new research in Ecology Letters, making relying on forests to soak up carbon emissions a much riskier prospect.

“U.S. forests could look dramatically different by the end of the century,” says William Anderegg, study lead author and associate professor in the University of Utah School of Biological Sciences. “More severe and frequent fires and disturbances have huge impacts on our landscapes. We are likely to lose forests from some areas in the Western U.S. due to these disturbances, but much of this depends on how quickly we tackle climate change.”


William Anderegg

"We’ve seen devastating fire seasons with increasing severity in the past several years. Generally, we expect the western U.S. to be hit hardest."


The researchers modeled the risk of tree death from fire, climate stress (heat and/or drought) and insect damage for forests throughout the United States, projecting how those risks might increase over the course of the 21st century.

See their findings in an interactive map at

By 2099, the models found, that United States forest fire risks may increase by between four and 14 times, depending on different carbon emissions scenarios. The risks of climate stress-related tree death and insect mortality may roughly double over the same time.

But in those same models, human actions to tackle climate change mattered enormously—reducing the severity of climate change dramatically reduced the fire, drought and insect-driven forest die-off.

“Climate change is going to supercharge these three big disturbances in the U.S.,” Anderegg says. “We’ve seen devastating fire seasons with increasing severity in the past several years. Generally, we expect the western U.S. to be hit hardest by all three of these. And they’re somewhat interconnected too. Really hot and dry years, driven by climate change, tend to drive lots of fires, climate-driven tree mortality and insect outbreaks. But we have an opportunity here too. Addressing climate change quickly can help keep our forests and landscapes healthy.”

The study is published in Ecology Letters and was supported by the National Science Foundation, U.S. Department of Agriculture, David and Lucille Packard Foundation and Microsoft’s AI for Earth.

Find the full study at Ecology Letters.


by Paul Gabrielsen, first published at @TheU.


HACU National Internship Program

HACU National Internship Program

Various Internship Positions with Federal Agencies

Fall paid internship for all majors. Virtual, hybrid, and in-person formats are available. The deadline for this one is June 3rd, and will start September 6 to December 16.

This opportunity is listed on the College of Science Internship Program website as a service to University of Utah students. Students should not assume that this opportunity, or other opportunities on this website, have been vetted and/or endorsed by the College of Science Internship Program or the University of Utah. This position may or may not align with current University of Utah COVID-19 conditions.

UofU Youth Partner Organization Positions

UofU Youth Partner Organization


A partner program of University of Utah Youth Education is seeking instructors for the following science-related positions:

Interested Candidates:
Send Jason Topa an email  ( with your resume.

This opportunity is listed on the College of Science Internship Program website as a service to University of Utah students. Students should not assume that this opportunity, or other opportunities on this website, have been vetted and/or endorsed by the College of Science Internship Program or the University of Utah. This position may or may not align with current University of Utah COVID-19 conditions.

Randy Rasmussen

Randy Rasmussen

Randy Rasmussen & Denise Dearing

BioFire Diagnostics began when three college friends came together on the University of Utah campus to collaborate and build a transformative company.

Many of today’s most successful companies were created by groups of friends: Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard started Hewlett-Packard in a garage in Palo Alto, California; Bill Gates and Paul Allen, childhood friends from Lakewood, Washington co-founded Microsoft; and Larry Page, Sergey Brin, part of the same PhD cohort at Stanford University founded Google.

The University of Utah has its own version of this story: BioFire Diagnostics began with a group of three college friends who came together on the University of Utah campus to collaborate and build a transformative company.

The precursor to BioFire Diagnostics, Idaho Technology, Inc., was founded in 1991 by three U alumni: Carl Wittwer (Residency, ’88, Pathology), Kirk Ririe, BS’05, Chemistry, and Randy Rasmussen, PhD’98, Biology. Their unique backgrounds and experience perfectly complemented one another—Ririe was a chemist and engineer, Randy with a molecular and cellular biology background, and Wittwer a medical professional.

BioFire started small, with the trio working on prototypes of PCR machines which included hair dryers taped to fluorescent tubes. But the they set their sights higher to lead the molecular diagnostic industry, and BioFire’s product development has since evolved to include sophisticated diagnostic tools including Film Array®, a proprietary molecular diagnostics system that uses PCR and melt-curve analysis and simultaneously tests for multiple infectious agents in a single panel in the short time of about an hour.

From its humble beginnings in the corner of Ririe’s parent’ business, to their current location in University of Utah Research Park, BioFire has always had a simple, yet tremendously impactful, mission: “To help make the world a healthier place.”

Randy Rasmussen

"I urge students to explore their passion. A degree in the STEM field will open doors to many opportunities."


Due to its great success, BioFire was purchased by BioMerieux in 2013. Under the leadership of Dr. Randy Rasmussen, who currently serves as CEO, the company grew from 250 employees, in 2012, to over 1,400 employees in 2017. Their new, built-to-spec, 30,000 square foot building in Research Park, “allows visitors to see the research, development and manufacturing underway while simultaneously integrating the beauty of the foothills, says Denise Dearing, Chair of the Biology Department while on a recent tour of the building. “It’s stunning.”

Later this year, BioFire will have sold its 10,000th instrument—an astounding figure when considering there are only 6,000 hospitals in the U.S.

Born in Lansing, Michigan as the son of a horticulture professor at Michigan State University, Rasmussen has always had a passion for science. With family ties in Utah, Rasmussen began his education in biology at Utah State University and later spent time working with the U medical heart transplant team. From there, his passion for science led him to pursue a PhD in molecular and cellular biology at the U. While there he worked in Sandy Parkinson‘s lab which transformed him during his first year of core classes.

Rasmussen relates how in one year he went from “knowing nothing to knowing a lot.” It was a dramatic life transformation which exposed him to many new ares in biology.

At BioFire, going from scientist to CEO was a unique transition. Rasmussen expressed, “It was initially difficult to start off from a focus of research and development, to being primarily focused on the day-to-day of building a business. The other unique transition was, “Giving up control over the small, but important details that I oversaw, to fully trusting those you work with to get the job done.” Rasmussen shares that most of the leadership team has been with BioFire for over 15 years. This longevity shows the tremendous trust and loyalty of the BioFire team.

Rasmussen is tremendously appreciative of his time at the University of Utah where he met nt only his future business partners, but also his wife Heather Ross, BS’88, communication. Kirk Ririe introduced Randy to Heather—now married, they reside near the U and have a son Aidan, who currently studies economics at Wesleyan University.

Today, Rasmussen has a passion for Utah and the mountains where he enjoys skiing, biking and hiking. Continuing his connection to the U, he notes that many of BioFire’s talented employees are U graduates.

Reflecting on his life and career, Randy Rasmussen has some advice for current student at the U. He urges them to explore their passion, and explains that a degree in the STEM field will open doors to many opportunities. He believes that students should take classes in business to complement their technical background and should participate in internships to gain additional experience and perspective.

This story originally appeared in 2017 in the debut issue of OUR DNA.

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Mina Done

Mina Done

Beckman Abstract

  • Comparative Quantification of Oxidative Damage in the Genome, Telomere, and mtDNA using qPCR

    Oxidative stress occurs when there is an unbalanced amount of reactive oxygen species (ROS) in the cell. These ROS can cause oxidative damage in the DNA which lead to mutations that can contribute to cancer, neurodegenerative diseases, and aging. One common form of oxidative damage is 8-oxoguanine (OG) and this can be used as a marker for oxidative stress. One type of oxidative stress is the production of superoxides. These superoxides are produced in the mitochondria and get converted into hydrogen peroxide which then can be activated by reacting with iron in the cell. Because hydrogen peroxide can diffuse into other cells before it reacts with iron, oxidative stress isn’t necessarily contained within the mitochondria where most of the ROS are produced. We want to quantify OG in mitochondrial DNA targets as well as nuclear DNA targets to gain a better understanding of where in the cell is DNA most susceptible to oxidative stress. To quantify oxidative damage in DNA, we will be using a qPCR method. Bacterial Fpg, a base excision repair enzyme, can be used to detect and cleave the DNA where OG occurs which will decrease DNA amplification in qPCR. After adding bacterial Fpg to our qPCR sample, the amount that we see decreased DNA amplification will correspond to the amount of oxidative damage present in that region of DNA. We can then use this information to compare the amounts across the different DNA target regions to gain a better understanding of where oxidative stress is most felt in the cell. This will then allow further research into the mechanisms of ROS as well as where to target for repair of oxidative damage.


Maxwell Austin

Maxwell Austin

Beckman Abstract

  • Antimicrobial Peptide Stabilization and Natural Product Scaffold Mimicry Using Triazolinedione-Based Cyclization Methods

    Antimicrobial peptides (AMPs) are a promising, yet underdeveloped class of therapeutics with structural characteristics that go beyond traditional drug discovery guidelines. Though structurally diverse, most AMPs have defined peptide secondary structures that promote their mechanisms of action. A common hypothesis is that the stabilization of these peptide secondary structures may enhance their biological properties. The main goals of this project involve the development and application of a selective cyclization reaction to stabilize and mimic the cyclic structures of these bioactive peptides. Triazolinediones (TADs) are reactive molecules with remarkably selective chemical reactivity that have enabled applications in organic synthesis, chemical biology, and medicine. Substituted TADs are used for tyrosine-selective bioconjugation reactions that satisfy ‘click reaction’ chemical requirements. TAD-containing peptides can react selectively with tyrosine (Tyr) to yield TAD-Tyr linked cyclic peptides. Toward antimicrobial peptide therapeutic discovery, I will use TAD-based cyclization methods to stabilize and mimic the structures of the bioactive peptides magainin and arylomycin. The magainins are naturally produced helical AMPs isolated from the African clawed frog that exhibit Gram-negative antimicrobial activity. Using an electrochemical oxidation method I will prepare a series of structure-stabilized magainin peptides and evaluate their biological properties. The naturally produced arylomycin AMPs are structurally defined by a smaller, biaryl-linked cycle. Here I will use on-resin TAD-based cyclization chemistry to prepare a close mimic of the biaryl-linked cycle. Long-term, the development of TAD-based cyclization methods for the stabilization and mimicry of peptide secondary structures could expand future access to stable peptide therapeutics.


Phi Beta Kappa

Phi Beta Kappa Society Scholar

Muskan Walia Named Phi Beta Kappa Society Scholar.

Muskan Walia, a second-year student at the University of Utah Honors College, studying math
and philosophy, has been named a Key into Public Service Scholar by the Phi Beta Kappa Society. The Society is the nation’s most prestigious academic honor society, and the Key into Public Service award highlights specific pathways for arts and sciences graduates to launch public sector careers.

Chosen from nearly 900 applicants attending Phi Beta Kappa chapter institutions across the nation, the Key into Public Service Scholars hail from 17 states. These are high-achieving college sophomores and juniors, who display notable breadth and depth in their academic interests.

“I am extremely grateful and honored to be receiving this award from Phi Beta Kappa,” said Walia. “My community here at the University of Utah has provided me with a prodigious liberal arts and sciences education and has nurtured my interest in exploring the dynamics between science, society, and the public sector. I am excited for the incredible opportunity to further explore this interest this summer.”

Walia is an ACCESS Scholar and undergraduate researcher, working with Dr. Fred Adler, Professor of Biology and of Mathematics. In her research, Walia adapted an epidemiological SIR model for spread of disease to model the number of cells infected with SARS-CoV-2 in order to predict when different types of tests will produce false positives or false negatives.

“My summer in the ACCESS Scholars program sparked an interest and motivation to pursue a career in public service,” she said. “Being taught by faculty across the University of Utah in diverse disciplines, I learned about the intersections of science, communication, and policy and how scientists can practice the art of advocacy.


Muskan Walia

"My community here at the University of Utah has provided me with a prodigious liberal arts and sciences education and has nurtured my interest in exploring the dynamics between science, society, and the public sector."


“Working under the mentorship of Dr. Fred Adler has been invaluable. I wanted to be engaged in mathematics research that centered on justice and informed public policy. There was truly no better pairing than with Dr. Adler. He has wholeheartedly supported and encouraged my curiosity and passion to utilize mathematics principles to tackle the most pressing social justice related questions of our time.”

In addition to her studies, Walia currently serves as the ASUU student government Senate Chair and works as a youth environmental organizer in the Salt Lake City area. She founded a campaign to commit her local school district to a 100% clean electricity transition by 2030, and has assisted with the expansion of local clean energy campaigns in Utah school districts. She is also a leader and mentor at Utah Youth Environmental Solutions Network (UYES), where she supports the development of a new youth-based climate justice curriculum. Her experiences have cultivated a passion and commitment to community building, climate education, and environmental justice.

Each Key into Public Service Scholar will receive a $5,000 undergraduate scholarship and take part in a conference in late June in Washington, D.C. to provide them with training, mentoring, and reflection on pathways into active citizenship.

Below are the names of the 2022 Key into Public Service Scholars and their chapter institutions:

Aylar AtadurdyyevaUniversity of Kansas
Miguel Coste, University of Notre Dame
Noelle Dana, University of Notre Dame
Grace Dowling, Clark University
Brandon Folson, Loyola University Chicago
Justin Fox, University of Maryland- College Park
Sora Heo, University of California - San Diego
Alec Hoffman, Clark University
Samiha Islam, State University of New York at Buffalo
Ruthie Kesri, Duke University
Katherine Marin, University of Florida
Sondos Moursy, University of Houston
Olivia Negro, Ursinus College
Emily Geigh Nichols, Stanford University
Paul Odu, University of Missouri
Vaidehi Persad, University of South Florida
Diba Seddighi, University of Tennessee
James Suleyman, Roanoke College
Jonah Tobin, Williams College
Muskan WaliaUniversity of Utah
For more information about the scholarship and links to individual biographies of the recipients, please visit


by Michele Swaner, first published at


Societal Impact Scholar

Societal Impact Scholar

Ken Golden Named U Presidential Societal Impact Scholar

President Taylor R. Randall has named Ken Golden, Distinguished Professor of Mathematics, as an inaugural recipient of the University of Utah Presidential Societal Impact Scholar Award.

Dr. Golden and four other scholars are a select group of faculty. Recognized as experts in their respective fields and disciplines, they share and translate their scholarship, research, creative activities and ideas with opinion leaders, policy makers, the public and other audiences outside the university and in ways that can transform society.


Ken Golden

"Dr. Golden is among the rare group of top-level mathematical scientists who is able to reach to the broader public about one of the central issues of our time."


Golden is a brilliant expositor and a passionate advocate for public awareness of our changing climate and the critical role of mathematics in climate modeling. He has given over 40 invited public lectures since 2008, and over 500 invited lectures since 1984. His public lectures emphasize the rapid and significant loss of Arctic sea ice, and how mathematics is helping us predict the future of the Earth’s polar marine environment. Dr. Golden is among the rare group of top-level mathematical scientists who is able to reach to the broader public about one of the central issues of our time.

From tackling the social determinants of health and wellness, to addressing the underlying causes of crime and poverty, to designing interventions to curb poor air and water quality, to helping better inform public debate on society’s most pressing issues, these scholars’ works have a positive impact on people and institutions and help make our world a better, more equitable and enjoyable place in which to live.

The 2022 cohort of impact scholars are:
Kenneth Golden, Distinguished Professor, Department of Mathematics
RonNell Andersen Jones, Professor, College of Law
Michelle Litchman, Assistant Professor, College of Nursing
Susie Porter, Professor, College of Humanities and the School for Cultural and Social Transformation
Paisley Rekdal, Distinguished Professor, Department of English

The Presidential Societal Impact Scholar Award was conceived by and is supported by a gift from University of Utah Professor Randy Dryer.


by Michele Swaner, first published at