William Anderegg Receives NSF Waterman Award

William Anderegg and National Science Foundation Dir. Sethuraman Panchanathan at Waterman Award Ceremonies, May 9, 2023. Photo provided by NSF.

William Anderegg RECEIVES Waterman Award

Associate professor of Biology William Anderegg is a 2023 recipient of the National Science Foundation‘s Alan T. Waterman Award. Anderegg, who is also Director of the Wilkes Center for Climate Science & Policy, is one of three awardees each of whom receive a medal and $1 million over five years for research in their chosen field of science. The nation’s highest honor for early-career scientists and engineers, The Waterman Award was presented to all recipients at a ceremony during the National Science Board meeting, held in Washington, D.C., on May 9. The award, established by Congress in 1975, is named for Alan T. Waterman, NSF’s first director.

“Receiving the Waterman Award is incredibly meaningful. It’s an amazing honor and I’m still stunned,” said Anderegg. “It will allow us to take on some really aspirational, creative and high-risk projects that we’ve thought about for a while but can now actually tackle. I’m immensely grateful to the wonderful mentors I’ve had throughout my career who played a huge role in my path as a scientist. I feel lucky to be surrounded by such generous and brilliant scientists, and this award has really made me reflect on how important these people have been and still are in my career.”

This is the second year the National Science Foundation has chosen to honor three researchers with the award, which recognizes outstanding early-career U.S. science or engineering researchers who demonstrate exceptional individual achievements in NSF-supported fields.


Read the full story by Ross Chambless in @TheU.
Listen to the National Science Foundation’s recent podcast with Bill Anderegg here.


Outstanding Undergrad Research Awards 2023

The University of Utah is one of the top research academic institutions in the Intermountain West, and it’s thanks in major part to the U’s undergraduate student researchers and the faculty who advise and mentor them.

Some of the university’s up-and-coming researchers and mentors were honored at the 2023 Office of Undergraduate Research (OUR) Awards, held virtually on April 3 due to a winter weather advisory in the Northern Utah area.

Every year, OUR recognizes one undergraduate student researcher from each college/school with the Outstanding Undergraduate Researcher Award, according to the office’s website. Partnering colleges and schools are responsible for selecting the awardee.

Dr. Annie Isabel Fukushima, director of the Office of Undergraduate Research and associate dean of Undergraduate Studies at the U, said the OUR recognizes that to foster a culture of future problem-solvers working in tandem with current premier researchers in their fields of study, they must also foster a culture of recognition and rewards.

This year, 16 undergraduate researchers were honored with the Outstanding Undergraduate Researcher Award, three of them from the College of Science:

Yexalen Barrera-Casas (left) Mentor: Professor Michael Morse, Dept. of Chemistry

Alison Wang (center) Mentor: Professor Caroline Saouma, Dept. of Chemistry

Nancy Sohlberg (right) Mentor: Professor Gannet Hallar, Dept. of Atmospheric Sciences

“The Outstanding Undergraduate Researcher Awards exemplify excellence in research at the University of Utah across the disciplines,” Fukushima said. “The awardees are creative thinkers, innovators, and solving pressing societal problems.”

Dr. Carena Frost, Associate Vice President for Research Integrity and Compliance at the University of Utah, gave opening remarks on behalf of the Office of the Vice President for Research (VPR). Frost told the audience there’s no doubt the student researchers will continue to innovate in science, medicine, technology and many more fields thanks to the work they do.

“Research is all about helping people,” she said. “Finding solutions for our society is what gets me most excited about the future of research at the U, and you are at the forefront of it.”

At the ceremony event, award recipients were able to thank their mentors, family and others for their support. Four students were honored for being Parent Fund Undergraduate Research Scholarship recipients.

For the first time in the event’s history, mentors were honored with the Outstanding Undergraduate Research Mentor Award. Nineteen mentors were recognized at this year’s event.

Fukushima, who is also an associate professor of Ethnic Studies, was one of the mentor award honorees. She said mentoring relationships are successful because of commitment, communication, and a culture — both within a department and university-wide — that is invested in research occurring at all stages of academic, from undergraduate to faculty.

“Student-faculty collaborations are successful because mentors invest the time, and mentees are willing to risk going into the unknown and the uncomfortable,” Fukushima said. “Doing research is hard, but it can be rewarding.”

More information and criteria for both awards can be found on the OUR’s website to see OUR awards program click here.

1U4U Initiative

Browse the College of Science’s Funded 1U4U Projects for 2023


IU4U is designed to seed multidisciplinary faculty/student collaborations in areas of mutual research interest and opportunity. The initiative seeks innovative projects aimed at campus, education, engagement, research and scholarship that are not subject to traditional peer review. In order to receive funding priority, the project must have the potential of leading to external funding, have societal impact, and be a collaboration between health sciences and main campus.

The College of Science is pleased to announce that four of our professors have received an 1U4U award. Congratulations!

Emerging Perovskite Dosimetry for In-Situ and High-Dose Radiotherapy


Robust radiation detectors are essential in state-of-the-art radiotherapy and cancer treatment. This project exploits an innovative perovskite detector that meets the stringent requirements for such dosimeters. Our interdisciplinary team possesses complementary expertise in chemical synthesis (Bischak), semiconductor devices (Yoon), nuclear radiation (Sjoden), and clinical medical physics (Nelson).

Metal-halide perovskites are emerging semiconductors owing to their facile synthesis, tunable bandgap, long carrier diffusion length, and high defect tolerance. Researchers have demonstrated the feasibility of perovskite detectors where the performance is comparable to or exceeds established detectors. While exciting, the stability of perovskites under high radiation doses must be better understood. The detector architecture that optimizes the complex interactions between radioactive particles with semiconductors remains challenging. This research field faces limited experimental evaluation under irradiation by high-energy particles.

Our team is ideally positioned to tackle such challenges by maximizing our expertise and resources (TRIGA reactor [n-gamma], electron/proton sources). This project will be built on a solid partnership among experts, staff, and students, providing an excellent opportunity to promote diversity, educational training, and close collaborations. This project will enable us to pursue large external grants in medical, homeland security, and space research.


Surgery in the Pyrocene: Examining the Risk of Wildfire Smoke to Perioperative Patient Populations in the Mountain West


Across the Western U.S., the number of large wildfires has been steadily increasing since the early 1980s leading to degraded air quality. Wildfire smoke is known to worsen cardiopulmonary and neurovascular outcomes, however its impact on surgical patients is unstudied. Surgical populations are especially vulnerable to wildfire smoke due to the surgical inflammatory response which can synergize with pollution related inflammation. We hypothesize that patients presenting for surgery during wildfire smoke events will experience worsened perioperative outcomes (e.g. stroke, MI) compared to clean air days.

To characterize the health risk of wildfire smoke, linkages are needed that can attribute specific elevated smoke components (e.g PAHs, PM2.5) to specific source regions. We will leverage a smoke transport model (STILT), developed by Co-I Mallia and Wilmot, which can trace the origin of elevated PM2.5 levels to specific wildfires and use this funding to extend model timeframes. The smoke model will then be combined with perioperative outcomes, patient addresses, and traffic pollution, building on prior work from Co-I’s Pearson and Wan from the Departments of Anesthesiology and Geography. Differentiating upstream smoke events from downstream pollution will enable better understanding of the pathophysiological mechanisms behind inflammatory responses to these varied sources. This non-traditional, cross-campus collaboration will enable us to characterize the risk to patients undergoing surgery and devise countermeasures, such as in-home filtration, PPE, and dynamic surgical scheduling, based on air quality.

This team will tackle a complex problem, the impact of wildfire smoke on perioperative health, and test the feasibility of this field of inquiry while supporting student researchers. If successful, we hope to build multi-institutional collaborations and obtain extramural funding from sources such as the NIH’s Climate Change and Health NOSI (NOT-ES-22-006).


The pathogenic potential of Great Salt Lake dust


The Great Salt Lake (GSL) is rapidly shrinking, exposing a vast lake bed and emitting dust that affects the air quality for the 1.3 million people in the Salt Lake Valley (SLV) with a disproportionate impact on underserved communities. Dust from the GSL contains heavy metals, dangerous for human health. However, the pathogenic content of GSL dust has not been characterized, an urgent gap in our understanding of the health consequences of the drying lake.

To characterize the potential pathogens in the source of GSL dust, we will sample dust from a transect on the exposed lake bed. We will sieve dust and then re-aerosolize it to focus on the respirable fraction of dust that can penetrate deep into the lungs and that poses the most direct infection risk. To characterize the dust microbiome that may more proximally affect people and may contribute to increasing environmental health disparities in SLV, we will collect airborne dust using filter samplers across city transects. For both dust from the GSL lakebed and urban air, we will characterize the dust microbiome, identifying all known human bacterial and fungal pathogens, with next generation sequencing.
This proposal establishes a new multidisciplinary collaboration between researchers in the School of Pharmacy, School of Medicine, College of Mines and Earth Sciences, and College of Engineering, enabling us to collect preliminary data for an NIH proposal to study the epidemiology of GSL dust. By focusing on a major environmental and health justice challenge, our proposal advances the University of Utah’s strategic goals to develop and transfer new knowledge and to engage communities to improve health and the quality of life.


Understand and predict the severe drought events in the western United States and their influence on water resources and human health






The western United States has experienced drought in recent years. In 2022, drought conditions were most severe in the States of California, Texas, Oregon, Nevada, Utah, and New Mexico. As reported in July 2022, more than 32 percent of land in western states was classified as experiencing extreme or exceptional drought.
Drought can adversely reduce the quantity of snowpack and streamflow available, thus greatly influencing the ecosystem, human activities, and human health through environmental influence and social and economic impacts.

This project aims to better understand and predict the severe drought events in the western United States and their impacts on water resources and human health, especially in Northern Utah. We seek collaborations from climate, hydrological, ecosystem, and health science. Our objectives are to 1) develop improved drought metrics based on the historical records and current conditions of the atmosphere, land, and plant available water for an effective drought prediction method; and 2) assess the drought impacts on human health, such as lung health of toxic dust caused by a drought in Great Salt Lake. The ultimate goal of the research is to provide effective drought prediction methods for the western United States and identify significant issues, thus making suggestions for essential decision-making.


Development of a Science-Theater collaborative platform


“Of Serpents & Sea Spray” by Rachel Bublitz at Custom Made Theatre Co. photo by Jay Yamada.

Science and technology have transformed our lives and will disrupt and reshape jobs within our community. Yet, from genetic modifications to quantum computing, science remains enigmatic to the public. In recognition of this problem, the National Science Foundation has required every scientific proposal to incorporate elements of outreach. One way to reach wider communities is live theater. The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation supports production of plays about science. The creation of plays about science, however, remain challenging because it requires non-traditional, cross-disciplinary collaborations too elaborate for junior investigators or emerging playwrights.

Our project will develop a collaborative model that draws on the expertise of research faculty in Science, Theater and the Center for Health Ethics, Arts, and Humanities. We will test this approach by developing a play about retroviruses to be performed at the International Retrovirology Conference at Snowbird Utah in September of 2023. Our team has identified a local playwright, Rachel Bublitz, and director, Assistant Professor Alexandra Harbold (Theatre), who, will collaborate with Dr Anna Skalka (Fox Chase Medical Center in Philadelphia), Dr Saffarian’s lab, and health sciences faculty to explore the golden age of molecular biology and the ethical and social implications of retroviral research. This process will be documented to serve as a model for future investigators.
Opportunities for extramural funding include:

1- Allowing junior faculty to propose science-theater collaborations as outreach mechanisms in their NSF proposals. This retroviruses play will be directly incorporated into the next NSF proposal from Dr Saffarian’s lab.
2- Allowing playwrights to develop plays with the potential to seek additional development and production support from arts, cultural and science education foundations.


Overcoming Vaccine Hesitancy and Preventing Cancer ThroughAdaptive Learning Artificial Intelligence and Refinement of Reminder Interventions and Campaigns


HPV is common (>80% of people), responsible for 36,000 cancer diagnoses each year in the U.S., and largely preventable. Vaccine hesitancy is a barrier to immunization and misinformation during the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated hesitancy, leading to sharp declines in adolescent immunizations, including HPV vaccination. Efforts focused on childhood vaccination, resulted in deprioritization of HPV and adolescent immunization. Patient reminder and recall (RR) strategies have been proven successful in immunization uptake; however, the effectiveness of these strategies varies by geographic and sociodemographic factors. The current study will be among the first to use state-level vaccination registry data to systematically examine missed opportunities and identify spatial and temporal trends of HPV vaccination. This project will inform the creation of an adaptive learning artificial intelligence for refinement of interactive RR strategies and interventions. Solutions arising from this study are scalable, can be tailored for diverse reminder campaigns, responsive to evolving landscapes, and designed to deliver cost-effective solutions. Both innovative and transformative, this cross-campus collaboration will address complex healthcare problems using precision public health strategies, optimized for decreasing vaccine hesitancy and increasing uptake, and provide preliminary results for high-impact NIH and NCI funding proposals.


Investigation of Polymer Functional Groups and Their Impact on Sperm Viability



We have observed that the viability of sperm decreases depending on the polymer materials used in assisted reproductive technologies. We have done some preliminary studies and have determined that sperm can be negatively impacted by either the functional groups present on polymers, surface charge, surface morphology, and other polymer properties. We have further noted increased incidence in gamete toxicity in contact materials that were recently purchased after product substitutions became necessary due to supply chain issues. We believe this is due to the use of additives, mold release agents, and other contaminants that are present on the polymer surfaces. In this study, we propose to investigate the polymer properties of contact materials used in assisted reproductive techniques (ART) to determine their impact on the viability of sperm after exposure to different polymers over time. Following sperm exposure to various materials, we will test sperm function using the hamster egg penetration test. In addition, the Phadnis lab has developed a “sperm racetrack”, an optically clear counter-current microfluidic channel that can be used as a sensitive assay to measure other functional aspects of sperm including linear velocity, swim efficiency and longevity of motility. In this study, we aim to examine the material properties that may affect sperm viability, to determine whether there are negative impacts on sperm after exposure to specific polymer materials and to identify materials that are most compatible with gametes, with the ultimate goal of optimizing the composition of contact materials used in ART.

You can browse all of the awardees at the University of Utah here. 

Founders Day Distinguished Alumni

Distinguished AlumnI Awards

The University of Utah Office of Alumni Relations annually presents its Founders Day Distinguished Alumnus/Alumna Awards to alumni for their outstanding professional achievements, public service, and/or commitment to the U.

This year, all four recipients of the award, given out March 1, stemmed from the College of Science. A fifth individual, was presented as an “honorary alum” who has contributed significantly to the advancement of the U.

Musician trapped in scientist’s body

Clifton Sanders PhD’90, arrived in Salt Lake City from Baltimore via University of Michigan in 1977. During his appearance as the featured speaker at the Hugo Rossi Lecture Series March 15, he detailed what it was like to be one of very few Black residents in Utah. Even so, his experience in the Department of Chemistry was generally a positive experience. Today, he is the Provost for Academic Affairs and Chief Academic Officer of Salt Lake Community College, overseeing the education of more than 61,000 students annually.

A saxophonist like his father, Sanders has been called “a musician trapped in a scientist’s body.” “I look at playing music almost as a research program, just like a scientist would,” Sanders says. “There are little experiments you do and in the craft you figure out … how to make it work.” For the past five years, Sanders has volunteered as a mentor for the U’s African American Doctoral Scholars Initiative, providing a scholarly community and educational services to prepare Black Ph.D. students at the U for academic, industry, and entrepreneurial careers through mentoring, advising, and professional development. Recently, he’s back with his sax, appearing locally with the George Brown Quintet known for its unpretentious, “killin’ straight ahead” jazz.

Army 'Brat'-turned neurosurgeon

“Utah is now complimented for its ‘connectedness’” says J. Charles Rich BS’62 MD’65  “—a culture where so many have known each other for so many reasons over so many years. The University of Utah plays a central role in providing that valuable resource.” Rich served as president of both the American Association of Neurological Surgeons and American Academy of Neurological Surgeons and was vice chairman of the American Board of Neurological Surgery. 

He was also a neurosurgical delegate to the American Medical Association House of Delegates and was chief medical officer of the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Olympic Games before joining the Utah Sports Commission Board of Directors. Rich was president of the Spencer Fox Eccles School of Medicine’s Alumni Association for eight years, a member of the U Alumni Board of Directors for three years, a neurosurgical consultant to the University of Utah Athletics Department, and a member of the Crimson Club Board of Directors. 

A self-identified “army brat” growing up during WWII, Rich, a biology graduate who went on to medical school at the U, also served with his family as a foster family for basketball student-athletes and contributed to athletic scholarships for many years. 

Moving Mountains

Anke Friedrich BS’90 MS’93 is an endowed professor of geology at the Ludwig-Maximilians-University of Munich where she established a Master's degree program in geology, led international student field trips involving U students, and set up student exchange programs with several international institutions, including the U. "I benefited enormously from the vibrant and collegial environment at the University of Utah,” she says, “both as a student-athlete and a geology major. Therefore, I am very grateful to my former ski coaches, faculty mentors, and fellow students for their tremendous support and friendship over the years."

An adjunct professor at the U's Department of Geology & Geophysics, Friedrich received the department’s Distinguished Alumni Award in 2019. She played a crucial role in establishing one of the world's first continuously operating space-geodetic networks which served to monitor the tectonic activity around Yucca Mountain, the then-proposed nuclear waste repository site. 

Friedrich volunteered for the Salt Lake Olympic Games in 2002 before moving to Potsdam and helping to establish the first research group in Active Tectonics at a geological institute in Germany. As a student, she was a member of the U’s alpine ski team, earning All-American honors by winning three individual NCAA championships in giant slalom and slalom.

Catalyst for education and growth

James S. Hinckley BS’71 MS’77 is chairman of the Hinckley Institute of Politics Board of Directors and Investment Committee, positions he has held since 1990. Both he and his wife Lyn Hinckley (BS’73), a former elementary school teacher and, currently, a community advocate for the McCluskey Center for Violence Prevention, received the award. 

Graduating with his bachelor’s at the U in biology, Jim joined the family business early on selling cars. He was a member of the Chrysler Corporation West Region Dealer Council 1982 through 1990 and the Chrysler Corp. National Truck Advisory Board from 1988 through 1992. He was president of the Utah Automobile Dealers Association from 1988 through 1989 and was inducted into the Utah Automobile Hall of Fame in 2013. 

An alumnus of what is now the College of Science’s School of Biological Sciences, Jim is a sustaining member of the U’s National Advisory Council and has been a member of the National History Museum of Utah’s Board of Advisors since 2018. “I love learning and sharing my enthusiasm for knowledge by creating opportunities for education and growth,” he says. “My involvement in both academic and community-facing organizations at the U has allowed me to engage with and support students of all ages throughout their educational journeys.”

Flashing the 'U'

Legendary Utah fan John Bircumshaw popularized the “Flash the U” gesture. His passion for the University of Utah Gymnastics program has led him to become a staple in the Utah gymnastics world; he travels with the team, provides a community for the gymnasts’ parents, and is the person that out-of-town parents can depend on to help their daughters. John was hired by Utah Power in 1973 as a meter reader. He apprenticed and became a journeyman lineman before becoming director of apprentice training from 1996 through 2015.  John received the Spirit of Excellence Award from the company for his involvement in building the Olympic Rings for the 2002 Olympic Games, where he served as venue captain at the figure skating and short track speed skating venue. John also served as a Park City volunteer firefighter, a member of the Volunteer Ski Patrol at the Park City Ski Resort, and volunteer director of the resort’s Saturday Patrol.

“The University of Utah provides a high-quality education for all of the Student Athletes who have the opportunity to attend school and participate in sports,” says Bircumshaw who was presented an honorary distinguished alumni award during the Founders Day celebration.


Are you an alumni of the newly-merged College of Science | College of Mines & Earth Sciences? We want to hear from you. Contact or Development Team at travis.mcmullin@utah.edu to share your story.

Balance & Bliss: Aria Ballance

Aria Ballance

“At first, I didn’t really know what you could do with a chemistry degree,” says Aria Ballance. “But I loved it so much that I stuck with it, and it has paid off. I’m glad I followed my ‘bliss.’” 

Lead climbing, Big Cottonwood Canyon

A graduate student in chemistry at the U, Ballance is the recent recipient of the National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship. Her love for chemistry has led her to research a wide variety of topics, from water-purifying titanium dioxide clay pots to nanoparticles and chiral molecules in Dr. Jennifer Shumaker-Parry’s nanomaterials lab. 

While applying for the fellowship, Ballance made a remarkable connection between her previous research and a U.S. Air Force project focused on distinguishing between Earth and extraterrestrial molecules. Though her research originally focused on the medical sphere, Ballance’s curiosity and love for space exploration inspired her to advance her research toward the Space Force project’s objective. Ballance explains, “They released a Broad Agency Announcement asking for a proposal that could enhance the signal of potential extraterrestrial molecules from meteorites. And I thought, ‘Oh, okay! My nanoparticles could probably do something like that.” 

Ballance’s current research involves fabricating gold crescent shaped nanostructures she refers to as "nanocrescents." When the nanocrescents interact with an incident light, they create plasmons that she is using to try to enhance the molecular signal of small chiral molecules. She recalls the exciting moment when she made the connection: “One of the things they are looking for when searching for extraterrestrial molecules and signs of life is chirality,” a geometric property in which an object or molecule cannot be superimposed on its mirror image. “A lot of nanoparticles are used to enhance molecular signals, so I was shocked that no one was using them to find aliens!” 

Ballance points to science fiction as one of her sources of inspiration in her work and credits her love of Star Trek for inspiring her to apply for the highly competitive fellowship. Additionally, Ballance cites other sources of inspiration in her day-to-day life, including her fellow lab members, Amy Morren and Anh Nguyen, and her mentor, Dr. Shumaker-Parry, for making her experience at the University of Utah so fulfilling. “Dr. Shumaker-Parry has given me so many opportunities and has helped me grow exponentially as a scientist. Her incredible work with nanoparticles is what inspired me to apply to graduate school and become a chemist.” When the deadline for the fellowship came around, Ballance was going through a difficult personal matter and almost did not apply. But with the support and encouragement of her mentor, she submitted the application. She’s glad she did. 

Ballance emphasizes that submitting the application even under less-than-ideal circumstances taught her how much you can achieve when you let go of the fear of failure and really trust yourself. As a self-proclaimed over thinker, Ballance points out that the pressure to do things perfectly the first time can often hold her back. “If I just trust the process, I do better,” she says. “I think I would’ve done better on tests in high school if they could see all the things I had erased,” she says, jokingly. For Ballance, embracing imperfection and welcoming the unknown are keys to her success. “There are so many variables in chemistry, science, and life in general that you can change, and it's just not linear. And I really think that people should be making mistakes.” 

Above all, Ballance feels the most support and love from her mom and younger sister. “My mom raised me and my sister alone and taught us how to love the world around us even when things feel like they may be falling apart.” As for her sister, “she is the bravest, strongest person I know, and the closest friend I have in the world.”

Growing up in Santa Barbara, California, Ballance remembers her high school years being filled with academic competition and the pressure to perform perfectly. After deciding to take a summer chemistry course at a local college to fix a mistake in her schedule, she found herself surrounded by adults in a lab filled with chemicals she’d never worked with. “It was terrifying,” Ballance said, “especially the labs, because everyone knew what they were doing. I was scared of that class for so long, but I was determined to finish it. “I ended up doing really well and learning more about myself and the course material than I had in any other class.” Her triumph in the class gave her the confidence she needed, and she’s been enamored with the world of chemistry ever since. 

Hiking in Switzerland.

Along with her undergraduate chemistry degree from Lewis & Clark College, Ballance also completed a minor in theater, discovering a refreshing “balance” between the two fields. “I feel like I can lose a lot of creative energy being in the science world, where you are dependent on repetition of trials and replicating your experiments. And that’s why I really want to encourage the science and art worlds to combine. I think it's really important that people go to see art and performances to spark that creative energy.”

Balance and Bliss

Drawn to the U by her love for the outdoors and her desire to get involved with research, Ballance applied and was accepted into the Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program in Dr. Shumaker-Parry’s lab after her senior year at Lewis & Clark College. Determined to continue doing research, she hunted for more experience back home in Santa Barbara before applying to graduate school, and was accepted into the U later that year. 

Ballance makes the most of her time living in Utah, going backpacking, hiking, climbing, and skiing whenever she can. “I really love the outdoors,” she says. “If I had a dream job it would be working outside and doing chemistry.” 

Following graduate school, Aria Ballance plans to achieve her dream of living abroad while completing a post-doctoral fellowship. In the meantime, she’ll continue to explore her love of chemistry while she carefully plans her new chapter of adventures.

 “I haven’t figured out where I’m going to go yet, but my plan is to work hard, not give up and to follow my bliss.” Right now, her bliss is decidedly a chemical one. 

By Julia St. Andre

Science Writer Intern



>> HOME <<

Revisiting Carbon Offset Protocols

Revisiting carbon off-set protocols

When you walk through a forest, you are surrounded by carbon. Every branch and every leaf, every inch of trunk and every tendril of unseen root contains carbon pulled from the atmosphere through photosynthesis.

And as long as it stays stored away inside that forest, it’s not contributing to the rising concentrations of carbon dioxide that cause climate change. So it’s only natural that we might want to use forests’ carbon-storage superpower as a potential climate solution in addition to reducing human greenhouse gas emissions.

But climate change itself might compromise how permanently forests are able to store carbon and keep it out of the air, according to a new study led by University of Utah researchers. A study of how different regions and tree species will respond to climate change finds a wide range of estimates of how much carbon forests in different regions might gain or lose as the climate warms. Importantly, the researchers found, the regions most at risk to lose forest carbon through fire, climate stress or insect damage are those regions where many forest carbon offset projects have been set up.

“This tells us there’s a really urgent need to update these carbon offsets protocols and policies with the best available science of climate risks to U.S. forests,” said William Anderegg, study senior author and director of the U’s Wilkes Center for Climate Science and Policy.

The study is published in Nature Geoscience. Find an interactive tool showing carbon storage potential in forests in the U.S. here.


Read about a multi-perspective modeling approach and what we still need to know about climate offset protocols in our attempts to mitigate climate change in the full story by Paul Gabrielsen in @The U


>> HOME <<

2023 College of Science Awards


2023 College of Science AWARDS


The College of Science is committed to recognizing excellence in education, research, and service. Congratulations to all our 2023 College of Science award recipients!


Student Recognition

Research Scholar:
Alison Wang, BS Chemistry

Research Scholar:
Yexalen Barrera-Casas, BS Chemistry

Outstanding Graduate Student:
Dylan Klure, PhD Biology

Faculty Recognition

Excellence in Research: Gabriel Bowen, Department of Geology and Geophysics

Excellence in Teaching and Mentoring: Sophie Caron, Associate Professor of Biology

Distinguished Educator:
Kevin Davenport, Physics and Astronomy

Distinguished Service:
Selvi Kara, Postdoctoral Scholar, Mathematics

Postdoc Recognition

CoS Outstanding Postdoctoral Researcher:
Effie Symeonidi, Biology

Staff Recognition

CoS Staff Excellence Award:
Karen Zundel, Biology

Excellence in Safety:
Maria Garcia, Atmospheric Sciences

College of Mines and Earth Sciences Awards

Outstanding Research Faculty:
Pratt Rogers, Mining Engineering

Outstanding Teaching Assistant:
John Otero, Materials Science Engineering

>> HOME <<


Outstanding Grad Student

Dylan KlURE

Molecular Ecologist Wins Outstanding Graduate Student Award

Dylan Klure. Photo credit: Todd Anderson

At first glance, it might seem a circuitous route to study ecology through the DNA of a desert woodrat. But by using modern molecular biology techniques, Dylan Klure (Dearing Lab), a PhD candidate in the School of Biological Sciences, does just that and in a variety of compelling, integrated and collaborative ways.

To answer the question, “how does an organism interact with its environment?” an ecologist might traditionally study that organism’s behavior or its competition with other species and study its population trends over time. But Klure, who was awarded this year’s Outstanding Graduate Student from the College of Science at the University of Utah and considers himself a molecular ecologist, wants to know how that organism has changed over time and what adaptations that organism has at the level of its genome that allow it to live successfully in its current habitat.

In the case of the desert woodrat, populations in the southwestern United States have experienced gradual changes in climate over the last ~15,000 years since the end of the last ice age. This environmental change has led to the expansion of a highly toxic plant, creosote bush, across much of this region and now many woodrat populations must rely on this toxic plant as a food resource.  “Some woodrat populations have really experienced a lot of change in that time, and other ones haven't. So we can compare those two populations of woodrats and ask what's different or not different in their genomes in response to that environmental change.”

Certain populations of the desert woodrat, largely in the Mojave Desert, are able to consume large quantities of creosote bush, without becoming ill. Klure and his colleagues have found that these woodrats have evolved novel genes that code for enzymes in their liver that can degrade the toxins in creosote bush. Additionally, these woodrats have acquired beneficial microbes in their gut that also help degrade these toxins. These dramatic findings show how historic climate change has shaped the evolution of woodrats.

The implications of such discoveries are two-fold: first, by documenting how animals have responded to past climate change events, scientists can better predict how animals may respond to our current age of rapid climate change. Second, researchers are figuring out the link between what enzymes produced in the liver successfully degrades (or neutralizes) which types of toxins, something that is not well understood in humans.

“It’s complicated,” says Klure. “A single human can produce several dozens of unique enzymes in the liver in response to medicinal use or drug use. And knowing which of those enzymes are actually acting on which toxin or if they're acting sequentially” is a critical benchmark that might inform the development of future medicines.

A team effort that is both ongoing and built on the work of previous graduate students and post-docs, this research has led to multiple publications for the fifth-year graduate student. Articles in peer-reviewed journals have addressed not only how gut microbes in these woodrats allow them to feed on toxic plants, but more broadly, how microbes in the gut get there in the first place, what impacts the microbe community and what factors might predict what species of bacteria one finds in what animals.

Bryant's woodrat (Neotoma bryanti) feeding on the toxic creosote bush

Ecologists take into account how an organism interacts with its entire environment, but that can be complicated to measure. While the subject model for Klure might be woodrats, a “goldmine of knowledge” comes from their feces. “First of all, there is host DNA in feces”, says Klure. “Woodrats are shedding their own intestinal cells, so their DNA is in there. And whatever they're eating [that] DNA is in there. The bacteria in their gut’s DNA is in there. It's all in there.” From a single fecal pellet, scientists can determine who that animal is, what they are eating and what types of microorganisms they harbor in their gut.

It is these modern molecular approaches used to ask evolutionary and ecological questions that excites Klure the most. “I can start understanding how the organism is interacting with its environment, from a much more holistic view. Essentially, [I] don't have to just rely on what I can see with my own eyes.”

Klure and team employ techniques that range from DNA sequencing to gene expression assays and from pharmacological assays to test the activity of enzymes to “western blotting,” a technique used to characterize what proteins are in a sample using fluorescent antibodies.

Klure is slated to defend his dissertation in May and upon graduation will immediately begin work as a post-doctoral researcher in the Dearing Lab to finish up some of his research there. This will be followed most-likely by another stint as a post-doc elsewhere. He is planning to pursue a career in academia, where he would like to continue performing research alongside undergraduate students as this has been one the most rewarding parts of his graduate experience. He enjoys crafting research projects with undergraduate students that are feasible in scale so that they can contribute to the entire research process. Referencing his own experience as an undergraduate at the University of Redlands, he says, “it's cool to see that the students actually get to help design their own project and actually run it all the way to completion before they graduate.”

Biologist addressing young students at the Natural History Museum of Utah

Teaching kids at the Natural History Museum of Utah about the ecology of woodrats (photo credit - C. Hernandez)

With his partner, you can find Klure, a California native, with his spin rod, fishing in Utah’s outback, a welcome relief from the bench and fieldwork of all things woodrats. Outside the lab, the molecular ecologist has also found a home in advocating for the LGBTQ+ community that finds itself in STEM-related fields at the U. He co-founded the LGBTQ+STEM Interest group, alongside fellow graduate student Andy Sposato and biology professor Ofer Rog, and this work has proven gratifying the past few years. The goal of this organization is to foster professional development and community advancement for LGBTQ+ individuals pursuing careers in STEM.

“There really aren’t any LGBT resources for the most part at the grad-student-and-above level,” he says, remarking that most universities have some type of program and support system for undergraduates, but not for graduates, post-doctoral researchers and faculty. “That is where LGBTQ+ people are the most underrepresented.”

That Dylan Klure is recipient of the Outstanding Graduate Student award will only help elevate graduate students, like himself, and faculty who identify as LGBTQ+.

By David Pace





>> HOME <<

New Major: Earth & Environmental Science

A Living Laboratory

Ask many students why they’re at the University of Utah and they’ll tell you they want to make an impact on the world. Maybe it’s medicine, social work, or realizing the next best engineering feat. Maybe their impact lies in the arts, architecture or the humanities. Then there’s politics, management or public health . . . to name a few.

There are a growing number of students looking at climate change and the environment with an urgent sense of purpose and a belief that they can make a difference.

Are you one of them?

The College of Science is offering a new major in Earth & Environmental Science (EES) in fall 2023. EES is an interdisciplinary degree that enables students to study the interconnected nature of earth systems, including the fields of atmospheric science, geology, and ecology. Students with this degree will gain the education and experience to make an impact on the challenges facing our planet.

Living laboratory

So, you’re set to train to make a difference in this world. What is your laboratory going to look like?

Students who declare their EES major will engage with the living laboratory surrounding the university–studying forest ecology in the Wasatch Mountains, geology in the midst of Utah’s national parks and climate science from the top of Utah’s world-famous ski resorts.

A critical part of learning about earth systems is to experience those systems firsthand. “The ability to have our incredible landscapes as our living laboratory, it’s an amazing strength of the University of Utah,” said William Anderegg, associate professor of biology. Anderegg, who is also director of the Wilkes Center for Climate Science & Policy at the U, played an important role in the creation of the new major as part of a multidisciplinary team. “Utah’s geography, combined with our powerful research make the U one of the best places in the world to study environmental science.”

As an EES student, you will engage with the natural beauty of Utah while working on environmental challenges that face the state and our region. This balance of coursework both in a laboratory and in the field will prepare you for career opportunities in a wide variety of growing sectors, from environmental consulting to land management, and from conservation to corporate stewardship.

Transformational experience

The new Earth & Environmental Science major will focus on providing students with transformational experiential learning opportunities. First-year students will start their studies as part of the Science Research Initiative, where they will join a research lab during their first year on campus–no experience required. After a community-building class providing an introduction to university research, students will be paired in a “research stream” with faculty and a group of peers to experience the challenge and opportunities with research–either in the lab or in the field.

EES has a broad appeal and welcomes existing U students already pursuing science and earth science degrees, and transfer students to the U interested in climate science/environmental science education. Current students transferring into the major have the option to use previous research experience for the SRI requirement.

Peter Trapa, dean of the College of Science, believes that EES will not only appeal to a new generation of students at the U, but that it provides a blueprint for other interdisciplinary programs on campus. “The new Earth and Environmental Science degree is meeting surging student and employer demand for quantitative expertise in environmental science,” said Trapa. “Thanks to the merger between the College of Science and the College of Mines and Earth Sciences, the U can deliver new world-class educational pathways to understand the science of earth’s integrated systems that lie at the heart of addressing future environmental challenges.”

The U offers two undergraduate majors that offer an interdisciplinary approach to studying the environment: Earth & Environmental Science and Environmental and Sustainability Studies (ENVST). ENVST strives to foster an understanding of ecological systems and the consequences of human-environment interactions, using a science-based focus to arrive at solutions and integrated problem solving from earth systems science, the humanities and social and behavioral sciences.

The new EES major, on the other hand, is focused on quantitative reasoning and thinking. It requires students to enroll in the science core classes, similar to most degree programs in the College of Science. Three emphases in climate science, geoscience, and ecosystem science will tailor students’ coursework to their interests, with plenty of space in schedules to add electives and supplemental coursework from different disciplines.

Advisors can help students decide which degree is right for them. Motivated students can double-major in both programs, or receive a Sustainability Certificate to add to their credentials.

Close to Home

Ainsley Nystrom

Ainsley Nystrom, a sophomore and College of Science ambassador, is excited about the possibility of declaring her EES major, which promises to streamline her current (multiple) major and minors into one degree. “I stand by the fact that climate science doesn’t just have one aspect,” she said, “and that every aspect … is very interconnected.”

A researcher in the Anderegg Lab, Nystrom studies wildfire as it relates to forest health and drought which, for her, strikes close to home. She remembers the year before she came to the U when she had to initiate an evacuation with her two younger sisters due to a threatening brush fire near their home north of Phoenix. The whys and the wherefores of that frightening scenario were complex, and different aspects that were nevertheless interrelated. And while Nystrom understands that scientists must narrow their research, the new major’s interdisciplinary approach—from atmospheric sciences to chemistry, from biology to geology and from mathematics to physics—will allow her to see how her area of study is impacted by others in living laboratories, and in what way.

“I didn’t know how big of a field environmental science was until I came to the U,” Nystrom concluded. But she knows now, and the new Earth & Environmental Science major is customized to prime her for a long career as a researcher determined to make a difference.

Course plans available now.
Visit science.utah.edu/ees for more information.

By David Pace, originally published @theU.


>> Home <<

2023 Goldwater Scholars

Goldwater Scholars 2023

Four College of Science students awarded a prestigious Goldwater Scholarship for 2023-24

As the result of an ongoing partnership with the Department of Defense's National Defense Education Programs (NDEP), Dr. John Yopp, Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation, announced that the Trustees of the Goldwater Board has again been able to increase the number of Goldwater scholarships it is awarding for the 2023-2024 academic year to 413 college students from across the U.S.

“The Department of Defense’s continued partnership with the Goldwater Foundation ensures we are supporting the development of scientific talent essential to maintaining our Nation’s competitive advantage,” said Dr. Jagadeesh Pamulapati, Acting Deputy Director of Research, Technology and Laboratories, who oversees the NDEP program, as he explained the partnership.

With the 2023 awards, this brings the number of scholarships awarded since 1989 by the Goldwater Foundation to 10,283.

Eliza Diggins
Physics & Astronomy
Applied Mathematics

A sophomore, Eliza Diggins participated as a freshman in the Science Research Initiative (SRI) program, sponsored by the College of Science. The SRI puts students in a lab to do research as soon as they arrive on campus. After Eliza was admitted to the program, she began working with Fred Adler, professor of mathematics and of biology in the Department of Mathematics and in the School of Biological Sciences. "Math and physics have both had a special place in my heart for most of my life. Even back in elementary school, math and science always held my attention more than other subjects. I began to actively study physics in middle school and never looked back."

Following graduation she hopes to pursue a Ph.D. in theoretical astrophysics to use innovative computational and analytical techniques to better understand the dynamical processes at play on all scales of the cosmos.You can read an interview of Eliza here.


Audrey Glende
Physics & Astronomy
Philosophy of Science

An honors student with a triple major, Audrey Glende is currently researching a crystal and mapping its electrical and magnetic properties at extreme conditions, such as pressures similar to that of the earth's core temperatures just above absolute zero. The crystal (EuCd2P2) has been labeled as a superconductive candidate among other characteristics. As with electronic parts or materials used in fuel/battery cells, "many of the materials with complex properties," she says, referring to her work with the crystal, "are discovered through both theory and experimentation within condensed matter physics." It is this area of inquiry in which her ambition lies, and she is hoping to complete a Ph.D. in physics  and eventually share her knowledge through teaching at the college level.

Among many influential family members in her life,  she says, "I probably see myself most in my dad and know that it is very much so because of him that I have been comfortably hand-held into my passion for STEM in a way many people aren’t." Her father encouraged her to participate in science fairs as a youth and she was eventually recognized by Business Insider as having conducted one of the 30 most impressive science fair projects in the U.S. in 2015. Glende's faculty mentor is Professor Shanti Deemyad.


Daniel Koizumi

After graduation, "I hope to pursue a Ph.D. in Mathematics [and] conduct research in pure mathematics and teach at university," says Daniel Koizumi. His faculty mentors include Professor Karim Adiprasito, a German mathematician working at the University of Copenhagen and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem who works in combinatorics; Professor Sean Howe, who works in arithmetic and algebraic geometry, representation theory, and number theory; and Professor Jon Chaika, whose research in the field of dynamical systems seeks to understand a space and a map by following individual points.

Recipient of the departmental Undergraduate Award for Excellence in Graduate Courses, Koizumi's  ambition is to continue doing research at the intersection of combinatorial topology and commutative algebra. He spent three months in 2022 as a research fellow at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. "On a lazy Saturday," he says, "I ... enjoy hiking, cooking, or running."


Nichols Crawford Taylor
Applied Mathematics Computer Engineering
Computer Science

"I love robotics, autonomous systems, and all the math and engineering surrounding them," says Nichols Crawford Taylor. "I'm excited for the future they'll create!" Taylor, a triple major, plans on pursuing a Ph.D. in robotics and then transferring to industry to teach and present his research.

"Right now," he says, "I’m working on skill sequencing for autonomous manipulation using partial views of objects. We don’t expect robots to have all encompassing knowledge, so we’re using human-like views of objects with color and depth. From there, my research is about how to put together different skills the robot has to achieve a goal, like re-arranging books on a shelf."

A presidential intern during the 2021-2022 academic year and, currently, the Residence Hall Association President at the U, Taylor has been on the Dean's List and is a member of Pi Mu Epsilon. He is also a member of the Jiu Jitsu club. His faculty mentors include Dr. Daniel Drew, Dr. Alan Kuntz and Dr. Tucker Hermans, the latter of whom he considers his hero. "His breadth of knowledge and experience is astounding," says the Orem native. "He knows so much about and surrounding the field, and has incredible insights on problems take a good bit of time to wrap my head around."