Bringing Nature to Everyone

Bringing Nature To Everyone

A walk in the woods, in the desert, or even a city park can boost both your mood and your health — but access to nature isn’t always equal.

Above: Nalini Nadkarni. Banner Photo: Austin Green (right), SRI Post-doc and SBS graduate leads a group “into the woods” Credit: Myra Gerst

A group of scientists, healthcare researchers and community practitioners, including nearly a dozen representatives from the University of Utah, want to change that. In 2022, the group created the Nature and Health Alliance (NHA)—and their movement has support and financial backing from the REI Cooperative Action Fund.

The NHA convened for the first time in person in May for an interdisciplinary planning conference, bringing together some of the brightest minds in the burgeoning field of nature and human health from across the country. The two-day conference focused on creating a shared vision, goals, action items, and a leadership structure for the NHA to enhance understanding of and make more people aware of the health benefits of engaging with nature.

Nalini Nadkarni, PhD, professor emeritus in the University’s School of Biological Sciences, is one of the group’s leaders and facilitated hosting the conference in Salt Lake City.

“This is a group of people whose disciplines have few ‘crosspoints’ because of the siloed nature of academia and our society,” Nadkarni said. “We had hard-core medical researchers conversing with people who do hands-on community work with minority groups, with people who are thinking innovative ways to train the next generation of healthcare workers, and with those working out ways for insurance companies to pay for nature services. The emerging collaborations promise new ways of looking at both human and planetary health .”

Read the full article by Sarah Shebek on @TheU.


Here Comes Trouble Shooting

Here Comes Trouble Shooting

That portion of the foliage of trees forming the uppermost layer of a plant community is called the overstory. But just as critical to the health of that community is what’s called the understory: everything else in a tree down to its deepest roots.

As with trees, so with universities, in particular the School of Biological Sciences (SBS) at the University of Utah. There’s an overstory of students learning, teachers teaching and faculty doing research and publishing their results and making broad impacts everywhere — an overstory of laboratories and facilities continually being built and remodeled. But the understory of that enterprise is, well, its own story. And it’s made up of a fleet of skilled staff that makes the whole shootin’ match run smoothly.

SBS Administrative Coordinator Karen Zundel is the epitome of that understory. Winner of this year’s College of Science Outstanding Staff Award, the twenty-year veteran in what is now the School of Biological Sciences has pretty much seen it all. But to talk to her about her work, her contributions and her stamina is like pulling a sequoia out by the roots (not that anyone would dream of doing that these days).

“Everyone speaks very highly of you,” she is told. “I was excited to meet you.”

Zundel’s response: “Well, we have a really, really terrific faculty. You know, some of the intelligence just sometimes makes my jaw drop.”

It is true that SBS, one of the largest academic units on campus (47 tenure-line faculty with four more waiting in the immediate wings), is well-regarded, with a large footprint of scientific inquiry, from plant biology to mammals (including Right Whales off the coast of Patagonia); from cell and molecular biology to ecology; and from mitochondria to vast forests — data sets plotted for miles and years on both the x and the y axes.

It's also true that SBS is shot through with a high volume of grant money flooding in while sporting a strong claim to gender-equity, rare in any STEM discipline. The School also claims Utah’s only Nobel Prize winner, Mario Capecchi who did much of the research that led to his acclaim as a faculty member in what was then the Department of Biology.

But what about that understory? What pilings of support exist under all that canopy of excellence? No luck hearing about that here; for Zundel, faculty reigns supreme.

“Well, like I say about all of the faculty, I am always just awestruck by the kind of work they're doing. It's one of those things where some people that are not as intelligent as they think they are and are self-important that are kind of a pain to deal with. All of these people [in SBS] are extremely intelligent and genuine and just a joy to work with.”

It’s a generous sentiment by biology’s administrative coordinator and all-around shooter of troubles but one that others might find more nuanced. “The university is a series of individual entrepreneurs held together by a common grievance about parking,” Clark Kerr once said somewhat tongue-in-cheek. The first chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley and twelfth president of the University of California was never affiliated with the U, but he could have easily been talking about the wide swath of life science studies and its faculty at the School of Biological Sciences. And what Kerr never did say was who kept those perpetually unhappy-about-parking faculty happy and productive everywhere else.

Credit: 365 Seattle

Zundel isn’t about to give away the hows, whys and wherefores of what it’s like to be the kingpin of a celebrated understory as large as that of U Biology’s. How does she administer the labs and classrooms of as many as 16 faculty members at a time, faculty who earlier relied on her to manage and submit grant applications and then report on the use of those grants later? How do all of the other assistants whom she manages do the same for the remainder of the faculty pool? Ask her about what it’s like, who she is and how she does it, and she immediately detours to the overstory of amazing work being done by faculty.

“No, no, it's not me. It’s thanks to our faculty. It was a pleasure to help them with some of those [grant] submissions, because, you know, a lot of it is government paperwork. You know they're brilliant at the science and they go, ‘Oh, I really have to submit a form' [and I say,] 'I'll do that for you.' But it’s their science and research at the heart of the grant and we just helped with paperwork and forms. [We] made sure they were complying with all the government requirements, even when the instructions are contradictory.”

Perhaps it’s the nature of the job, like a stage manager in a theater, or a forest ranger taking care of hectares of Douglas Fir:  have your influence be immeasurably felt but don’t ever be heard or seen; you aren’t the one to take that bow.  And Zundel wouldn’t have it any other way. Fortunately, biology faculty at the U who nominated her for the College award are keen to acknowledge Karen’s work, not to mention why she’s so deserving of it.

“Every unit has one person who works behind the scenes and makes things come out right,” wrote SBS Director Fred Adler and David Goldenberg, professor and associate director of undergraduate programs. Karen Zundel “is that person for the School of Biological Sciences.” She is famous for being the go-to person to troubleshoot problems big and small. Additionally, her institutional memory is invaluable, everything from her recollection of fielding members of the public carrying specimens into the front office to find out what they've found to ruminating on the life and times of the late, celebrated plant biologist Robert Vickery, a WWII soldier who was witness to the raising of the American flag on the Japanese Island of Iwo Jima.

But beyond Zundel's being the in-house historian and trouble-shooter, biology professor Dale Clayton puts a finer, somewhat comical, point on it, referring to Zundel’s acumen managing faculty similar to “herding feral cats.” Tasks include travel arrangements for faculty

Sampling of denizens making up the SBS "Understory": Jason Socci, April Mills, Karen Zundel and Jeff Taylor.

and the “convoluted process of wrangling visas” for international faculty. She manages biology’s website updates as well as the messaging on TV monitors in the halls of biology. “Despite our interesting collection of personalities,” quips Clayton, she “has the power to embarrass anyone with a few strokes of the keyboard, “ … however, she has yet to humiliate anyone. It would be fascinating to know how often she has been tempted.”

That sort of hubris doesn't likely live in Zundel. She not only has high regard for faculty, but for staff — even as the stable of administrators has declined recently while faculty membership has grown. She mentions, in particular Ann Polidori, executive assistant to the director and others in the front office and on the front lines of the biology hustle.

“We have got really good staff, and most of them have been with us for a while,” Zundel explains. “On the administrative side, it's really fun to work in it, [making] the department run. And there's nobody that goes nuts, [or says] ‘that’s not my job.’ So they're just a fun group of people to work with.”

Outside of work, the Salt Lake City native loves to travel, especially to the Pacific Northwest and Southern Utah, singling out the viewing the trove of rock art in Nine-Mile Canyon north of Price. She also loves to read, in particular, “cozy mysteries.”

So it turns out the understory is the overstory and vice versa. Which suggests, in true biological form, that the total organism of SBS is like Pando—the stand of aspens spreading over 106 acres in central Utah with an interconnected root system that makes it the largest living organism on earth. And like Pando’s 47,000 genetically identical stems, the organism of School of Biological Sciences is a holistic one, interconnected but as resplendent in its totality as are the individual, reflective and tremulous leaves of a single quaking aspen.

An impressive story — but above and below —if there ever was one, and Karen Zundel is one of the reasons why.

By David Pace



What happened to Co2 emissions during pandemic lockdown?

Reduced traffic during the COVID-19 lockdown was likely the primary driver behind reduced CO2 emissions in Salt Lake City (SLC), according to a new study led by University of Utah professors Derek Mallia and John Lin, published in the Journal of Geophysical Research – Atmospheres.

Derek Mallia

High-density measurements of CO2 were combined with a statistical model to estimate reductions in greenhouse gas emissions across SLC during the lockdown.

The paper reports on evidence of an observable decrease in anthropogenic CO2 emissions. The analysis used measurements from the Salt Lake area’s two CO2 networks–Utah Urban Carbon Dioxide Network (UUCON) and a CO2 instrument installed on a light-rail train car (TRAX) that traverses the Salt Lake Valley. Together, the two networks estimated CO2 concentrations across SLC. The results suggest that high-density CO2 monitoring networks could be used to track the decarbonization of cities.

Of the paper, titled “Can we detect urban-scale CO2 emission changes within medium-sized cities?” Mallia said, “This work demonstrates that mobile-based carbon monitoring networks, like the one deployed on Salt Lake City’s TRAX train, will be critical tools for tracking decarbonization efforts for cities across the globe.”

Given that over half of anthropogenic CO2 is emitted from urban areas, cities will play a pivotal role in future decarbonization efforts, and quantifying CO2 emissions at the city-scale will be important for determining whether cities are meeting CO2 decarbonization targets.

The research was funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Program Office (CPO) as part of an air quality research initiative to track impacts of COVID-19 lockdowns & recovery on urban atmospheric composition. The research showed that CO2 emissions across SLC relative to 2019 were reduced by ~20% during the first COVID-19 lockdown and that the largest reductions in CO2 were likely driven by reduced traffic, especially in downtown SLC on the northern end of the Salt Lake Valley.

Unlike other cities used to investigate emission reductions during the COVID-19 lockdown, SLC is a medium-sized metropolitan area with a population just over 1 million people and emits an order of magnitude less CO2 relative to larger cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Washington DC/Baltimore. Determining whether CO2 emissions reductions are traceable for smaller cities and metropolitan areas has been an outstanding question which this paper now addresses. The study is the first to demonstrate that CO2 emissions in medium/small cities can be measured.

“While no one wishes for a repeat of the COVID shutdown, it does illustrate the large leverage a shift in societal behavior has on reducing greenhouse emissions, whether from reduced traffic or the transition to electric vehicles,” said Lin.

Ultimately, the analysis carried out here suggests that inverse models, combined with stationary and mobile CO2 observations, can track modest emission reductions in medium-sized cities, and to some degree, geographically identify emission adjustments at the city-scale. According to the researchers, novel urban CO2 observation networks, like the TRAX network, combined with new satellite-based measurements approaches, will also play a key role towards monitoring decarbonization efforts in cities.

Other contributors to the paper include Logan Mitchell, Andres Eduardo Gonzalez Vidal, Dien Wu, and Lewis Kunik.. Read the full paper here.

This research was tagged as a highlighted feature by

By David Pace

Watch the cool video from Utah Educational Network about monitoring air quality in Salt Lake County along UTA TRAX lines below:  

Utah’s Environmental Challenges

“As bad as it is, I think there’s hope,” says John Lin, professor of atmospheric sciences in the College of Science at the University of Utah.

John Lin. Banner photo credit: Jim Steenburgh

Lin, who is also assistant director of the newly formed Wilkes Center for Climate Science & Policy, says the state’s desire to eventually host the Winter Olympics again has added some urgency to the matter of addressing Utah’s climate-related challenges, especially around air quality. He adds that the state’s response to such issues is often reflective of the “Utah way,” in which people with different beliefs talk to each other and work through problems.

The challenges are real, according to a story in U.S. News & World Report which often touts the Beehive State as “best” in many categories. The environment, including air quality, is not, however, one of them.

“With its five national parks, scenic mountain vistas and stunning red rock landscapes, environmental problems likely aren’t top of mind in most people’s perceptions of Utah,” the magazine reports.

“But the proof – and the pollution – is in the data.”

Utah ranks near the bottom in the natural environment category of the magazine’s recently released Best States rankings. “It’s a black mark on a largely sterling record for the No. 1-ranked state overall.”


Read the entire article by Elliot Davis Jr.

Gadusol: A More “E-fish-ent” Sunscreen

Gadusol: A More “E-fish-ent” Sunscreen



As temperatures rise, and outside activities become more popular, many people are thinking about protecting themselves from sunburns and melanomas, primarily using sunscreen.

Marlen Rice. Banner Image: Jamie Gagnon and Marlen Rice. Credit: Todd Anderson


However, humans aren’t the only species that have to worry about UV damage. Many species use sunscreen, but not the white lotions that humans are familiar with. Their sunscreens are coded in their DNA. The recently published paper: “Gadusol is a maternally provided sunscreen that protects fish embryos from DNA damage” is the culmination of years of research by University of Utah School of Biological Sciences graduate student Marlen Rice and Assistant Professor of Biology Jamie Gagnon

Gadusol is a chemical sunscreen that is found in the eggs of many fish species. The molecule was discovered in fish over 40 years ago, and was originally thought to come from dietary sources, but it has since been proven that gadusol is produced from a sugar intermediate in one of the metabolic pathways within the fish. The mother deposits the chemical into her eggs as she lays them to protect her babies from the sun. 

Rice grew up on a farm an hour south of Salt Lake, and attended Utah State University where he received a bachelor’s degree in molecular biology. He has always been interested in how animals develop in relation to the world around them. Rice says “The fun thing to me about biology is just the fact that [living] things are dynamic and they interact [with] their environment… I like thinking about animals in relation to ecology. I want to try to bridge those two gaps — the molecular field with ecology.” Rice’s lifelong passion for animals and his industry background inspired him to use laboratory tools to investigate ecological factors, starting with the sun.


UVR Exposure

Nearly all life on Earth has an important relationship with the sun, whether that be by using the energy from it to produce food, or consuming other organisms who do. This comes with the cost of extensive exposure to ultraviolet radiation (UVR). UVB rays are the specific wavelengths that are especially dangerous to living organisms. UVR damages proteins and DNA on a molecular level. This damage leads to mutations in DNA, and excessive levels of UVR exposure can even induce apoptosis or cell death, producing what we know as a sunburn. 

According to the paper, “[s]unscreens absorb UV photons before they penetrate vulnerable cells and dissipate this absorbed energy as less harmful heat.” Sunscreens act as physical shields over precious genetic material in cells, preventing damage and mutations. Even in the water, not all aquatic organisms are safe from UVR exposure because biologically harmful levels of UVB can penetrate over 10m deep in clear water. Organisms across many habitats have developed adaptations including nocturnal lifestyles and DNA repair mechanisms to help avoid and fix the problems associated with UV exposure. Furthermore, “since sunlit habitats can have significantly nutritive advantages over dark environments and because no repair pathway is completely efficient, many organisms employ sunscreens to avoid UVR damage from occurring in the first place.” 

Initially, Rice only looked at melanin as the primary sunscreen in aquatic life. In fish, melanin is produced in melanophores that migrate to cover aspects of the brain and body as the fish matures. What he found was that zebrafish embryos were dying from UVR exposure at the same rate, regardless of whether or not their genotype was altered to knockout the gene for melanin production. It became clear that there was something else protecting the embryos. 


Two-day-old zebrafish. Credit: Marlen Rice

Rice created gadusol-deficient mutant zebrafish through CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing to test gadusol as a sunscreen. Zebrafish were chosen for these experiments because they naturally live in sunlit waters, produce gadusol and are amenable to genetic manipulation. He determined that gadusol is provided for zebrafish embryos by the mother, is the most effective sunscreen over other methods of protection and is lost evolutionarily in fish species when their embryos are not exposed to sunlight.

To show gadusol’s importance, Rice delivered precise doses of UVB to both the wildtype and mutant zebrafish embryos and measured the effect on swim bladder inflation. When exposed to the same dose of UVB, the gadusol-deficient mutant fish were all unable to inflate their swim bladders, indicating that the UV exposure had caused significant developmental defects. This experiment demonstrated that gadusol is critical for the survival of embryonic and larval zebrafish exposed to UVR. 

Fish have been benefiting from gadusol for eons, but in the future, humans could too. Gadusol Laboratories, started at Oregon State University, has been acquired by Boston-based beauty company Arcaea. Their research focuses on synthetically producing gadusol to create sunscreens that would be safer for both humans and the ocean. 

For fish, gadusol offers a tremendous advantage over other sunscreens due to its invisibility. “Transparency as camouflage,” they write, “is a common trait in aquatic animals, especially in the open ocean where there is nothing to hide behind.” This is one of the largest drawbacks for melanin: since it absorbs most wavelengths in the visible light spectrum as well as the UVB spectrum, it is detectable by predators. 

The Beauty of DNA

The sun is just one of the unique ecological challenges that aquatic ecosystems pose to their inhabitants. Gagnon says, “you sort of forget they actually evolve out in the world, [a] very challenging world full of pressures on their survival. …  The environment that they evolved in, which is filled with sunlight and viruses and predators and temperature switches and all this crazy stuff that doesn’t happen in our fish facility, and so if you can bring a little bit of that into our laboratory, now we can apply what’s cool to more questions.” 

These environmental factors will inspire their research with zebrafish moving forward. Rice is also curious about the evolutionary history of gadusol itself. He says, “I’d really like to fill out on the tree of life how widespread gadusol is. And another thing I’m really interested in thinking about is, it seems like at some point, land vertebrates stopped using gadusol. I think evolutionarily it’d be really interesting to think about that. At what point did they move away?”

The answers to these mysteries lie within — within DNA to be specific. Rice says “I really do love the idea of DNA. I think it’s a really beautiful thing … . The fact that it’s an unbroken chain of DNA replication and now lives inside of you.” It will be the combination of molecular biology tools and ecological inspiration that translates the evolutionary history written into the genetic code for all living organisms. 

By Lauren Wigod

Read a first-person account from a zebrafish in Animals of the U: Zippy the Zebrafish.

Sky Survey Data Releases 2 Million Stellar Objects

The universe is big, and it’s getting bigger.

To study dark energy, the mysterious force behind the accelerating expansion of our universe, scientists are using the Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument (DESI) to map nearly 40 million galaxies, quasars and stars. Today, the collaboration publicly released its first batch of data, with nearly 2 million objects for researchers to explore.

The 80-terabyte data set comes from 2,480 exposures taken over six months during the experiment’s “survey validation” phase in 2020 and 2021. Between turning the instrument on and beginning the official science run, researchers made sure their plan for using the telescope would meet their science goals—for example, by checking how long it took to observe galaxies of different brightness, and by validating the selection of stars and galaxies to observe.

“The fact that DESI works so well, and that the amount of science-grade data it took during survey validation is comparable to previous completed sky surveys, is a monumental achievement,” said Nathalie Palanque-Delabrouille, co-spokesperson for DESI and a scientist at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), which manages the experiment. “This milestone shows that DESI is a unique spectroscopic factory whose data will not only allow the study of dark energy but will also be coveted by the whole scientific community to address other topics, such as dark matter, gravitational lensing and galactic morphology.”

Kyle Dawson

DESI uses 5,000 robotic positioners to move optical fibers that capture light from objects millions or billions of light-years away. It is the most powerful multi-object survey spectrograph in the world, able to measure light from more than 100,000 galaxies in one night. That light tells researchers how far away an object is, building a 3-D cosmic map.

“This new sample represents the first science-quality data taken with this powerful new instrument. These survey-validation data are better quality and provide spectra and classification of a wider range of stars, galaxies and quasars than the data we expect in the main five-year program,” said Professor Kyle Dawson. Dawson of the University of Utah was one of the two primary leads of the survey validation effort and is also DESI co-spokesperson.  “We have learned from these data how to build the most effective cosmology program.”

Read the entire article in @TheU.

Tommaso de Fernex, Math’s new department chair

Tommaso de Fernex is stepping into the role of Chair of the Department of Mathematics following Professor Davar Khoshnevisan’s notable six-year term.

“It is with great anticipation that I step into the seat of Chairman of the Department of Mathematics,” says de Fernex, who begins the role on July 1. “I am honored for this appointment and humbled by the faith the College of Science has in me. Under the strong leadership of Davar Khoshnevisan, the Department has been on a great upward trajectory, reaching new heights with exemplary faculty recruitment and record recognition, grants, and scholarships for undergraduate and graduate students. Davar and I have collaborated for some time about the outlook of the department and I see a bright future. I am fortunate to belong to such a community, with a first-class faculty, fantastic staff, impressive students, and postdoctoral fellows. I am looking forward to serving the Department in the coming years.”

“Tommaso is the perfect person to lead the Department of Mathematics,” said Peter Trapa, dean of the College of Science. “His towering international reputation and previous leadership experience will serve him well as he takes the department to new heights.” Trapa also took a moment to thank outgoing chair Davar Khoshnevisan. “I am grateful for the six years that Davar served in this role. He skillfully navigated the upheaval of the pandemic, hired an exceptional cohort of new junior faculty,  and significantly advanced the research and educational missions of the department.”

De Fernex is a recipient of the National Science Foundation Grant from 2020 through 2023 and has contributed to nearly 50 publications, with more than 50 invitations to conference talks.

Former Associate Department Chair from 2017 to 2019, De Fernex works in algebraic geometry. The main focus of his research has been on the study of singularities and birational geometry of algebraic varieties and the structure of arc spaces and other valuation spaces. He started his studies in Italy, obtaining his Laurea in Mathematics (summa cum laude) at the University of Milano in 1996 (roughly the equivalent of a B.S.) and completing a Dottorato di Ricerca in Mathematics (the equivalent of a Ph.D.) at the University of Genova in 2001. During these studies, de Fernex spent one semester visiting the University of Hong Kong in 1999 and then moved to the U.S. where he obtained a Ph.D. in Mathematics at the University of Illinois at Chicago in 2002.

From 2002 to 2005, de Fernex was a Hildebrandt Research Assistant Professor at the University of Michigan and spent the academic year of 2005-2006 as a member of the Institute for Advanced Studies before joining the faculty at the University of Utah.

As incoming chair, de Fernex will continue his passion for algebraic geometry with focus on the study of singularities and birational geometry of algebraic varieties such as log canonical thresholds, multiplier ideals, questions of rationality and the structure of arc spaces and other valuation spaces. In fact, he’s scheduled to speak in December of this year in Pipa, Brazil at a conference on “Algebraic Geometry and Related Topics.”

Dirtiest snow-year in the Wasatch accelerated snowmelt by 17 days

As the shrinking Great Salt Lake exposes an ever-growing area of its lakebed, wind-blown dust becomes more dangerous for those living in Utah’s most populous region. It also makes the snowpack dirty, which threatens the state’s most precious resource—water.

“You might see 17 days and think it’s no big deal, but our current snowmelt models don’t account for dust,” said McKenzie Skiles, assistant professor of geography at the U and senior author of a new study in which researchers analyzed the impact of dust on Utah snow during the 2022 season. They found that 2022 had the most dust deposition events and the highest snowpack dust concentrations of any year since observations began in 2009on the paper. “So, the snow is melting, water is coming out earlier and faster than we expect it to, and we’re not prepared to use it in the most efficient way. The landscape is also not expecting the water earlier, so it impacts watershed functionality as well as water availability downstream.”

The study published on June 15, 2023, in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

In 2018 Skiles authored a study that found that a single dust event accelerated snowmelt in the Wasatch by one week. That paper identified the Great Salt Lake as a relatively new dust source due to historically low water levels. Subsequent years of prolonged drought, increased evaporation and sustained agriculture and domestic water consumption drove the Great Salt Lake to record lows in 2021 and 2022 and exposed even more dry lakebed.

“Anecdotally, we kept saying, ‘This is crazy—this is the dirtiest snow in the Wasatch I’ve seen since I started making observations,’” said Skiles. “Ultimately, after we analyzed everything, it was the dirtiest year.”

You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the dust blows …

Derek Mallia

… you need co-author of the study Derek Mallia, a research assistant professor in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences at the U. Strong winds can loft dust into the atmosphere and degrade air quality, which can trigger yellow or red air pollution warnings. Dust-on-snow deposition requires a specific set of factors; nearby dust sources, relatively dry conditions and winds that are strong enough to loft dust into the atmosphere. Mallia developed a dust transport model that can pinpoint where the dust on snow originated by synthesizing meteorological and soil data. For every dust event, Mallia ran his model to identify dust sources that were responsible for accelerating snow melt in the Wasatch Mountains.

“We were expecting large areas like the Great Salt Lake Desert to be a major source of dust, but we were somewhat surprised that we observed such large contributions of dust coming from the Great Salt Lake, and especially Farmington Bay. While the lake’s dust sources are much smaller than the West Desert in terms of area, the exposed dry lakebeds are much closer to the Wasatch Mountains,” said Mallia. “These results suggest that the Great Salt Lake is an important factor when it comes to accelerating snow melt across the Wasatch Front and will become a bigger player if it continues to shrink.”

Read the full article by Lisa Potter in @TheU.


Ramón Barthelemy Out to Innovate

Photo Credit: Matthew Crawley

Ramón Barthelemy wins 2023 LGBTQ+ Educator of the Year

The U physicist was one of three winners of the 2023 Out to Innovate Awards that recognizes outstanding achievement by LGBTQ+ people in STEM.

When asked how his life experiences have shaped his perspective as an educator, Dr. Barthelemy said, “…being queer has impacted how I think about binaries. I do not see the world as a place where there is one incorrect and one correct answer. Rather I see a very complex world in which multiple kinds of explanations and models can be used to understand our lives and the world around us. As a scientist, this dips into ideas of philosophy of science and how we are not necessarily claiming to have a T truth, but instead are working to develop and refine models that help us explain and predict the natural world.”

His nominators noted, “…he combines stellar graduate work in physics education research with some of the deepest and most significant work on gender and LGBTQ+ issues in physics that has so far been written.” When asked what advice he would give his younger self and scientists just beginning their adventures in physics, Barthelemy “…would tell a younger version of me to trust myself and to build a community of people who support one another and want to see each other succeed.”

The announcement of the award comes during National Pride Month.

Read the full article by Lisa Potter in @TheU.


Atomic-Scale Geometry

How Atomic-Scale Geometry Might Shape the Future of Electronics

Twistronics could illuminate a path to superconductivity, revolutionize electronic devices, or perhaps hasten the arrival of quantum computing


Mathematicians at the University of Utah have discovered that, by twisting one square lattice over another, composite materials based on the resulting bilayer moiré pattern display electrical and physical properties that can change quite abruptly. Their findings echo twistronics, the science of twisting atomic lattices, and on some rather complex geometric principles. The discovery could have implications for a wide variety of industries, as engineers might be able to precisely calibrate the electrical, optical, thermal, or even acoustic properties of these materials. Specifically, twistronics and aperiodic geometry might soon illuminate a path to higher-temperature superconductivity, revolutionize electronic devices, or perhaps even hasten the arrival of quantum computers.

“We rotated and dilated two regular lattices relative to one another, creating a veritable zoo of microgeometries—and some incredible patterns emerged,” says Ken Golden, distinguished professor of Mathematics at the University of Utah and senior author of the study.

“The resulting moiré provides a template for the geometrical arrangement of two component materials, that, together make up a new twisted bilayer composite,” he tells Popular Mechanics. Imagine chicken wire lattices layered on top of each other; these can be twisted one relative to another and form entirely new moiré scales of periodicity or non-periodicity.

Read the entire story by ADRIENNE BERNHARD in Popular Mechanics.