William Anderegg RECEIVES Blavatnik Award
On July 26, the Blavatnik Family Foundation and the New York Academy of Sciences announced that Dr. William Anderegg is one of three national laureates to receive the 2023 Blavatnik National Awards for Young Scientists. A video announcing Anderegg’s selection for the Blavatnik Award is available here.
Dr. Anderegg is an associate professor of Biological Sciences at the U and director of the Wilkes Center for Climate Science & Policy. As the 2023 Laureate in Life Sciences, he is being awarded $250,000 for his work on “revealing how trees absorb and release carbon dioxide amidst a changing climate.” This is the largest unrestricted scientific award for America’s most innovative, faculty-ranked scientists and engineers who are under the age of 42.
Anderegg’s recent publications have examined the interaction of plant ecology and climate change, from the scale of cells to forest ecosystems. Specifically, he addresses how drought and climate change affect Earth’s forests and the manifold benefits they bring to society. His work overturns a 50-year foundational theory on how stomata—pores on leaves that facilitate photosynthesis—behave in order to improve carbon gain and minimize water loss, and in turn, how this affects global forests’ response to climate change.
As a leading voice in the field of climate change, Anderegg’s discoveries are already informing climate solutions, global policies, and public health. He is the first ever winner of the Blavatnik Regional Awards to be awarded the Blavatnik National Award Laureate.
“I am thrilled that our important work continues to be recognized,” said Anderegg. “I hope that our contributions to this field of research can help illuminate the future of Earth’s forests and provide urgently-needed tools to tackle climate change and increase resilience in ecosystems and communities in the US and across the globe.”
The 2023 Blavatnik National Awards received 267 nominations from 134 institutions in 38 U.S. states. Nominees must be faculty-level scientific researchers, 42 years of age or younger. Three independent juries —one each for life sciences, chemistry, and physical sciences and engineering —were composed of some of America’s most distinguished scientists. The juries selected three winning laureates and 28 finalists.
The Blavatnik National Awards for Young Scientists will celebrated the 2023 laureates and finalists in a ceremony on September 19 at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. (See banner photo above: William Anderegg with Sir Leonard Valentinovich Blavatnik)
In April, Anderegg was one of three 2023 recipients of the National Science Foundation’s prestigious Alan T. Waterman Award for his contributions to ecosystem and climate change science.
New composite materials could light the way to advances in imaging
Research led by University of Utah chemists has resulted in new composite materials capable of converting long low-energy lightwaves to higher-energy light, potentially opening more efficient avenues for transferring energy.
According to a recently published study, Ming Lee Tang and colleagues developed a method for joining minute silicon crystals with organic carbon-based molecules to develop hybrid compounds with optoelectronic properties that could enhance numerous technologies that harness light.
The discovery hinges on the strong chemical bonds her lab was able to achieve between two completely different materials, silicon and hydrocarbons.
“We use those excited states that are not the same as in the bulk materials in your computer,” said Tang, an associate professor of chemistry who came to the U from the University of California Riverside two years ago. “They absorb more strongly and you can also convert the energy in different ways that are not allowed in the bulk material. It’s different physics.”
Read the entire story by Brian Maffly @theU.
Most of the earthquakes rumbling under the West’s Great Basin come in surges, clustered together in time and place. Scientists call these seismic groups “swarms,” which are a distinct category from the numerous aftershocks following a big shake, such as the 5.7 magnitude Magna quake of 2020 on the Wasatch Fault.
Rather than getting spread out evenly over time, many of these small, often imperceptible quakes strike a region in a short period of time, say a few days or weeks.
Central Utah has been the stage for dozens of earthquake swarms that have been recorded over the past 40 years by an ever-expanding network of seismic arrays managed by the University of Utah.
Now U seismologists are analyzing decades of seismic data in the hope of discerning the significance of these swarms in a geologically complex region known as a geothermal hotspot and for recent—geologically speaking—volcanism.
“In central Utah, seismic swarms are much more common than any other type of sequence. We looked into all types of sequences, but 80% of the sequences are swarms. That’s remarkable,” said Gesa Petersen, a post-doctoral research fellow. “We also saw that these are very heterogeneous. So one location in central Utah can have a very, very different behavior than other locations just 30, 40, 50 kilometers away.”
With U geology professor Kristine Pankow, Petersen published the latest findings July 13 in the journal Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems. Funding came from the state of Utah and the $220 million Department of Energy grant supporting the U’s geothermal research station known as Utah FORGE.
Read the full story by Brian Maffly in @TheU
Carsten Rott, New Chair of Physics & Astronomy
Professor Carsten Rott has been selected as new chair of the Department of Physics & Astronomy. Rott holds the Jack W. Keuffel Memorial Chair in High Energy Astrophysics and will replace Christophe Boheme as department chair beginning August 1.
Rott’s research explores the Universe in a fundamentally new way, using high-energy neutrinos detected with the IceCube Neutrino Telescope. In particular he is interested in searching for signatures of new physics associated with the high-energy neutrinos we detect. He also searches for new phenomena with the JSNS2 experiment which aims to search for oscillations involving a sterile neutrino in the eV2 mass-splitting range. (A sterile neutrino is believed to interact only via gravity and not via any of the other fundamental interactions of the Standard Model.)
Rott currently focuses on constructing next-generation neutrino detectors to better understand the sources of the most energetic phenomena in the Universe and to probe physics at fundamentally new scales. His team constructs calibration systems for the IceCube Upgrade and develops solutions for a very large volume neutrino detector at the South Pole, building on the expertise of the pioneering cosmic ray experiments conducted by the University of Utah. He also seeks sustainable solutions to construct future experiments with minimal environmental impact. He can also be found working at Hyper-Kamiokande, a neutrino observatory being constructed on the site of the Kamioka Observatory, near Kamioka, Japan, and he seeks for dark matter with COSINE experiment.
After studying physics as an undergraduate at the Universität Hannover, Rott went on to receive a Ph.D. from Purdue University for work on the Collider Detector at Fermilab (CDF). He has been a member of the IceCube Neutrino Telescope since the start of the construction of the detector in 2005. As a postdoctoral researcher at Penn State University he performed detector calibration and verification efforts for IceCube. For this task he traveled multiple times to the Amundsen Scott South Pole Station. Later he moved to The Ohio State University as a senior fellow of the Center for Cosmology and AstroParticle Physics (CCAPP). In 2013 he became an assistant professor at Sungkyunkwan University in South Korea and was subsequently promoted to tenured associate Professor.
In 2021 Rott became a professor at the U where most recently he served as department director of graduate studies. He will hold the position of chair through December 2025.
Rott “is an exceptional educator and researcher, and has my complete confidence and support in his role as Chair,” remarked Peter Trapa, dean of the College of Science who made the announcement on June 28. “I look forward to working with Carsten to advance the department, particularly as it moves to its new home in the Crocker Science Complex in 2025.”
“I am grateful to Professor Christoph Boehme for his leadership over the past four years, first as Interim Chair, and then as Chair for the last three years.,” Trapa continued. “Christoph has made deep contributions to the department in advancing its research and educational missions during a time that was often consumed with the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Boheme will serve as Special Advisor to the Chair for the period August 1, 2023 through June 30, 2024.
About the Department
The U’s Department of Physics & Astronomy is committed to pursuing key science questions within an inclusive academic community; to training and diversifying the next generation of researchers, educators, and technology workforce leaders; and to inspiring an appreciation for knowledge in students and the wider community.
In pursuit of this mission, the department supports the highest levels of research and teaching among its faculty members. We strive to enable the success of undergraduate and graduate students by creating an academically excellent, efficient, and comfortable learning environment. Our goal is that organizations and individuals in the local and global community will benefit from our research and accomplishments.
The Department of Physics & Astronomy will be relocating from the James Fletcher Building to the new Applied Science Project as part of the Crocker Science Complex. The department will offer classes in its new home in Spring Semester, 2025.
MAKING MACHINE LEARNING ACCESSIBLE TO ALL
“Many call this the age of information” says Rajive Ganguli, the Malcolm McKinnon Professor of Mining Engineering at the University of Utah. “It is perhaps more accurate to call it the age of data since not everyone has the ability to truly gain from all the data they collect. Many are either lost in the data or misled by it. Yet, the promise of being informed by data remains.”
Ganguli who is also the College of Mines and Earth Science’s associate dean (assessment) is launching UteAnalytics, a new, free analytics software which makes artificial intelligence (AI) or machine learning (ML) accessible to all.
Founder of the ai.sys group at the U, Ganguli says that as long as a client knows their data (that is, is an expert in their domain), they can use UteAnalytics to understand better the problems they are trying to solve. The research group’s mission is to seek insight from data, models systems and to develop computational tools for education and research.
At various points in time, Ganguli has developed ML tools that his students could use in class. Years ago it occurred to him that more could benefit from ML if only his workflow and tools were more user-friendly. His vision was finally brought to fruition by graduate student Lewis Oduro MS’23 who leveraged the numerous public domain ML tools available to programmers and converted the concept into Windows-based software.
“The tool is problem agnostic,” Ganguli says. “Hence it can have a broad group of users. I have used it for a variety of projects I am involved in, including mining, atmospheric sciences/air quality and COVID/hospital admissions.”
He reports that tens of subject matter experts (SMEs) who are non-coders have already subscribed to receive the software in advance of its formal release. “Many are professionals across a broad spectrum of fields from social science to business,” along with scientists and engineers.
Master of a domain
Potential clients for UteAnalytics may be “master of their domain,” with large sums of data in various formats and curious about what insights they can gain with ML, but they know nothing about it and certainly not about how to code ML or even do basic data analysis.
Designed to empower the domain expert, UteAnalytics allows a client to clean their data (remove nulls, convert data type from string to numeric, etc.); apply filters, to consider data within specific magnitudes, among other functions; conduct exploratory data analysis on the data; and apply linear regression, random forests (regression and classification) and neural networks (regression and classification).
The software also allows users to estimate effect of each feature (input) on the output as well as develop models in advance of predicting on a new dataset.
Daniel Mendoza, who holds faculty appointments in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences and elsewhere at the U, is an early adopter of the software. Through his work with air quality monitors on UTA trains and electric buses in Salt Lake Valley he and his team have successfully collected data for over 8 years for particulate matter and ozone data and now nitrogen oxides.
“When we look at neighborhood-specific data we can drill in and really see some social justice impacts,” Mendoza reported last year. Today, he is “using UteAnalytics to quickly and efficiently analyze the temperature data that we’ll be collecting in real-time from our mobile and stationary sensors. UA ,” he says, “gives researchers the power to look at data in a very streamlined way without endless hours of coding. The included tools facilitate a thorough interpretation of data and save time without compromising reliability.”
The difference that data — assisted by UteAnalytics tools — make in Mendoza’s work on air quality is most recently seen in the Urban Heat Watch campaign, involving citizen scientists who are helping collect data along the streets of Salt Lake Valley. As one of the top three urban heat islands in the nation, the Salt Lake City metropolitan area features a groundbreaking monitoring program. In fact, no where else in the world is there an initiative that exists at this density and scale than in Utah’s capital city and environs. And now UteAnalytics is helping Utah’s clean air initiative as well.
An Auspicious Launch
UteAnalytics is just the latest deliverable for Ganguli who has led approximately $13M in projects as primary investigator. He is currently involved in several projects in five different countries — U.S., Denmark/Greenland, Mongolia, Saudi Arabia and Mexico — on topics ranging from ML to training. With the launch of UteAnalytics, it’s the fruition of a long-term ambition that, now available to the public, has an auspicious future ahead of it.
Meanwhile, Oduro, who defended his thesis this past spring, has since taken a job near Phoenix, Arizona as a mining engineer at Freeport-McMoRan, a leading international mining company. A native of Ghana, Oduro says of his mentor, “He gave me the chance to work under him and provided me with the kind of relationship only evident between a father and a son.” Under Ganguli’s tutelage and support, Oduro was the principal player in building UteAnalytics as desktop software used for data analytics and building predictive ML models.
“I will forever be indebted to him and to the entire faculty at the University of Utah’s Mining Engineering Department,” the young scientist says on his LinkedIN page.
By David Pace
SME’s who are curious about applying ML to their data sets
can now download UteAnalytics from the website.
How statistical physics illuminates sea ice
Since he began studying polar sea ice at NASA in 1975, mathematician Ken Golden has helped document alarming changes in the seasonally shifting, thin veneers covering the Arctic and Antarctic oceans.
There’s now a lot less ice and the University of Utah scientist has since devoted much of his career to applying statistical mechanics—the physics of phase transitions and complex collective behavior in systems like gases and magnets—to better understand the role of climate change in the disappearance of our polar sea ice covers. The stakes couldn’t be higher as the impacts accelerate. In recent decades, according to Golden, the extent of Arctic sea ice has shrunk by about half.
“Not over the past million years, like on geophysical scales, not over a thousand years, but over the past 30 or 40 years. A couple of months ago, even in Antarctica, we just saw a new record low,” Golden said in his opening remarks at the May 17 Climate Summit hosted by the U College of Science’s Wilkes Center for Climate Science & Policy. “But just like throwing a rock into a pond, there are ripple effects, and the bigger the rock, the bigger the ripples and the further they go. The extent of sea ice we’ve lost in the Arctic is about two-thirds the area of the contiguous United States and is probably the largest change on Earth’s surface due to planetary warming. That’s a big rock.”
The part of Earth’s climate system featuring snow and ice, known as the cryosphere, is experiencing severe disruptions as the planet continues warming. Ice still covers 9% to 15% of Earth’s ocean surface, but the trends are ominous.
Read the full article by Brian Maffly in @TheU.
When the ‘Bright Red Arrow’ turns Earthward
“[P]retty much all my adult life I’ve been on what I think of as riding this bright red arrow that will take me higher and faster and better with more achievements and more accomplishments, so that people will think, Oh my God, she’s really hot, she’s really worthwhile.”
That’s how Nalini Nadkarni, professor emerita of biology at the University of Utah, describes what it was like before the 50-foot fall she took in Washington state seven years ago. The forest ecologist has been called the “Queen of the Forest Canopy” because of her foundational work in the ecosystems found in the tops of trees, whether in the Northwest or in the tropical clime of Costa Rica. But following her accident in which she was severely battered — including a broken pelvis, ribs and five vertebrae “exploded” — it was, needless to say, a seminal moment in her life.
“Over the weeks, my graduate students visited me,” she says of her stay in the hospital. “I had all kinds of friends who visited me, colleagues came, and I realized that one of the most critical things in recovery. Whether it’s an accident like mine was, or whether it’s the loss of your pet, or whether it’s a heart attack of your neighbor, or whether it’s a broken engagement, what matters most is the web of relationships that you have that carries you through.”
In a recent podcast, Nadkarni talks about her experience. “When I meet someone who’s had a disturbance of some kind, yes, you have to take in the hard parts of that, but there are some generative things about that, and you’re gonna be arriving not at the original state you were, and you’re not gonna be at the disturbed state that you were. You’re not gonna be crumpled on the forest floor, but you’re never gonna get back to that original state, and that’s OK.”
“I’m a better person because of it.,” she concludes. “So I have to, in some ways, thank that rope that failed, that brought me from the canopy to the forest floor. Now, I’m walking again in the new world that I find myself in.”
At the center of Earth is a solid metal ball, a kind of “planet within a planet,” whose existence makes life on the surface possible, at least as we know it.
How Earth’s inner core formed, grew and evolved over time remains a mystery, one that a team of University of Utah-led researchers is seeking to plumb with the help of seismic waves from naturally occurring earthquakes. While this 2,442-kilometer-diameter sphere comprises less than 1% of Earth’s total volume, its existence is responsible for the planet’s magnetic field, without which the planet would be a much different place.
But the inner core is not the homogenous mass that was once assumed by scientists, but rather it’s more like a tapestry of different “fabrics,” according to Guanning Pang, a former doctoral student in the U’s Department of Geology & Geophysics.
“For the first time we confirmed that this kind of inhomogeneity is everywhere inside the inner core,” Pang said. Now a post-doctoral researcher at Cornell University, Pang is the lead author of a new study, published July 5 in the journal Nature that opens a window into the deepest reaches of Earth. He conducted the study as part of his doctoral dissertation at Utah.
The other final frontier
“What our study was about was trying to look inside the inner core,” said U seismologist Keith Koper, who oversaw the study. “It’s like a frontier area. Anytime you want to image the interior of something, you have to strip away the shallow effects. So this is the hardest place to make images, the deepest part, and there are still things that are unknown about it.”
This research harnessed a special dataset generated by a global network of seismic arrays set up to detect nuclear blasts. In 1996, the United Nations established the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization, CTBTO, to ensure compliance with the international treaty that bans such explosions.
Read the entire story by Brian Maffly in @theU.
2023 Best Chemists
Peter Stang and P. B. Armentrout, highest ranked chemists at the U.
Research.com has released its highly anticipated 2023 rankings of the best scientists, including chemists, worldwide and in the United States. The rankings feature several chemists from the University of Utah who have been recognized for their outstanding contributions to the field of chemistry.
Distinguished Professor Peter Stang was ranked 630th in the world and 287th in the U.S. while P.B. Armentrout, Henry Eyring Presidential Endowed Chair of Chemistry, was ranked 654th in the world and 298th in the nation.
Other U chemists were also were honored by being ranked.
According to their website, research.com aims to provide a centralized platform for researchers to discover, access, and disseminate research findings. Their main task is to empower scientists, professors, and research fellows to stay updated on the latest research, publications, and conferences worldwide. Through their portal, research.com seeks to streamline the research process and make it easier for researchers to progress with their work, regardless of their academic level. With its commitment to providing cutting-edge resources and tools, research.com hopes to facilitate impactful research and accelerate scientific progress.
Read the full story and rankings of other U chemists at chem.utah.edu.