Cold Fog & Complex Terrain

Cold fog & Complex Terrain


You might not initially think of fog as a form of severe weather, but when fog sets in and visibility plummets, transportation becomes dangerous.

Zhaoxia Pu

Fog is the second-most-likely cause of aircraft accidents after strong winds, but despite the high impact of fog events and a long history of research, fog prediction remains a long-standing challenge for weather prediction because of complex interactions among the land surface, water, and atmosphere. There’s still a lot of fundamental things about fog that we don’t know.

Zhaoxia Pu, University of Utah professor of atmospheric sciences and Eric Pardyjak, professor of mechanical engineering, hope to change that through a field campaign and scientific research using Utah’s Heber Valley as the laboratory.

For about six weeks, from 7 January to 24 February 2022, Pu, Pardyjak and their colleagues, including scientists from the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and the Environment and Climate Change Canada as well as graduate students and undergraduate students from atmospheric sciences and mechanical engineering at the University of Utah, watched a network of sensors on the ground in the Heber Valley along with comprehensive sets of instruments from the NCAR's Erath Observing Laboratory and satellite observations. The valley is bounded by mountains, relatively flat in the basin and features two lakes — Jordanelle and Deer Creek reservoirs. Its conditions, Pu says, are representative of mountain valleys around the world.

On winter nights, cold air pools on the valley floor and creates favorable conditions for several forms of fog, including cold-air pool fog, ephemeral mountain valley cold fog and radiative ice fog. By observing how these different kinds of fog form and dissipate, the researchers are continuing to learn about the meteorological conditions and physical processes governing the formation of fog and improve fog prediction.

The study is funded by a $1.17 million grant from the National Science Foundation.

Now, in a recent paper in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, Pu and her colleagues have published findings via The Cold Fog Amongst Complex Terrain (CFACT) project, conceived to investigate the life cycle of cold fog in mountain valleys.

The overarching goals of the CFACT project, according to the paper’s abstract, are to 1) investigate the life cycle of cold-fog events over complex terrain with the latest observation technology, 2) improve microphysical parameterizations and visibility algorithms used in numerical weather prediction (NWP) models, and 3) develop data assimilation and analysis methods for current and next-generation (e.g., sub kilometer scale) NWP models.

Field observations, NWP forecasts, and large-eddy simulations provided unprecedented data sources to help understand the mechanisms associated with cold-fog weather and to identify and mitigate numerical model deficiencies in simulating winter weather over mountainous terrain. The paper summarizes the CFACT field campaign, its observations, and challenges during the field campaign, including real-time fog prediction issues and future analysis.

Comprehensive measurements

A network of ground-based and aerial in situ instruments and remote sensing platforms were used to obtain comprehensive measurements of thermodynamic profiles, cloud microphysics, aerosol properties and environmental dynamics. Over its seven-week course, the CFACT field campaign collected a diverse and extensive dataset, including high-frequency radiosonde profiles, tethered balloon profiles, remotely sensed thermodynamic and wind profiles, numerous surface meteorological observations, and microphysical and aerosol measurements. Nine intensive observation periods (IOPs) explored various mountainous weather and cold fog conditions.

Despite the drought in the western United States in 2022, which limited the occurrence of persistent deep fog events associated with persistent cold-air pools that regularly form in higher-elevation Intermountain West basins, the campaign observed highly spatially heterogeneous ephemeral fog and ice fog events. Since ephemeral fog and ice fog are extremely difficult to detect, model, and forecast, CFACT provided unprecedented datasets to understand both types of fog and validate the NWP model.

Meanwhile, the variety of non-fog IOPs provided valuable observations for understanding near-surface inversion, ice crystal formation, moisture advection and transportation, and stable boundary layers over complex terrain, all of which are essential factors related to fog formation. Comprehensive studies are ongoing for an improved understanding of cold fog over complex terrain.

Critical high resolution observations

The CFACT campaign observations, complemented by model simulations, have been instrumental in studying the lifecycle of fog and the behavior of the stable boundary layer. More importantly, since Heber Valley is a small-scale valley, the observations from the two CFACT supersites, eight low-cost stations and nine satellite sites provide critical high-resolution observations to validate and improve current and next-generation (i.e., sub-kilometer scale) NWP models.

Moreover, the available CFACT high-resolution meteorological observations, along with the soil and snow observations during CFACT, are helpful for developing fine-scale atmospheric data assimilation and the coupled land–atmosphere data assimilation (e.g., Lin and Pu 2019, 2020; Zhang and Pu 2019) for improved near-surface weather prediction, including cold-fog forecasting.

Various comprehensive studies are presently underway for numerical model validation, improvement and data assimilation to improve cold-fog prediction.

First author of the paper, Zhaoxia Pu is a member of the NOAA Science Advisory Board. She is an elected fellow of the American Meteorological Society and Royal Meteorological Society.

This story is adapted from an earlier announcement on this project by Paul Gabrielsen in @TheU.

UPDATE (Dec.19, 2023): With the persistent "inversion" now occurring in the Salt Lake Valley and beyond,
additional coverage from FOX 13 of Dr. Pu's research has been broadcasted / posted.
Listen to the story here.

UPDATE (Feb. 13, 2024): The EOS newsletter of American Geophysical Union  (AGU)
featured the CFACT project here.

Remembering Marta Weeks

Remembering Marta Weeks


With husband Karelton Wulf.

A longtime Associate Trustee of the Association of American Petroleum Engineers Foundation she embodied legendary civic promotion as well as historic philanthropic support to the Foundation as well as to the Department of Geology & Geophysics and the College of Mines & Earth Sciences at the University of Utah which honored her in 2010 with the Founder's Day Distinguished Alumna Award.

The daughter of a petroleum geologist and the wife and daughter-in-law of world-renowned petroleum geologists, Weeks generously and continuously supported the AAPG Foundation as well as a host of other cultural and humanitarian causes around the world.

Weeks had many careers (often publicly praised as a “Renaissance Woman”) and remained active and passionate about her roles well after the usual retirement age – she was ordained an Episcopal priest in 1992 – directly impacting thousands of lives through her involvement with a host of groups and organizations.

The world knew of her great and lasting work; friends and those close knew that she was, in the words of past Foundation Trustee Chairman William L. Fisher, “as modest as she is generous.”

With AAPG, she had been a Foundation Trustee Associate since 1976. For her, philanthropic engagement with AAPG was her opportunity of “giving back,” she said, and it was a lifetime pleasure.

“I give to AAPG to honor my father, my husband and my father-in-law,’ she said, “all of whom were involved in petroleum geology.”

For Weeks, advancing opportunities in education for new generations of geoscientists was an especially significant part of her life.

Her most recent gift to the Foundation was bequeathed just last year – a $5 million annuity that will be distributed through 2029, impacting geoscientists for decades to come.

Indeed, she and her family made many donations to the AAPG Foundation throughout its history, including a $10 million bequest in 2006, the largest gift ever received by AAPG.

A Life of Excellence

Marta Weeks receives AAPG Foundation's inaugural highest honor, the L. Austin Weeks Memorial Medal, at the 2008 Annual Convention & Exhibition in San Antonio, Texas.

Marta Joan Sutton Weeks was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where her father Fredrick Sutton worked as a petroleum geologist. She was raised in both North and South America, and petroleum geology was a constant in her life.

Her first job – at age 13, while residing with her family in Maracaibo, Venezuela – came as she started a small popcorn business for the outdoor oil camp moviegoers.

She attended high school in Salt Lake City, Utah before attending Beloit College in Wisconsin, then graduated with a degree in political science from Stanford University.

Her career then started with summers spent teaching English for the Mene Grande Oil Co. and the Centro-Venezolano Americano in Caracas, Venezuela. Again, the oil business was a regular part of her life.

She then married petroleum geologist Lewis Austin Weeks in 1951, who was the son of famed petroleum geologist Lewis Weeks, and subsequently resided with him in Utah, Colorado, California and Maryland before moving to Miami, Fla., in 1967.

In 1988 she returned to graduate school in Austin, Texas, earned a master’s degree in theology and in 1992 was ordained an Episcopal priest. Her ministry included chaplaincies at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Panama, the Bahamas, the American Cathedral in Paris, France, and ultimately the Diocese of Southern Florida.

In 2008 she was the first recipient of the L. Austin Weeks Memorial Medal, intended to recognize “extraordinary philanthropy and service directed to advance the mission of the AAPG Foundation.”

In addition to the geosciences, she was passionate in her support of the University of Miami, where she was an advocate for academics, the arts, health care and research.

A complete listing of all her connections, honors and activities would be exhaustive, but a partial listing includes:

  • Director of Weeks Petroleum Ltd., Omni-Lift Corp. and the Weeks Air Museum
  • University of Miami Board of Trustees (their first woman chairperson, 2007-09)
  • Founding member and president of the Stanford Club of Florida
  • A member of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church Foundation, board member of the SE Episcopal Foundation and a trustee of Beloit College and Bishop Gray Inns
  • A member of the National Advisory Council-University of Utah and the Order of St. John of Jerusalem (both as a chaplain and a Dame)
  • Supporter of the Center for Sexuality and Religion
  • Her name graces the YMCA building in Miami, a music school building at the University of Miami and the center at the Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest
  • Chairs and scholarships are named for her and exist because of her generosity at numerous schools

And Foundation TAs know very well of her passion for golf and active participation at TA annual meetings – a plethora of stories of her exploits on the links will keep that part of her legacy alive for years to come. In addition to being a legendary philanthropist and woman of vision, she was a friend.

After Lewis Austin Weeks passed in 2005, Marta married Karleton Wulf in 2009. Wulf passed in 2020, and Marta spent her final years residing with her daughter, Leslie Anne Davies, on Jupiter Island.

In addition to her daughter, Marta Weeks is survived by her son, Kermit Austin Weeks; granddaughter, Katie Weeks; and grandsons, Bryce and Cole Davies.

A version of this memorial was first published in American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG)'s Explorer where you can read more about Weeks and her impact on the industry. Watch a video of Week's receiving the AAPG's top honor, the inaugural 2008 L. Austin Weeks Medal.

$7M to build better life sciences workforce

$7Mto build bigger, better life sciences workforce


Utah’s life sciences industry is booming—so much so that there’s a gap between the workers that bioscience companies need to grow and the college graduates to fill those jobs.

A new partnership between the state of Utah, higher education, and life sciences industry leaders aims to keep Utah competitive globally by training and supporting students entering the workforce with highly technical skills. The University of Utah and Utah State University will be leading the effort to close that gap.

On Monday, Nov. 20, Utah Gov. Spencer Cox announced a Life Science Workforce Initiative that will kick off his administration’s priority to bolster bioscience at a press conference hosted at bioMérieaux.

“We know that this sector is part of the bright future of Utah,” Cox said. “We’re so excited for what is already happening here, but we have to meet the needs of today and the needs of tomorrow. And we do that by giving more opportunities to incredible students and companies here in the state of Utah.”

The goal of the initiative is to close the anticipated workforce gap between the needs of bioscience companies and the number of potential employees available. From 2012 to 2021, the state’s job growth in life sciences was the highest in the country, but Utah companies still need more workers. From biological technicians to specialized Ph.D. researchers, the skilled workforce degrees Utah companies need include biochemists, chemical engineers, materials scientists and others.

BioUtah, an industry trade association, teamed up with the Utah System of High Education’s Talent Ready Utah agency (TRU) to connect legislators with industry and university leaders from every state college and university to help state elected and education leaders better understand the needs of the life sciences workforce.

The initiative is modeled after the state’s Engineering Initiative, which was launched in 2001 to boost the number of engineering graduates each year and has increased Utah’s new engineer numbers by 240%. Like the Engineering Initiative, the state will provide financial incentives to Utah colleges and universities for additional high-yield degree graduates. The state estimates life sciences degrees could grow by 1,250 graduates.

Read the full article in @theU.

Top NASA honor goes to U Students

Top honor from NASA to U Students

Challenged to devise a way to extract and forge metal on the moon, a team of University of Utah engineering students has won top honors in a NASA-sponsored competition with their proposal for refining the iron that is abundant at the lunar surface.


Challenged to devise a way to extract and forge metal on the moon, a team of University of Utah engineering students has won top honors in a NASA-sponsored competition with their proposal for refining the iron that is abundant at the lunar surface.

The group, led by graduate research assistant in metallurgical engineering John Otero and Collin Andersen, a graduate student in the U’s John and Marcia Price College of Engineering, adapted a century-old process known as carbonyl iron refining, or CIR, for use in a lunar environment with its non-existent atmosphere, freezing temperatures and low gravity. They proposed using a two-chamber process in which a reactive gas phase concentrates disparate iron particles into a powder product that is more than 98% iron with properties favorable for additive manufacturing, according to their presentation.

“There were multiple times we came close to scrapping the concept, but each time we found the strength to go a little farther. Our small group was driven by a genuine belief in the concept and curiosity of what would happen,” said Andersen , a doctoral student in materials science and engineering from Providence, Utah. “This honor has validated the perseverance, effort, and dedication of exploring an innovative and applied idea.”

In the top photo, University of Utah engineering students, left to right, John Otero, Christian Norman, Olivia Dale and Collin Andersen celebrate their team’s win at NASA’s 2023 BIG Idea Challenge held last week in Ohio.

Read the full article by Brian Maffly in @TheU.

SRI Stories

SRI stories:  From the lab to Costa Rica


Despite being over three thousand miles away from her lab back in Salt Lake City, Sylvia Lee was still able to sequence the DNA of the species she is studying.

While doing field work in Costa Rica, Sylvia continued her research by using Oxford Nanopore’s MinION, a portable technology that allows for DNA and RNA sequencing wherever you are.

Sylvia works in an SRI research stream that focuses on using Next Generation Sequencing (NGS) technologies to barcode and sequence DNA. This allows her lab to uncover new species and their phylogenetics. NGS allows in-house sequencing within the lab, rather than having to send it off to a company or lab. Or with the portable MinIOn, on a Costa Rican beach.

Sylvia’s main project is focused on ant-plant symbioses. She works to identify a third party within that symbiosis which is a crucial piece of the mutualistic interactions between ants and plants. The ants can’t get certain nutrients from their host plant, so the third party, mealybugs, are essential for this mutualistic relationship. She’s identifying the species of mealybugs involved, and after that, will look more closely at the nitrogen-fixing microbiome surrounding this entire process.

Sylvia is planning to go to graduate school, pursuing research in the biotech field. She’s a Social Justice Advocate, connecting U housing residents to resources and creating safe communities where they feel like they belong. She’s also part of the U’s undergraduate chapter of SACNAS, designed to support Chicano, Hispanic and Native American STEM students. 

“My parents are my heroes,” she said. “I look up to them because I have seen how much they’ve gone through, raising two children in a foreign country, far away from what’s familiar and far from where they called home. They did all of this just to make sure their kids would have a good life and a good future.”

Sylvia was born in Cheongju, South Korea, but at a young age moved overseas with her family. She traveled many places, but spent a lot of time in Mexico, and came to the U as an international student. Sequencing DNA has not only proven “portable” for Sylvia Lee; when she graduates with BS in biology and minor in chemistry, they’ll be infinitely “portable” as well. 

By CJ Siebeneck

Pace Yourself: Episode 8

Listen Here: 

Relevant Research and Articles:


David Pace 0:03

Hi. My name’s David Pace. 


Alex Barilec 0:04

And I’m Alex Barilec. And this is Pace Yourself, the University of Utah College of Science podcast. And Wellness. 


David Pace 0:12

So here we are. Alex, it’s nice to see you. And I hope that the bracing new autumn temperature isn’t, uh. Is it making you too cold there in your home in Ogden? 


Alex Barilec 0:25

I love the changing of seasons in our environment here in Utah, and that’s what we’re going to talk about today, environmental wellness. 


David Pace 0:31

So as you know, if you’re following the podcast, we’re doing the eight dimensions of wellness that the NIH has set forth and their definition of environmental dimension of wellness is this :understanding how your social, natural and built environments affect your health and well-being, being aware of the unstable state of the earth and the effects of your daily habits on the physical environment and demonstrating commitment to a healthy planet. How do you want to start this big tamale?


Alex Barilec 1:03

Well, I what I really like about the definition is it is all encompassing. So it talks about these natural and built and social and I would throw in there are digital environments as well. I think that’s something that we want to bring into this conversation. But, you know, maybe we just start by talking a little bit about maybe the topic that’s on the top of people’s mind when they think of this, and that is our broader environmental challenges, climate change and, you know, ways in which we think and relate to the natural world and something that always stands out to me and sometimes saddens me is I love to watch David Attenborough, like life on our planet stuff. It’s just absolutely amazing. The one that’s standing out to me right now is that I think it’s like our national parks, where Barack Obama actually narrates it. The footage is just stunning of the incredible natural world that we have here on this planet in all its forms. But it’s never lost on me that I’m sitting on my couch in my pajamas, eating popcorn, watching this world. I’m not actually out there living it. And there’s a part of me that yearns for, like having that direct experience of the natural world. And, uh, yeah it’s kind of ironic. We watch nature, but we aren’t as a part of nature as much as we used to. So what comes to mind for you when you start to think about like these big ideas of climate and the natural world? 


David Pace 2:47

Well, to get back to what you were just saying, I think it was Walter Cronkite back in the fifties and sixties who made the comment, you know, revealed the irony of the fact that in the television age and this goes way back, this is not just Internet, this goes back to the television and radio even. But he made the point during a full eclipse that more Americans watched it on television than they did by stepping outside to look at the eclipse. Not that you should look at an eclipse anyway, without glasses, by the way, that’s not very wellness oriented. So yeah, so this has gone way back, you could say, even back to when we started being literate and reading and writing. That’s a mediated message, if you will. We’re not actually experiencing the environment or other people. We’re actually being told how to think about it through a medium. So yeah, the way I think about the broader world and the broader environment that we live in and this is just one aspect of environmental wellness, as you know, is that we have to be cognizant of the fact that we’re part of nature. We’re not just looking at nature and experiencing nature. We are experiencing ourselves through nature and nature through ourselves and that we have to always remember that, that reading about it or watching it on television or searching through the Internet doesn’t make us a naturalist. It doesn’t make us connected, really, because we’re being told how to experience that through David Attenborough. 


Alex Barilec 4:38

Right. And I think I like leading with this perspective because when people think of environmental wellness, like climate change probably comes to mind pretty quickly. And I think one thing we want to do in this conversation is, you know, steer away from that, but not like ignore the fact that, yeah, there are some serious changes and uncertainties happening in our planet, but they feel hard to grasp and they feel really hard to understand and they feel like these macro concepts and one of the ways for me that helps me think about, you know, what can I do is I actually just getting out and experiencing the natural world like experiencing the beauty of a rock or, you know, a really rich environment. I can recall spending time up in Baxter State Park in central Maine. We went up there on our honeymoon, and it’s been a very, very intensely well-protected environment of a little over a million acres since the mid 1800s. And it was one of the most pristine natural habitats I’d ever experience in my entire life. And he gave me this really, really rich appreciation and imbibed to me the importance of protecting these these lands. And I think that, you know, if you’re just watching that on the TV, it’s really hard to have an embodied experience of like, Oh, we’re a part of this. This is important. And so, you know, our natural environment is a part of it. But we spend a lot of our time in indoor environments and, you know, that’s one of the things we wanted to keep this conversation is like a holistic exploration of how do we engage with our different environments and how do we promote wellness through our engagement with each of them. 


David Pace 6:34

I think you should talk about essentialism. 


Alex Barilec 6:37

Well, essentialism is an idea that I got from Greg McEwan, and Greg’s an author and a speaker, and this idea is really related to our digital environments, which is where we spend a lot of our time today. And his thought was, hey, there’s just too many choices out there. There’s too many restaurants to go to, there’s too many apps vying for your attention, there’s too many movies on Netflix to watch, and there’s a lot of social pressure to engage with those. It is all of our responsibility to prioritize our life because somebody else will. And in the digital space or the digital environment, that has never been more true. So Greg has a four part framework. There’s like four questions to it that help us to engage with the overwhelm that the digital environment brings, which is like I have to do this because I see it on social media or all of these things are important to me. Like I feel that all the time.I have a bookshelf full of books that are all important to me or like, I can do both. I can do all of these things. 


David Pace 7:49

You just you just made a noun out of the out of a verb and overwhelm it. Remember that? That’s right. It’s like this big space ship above us called the Overwhelm. There’s the overwhelm. Oh, my gosh! Run away!


Alex Barilec 8:02

It feels that way sometimes, doesn’t it? It’s out there. I love that. Like, that term is is so real in our environments. And so Greg’s framework is four parts: understanding the essence, right? So this idea of having the ability to choose to discern and to understand tradeoffs. So he’s like looks at the world kind of stoically and is like, Hey, most things out there are non-essential, right? And like, you’re nodding your head. I say that because we know that’s true, but they’re in our environment, so we engage with them. And the last part is understanding that there’s tradeoffs, right? So saying yes, to one thing means we’re saying no to another thing. And then the other three parts that and these are really where the action comes in, right? So the first is the essence. The other three are to explore, to eliminate and to execute. And I use, explore, eliminate and execute. When I think about my digital environment, when I think about my built environment, and I think, okay, when I think about exploring, how can I discern what he calls the trivial many from the vital few. 


David Pace 9:15

The trivial, many from the vital few. 


Alex Barilec 9:18

Yeah. Like what’s really important to me. And then once I identify what the trivial many are though. So for me, I’ve realized many years ago, Twitter was one of those things for me, it just was like one of the trivial many things. I just deleted it from my phone because it wasn’t, it wasn’t important to me. And one of the questions that I use is understanding what is your intent? What is your like essential intent in this world? How do you orient your action towards that? And then finally, thinking about executing, right? How do we make all of this real? So what’s coming up for you as we’re talking about essentialism as a framework to create healthier environments in our life? 


David Pace 10:04

This relates to my writing life. Actually. I was an English major and then later, as with my graduate degree in rhetoric, I was in that space that’s what I identified with and that’s how other people identified me as well. So, you know, a writer writes, right, Well, not this writer. I did everything that I could to avoid actually doing the writing that I claimed that I wanted to do because I was so busy helping other writers. I was at the Utah Humanities Council running the statewide book festival, for heaven’s sake. So I was coordinating all of this. I was reading a lot of other people’s, you know, written manuscripts and advising them on it. And it wasn’t until fairly recently actually it was the pandemic when I couldn’t do any of that stuff that I thought, Oh, here I am, left in my office downstairs in my digital space, and if I’m going to be a writer, I better start writing. And I had already had one book published, but I started actually doing- prioritizing as you saying the essential, which is sit down, be at your post, be there for 2 hours at least, and do your job. The thing that you claim that you want to be, the thing that identifies you and I think during the pandemic was the first time that I wrote a long manuscript where I actually enjoyed it. That’s on the process. I used to say, I don’t enjoy writing, I enjoy having written. But I think the pandemic helped me realize how essential this was in my life and how I had to front it. And I had to say goodbye to some things, like in your case, Twitter. I had to realize that you can’t have everything, so you have to make a choice. And I think in America, especially with consumerism raging as it is, we think that we can’t just keep adding to our life and nothing ever goes out the other end. And that’s not true. That’s not true in relationships either, but it’s definitely not true in terms of acquiring stuff and keeping yourself, you know, occupied. 


Alex Barilec 12:24

Yeah. And so often- you just shared like a really great example of how you were letting the trivial few get in the way of, you know, the essential intent for you, which was to produce a written manuscript. And I think that to, you know, bring all of this into like our environments, the digital environment is engineered in a way that, you know, it takes our attention and takes us away from that. And holds us back from doing hard things. So a couple of things for me that have really worked in the area that has been most helpful is exercise for me. And I’ve shared a fair bit about, you know, running a 50K and really committing to that in my life. When I learned about the effects and the benefits of physical exercise and longevity, I decided that it was absolute essential for me. But what I noticed was that like when I was working out my phone, spent a lot of time in my hand, which meant I spent less time climbing or lifting weights, or that when I didn’t want to go out the door and it was kind of rainy, I would grab it almost as like it was comforting to me. And so a few things that I did to engage with my digital space differently is, you know, in this spirit of being essentials, I made my phone uninteresting. Andso what I mean by that is like my phone is a tool in my life, but spending all of my time on it is not essential. So my phone doesn’t ring like I’ve probably gotten a text message or two since we’ve been on this podcast hasn’t vibrated and hasn’t buzzed. The only way that I engage with my phone is if I pick it up, right? But our phones are designed in a way that they’re always vying for our attention. The ringing they’re buzzing and every app wants all of your attention. Ooh, look at me. You look at your streak, look your updates they’re all engineered. So you want and they know what helps drive human behavior. So one of the things I did was make it an interesting a few other things that I did was like I deleted apps that I was spending a lot of time on from my phone. So I still use Instagram a bit for like information and news, but I’m old school. I only use it on the browser. It’s not on my phone. And I did this because I was finding that this environment, this digital space, was having a negative impact on my life. So these are just like a couple of tools that I’ve used. I think about like decluttering or cleaning up my digital environment.. 


David Pace 15:01

Not doomscrolling as they say. 


Alex Barilec 15:03

No, I mean, I’m guilty of it as much as the next person is, you know. 


David Pace 15:07

We don’t want you to we don’t want to think of you as being too pristine about this environmental. 


Alex Barilec 15:13

It’s hard. It’s really hard. Yeah. 


David Pace 15:15

I think it’s Deepak Chopra. I don’t know if I pronounced his name right, but he’s kind of a, you know, a mindfulness guru and consultant with Oprah. And runs all of these meditation seminars. He I remember reading about how he engages his phone. It’s one hour a day, and then he turns it off. He checks his email. And that’s email, too. That’s not now, not all of us can do that because we work in an environment where, you know, our email is everything, you know, it’s how we get our work done. And the other problem to that, which maybe we can address too, is that our work life has now melded our work. Email is now melded into our personal email. We just toggle back and forth between that. And so it’s not just contained to the desk when you go to work. So and again, it’s so pernicious, you know social media iit just I don’t know if it’s malicious, but it’s just ubiquitous. It’s everywhere. And these are algorithms or they’re the real flying monkeys in our life today. 


Alex Barilec 16:30

Yeah. Email is actually something that probably as or more relatable for a lot of people and it kind of like flies under the radar right because algorithms and you know predatory you know social media companies get a bad rap, but email is ever present and necessary for a lot of our roles. However, I share this idea in this like fundamental mindset of essentialism, because I think that we often overstate the degree to which spending all of our time on emails is essential. Like I got an email the other night and I was receiving a reply from someone at 9 p.m. and something that on a scale of 1 to 10 might have been like a two on essential. And I was like, I was just a little bit sad. I was like, Oh man, you don’t have to be spending your evening on your email. This is definitely not an essential part. So if people are like, okay, great, David and Alex, I know my email kind of gets in my way. I really think coming back to this idea of understanding what’s essential for your role and in your life is a really great way of thinking about, you know, how to do that because it takes our time and it takes our attention away from like being out in the natural world, takes our time and attention away from spending time with our kids or our loved ones or really listening to people. And it’s those aspects we’ve talked through in other episodes and how rich and how helpful and healthy they are to engage in regularly. And you know, this area has kind of made its way into a lot of conversations, but it seems to really even hold us back from just helping promote a healthier environment in many ways, too. 


David Pace 18:16

Yeah. Before we talk more about the natural environment, let’s go back to built environment for a minute. You were talking about de-cluttering and what our built environment or homes actually say about who we are. And you have something here called recharging your batteries like you do your phone. What do you mean by that? 


Alex Barilec 18:35

Yeah. So this idea comes from the NIH’s definition. And if you look for resources on the NIH site, they talk a lot about allergens and toxins, and they talk a lot about how we create our home environment because that’s where we spend, you know, our work environment or home environment is where we spend like 90% of our time or something. So I’m not an expert on like cleaning products. The NIH has some some interesting ideas if you’re thinking because that is an aspect of this and allergens is an aspect, air quality is an aspect. But the part that stood out to me was some ideas of like decluttering and how like our space is an outward representation of ourselves. And you know, when our space is cluttered, like it can impact other areas of our emotional or our social wellness or our ability to engage with, you know, with our loved ones or go out sometimes. And for me, like the most simple aspect of keeping my built environment is I make my- we, my wife and I make her bed every morning and it’s just a simple little thing that makes me feel or makes me feel good. I hope it makes her feel good. I have a sense that it does because it’s like this little bit of responsibility for our built environment. We want to keep this place neat and tidy. 


David Pace 19:57

Um, I hope you respect the positioning of the throw pillows. 


Alex Barilec 20:01

I do, I’m actually quite neat and tidy, so that’s actually my job, not my wife. She buys them, I position them. But this is an extension of our space. And another idea that is really important in our built spaces is this idea of creating a space that is semi-private, stress free, quiet, and spending time there. 


David Pace 20:29

And bringing nature inside. 


Alex Barilec 20:30

Yeah, you can bring a plant inside. And what was so interesting is, as I said that you just took a really deep breath because you’re like, maybe I need a space like that in my home because every night we put our phone on the charger, right? I think most people can close their eyes and they can see where their phone lives in the charger. But we don’t create a space or we often don’t think of ourselves in the same way, right? Like we spend our time at work. We spend our time commuting. And when we go home, that really is our time and place to recharge and creating a space to recharge just like we do our phones is a really important tenet of being, well, I think.


David Pace 21:14

So, we live in Utah, and every time I talk to a faculty member or students as well. Did you come to Utah? In fact? Why did you come to Utah? Alex really tell us. 


Alex Barilec 21:23

I mean, the natural environment, skiing, spending time. 


David Pace 21:27

That’s what they all say.


Alex Barilec 21:27

Spending time outside. And then what happened was I also fell in love with the desert. 


David Pace 21:31

Yes, it’s interesting to be in Utah for that reason. You know, you’ve got the mountains on one side, you’ve got the deserts on the other side, and it doesn’t get any better. 


Alex Barilec 21:40

It’s wild. 


David Pace 21:41

That’s why Hollywood comes here. There’s so many different environments that they can film in. You know, the high Uintahs is very, very different than the Wasatch Range and the West Desert is -and we’re not even talking about Moab and the Arches and… 


Alex Barilec 21:55

And all those places are like three or four hours from each other.


David Pace 21:58

Yeah, so here we are. What is this tragedy of the commons? 


Alex Barilec 22:04

Yeah. So this idea kind of comes back to the onramp for this conversation, which people might be thinking about. You know, our natural spaces are the beautiful aspects of Utah climate change, protecting public lands. And this is just a way that I think about or try to understand the unfortunate nature of using resources. So the tragedy of the Commons is this way or thought experiment that if there is a place or an area where people have access to public resources, the idea of this is fish, people ultimately are going to act in their own interest and likely deplete that resource. So even if there is like 99 people that decide, hey, this lake, we don’t want to over fish, so we’re all going to use like, you know, methods that help fish reproduce at a regular rate. If just one person buys the biggest motorboat they can find and they use industrial and commercial fishing methods that one person can over fish the whole lake and he can gain all of the resources and he can deplete things. So it helps me think about my responsibility in climate change, but it helps me not get overwhelmed and it helps me think about the importance of like policy and thinking at this at a macro level. So it’s just a tool that I use because I spent a lot of my twenties David like really, really overwhelmed about climate change. The more I learned about it, the more despair I found. So this is something I learned along the way that helped me combat that despair.


David Pace 23:43

We all can’t do everything. But each of us can do something. That’s that’s been my motto about protecting our resources. We’re experiencing that now with, you know, the skiing resorts around here, that last winter it took 3 to 4 hours to get up Cottonwood Canyon to go skiing at the worst. So, yeah, that’s a conversation you have to have, both socially, politically and internally in terms of what you can do about that. You also have here listed social spaces and of course we’ve been talking about digital spaces, which overlaps wildly with social spaces. Do you feel like are environments socially? And I don’t want to go down too much about this because we’ve already talked about social wellness, but do you feel like our social relationships have been changed by our environment and the quality of our relationships through digital? Because we were talking about this earlier about how during the pandemic it was a lifesaver to be able to facetime with people. But I’m just wondering if social media is changing, not only our time and our anxiety, but the way we relate to others. 


Alex Barilec 25:01

I think that it has personally, I think I mean, nothing is black and white, right? So I don’t want to talk about this in black and white terms. There are a lot of really amazing benefits about it. You had mentioned finding communities of people with like interests through digital spaces, right? So you were able to cultivate an environment combining your social and digital spaces that was really helpful and restorative and healthy. I do think, though, that Tristan Harris and the team at the Center for Humane Technology, if anyone’s ever seen the social dilemma, it came from those guys I think that they’re doing really good work to help us understand that this thing is a tool, but it’s a tool that’s been engineered in a way that isn’t promoting social connection and it isn’t promoting like fundamental tenets of, you know, ways of being. 


David Pace 26:03

It is or it is not?


Alex Barilec 26:05

It is not


David Pace 26:09

Yeah, that’s how it got marketed and continues to be marketed. Right, which is kind of sad. Yeah, I think, oh, I’m keeping connected with my son by emailing him and, and telling him everything that I’m doing in my life and but not really listening to him and not even interacting with him in a face to face way. 


Alex Barilec 26:28

Yeah, Yeah. That’s something that becomes a substitute. Our ability to do that in person atrophies is something that’s always been confusing to me is like I’ve had family members living across the country that are like, Oh, why don’t you like post on social media? Like, we would love to see what’s going on in Utah and this might be just my frame of it, but I don’t think that that’s real connection, you know, like the people that I’m really connected with that really do care. Like they asked for pictures or when we’re together in person, I show them pictures on my phone. It’s not that I don’t want to share this with people. It’s just that, I think that’s a proxy for real social connection. And I think it confuses us and it gets in our way. But I don’t think that we should shy away from these things. I just think we need to be the masters of our digital domain and thinking in this essential way and remembering that this thing’s a tool. It isn’t essential for life. And that’s like going to be like a hot take, probably. But this thing is not essential for life. People have been living for thousands of years without smartphones. 


David Pace 27:30

No, news flash, scandal!


Alex Barilec 27:34

News flash. 


David Pace 27:35

I’m reminded of one of my good friends, his daughter, who is attending another university south of here called Utah Valley University, was scandalized because she was sitting in the hall waiting for a class to start. Everyone on their phone, of course, and a young man had the gall to walk up to her and introduce himself and ask her out. She couldn’t believe that he was doing this because that’s all done online now. It’s done through chat rooms and hook up places and well, not hook up, you know what I’m saying? So yeah yeah yeah. 


Alex Barilec 28:18

Like Tinder. 


David Pace 28:20

No, not Tinder. Anyway. 


Alex Barilec 28:23

Dating sites.


David Pace 28:25

Yeah. Dating sites, thank you. And she it was so unusual to have somebody actually in the person saying, Hi, my name is Joe Bloe, and I’ve been watching you across the hall and you’re in my class. And I was wondering if you wanted to go to a movie. She was just like, I couldn’t believe it, Dad. I couldn’t believe it. What’s wrong with him anyway? 


Alex Barilec 28:48

Yeah. So as you were saying that, I was just thinking about how to wrap all of this up of, like, you know, we’re talking about, space and environment. And the saddest thing to see is that the overuse of our digital spaces takes us away from actually being in the physical space that we are, where they were in nature. It breaks my heart when people are out in beautiful places in there looking at the world through their phone, right? It’s like there’s just no comparison. I stopped sending pictures to family. And now the thing is, like, it doesn’t capture if you go down to Canyonlands and you take a picture of it, it’s like, oh, that’s nice. If you go and stand on the edge of the canyon rim, it’s like, what am I looking at? It can’t be captured in a photo, but it takes us away from being in the environment together. And this story you’re sharing is really an example of how it you know, it just takes us away from being present. And in that present moment, there’s so much richness and there might be potential connections and lifelong partners. So yeah, I think that what hopefully we’ve done through this conversation is expand the definition and the idea of our environment. And, you know, maybe my, my closing thought would be reducing our engagement with our digital environment might just be a way to reconnect us with our natural environments, which seem to be and have always been really important. 


David Pace 30:17

I like the essentialism that you talked about and the four E’s, which I wanted to review very quickly. Just mention essence, explore, eliminate and execute. Wow. I hope you’re not talking about murdering anyone. When you say execute, but I think I know what you mean. How can we make doing the vital few effortless subtract by removing obstacles to progress, create habits and routines routines? You know, a lot of this is about habit and about self-regulation or non-regulation. I think that’s a good way to end because the NIH talks about that as being an overarching concern about wellness. Is that we are fighting habits that are socially and commercially being pressed upon us for all of the reasons that we know about and regulation and lack of shame in our lives. I think we have to be intentionally intentional and aware of all of this, which is what I think the environment invites us to do, whether it’s natural built environment or whatever digital. Thank you. You did a good job today. 


Alex Barilec 31:38

Thank you so much for your time. I think we should go outside and spend some time in in nature on this beautiful sunny day. What do you think? 


David Pace 31:44

Last one out the door is a dirty, rotten. whatever. Okay. Nice seeing ya. 


Alex Barilec 31:50

You. Have a good day, David. Bye bye. 


Pace Yourself: Episode 7

Listen Here: 

Relevant Research and Articles:


David Pace 0:03

Hi. My name’s David Pace.


Alex Barilec 0:03

And I’m Alex Barilec, and this is Pace Yourself, a University of Utah College of Science podcast on wellness. 


David Pace 0:12

Good morning, Alex. 


Alex Barilec 0:13

Good morning, David. 


David Pace 0:14

How you doing? 


Alex Barilec 0:15

I’m doing well this morning. 


David Pace 0:16

You’re the picture of wellness sitting across from me. 


Alex Barilec 0:18

Feeling great. The sun is shining in this beautiful room. And today we’re going to be talking about spiritual wellness. 


David Pace 0:23

Yes, we are. And there’s a definition from the National Institute of Health that will get us going here. Spiritual wellness is one of eight dimensions, as you know. And their definition is that spiritual wellness is about finding purpose, value and meaning in your life, with or without organized religion, and also participating in activities consistent with your beliefs and values. So we could go in a lot of different directions here. That’s pretty broad, as are all of these dimensions, which is good for us because then we get to talk about whatever we want to talk about, right? So what’s your experience with spiritual wellness? I mean, there’s a historical element to this that maybe we should talk about briefly. 


Alex Barilec 1:16

Yeah, And I think that historical element comes from our religious traditions. And, you know, we want to just say upfront that this is not a topic or an area of wellness that is going to be focused around religion. You know, no matter what your beliefs or religious traditions are, but historically spiritual practices and ways of approaching and making sense of the world that we live in were predominantly in religious traditions. And over the past 50 years or so, particularly in the United States, there seems to kind of be this collapse of religious traditions for right or for wrong. But what’s happened is there’s a spiritual void that a lot of people are kind of feeling, they maybe don’t know how to articulate. And what’s interesting is there’s been some research on people identifying in certain religious traditions and the ‘nones’, no pun intended or pun intended. The  n-o-n-e-s are actually the largest group today of people who don’t prescribe to a religious tradition. But I think that when I think about spirituality, t he word that comes to mind, because I do believe this is a fundamental capacity built in all of us is connection. So that’s the word that comes to mind for me. What comes to mind for you when you think about spirituality? 


David Pace 2:36

Well, I think of spirituality as being keyed in to a sense of wonder and awe at the ineffable, if you will. What we do not understand something greater than ourselves. It can be you know, some people call that God, some people call it a higher power. Some people call it life on life’s terms. That’s the big engine out there, the big disembodied mind, if you will. So, yeah, I think of my necessity, the necessity that I have or I’m not saying that well I believe- that’s a dangerous thing to say anywhere in a spirituality thing- I believe I’ll be very generic because that’s where it starts. For me, it’s feeling connected to the universe, feeling connected to the broader sense and ebb and flow and cadence, if you will, of life on life’s terms. I prefer that phrase myself. And I think it dovetails really nicely with science, quite frankly. And since we’re in the College of Science, that’s what scientists do. They study life on life’s terms. They don’t try to speculate or hypothesize too wildly. They want to describe not prescribe what is happening in the universe. So that’s what I look for and quite frankly, I yearn for. And we’ll talk a little bit more about that yearning and devotional sense of ritual perhaps that some people find necessary in their lives. 


Alex Barilec 4:23

Yeah, when I think about that, you know, to bring into your points and combine that with this idea of connection, you know, I say connection and I mean that like with ourselves. But I also mean that with the people around us, the natural world, the universe. You know, you talked about a higher power and a place that, as you were saying, that I went was just standing out in the city of rocks, which is a natural national preserve in southern Idaho last fall. And it was dark. It was early October, and it was the most indescribable and palpable display of the Milky Way I’d ever experienced in my entire life. And I can’t help but look up at the Milky Way and spend time in our national parks and see dark sky parks without just asking myself like, what the heck?


David Pace 5:21

Okay, language, language.


Alex Barilec 5:24

And it makes me feel grateful for this experience. But it also really humbles me. And you know, spirituality can be this term and it can be a little bit unapproachable for people. And when I think back to how this continues to grow and develop through my life, I’m really grateful for my experience in Ignatian and Jesuit education. That was really like my foundation of spirituality. 


David Pace 6:01

Tell us more about that. 


Alex Barilec 6:03

Yeah, so I grew up Catholic, but we were like, not quite ‘Creasters’ like some people say, like Christmas and Easter Catholics, if you’ve ever heard that term. Small little joke in the Catholic Church. Yeah. You know, you only show up on Christmas and Easter and we were like a little bit more frequently than that. And so growing up, I didn’t have a strong sense of this or good like role models or tools around making sense of the ineffable, as you say. But when I went to high school, I went to a Jesuit high school, and very quickly I was brought into this tradition of spiritual practices and also this real intense focus on education and the connection of the two. And there were three ideas that stood out to me. There was this idea of being like a contemplative in action as part of any Ignatian spirituality, which is really just taking some time to pause in our life or our day and reflect on what is going on, what does this mean and how do I move forward so we can, like, fully engage with the world? Mm hmm. The other two are more all encompassing. The other was what’s called I-


David Pace 7:22

I smell some latin here, Magis


Alex Barilec 7:24

Yes, Magis, M-a-g-i-s. And this is all about discerning a more generous way not to be best in the world. Like if you think of, like, accomplishments, but to be the best for the world. So there’s this, like, service component. There’s this idea of being altruistic and being the best you can in that. And then finally and this, I think really what relates to wellness, it has been a foundational pillar for me is this idea of Kira Personalis, which is this radical acceptance of, you know, who we are and continually developing our mind, our body and spirit. So viewing each and every one of us as whole, people. And though like that for me was brand new when I was 13 years old, Particularly the reflection piece. Mm hmm. And it’s those skills when I get lost or doubt myself, or just get really down in the world that I lean on. And when you think back to your time and experience, what’s been helpful for you to cultivate a sense of spirituality in your life. 


David Pace 8:31

So I am originally from what we call the Mormon corridor here, or the ‘jello belt’, and was raised in a very Orthodox Mormon home. So I came to spirituality. I think like many of us did, who grew up in a faith and organized religion in that there was dogma, there were rules, there were codes. Mormons like to speak in code, but that’s true of any code culture, If you think about it. And for me, I don’t know what Catholicism was for you, but for me, this was not just a religion. This was a totalizing, civilized force in my life. So everything was fused to it. So it was a little overwhelming, to be frank. And, you know, education, you were talking about how education was a part of your spiritual training, really, I think that’s what you said. And that was true for me. To the chagrin of my Orthodox parents, perhaps because for me, education took me out of that bubble and that totalizing experience. And so it was fraught with a lot of conflict. So for me, 


I found spirituality outside of organized religion fairly early on, even though I didn’t tell anybody that’s what was going on, because I wanted everyone to love me, of course. But yeah, so, it’s interesting because I was talking to my wife about this, who was also raised in the East, like you were very Episcopalian, very Anglican. And for her, the church became a refuge from very difficult, challenging experiences that she was having growing up in the sixties, not just family but the society at large. And it was it was a very conflicted time. So it’s very interesting. We have opposite experiences with organized religion, she found solace and sanctuary in the church because it was very theoretical in the sense that you were talking about the Jesuits. We’re sharing that with them. It wasn’t an embodied God. It was rooted in Judaism. Judaism originally, you know, the first several years in that tradition, you study the Old Testament. So she never saw it as being a club, an exclusivity club, like, you got to join us or you’re not going to be saved type thing. And she found refuge in it. It was just the opposite for me. So my spiritual journey kind of was parallel to my experience in organized religion, but it wasn’t largely connected. They weren’t connected. They were just parallel. 


Alex Barilec 11:44

That’s so interesting. There’s a couple of threads that you shared there that come to mind when I start to think about how to help people like, approach this, because, you know, in the way that maybe there was some timidness in approaching financial wellness, you know, we saved this one for a little bit later in the podcast because even we were a little bit intimidated by this. But there’s three tenants that you just share that I think are really like universal, that, you know, people can get outside of religion. And one is inspiration, the second is connection and the other is healing. And there’s this wonderful gentleman named Jamie Weale, who has this book titled Recapture the Rapture, and he really dives into these three components and he talks about how, you know, as organized religion has decreased. We have been left with this uncertainty about the world and nobody or no place to go to help guide us. But what he’s essentially done is looked at, okay, what have these religious traditions been doing for thousands of years? Because whether we want to think it or not, our ancestors knew some stuff, man. Like the pyramids. 


David Pace 13:02

No, are you sure? 


Alex Barilec 13:04

Like the Mayan temples. They knew some stuff. And people have been grappling with these questions of what are we doing on this planet for, you know, time immemorial. So these ideas of inspiration, healing and connection, I think we can find in a lot of different places, does one of them stand out to you that like I know what I do when I need some inspiration or I need some healing or I need some connection?


David Pace 13:30

Okay, so tell me the three again. 


Alex Barilec 13:32

Inspiration, healing and connection. 


David Pace 13:36

Okay. So I would talk about connection and actually, Carl Sagan’s daughter. I forget her first name. She talks about, you know, she grew up in a very scientific, empirically based. 


Alex Barilec 13:50



David Pace 13:50

Environment. And she said she’s written a book about, you know, returning to not so much her Judaism of institutional Judaism, but the need for community connection. So, you know, she says we don’t have holidays to celebrate our papers when they drop in science and we don’t have rituals and we don’t have a lot of the things, the community that she experienced growing up. And so she’s doing what a lot of these ‘noners’ you call them are doing, and that is that they’re creating their own communities, their own rituals, their own organized, I don’t want to say, you know, ordinances or anything quite that formal, but they are formal in the sense that they are fraught with meaning or are filled with meaning. And that’s, I think, really what you get from connecting to a community of what we used to call believers. And maybe we still do if you’re religious, but a community of people that share the same values and in some sense the same filter on the world, which is that we need these this sense of awe and this sense of something greater than ourselves, whether it’s just nature or life on life’s terms, the ebb and flow of life. And we need to celebrate that. And so she’s gone back to actually the Seder dinner every year. 


Alex Barilec 15:31



David Pace 15:32

With her secular friends. And I think it’s really interesting because I don’t think, you know, we often think about Carl Sagan as being kind of the high priest of, you know, science and questioning, you know, traditional religion. But he really believed in the same thing. Some of his quotes are very much about this sense that through science, we understand greater and less at the same time. And that brings a sense of awe and why not call that a spiritual feeling or a spiritual sense of the universe? And in many ways, there’s been a lot of research just lately about the spirituality of science, which some people will really balk at. But it’s not just about, you know, the scientific method and whether science is valuable. But now they’re talking about the spirituality of science, which I find very interesting. And I’m glad that that conversation is being opened up because I think there’s been a big rift between science and religion. 


Alex Barilec 16:42

Yeah, I think, you know, you and I were talking offline the other day about this sense that maybe the two are much more related than we’ve thought and maybe there’s even, you know, continued room going forward in the future for them to actually like really support one another and you know, that’s certainly not like my area of expertise. But there are people out there and, you know, you’ve cited some of the great scientists that do have this, like, you know, not all of them, but some of them do have this deep spiritual approach to creativity and to beauty and to exploration and to awe, right. And that leads them into their exploration, something that you were sharing when you’re you were talking about, you know, your wife reconnecting with this community. Is this idea of celebrating and community. Right. So I’ve had a really cool experience learning through my family tradition and through actually through music, particularly the music of the Grateful Dead, which, you know, turns many people off in a lot of ways. But there’s been this you know, they’ve supported this sort of like spiritual revival in many ways of gathering people together, celebrating through music. And, you know, a lot of people will talk about those experiences. And I’ve had them myself, like walking away feeling healed. You know, you’re listening to music about, you know, all sorts of characters who were, you know, fools and frauds and, you know, total mess ups. But they were still, you know, humans just like you and I. And like there’s this opportunity to experience humanity in its rawest purest form and just acknowledge that in ourselves and other people. And just that experience of like being together with people celebrating and healing like that for me, you know, I really look forward to spending like, you know, at least one night a summer, at a really big music festival. I found those to be like spiritual experiences in some ways and ritualistic. 


David Pace 18:44

Yeah, there’s a lot of ritual going on there. 


Alex Barilec 18:46

Yeah. You know, like, I look forward to once a summer, and I’ve been doing this for you know, more than a few years now. 


David Pace 18:53

So I think one of the – Speaking of people who have studied this, Joseph Campbell famously compared mythology to a kangaroo pouch for the human mind and spirit or what he called a womb with a view. Sorry. And anyway, one of the best books I ever read was his myths to live by. And it’s based basically, he spent his whole life studying all these thousands and thousands of stories of origin myths that populated the world and connected people together, not only in their own community, but what he does is he brings it together and he says, guess what? All of our myths are pretty much the same. 


Alex Barilec 19:40

Isn’t that amazing. 


David Pace 19:41

In every religion there’s the origin that there’s the kind of an Adam and Eve thing going on. There’s, you know, the hero who has tasks he has to accomplish in order to, you know, very Greek mythology almost. And Greek mythology is part of the study that he did. But what I liked about Joseph Campbell is that he was very secular in the sense that he wasn’t promoting any particular faith tradition and certainly wasn’t promoting truth claims of any of those religions, which I think a lot of people get hung up on. But he was making connections between the way we make sense through narrative and through stories and through characters. And that’s probably what I would speculate is happening when you go to the Grateful Dead concert, you know, there’s a lot of narrative going on there. There are a lot of stories, characters like you said, themes that are, you know, kind of a literary analysis, if you want to think of it that way. And that’s where meaning emerges. And it’s like, Wow, the connections here are amazing. And I feel so connected to my past and to the ancient Greeks and blah, blah, blah, blah. I mean, you know, that’s a little woowoo, you know, some people would say. But in fact, it’s profound in a way that Joseph Campbell wanted us all to first recognize and and then to celebrate. 


Alex Barilec 21:04

Yeah. I don’t think that there’s anything woowoo about that. Like, that’s practices that human beings have been doing forever. And it’s those moments that you feel really connected to what what’s going on here. Right? Because it buffers against this nihilism, it buffers against this uncertainty and the questioning of what are we doing here? And it helps ground us in the experience we’re having in this moment, like the deep now it really brings us into that. 


David Pace 21:38

So what are your, what are your tools? What’s your toolkit over there, cowboy. 


Alex Barilec 21:44

Yeah. So there is, you know, we’ve been talking a lot about, like the combination of intersection of spirituality and science and there’s this wonderful researcher named Lisa Miller. I think she’s at Columbia and she has this book called The Awakened Brain. And she’s like looked at the science of spirituality and particularly through brain networks. And one of the really, really powerful findings that she had that relates to our broader theme of wellness is that cultivating and strengthening the spiritual capacity inside of us as an area of wellness is actually neuroprotective. So if we think back to what we are talking about in our social and our emotional wellness podcast, where we’re talking about the challenges of anxiety, depression and loneliness, they’ve shown tangible scientific evidence to support that strengthening this part of ourselves actually can reduce the negative effects of those which I found like really, really mind blowing and some of the simple practices we’ve already talked about. But I just want to point them out and shine a light on them and the most simple is altruism, like reciprocal altruism. If there’s ever a time where you find yourself like, I’m totally stuck or I’m not really sure what to do, help somebody out in the smallest way possible, hold the door, give them a compliment. You know, bring your neighbor some cookies, you know, hopefully finding a way that is meaningful and purposeful to you. I don’t think I’ve ever told anyone this. This is really small. But last winter, my neighbor, we had a crazy winter last year that we did. And their daughter is she just graduated from high school. And I was up very early in the morning and we had gotten this mist overnight and her car was like all of our cars were like caked in ice. And I was like, you know what? I really don’t like waking up in the morning having to scrape ice off my car. What if somebody did it for me? And so I went over and I scraped ice off of her car. And it’s even a little bit hard for me to share that right now. I don’t want to feel like I’m boasting, but I’m sharing that because I felt really good the rest of the day. I felt this sense of meaning and purpose, even by simply doing something that seems meaningful, meaningless or menial. It gave me a lot of meaning and it really like threaded its way into the rest of my day. What do you think? 


David Pace 24:19

Well, I think that was what I call a self-defining act. We do things like that, not because it’s necessarily going to help or even be acknowledged. It’s not necessarily going to help the situation. I mean, I can think about global warming in this light. I pick up an aluminum can on the street, not because that’s going to save the Earth from warming, but because it tells me who I am to myself. And so that’s why I do it. That’s what we’re always trying to do, I think is trying to figure out who we are in the broader scheme of things. And if it inspires somebody else to pick up a can, great. But is it going to solve global warming? No, not really. Not that single act. But it’s created an ethic in me. That I’m going to do this because it tells me who I am. So I think that might have some connections to this. The quest for spiritual life and a spiritual meaning. And I think we need it really, really badly right now. I mean, we’ll talk about this in environmental wellness, but this guy that just visited us, David Wallace-Wells, at the Tanner Humanities Lecture, he’s a science journalist for The New York Times. He basically said that global warming is a spiritual crisis more than anything else. We’re going to have to figure this out, how to live and tell the stories to ourselves and to our children and to our grandchildren about what this means, this existential threat. This is an experiment that we’re doing that we only have one chance to do. Yeah, and that’s pretty dire. That’s pretty daunting to think about. And it can make you feel nihilistic in a way to use your term. So, you know. Yeah, isn’t that interesting? The science writer saying the biggest crisis of our time, which is scientifically based and needs to be approached scientifically and policy driven and getting the world on board is actually a spiritual crisis in the end. 


Alex Barilec 26:29

I think that’s beautiful. And I think what it points to is something that we all know. But, you know, sometimes we’d rather not acknowledge is like life is a game where we’re all in, we’re all in, man. We don’t have a choice. And so finding a way to guide our actions with that ethic that you’re talking about, knowing that, you know, picking up the candy wrapper or the can isn’t going to solve global warming, but it might just be a step on that pathway, right? Because you’re all in, what other choice do you have then to commit to continually reflect and search and grow and act in a way that can create a more beautiful world than our hearts know as possible? So this is an area that is I mean, it’s just like all encompassing, right? It really combines all of the other ones, but it also sometimes feels like it’s out there somewhere. And so hopefully just that idea of like, you know, acting like the person you want to become in the world and doing that through a spirit of like altruism can be at least a small jumping off point for people. And I think that will, you know, continue to do that in all of our own ways. And model that and share with people our gifts as best we can. 


David Pace 27:48

Yeah, all of that’s true. Yeah, nicely put, do you want a hug?


Alex Barilec 27:54

I think so. Thanks, David. 


David Pace 27:56

Nice talking to you, Alex. We’ll talk later. 


Pace Yourself: Season 1 Finale

Listen Here: 

Relevant Research and Articles:



David Pace 0:01

Good morning, Alex. 


Alex Barilec 0:09

Good morning, David. Can you believe we’ve made it to the end of season one? 


David Pace 0:15

Yes, Season one of the Pace Yourself Wellness Podcast is coming to an end. My name is David Pace. 


Alex Barilec 0:23

And I’m Alex Barilec, and we’ve been doing this a long we forgot to do our intro, but this last outro is more of a way for us to to wrap up the first season and reflect on the conversations we’ve had and most importantly, give a real big thanks and shout out to all of the people behind the scenes who’ve made this possible because without them there would be no podcast. 


David Pace 0:46

That’s correct. 


Alex Barilec 0:47

But before we do that, I wanted to just start with a little bit of a background for our audience about, you know, how we came to be, how this came about. 


David Pace 0:58

Yeah, absolutely. So I think that under the direction of Dean Peter Trapp and our safety director, David Thomas, we’ve really stepped up, I think, the College of Science here at the University of Utah to have a wellness program that is robust and actually helpful to our staff and employee group here as well as faculty and students. So we need to thank them for initiating the idea of a wellness tip first off, that happened during staff meetings and then eventually to this podcast, which is hopefully going to be available to more people than just those in the College of Science here at the U. 


Alex Barilec 1:49

Yeah, this really grew out of something that was like we were doing organically what you were doing organically, right? And we’re sharing with our staff meetings and I think I just want to lift up, you know, Dean Trapa really is like the, the leader behind making sure that, that we’re focusing on this in the college. But David Thomas really had the idea to say, hey, what if we can share this with more people? There’s only, you know, 30, 40 of us or so in the meeting at the time. What if we could expand this out and so that’s how, you know, that’s a little backstory of how we came to be. There’s a few people, though, that really have made this as possible. And one of them has been sitting right next to us for all eight episodes. And he has guided us, he’s made us sound professional and Ross, like, we really couldn’t do this without you, man. I know. 


David Pace 2:48

That’s Ross Chambless. 


Alex Barilec 2:49

That’s Ross Chambless sitting next to us that I’m speaking with, and-


David Pace 2:52

He’s with the Wilkes Center for Climate Science and Policy. And he is also an exceptional sound guy who has done podcasts ubiquitously here in the Beehive State. 


Alex Barilec 3:06

And if I’m honest, he really has made this like really easy because I was quite nervous about all of the technical back-end aspects. And from the first time we sat down, Ross is like, ah, no big deal, man. I got this and that’s really been like, you know, without your confidence in and ease of being able to do that, this wouldn’t have went anywhere. And then once it did and once we sat down, you know, a few months ago, there’s been a whole other team of people that have lifted us up and pushed us forward. 


David Pace 3:37

Yeah. So we want to have a call-out here for Cole Elder, who’s our production assistant. He’s done a lot of the sound editing as well as the website and worked to get the logo along with Seth Harper, who has worked on the communications and marketing side of this, along with social media under the direction of Bianca Lyon, who is our Associate Director of Marketing and Communications. 


Alex Barilec 4:08

And I want to give a big thanks and shout out to you for getting in the ring every time and for, you know, taking the time out of your day to, you know, walk across campus and explore. And it’s been really fun to get to know you, but also to, you know, lean into this project and explore this together. I don’t think this would be nearly as interesting if one person was talking. So I’ve really enjoyed it. 


David Pace 4:35

I don’t know I’m pretty interested in a monologue, but no, I’m just kidding. No, I’m really glad that you’re a co-host here with me because I think it really enriched the exploration of wellness through these eight dimensions. I think you brought a certain technical scholarly aspect to it that eludes me. And I think it’s really been an act of generosity, quite frankly, from you. 


Alex Barilec 5:06

And I really appreciate the storytelling that you have brought to this. You’ve helped bring that out of me. And, you know, you’ve shared quite a bit about your background in theatre and writing, and that really has helped bring this alive because even if I know that, like facts and tools don’t emotionally elicit people’s attention, stories do I still like, you know, I still find tools and frameworks useful. And so on that note, with the invitation from David Thomas, our director of safety, who is really the brainchild of this, one of the things we thought we would do was leave our listeners with a simple but fundamental tool to go back to over and over again when they listen to any of these dimensions of wellness and they think to themselves, How do I do this? Right? We’ve talked a fair bit about what to do, but if we’re honest, how to do this in all of our busy lives is really the crux. And there is an idea that I have found useful and simple time and time again. Whether you’re thinking about emotional wellness, whether you’re thinking about, you know, environmental wellness and changing your digital spaces or physical wellness, and it’s getting in a little bit better shape for whatever reason. And that is the idea of intentional habit formation. So this idea comes from James Klare, who’s the author of Atomic Habits and what the idea is, if anyone’s familiar with Simon Cynic’s Golden Circle and essentially takes that and it brings it into habit formation. So I want you to imagine for a second a circle that it looks like a bullseye. So there’s three levels to the circle, and the outer ring is what to do. Okay, So this is a lot of the things we’ve talked about in this podcast. These are the new ideas or frameworks or mindset. This is what we need to do. Maybe need to spend a little bit more time at the gym or a little bit more time, you know, stress relieving. And then the next layer in is how to do it. Okay, this is creating some time in our schedule. This is like understanding how to do some of these techniques. And those two levels are really useful. But what James research found is without the inner ring, those two levels often never happen. And that inner ring is why. So getting really clear for yourself on why you’re doing. Or why it is important to you to develop a new habit or change this area to life. Without that, at the foundation, the how and the what will often fall apart or get pushed to the side. And in any area that I’ve wanted to change, I found if I can attach a really strong why and make it meaningful and important to me, that’s made it really easy to me. 


David Pace 7:58

That’s a great idea or a great way of thinking about it, because you’re talking about motivation. And, you know, one of our last episodes was about spirituality wellness and a lot of that has to do with aligning yourself with your values and your ethics and that’s definitely answering the question of why. I think you get to that point by saying why? Why do I feel like I need to even have a moral compass or an ethical standard? Those are really deep, existential questions at the heart of this. 


Alex Barilec 8:36

Exactly. And maybe we’ll get to explore some of those in a later season. We want to thank all of our listeners and people that have been tuning in. Hopefully this has been helpful. We’d love to get some feedback and we’ve got some really cool ideas with, you know, people inside the College of Science and maybe even some other colleges across campus where we can continue to grow and develop. So, yeah, stay tuned. 


David Pace 9:00

Absolutely. I just wanted to sign off with the land acknowledgement here. This is related to the four pillars, actually, that our dean has very wisely put together and that we talk about regularly here at the College of Science, which is teamwork, professionalism, assume positive intent, which is my favorite, and find ways to increase access and equity. And one of the ways that we do that is by acknowledging that the University of Utah has both historical and contemporary relationships with indigenous peoples. And given that our valley here in the Salt Lake Valley has always been a gathering place for indigenous peoples, we acknowledge that this land, which is named for the Ute tribe, is the traditional ancestral homelands of the Shoshone, Paiute, Goshute and Ute tribes, and that it is a crossroad for Indigenous peoples. So we’re grateful for the territory upon which we gather today. We respect these Indigenous folks. The original stewards of this land, and we value the sovereign relationships that exist between tribal government, state governments and the federal government. Alex, it’s been a pleasure. 


Alex Barilec 10:10

Always a pleasure. David, Thank you so much and look forward to doing this again soon. 


David Pace 10:13

We’ll see you down the road. 


Second highest-energy cosmic ray ever

second highest-energy cosmic ray ever


In 1991, the University of Utah Fly’s Eye experiment detected the highest-energy cosmic ray ever observed. Later dubbed the Oh-My-God particle, the cosmic ray’s energy shocked astrophysicists. Nothing in our galaxy had the power to produce it, and the particle had more energy than was theoretically possible for cosmic rays traveling to Earth from other galaxies. Simply put, the particle should not exist.

John N. Matthews standing beside large telescope mirrors at the Telescope Array Project's florescence detector station. Credit: Joe Bauman. Banner Photo Aboe: Artist’s illustration of the extremely energetic cosmic ray observed by a surface detector array of the Telescope Array experiment, named “Amaterasu particle.” OSAKA METROPOLITAN UNIVERSITY/L-INSIGHT, KYOTO UNIVERSITY/RYUUNOSUKE TAKESHIGE

The Telescope Array has since observed more than 30 ultra-high-energy cosmic rays, though none approaching the Oh-My-God-level energy. No observations have yet revealed their origin or how they are able to travel to the Earth.

On May 27, 2021, the Telescope Array experiment detected the second-highest extreme-energy cosmic ray. At 2.4 x 1020eV, the energy of this single subatomic particle is equivalent to dropping a brick on your toe from waist height. Led by the University of Utah (the U) and the University of Tokyo, the Telescope Array consists of 507 surface detector stations arranged in a square grid that covers 700 km(~270 miles2) outside of Delta, Utah in the state’s West Desert. The event triggered 23 detectors at the north-west region of the Telescope Array, splashing across 48 km2 (18.5 mi2). Its arrival direction appeared to be from the Local Void, an empty area of space bordering the Milky Way galaxy.

“The particles are so high energy, they shouldn’t be affected by galactic and extra-galactic magnetic fields. You should be able to point to where they come from in the sky,” said John Matthews, Telescope Array co-spokesperson at the U and co-author of the study. “But in the case of the Oh-My-God particle and this new particle, you trace its trajectory to its source and there’s nothing high energy enough to have produced it. That’s the mystery of this — what the heck is going on?”

Watch the video below and read the full article by Lisa Potter in @TheU.

Read additional articles about this story at the following. The Mirror (UK); LBC (UK); USA Today; CNN; India Times; Business Insider.


Mechanisms of plant microbes

Mechanisms of Plant microbes


'Plants do have immune systems or immune responses, and a lot of people don’t realize that,' explains Efthymia ‘Effie’ Symeondi. 

“They have a pretty complicated and well-defined system for responding to pathogens.”

The post-doctoral researcher in the School of Biological Sciences is this year’s recipient of the College of Science Outstanding Post-Doc Award. 

Symeondi's fascination with genetics has led her to research an impressive variety of topics, eventually bringing her to Talia Karasov’s Lab at the University of Utah in 2020. 

Her research is focused on investigating the complex interactions between plants and microbes, particularly the effectiveness of certain microbes as pathogens, and plants’ unique immune responses to them: 

Because microbial pathogens have the ability to evolve very quickly, the research on them must be dynamic as well. One of the powerful implications of these studies applies to agricultural crops, which can be particularly vulnerable to infection. “When a farmer grows a crop that is a monoculture, it's a single genotype,” says Symeondi. “So the moment there is a microbe that can cause disease in this culture, it wipes out the whole field.” 

In order to understand these outbreaks, it is critical to decipher the mechanisms of these microbes, especially why they are pathogenic in one genotype versus another. In the future, Symeondi hopes to expand this research in order to inform farmers about how best to protect their crops: “We would like to utilize agricultural data and collaborate with different labs to see if we can predict outbreaks, and use different genotypes to prevent pathogen spread” she says. 

Presently, Symeondi is grateful to have the lab running smoothly post-pandemic (she arrived in Utah in October 2020 when Covid-19 was still wreaking havoc) and is excited to be expanding the scope of her studies. When she isn’t busy exploring plant genetics, Symeondi loves to be in the outdoors, hiking, visiting national parks, and spending time with her dog, Muninn. 

By Julia St. Andre