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Utah Symposium in Science & Literature

Utah Symposium in Science and Literature

March 27, 2024

Poet Claudia Rankine, physicist Brian Greene, and neuroscientist and artist Bevil Conway are the keynote speakers for this year’s Utah Symposium in Science and Literature, taking place from April 10-12 at the Eccles Alumni House on campus.

Claudia Rankine is the author of “Citizen: An American Lyric,” a New York Times bestseller, as well as four other books of poetry and three plays. She is the founder of The Racial Imaginary Institute, an NEA fellow, a former Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, and a professor at NYU. Brian Greene is renowned for his groundbreaking discoveries in superstring theory and is known to the public through his books, “The Elegant Universe,” “The Fabric of the Cosmos,” and “The Hidden Reality,” which have collectively spent 65 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and sold more than 2 million copies worldwide. He is a professor of physics and mathematics and the director of Columbia University’s Center for Theoretical Physics. Bevil Conway is a senior investigator at the National Eye Institute and the National Institute of Mental Health, and an expert on the neuroscience of color. His artwork is in the Boston Public Library, the Fogg University Art Rental Collection, the N.I.H. Building 35 Public Art Collection, and many private collections.

The Utah Symposium returns this year after a long Covid hiatus, and will feature the involvement of U professors and grad students from numerous departments and disciplines, from English to math to music to philosophy. The theme of this year’s Symposium is “Mere Beauty,” a topic arising from the reexaminations of beauty occurring not only in the arts and humanities, but also in biology, where dominant theories about the possible evolutionary purposes of beauty are being questioned.

Co-chairs Fred Adler, Professor of Biology and Mathematics, and Katharine Coles, Distinguished Professor of English, developed the Symposium’s theme together. Coles explains, “In some ways, the topic of Beauty as a topic of interdisciplinary discussion and examination seems very abstract. However, I think it has become my favorite Symposium topic so far. It seems to touch on every discipline and, in many ways, on every aspect of our lives. Nature seems to have built us to respond to beauty; it’s hard not to wonder why.”

Read the full article about the symposium in @TheU.

The Utah Symposium is free and open to the public. For more information, please visit

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U Fulbright Scholar Semi-Finalists 2024

Three Science Students selected as Fulbright SEMI-finalists

March 21, 2024

Nine U students selected as Fulbright finalists; three of them call the College of Science home.

The University of Utah is proud to announce that nine students have been selected as semi-finalists for the prestigious Fulbright U.S. Student Program. Three are affiliated with the College of Science in the Fulbright area of Research.

Sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, this nationally competitive program supports academic exchanges between the United States and over 140 countries around the world. Selected program participants pursue graduate study, conduct research, or serve as English Teaching Assistants abroad. See

For 2024-2025, the University of Utah submitted 19 Fulbright applications. Its cohort of semi-finalists represents multiple schools and colleges, including the College of Education, College of Humanities, College of Science, College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, David Eccles School of Business, and the Honors College. The group includes two students who intend to enter graduate programs, three students who proposed research projects, and four students who aim to serve as English Teaching Assistants. Projected countries include Costa Rica, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, South Korea, and Taiwan.

Making it to the semi-finalist round is a significant accomplishment for these students and means that their applications have been forwarded by the Fulbright National Screening Committee to the Fulbright Commission or U.S. Embassy in the host country for final review. Finalists will be notified later this spring, with the timing of notifications varying by country.

Below are the three finalists from the College of Science all in the category of Research.

Marina Gerton (B.S. in Biology and Chemistry, December 2023) aims to undertake a research project at the University of Costa Rica under the mentorship of Mario Espinoza that focuses on the secret life of snappers--insights from fish movements. Gerton got an early start in science. She graduated from West High School in Salt Lake City where she participated in the 2018 University of Utah Science and Engineering Fair with her project "Mucoadhesive HA-based film releasing metronidazole to treat bacterial vaginosis." Her ambition is to pursue a PhD in marine science, specifically focusing on conservation research.

"While I had a slightly different focus when I first started in the lab," she says, "I’m now working on using paper and plant waste products (think recycled paper, yard clippings, agricultural waste, etc.) as, essentially, a food source for this really interesting bacteria Teredinibacter turnerae." Currently working in Eric Schmidt's lab in the Department of Medicinal Chemistry, she says that "one of the most interesting aspects of her research is that the bacteria she works with live in symbiosis with another organism, shipworms, and actually grow within specialized host cells in the shipworms’ gill tissue." It’s especially interesting, she states, as we know this species produces various compounds of medicinal interest, and "we’re still able to see production of those compounds when it’s grown on these waste products."

Gerton loves boxing and swimming, but is quick to say that she loathes running "with a passion." She also claims that watching commercials for Best Friends or the WWF can make her cry. (She avoids them along with pineapple on her pizza.) Finally, what would she do if she had more time outside of academics? One word: bake.

Moses Samuelson-Lynn (HBS in Math, BA in German, Spring 2024) aims to research “A New Set of Efficient Initial Variables for Cluster Algebras of Finite Mutation Type” at the Max Plank Institute for Mathematics in the Sciences in Germany. His main interest is in pure mathematics, especially number theory, analysis, geometric graph theory, geometric group theory and algebraic geometry.

His undergraduate research has led him to multiple presentations at the Joint Mathematics Meetings. His ambition is to earn a PhD in pure mathematics with the goal of becoming a research professor.

Samuelson-Lynn lives in West Valley City and he enjoys playing piano, bicycle riding, chess, origami and programming. In addition to his Fulbright aspirations, he will be joining a research team in Germany over the summer of 2024 directly after graduation. He will be investigating applications of subatomic-scale sensitivity of nitrogen vacancy centers in ultra-pure diamond at GSI Helmholtz in Darmstadt, Germany. He is completing an honors thesis on the classification of surfaces and is a member of the university German club.  UPDATE (4/3/2024): Moses Samuelson-Lynn has been announced as a finalist and will now be participating in the program as Fulbright scholar. Congratulations!


Catherine Warner (HBS, Math'19; Ph.D. in Math, Spring 2025) is a graduate student in the mathematics department where she anticipates earning her PhD in 2025. She aims to undertake a research project titled “Semiduality Groups: An Analog of Duality Groups” at the University of Sannio in Italy.

Werner's path to mathematics wasn’t exactly obvious. "I began undergrad as a biomedical engineering student," she says. "And even before that I mostly played golf throughout my earlier schooling while secretly reading classical philosophy in my free time,"  She quickly realized that engineering wasn’t enough. "I realized that ever since my early reading as a child, I’m used to expecting some deeper structures to reality, some sort of a deeper meaning. I just didn’t know how to find it."

Following the completion of her undergraduate degree, and partly pushed by that curiosity "and partly for lack of anything better to do," she adds, "I signed on for abstract math. I did so with hesitation because it seemed to me to be airy, lacking contact with reality. But the more I pursued geometric group theory, the more I became fascinated. Because I realized something pretty fundamental: One of the ways of finding hidden structures of the world is math — the amazing pursuit of the human mind, attempting to penetrate and order reality by following the structure of the mind itself."  UPDATE (3/21/2024): Catherine Warner has been announced as a finalist and will now be participating in the program as Fulbright scholar. Congratulations!


Fulbright alumni from the United States and around the world have gone on to achieve distinction in government, science, the arts, business, philanthropy, and education. Among the ranks of Fulbright alumni are 62 Nobel Prize recipients, 78 MacArthur Foundation Fellows, 89 Pulitzer Prize winners, and 41 current or former heads of state or government.

Fulbright semi-finalists from the University of Utah were advised throughout the application process by the Office of Nationally Competitive Scholarships (ONCS) housed in the Honors College. ONCS staff members assist outstanding students and alumni in developing competitive applications, preparing for interviews, and securing University endorsements for a variety of prestigious nationally competitive scholarships, including Fulbright.

You can learn about all of the Fulbright semi-finalists at the U here.

The 2025-2026 Fulbright competition will open on April 2, 2024. To learn more, contact Alison Shimko, the University of Utah’s Fulbright Director and the Associate Director of ONCS, at or consult

Cataract Canyon Comes Back to Life

Cataract Canyon Comes Back to Life

February 18, 2024 | Rolling Stone

Damming the Colorado River wiped out a magnificent stretch of rapids for half a century. Now, incredibly, they’re returning — on their own

Brenda Bowen. Professor of Geology & Geophysics | Chair of the Department of Atmospheric Sciences | Director, Global Change and Sustainability Center

“I cannot emphasize how amazing, and important, it is that Returning Rapids [a small group of river-rafting enthusiasts who consider Cataract Canyon a second home] is convening the science community around this, and bringing in agencies and tribal communities and people from different backgrounds,” says Brenda Bowen, a geoscientist with the University of Utah who’s been coming on Returning Rapids trips since 2019. “It’s already changed the trajectory of the outcomes of this landscape because they’ve brought more attention to it, and they’re helping people organize around it.”

And yet many river rafters, conservationists, and scientists see these lower reaches of Cataract Canyon, for all of their scientific, cultural, and recreational significance, as falling through the cracks of government-agency management, where no precedent seems to exist for who takes responsibility for a reservoir turned returning river. Eric Balken, executive director of the Glen Canyon Institute, which focuses on restoring the Glen and Grand canyons, says that “many land and water managers treat the emerging landscape as an area that will one day be under water again, even though the data suggests the opposite. This management approach of ‘That’s just where the reservoir used to be, it’s not important’ is so misguided. As the reservoir comes down, what’s emerging has similar qualities to all the popular and cherished parks and monuments in this area, like Bears Ears, Grand Staircase Escalante, and Grand Canyon.”

A recent environmental impact report by the Bureau of Reclamation, which is in charge of dams, implied erroneously that mostly invasive species were returning as Lake Powell’s water level dropped. But Returning Rapids  has brought scientists down Cataract, who find native plants returning, birds returning as shorelines emerge, beavers returning as willows and cottonwoods sprout on those shorelines. In response to a request for comment, the Bureau of Reclamation directed me back to the report with the erroneous implications.

Canyonlands National Park, which manages the river, and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area (NRA), which manages the reservoir, tell me in a joint statement that the agencies are aware of the landscape emerging in Cataract; staff see it on routine river patrols and receive Returning Rapids’ trip reports. Both agencies “maintain active programs for resource monitoring throughout the park, including monitoring of archaeological sites, monitoring for invasive vegetation species, and monitoring of various plants and wildlife species. As the lake level drops, areas of shoreline are incorporated into the park’s existing science-based monitoring and research programs to understand and respond to the changing lake environment.”

Returning Rapids regularly shares its observations and data collected from scientists on its trips with these and other agency managers, and has invited and brought Canyonlands officials on its science expeditions. Mike DeHoff [a river runner and local from Moab, Utah, has] invited officials from the NRA, but none have yet accepted. Although Returning Rapids recently attained a new degree of credibility in becoming a project under the Glen Canyon Institute, often when DeHoff shares real-time data of changing conditions with agency decision-makers, he says, he’s usually greeted with some iteration of “Wait, who are you guys?”

Read the entire article by Cassidy Randall with photographs by Len Neceferin in

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Where the Wild Things Went During the Pandemic

Where the Wild Things Went During the Pandemic

March 18, 2024

A new study of camera-trap images complicates the idea that all wildlife thrived during the Covid lockdowns.

Austin Green

In the early months of the Covid pandemic, when every bit of news seemed bleak, there was one heartwarming narrative that took hold: With humans stuck in their homes, the world was safe again for wild animals, which could now wander freely through cities, parking lots or fields that once might have been crowded with people.

But a new global study, which used wildlife cameras to track human and animal activity during the Covid lockdowns, suggests that the story was not that simple. Austin Green HBS'16, PHD '22 , currently post-doctoral researcher in the College of Science's Science Research Initiative, is one of the many co-authors and a leader in Utah in the collection of data of wildlife as it intersects with urban environments.

“We went in with a somewhat simplistic notion,” said Cole Burton, a wildlife ecologist and conservation biologist at the University of British Columbia, who led the research. “You know, humans stop, animals are going to breathe a sigh of relief and move around more naturally. And what we saw was quite different.”

Although humans disappeared from some places during the lockdowns, they surged into others, like parks that remained open when little else was, the researchers found. And there was enormous variability in how wild mammals responded to changes in human behavior. Carnivores and animals living in remote, rural places, for instance, were more active when people faded from the landscape, while the opposite was generally true for large herbivores and urban animals.

The study, which was published in Nature Ecology & Evolution on Monday, deepens and complicates scientists’ understanding of what has been called the “anthropause,” when pandemic lockdowns radically altered human behavior. It also highlights the nuanced ways in which humans affect the lives of wild animals, as well as the need for varied and multifaceted conservation efforts, the authors said.

“There’s no ‘one size fits all’ solution when it comes to mitigating the impacts of human activity on wildlife,” said Kaitlyn Gaynor, a wildlife ecologist and conservation biologist at the University of British Columbia. “Because we see that not all species are responding similarly to people.”

Read the full article by Emily Anthes in the New York Times.

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Spectrum 2023

Spectrum 2023

Aftermath 2024

The official magazine of the U Department of Mathematics.

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Common Ground 2023

The official magazine of the U Department of Mining Engineering.

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Down to Earth 2023

The official magazine of the U Department of Geology & Geophysics.

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Our DNA 2023

The official magazine of the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Utah.

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Catalyst 2023

The official magazine of the Department of Chemistry at the University of Utah.

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Synthesis 2023

Wilkes Center, Applied Science Project and stories from throughout the merged College.

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Aftermath Summer 2023

Anna Tang Fulbright Scholar, Tommaso de Fernex new chair, Goldwater Scholars, and more.

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Air Currents 2023

Celebrating 75 Years, The Great Salt Lake, Alumni Profiles, and more.

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Spectrum 2022

Explosive neutron stars, Utah meteor, fellows of APS, and more.

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Aftermath 2022

Arctic adventures, moiré magic, Christopher Hacon, and more.

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Our DNA 2022

Chan Yul Yoo, Sarmishta Diraviam Kannan, and more.

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Spectrum 2022

Black Holes, Student Awards, Research Awards, LGBT+ physicists, and more.

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Aftermath 2022

Student awards, Faculty Awards, Fellowships, and more.

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Our DNA 2022

Erik Jorgensen, Mark Nielsen, alumni George Seifert, new faculty, and more.

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Notebook 2022

Student stories, NAS members, alumni George Seifert, and Convocation 2022.

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Discover 2021

Biology, Chemistry, Math, and Physics Research, SRI Update, New Construction.

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Our DNA 2021

Multi-disciplinary research, graduate student success, and more.

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Aftermath 2021

Sound waves, student awards, distinguished alumni, convocation, and more.

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Spectrum 2021

New science building, faculty awards, distinguished alumni, and more.

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Notebook 2021

Student awards, distinguished alumni, convocation, and more.

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Spectrum 2021

Student awards, distinguished alumni, convocation, and more.

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Aftermath 2021

Sound waves, student awards, distinguished alumni, convocation, and more.

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Our DNA 2021

Plant pandemics, birdsong, retiring faculty, and more.

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Discover 2020

Biology, Chemistry, Math, and Physics Research, Overcoming Covid, Lab Safety.

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AfterMath 2020

50 Years of Math, Sea Ice, and Faculty and Staff recognition.

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Our DNA 2020

E-birders, retiring faculty, remote learning, and more.

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Spectrum 2020

3D maps of the Universe, Perovskite Photovoltaics, and Dynamic Structure in HIV.

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Notebook 2020

Convocation, Alumni, Student Success, and Rapid Response Research.

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Our DNA 2020

Stories on Fruit Flies, Forest Futures and Student Success.

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Catalyst 2020

Transition to Virtual, 2020 Convocation, Graduate Spotlights, and Awards.

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Spectrum 2020

Nuclear Medicine, PER Programs, and NSF grant for Quantum Idea Incubator.

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Discover 2019

Science Research Initiative, College Rankings, Commutative Algebra, and more.

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Spectrum 2019

Nuclear Medicine, PER Programs, and NSF grant for Quantum Idea Incubator.

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Notebook 2019

The New Faces of Utah Science, Churchill Scholars, and Convocation 2019.

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Catalyst 2019

Endowed Chairs of Chemistry, Curie Club, and alumnus: Victor Cee.

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Our DNA 2019

Ants of the World, CRISPR Scissors, and Alumni Profile - Nikhil Bhayani.

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Catalyst 2019

Methane-Eating Bacteria, Distinguished Alumni, Student and Alumni profiles.

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Spectrum 2019

Featured: Molecular Motors, Churchill Scholar, Dark Matter, and Black Holes.

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Our DNA 2019

Featured: The Startup Life, Monica Gandhi, Genomic Conflicts, and alumna Jeanne Novak.

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AfterMath 2018

Featured: A Love for Puzzles, Math & Neuroscience, Number Theory, and AMS Fellows.

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Discover 2018

The 2018 Research Report for the College of Science.

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Spectrum 2018

Featured: Dark Matter, Spintronics, Gamma Rays and Improving Physics Teaching.

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Catalyst 2018

Featured: Ming Hammond, Jack & Peg Simons Endowed Professors, Martha Hughes Cannon.

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Finding Nemo (that is, nematodes) in the GSL

Finding Nemo (that is, nematodes) in the GSL

March 13, 2024

Brine shrimp and brine flies aren't the only animals inhabiting the Great Salt Lake. Utah biologists find tiny nematodes in its reef-like microbialites.

Julie Jung examines nematodes recovered from Great Salt Lake. Credit: Brian Maffly, University of Utah ^^ Banner video above: "Finding Nematode: How University of Utah biologists founds worms in the Great Salt Lake" credit Brian Maffly

Scientists have long suspected nematodes, commonly known as roundworms, inhabit Utah’s Great Salt Lake sediments, but until recently, no one had actually recovered any there.

It took a University of Utah postdoc with a hammer and loads of field experience to solve the puzzle. Along with biology professor Michael Werner, postdoctoral researcher Julie Jung announced in a study published this week that they discovered thousands of tiny worms in the lake’s microbialites, those reef-like structures that cover about a fifth of the lakebed.

Their initial attempts failed to find nematodes in lakebed sediments, prompting Jung to take a hammer to samples of microbialites where she struck biological pay dirt. Breaking up the carbonate structures yielded thousands of nematode specimens representing several species, resulting in a significant discovery.

Previously, just two multicellular animals have been known to inhabit the lake’s highly saline waters—brine shrimp and brine flies. Now there is a third, opening several new lines of inquiry into Great Salt Lake’s largely hidden web of life.

With more than 250,000 known species, nematodes comprise the world’s most abundant animal phylum in both aquatic and terrestrial biospheres. They live deep in the oceans, deep underground, and in frigid, arid conditions. The nematode species Caenorhabditis elegans is used in science as a model organism whose genome has been thoroughly mapped.

The new Great Salt Lake findings represent the most saline environment where nematodes have ever been recovered, according to Werner, an assistant professor in the university’s School of Biological Sciences.

“Just what is the limit of animal life? What environments can animals actually survive? That captures some imagination about looking at other planets where we might find complex multicellular life,” said Werner, the senior author of a study published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. “If there was life also on Mars, it might have looked a little bit like the [lake’s ultrasalty] North Arm right now.”

But there’s even more to the story. In a “crazy” side experiment, Werner’s team fed bacteria from the lake to C. elegans to see what would happen if they exposed these worms to the lake’s water, which is 50 times more saline than this species’ usual habitat.

After 24 hours, these worms were still alive, while those nourished on the model species’ usual diet were dead within five minutes.

“We didn’t expect it to work, but it did!” Werner exclaimed. This suggests that bacteria can help nematodes adapt to highly saline conditions, but more research is needed to identify the mechanisms at play.

Read the full article by Brian Maffly in @TheU. Read additional articles from outside media below:






2024 Wilkes Climate Hackathon

2024 Wilkes Climate HackathoN

On January 26 and 27, the Wilkes Center for Climate Science & Policy held its second annual Climate Solutions Hackathon, with wildland fire as this year’s theme.

The challenge posed to U students of any major was to propose an innovative, data-driven solution in one of five categories: 1) prediction and forecasting; 2) risk mitigation; 3) alert systems and evacuations, 4) community resiliency and rehabilitation, or 5) health hazards.

The hackathon organizers encouraged undergraduate and graduate students to form teams and submit a proposal in a slide deck within 24 hours. During the in-person portion of the event, U faculty from various departments along with local representatives from the US Forest Service engaged the different student teams with feedback and guidance. 

The Wilkes Center also provided a Video Mentoring Space with short, pre-recorded videos of researchers sharing suggested solution pathways.

Ultimately, the Wilkes Center received 17 submissions.  Below are the top three winners.


Team Wildfire Resilience Collective: (from left to right) Elizabeth Williams, Hannah Meier, Tegan Lengyel, Rebecca Senft.

First Place ($3,000)
Wildfire Resilience Collective

Rebecca Senft (Ph.D. graduate student, School of Biological Sciences)
Hannah Meier (Ph.D student, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
Tegan Lengyel (Ph.D. graduate student, School of Biological Sciences)
Elizabeth Williams (Undergraduate, biomedical engineering and pediatric clinical health)

Rebecca Senft was noncommittal about the hackathon until a week before. “Then I was like, yeah, I'm going to do it! I'm going to sit down and actually spend this time with my cohort members, and bond, and learn about this problem, and see what I can throw at the wall that will stick.”

Her teammate, Hannah Meier, said she had already been thinking about resilience a lot. “I lived in California during the big 2020 fires and then moved to Oregon and came here from Oregon. So, I'm very familiar with wildfires.”

Team Fire Nest: (from left to right) Suhaani Shelat, Kalina Manova, Navi Brar and Sarah Choe.

Second Place ($2,000)
Fire Nest

Kalina Manova, (Undergraduate, Biomedical Engineering)
Suhaani Shelat (Undergraduate, Mechanical Engineering)
Navi Brar (Undergraduate, Biochemistry)
Sarah Choe (Undergraduate, Computer Science)

They proposed a fire-safe home development company for communities in the Wildland-Urban Interface and other fire-prone areas. Their idea seeks to address the home insurance crisis where many insurers in wildfire-prone areas like California are pulling back coverage or exiting the state entirely.

 Unfortunately, a lot of the fire prone areas are not really fire resistant, just due to poor planning,” said Kalina Manova. “There aren't really many laws that enforce it. Even after a wildfire has burned through an area.”

 Their idea is to increase awareness about fire-resistant homes and provide a low-cost service system to help communities implement fire-safe housing practices.

“Our development company's goal, at the end of the day, is to help communities become more fire resistant and be able to come back easier economically and wiser from natural disasters like fires,” said Sarah Choe.

Team Fire Smart Educational Program: (from left to right) Xuan Hoang, Gaby Karakcheyeva, Brandon Saavedra, Celine Cardena, (Shreesh Srivastava not pictured)

Third Place ($1,000)
Fire Smart Educational Program

Gaby Karakcheyeva (Undergraduate, Biology)
Celine Cardeña (Undergraduate, Sociology & Gender Studies)
Brandon Saavedra (Undergraduate, Architecture)
Xuan Hoang (Undergraduate, Multidisciplinary Design)
Shreesh Srivastava (Undergraduate, Computer Science)


This team focused on creating a K-12 educational program around wildfire.

 “I got like zero wildfire education growing up,” said Gaby Karakcheyeva. “It would be really nice if we could teach people to not start wildfires and teach people to appreciate nature and all that stuff.”

They proposed a citizen-science model for engaging communities to gather data which could be integrated into Utah’s K12 curriculum. They also envision partnerships with the US Forest Service, which currently provides a wildland fire curriculum content, and the local Unified Fire Authority in Utah.  

 We want to be able to educate our future generation on the risk of wildfires and wildlife management,” said Celine Cardeña.

by Ross Chambless


All the hackathon submissions can be read and explored on the Wilkes Center’s Hackathon webpage.

You can also listen to Ross Chambless’ interviews with the winning teams on the Wilkes Center’s Talking Climate podcast.

Deep in the hack.


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Busy as a Beaver: Utah Forge

Busy as a beaver: Utah Forge

February 29, 2024
Above: Utah FORGE's Gosia Skowron discusses thermal characteristics with students in a classroom visit. Credit Flash Point SLC

Beaver dams might look like scattered piles of sticks in the water but they serve an important role in offering protection and a training ground for young beavers to learn dam-building skills. In Beaver County, Utah — named after the many beaver dams in the region — another project has successfully been providing benefits to its community: The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Geothermal Technologies Office’s (GTO) largest initiative, the Frontier Observatory for Research in Geothermal Energy (FORGE).

Deep in the heart of this rocky area in the western United States, FORGE researchers, scientists, and other professionals are working hard to advance enhanced geothermal systems (EGS). FORGE has realized many achievements in EGS since GTO launched the initiative in 2015—including becoming a full-scale underground research laboratory with eight wells covering more than 10 miles drilled in total.

The initiative is managed by the Energy & Geoscience Institute at the University of Utah where faculty from the Department of Geology & Geophysics are deeply enmeshed.

As the site continues to grow toward its technical goals for EGS, FORGE staff also educate and engage with local residents and students to increase awareness about the clean energy that can be harnessed through the heat beneath their feet. Their outreach work in this area is proving valuable to help local officials, residents, and businesses understand geothermal energy, and in forging substantive relationships and understanding with the community as they've expanded the technical capacity of their site.

The staff’s dedication to improving basic knowledge of geothermal technologies is clear throughout its outreach activities. “They're very visible, they're here all the time, they're talking all the time,” said Beaver County Commissioner Tammy Pearson of the FORGE team at DOE’s Enhanced Geothermal Shot™ summit in 2023. “They do quarterly reports with our commission. They are really integrating in the education system, in our elementary schools and the high schools. I think they are just so consistent in their visibility and engagement."

In November 2023, the team held a workshop for teachers to learn more about the “heat beneath our feet” and FORGE’s work (check out their resources for teachers). In addition, FORGE’s outreach team has visited several classrooms and even created a geothermal song parody contest for students. The FORGE team also works to develop and distribute resources to K-12 and university-level students and supports classroom activities and science fairs.

Watch a video and read the rest of the article (with more photos) by the Office of ENERGY EFFICIENCY & RENEWABLE ENERGY.

University of Utah students BJ Iturrieta and Sarah Buening "flash the U" while hosting the Utah FORGE booth during the university's Welcome Week. Credit: Utah FORGE





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Excellence in Teaching & Mentoring Award

Excellence in Teaching and Mentoring Award

Sophie Caron, associate professor in the School of Biological Sciences, is the recipient of the College of Science Excellence in Teaching and Mentoring Award for 2023.

^ Sophie Caron. ^^ Banner photo above: the Caron Lab.

While Caron is highly regarded for her stunning work in neuroscience research, she is also cherished within the College of Science community for her exceptional talents as an educator. Her kind and compassionate approach to teaching and mentoring has created an environment where students and undergraduate researchers are uplifted in their work and can move forward with the skills to find success in their education, careers, and beyond. 

While developing her teaching style, Caron thought outside the box of the standard curriculum and elected to incorporate essential career skills, including how to read and analyze research papers, which she believes is a crucial skill for future scientists. “I think it is really important for students to be able to read research papers because neuroscience is going to change dramatically in the next few years,” she says. In her classes, students collectively explore and present research papers, delving deep into the material and gaining a profound understanding of the subject matter. “I'm always amazed at how deep they go into the paper and how well they understand, and to me that’s really rewarding because I see that this is when it clicks for them what is possible today.”

Along with developing her student’s understanding of present-day neuroscience, Caron also actively encourages her students to reach out to researchers for valuable hands-on experience, emphasizing the importance of practical application in their academic journey. She has worked to ensure that her lab is a welcoming place for undergraduates to gain their first experience doing research. Caron currently hosts ten undergraduate researchers in her lab and has fully immersed herself in the role of mentoring and supporting these students. “You really become invested in their success,” describes Caron. “I see the success of my mentees as just as important, if not more important, than my own. It’s something that I really take to heart, and I would say is the most important part of that job.” It is this level of dedication and support that creates such a positive experience for her students and will provide the foundation for their future careers. 

In the lab, Caron and her student researchers are working to expand our understanding of memory and perception in the brain by studying the brain center of Drosophila, often called fruit flies. “Our main interest is, first and foremost, the brain, and how brains are built to generate this vast array of behaviors,” she explains. “in Drosophila, you have thousands of different species. It's really fun to start thinking about brain evolution, and it's really hard to find another species that has so many cousins, where you can compare brains that have adapted to a completely different environment.” A fruit fly’s minute brain may seem an unlikely subject for exploring neuroscience, so why study them? Caron explains that it’s all about simplicity, and understanding the most basic form of a system as complex as the brain: “I really like to look at the simplest system and the simplest brain, so to speak, to really start to understand, for example, what's the minimal amount of neurons you need to form a memory? And can we start understanding at the level of functional activity in one neuron?” Caron’s curiosity shines through questions like this, as she keeps pushing to expand the field of neuroscience and our understanding of memory, learning, and perception. 

Any student fortunate enough to pass through Caron’s classroom or lab is sure to be instilled with her contagious passion for exploration and learning. As she continues to inspire through her teaching, mentoring, and groundbreaking research, Caron is committed not just to shaping better scientists, but better collaborators and citizens. “Working in a space where kindness prevails and there is a desire for collaboration is really what makes us stronger, not just as a team but also as a society. I'm really hoping that this is what [students] take away from the lab.”

Sophie Caron truly embodies the spirit of a passionate and dedicated educator. Her impact on both her students and the field of neuroscience is a testament to the power of a compassionate and creative approach to teaching and mentoring. When asked about the most important thing she teaches to her students, she answered “The joy of discovery and science. To nurture that and to appreciate that. And to know how privileged of a situation it is to be able to work on a problem that you're obsessed with, and that is your life's mission. I know it's cliche, but to me, it doesn't even feel like a job because it is such a passion. That's something I hope they can take away.” Safe to say, the future of science and research is looking bright with educators like Caron leading the way.

by Julia St. Andre

Sophie Caron has also been awarded a Presidential Scholar Award in 2023. You can read the story about her and the award here.

Immersive VR & Mine Safety

Immersive VR & Mine Safety

March 4, 2024

Above: students attending the Department of Mining Engineering's Open House in 2023 try out the new Mining Metaverse virtual reality experience designed by Minverso. The app is currently being readied for download worldwide. 

The Center for Mine Safety and Health at the Department of Mining Engineering, University of Utah in collaboration with Minverso has developed the initial phase of a first-ever metaverse platform which includes a Health & Safety training program for the mining industry developed by using virtual reality (VR) technology.

This collaborative initiative blends cutting-edge technology with academic expertise for both students and the mining industry. 

“This mining metaverse is not just technological innovation,” says Department Chair Charles Koscis. “It is, most importantly, a product of shared experience and dedication to providing students and the mining industry a holistic and immersive learning experience.”

Above and below: Stills from VR experience teaching real world health and safety protocols. Credit: Minverso

To achieve this, qualified faculty and research assistants in the department, the U and the company Minverso, a VR training company headquartered in Chile, created a research team to build, test with industry partners, and validate an innovative health and safety training program to be coupled later with a mine evacuation training system for mine workers. 

The initial phase of the system which was made available to the public in late February 2024 provides real-time guidance to underground mine workers in case of emergency and saves lives while establishing a far-reaching culture of safety & health at underground mines in the US and worldwide. 

At the department’s open house this past October, students and visitors were given the opportunity to don the required ocular headsets and experience VR first-hand by entering two portals: one to a classroom modeled after one in the FASB, and another leading to a mine in which they could traverse and handle the controls of underground equipment. 

VR technology promises not only to serve future mining companies which can customize the VR experience to their own sites, but will also serve as a recruitment tool for the department and other mining programs, says Minverso commercial director Dallin Wood. With the launch of the technology “people [are now] experimenting with technology and what it’s like to be a miner. Hopefully, we can bring in students excited to learn about mining. For example, a recent feature includes operating a drilling rig from start to finish and learning how to lead.’” 

For the next phase, the research team will include experts in psychology, education, and health sciences from the U.

Safety First

Of course, improving safety records in mines–for current operators and future mining engineers—is always foremost in the industry’s mind. “The initial phase of this metaverse platform includes an immersive Mine Rescue simulation scenario in which underground miners work together to neutralize a fire that started in the engine compartment of a load-haul-dump (LHD) machine,” explains Kocsis. “This real-world scenario demands critical thinking and swift collaboration between mine workers to perform tasks in the right sequence from de-energizing the mining equipment, extinguishing the fire, followed by ramping up the auxiliary ventilation system to dilute the gasses generated by the fire below each of their threshold limit value.” Wood says that the technology promises to deliver “training without risks.”

Eventually, the next iteration of VR will be to include augmented reality (AR) technology, which allows real-time experiences with other users superimposed, not unlike what some games such as the popular Pokémon Go currently deploys. The possibilities of AR oculi are immeasurable, eventually using not only the built-in headset cameras but exterior cameras in spaces where other real persons actually exist but appear as avatars. Remote operation of real automated equipment particularly in hazardous mine areas are also in the offing. 

“It’s possible that with AR you can be looking at the ball mill [the rotation of which grinds material, reducing its particle size], but then you see blinking lights above it, and you touch one of the lights, and the last maintenance schedule pops up right in front of your eyes,” says Wood, referring to future components in the works. Users can immediately see that “this grease zerk was last greased on this date. A red flashing light indicates that ‘hey, this needs to be done and then this needs to be done,’ and so on.”  

Next Phase

The next phase of this collaborative initiative will add the immersive Mine Evacuation training module to the metaverse platform. This will help model and understand workers’ behavior in case of emergency while increasing the confidence of miners in reaching the closest refuge station or exit the mine in case of an underground fire or other emergency.

“This collaborative metaverse platform maximizes educational efficiency by offering a bridge between theoretical knowledge and practical mining applications,” explains Kocsis. In addition, the simulated space for high-complexity mining operations prepares students for the dynamic challenges offered by the mining industry.

For the U the Miverso collaboration is a journey and a commitment to shaping the future of mining education that also includes a need to transfer in the years to come as miners age-out a vast amount of institutional and site-specific knowledge and early virtual experience to new mining engineers. 

Currently in MetaLab, you can "sideload" Minverso's Mining Metverse app for your device here.