Browse the COLLEGE OF SCIENCE’S Funded 1U4U Projects for 2023
1U4U is designed to seed multidisciplinary faculty/student collaborations in areas of mutual research interest and opportunity. The initiative seeks innovative projects aimed at campus, education, engagement, research and scholarship that are not subject to traditional peer review. In order to receive funding priority, the project must have the potential of leading to external funding, have societal impact, and be a collaboration between health sciences and main campus.
The College of Science is pleased to announce that four of our professors have received an 1U4U award. Congratulations!
Emerging Perovskite Dosimetry for In-Situ and High-Dose Radiotherapy
CONNOR BISCHAK, CHEMISTRY
Robust radiation detectors are essential in state-of-the-art radiotherapy and cancer treatment. This project exploits an innovative perovskite detector that meets the stringent requirements for such dosimeters. Our interdisciplinary team possesses complementary expertise in chemical synthesis (Bischak), semiconductor devices (Yoon), nuclear radiation (Sjoden), and clinical medical physics (Nelson).
Metal-halide perovskites are emerging semiconductors owing to their facile synthesis, tunable bandgap, long carrier diffusion length, and high defect tolerance. Researchers have demonstrated the feasibility of perovskite detectors where the performance is comparable to or exceeds established detectors. While exciting, the stability of perovskites under high radiation doses must be better understood. The detector architecture that optimizes the complex interactions between radioactive particles with semiconductors remains challenging. This research field faces limited experimental evaluation under irradiation by high-energy particles.
Our team is ideally positioned to tackle such challenges by maximizing our expertise and resources (TRIGA reactor [n-gamma], electron/proton sources). This project will be built on a solid partnership among experts, staff, and students, providing an excellent opportunity to promote diversity, educational training, and close collaborations. This project will enable us to pursue large external grants in medical, homeland security, and space research.
Surgery in the Pyrocene: Examining the Risk of Wildfire Smoke to Perioperative Patient Populations in the Mountain West
DEREK MALLIA, ATMOSPHERIC SCIENCES
Across the Western U.S., the number of large wildfires has been steadily increasing since the early 1980s leading to degraded air quality. Wildfire smoke is known to worsen cardiopulmonary and neurovascular outcomes, however its impact on surgical patients is unstudied. Surgical populations are especially vulnerable to wildfire smoke due to the surgical inflammatory response which can synergize with pollution related inflammation. We hypothesize that patients presenting for surgery during wildfire smoke events will experience worsened perioperative outcomes (e.g. stroke, MI) compared to clean air days.
To characterize the health risk of wildfire smoke, linkages are needed that can attribute specific elevated smoke components (e.g PAHs, PM2.5) to specific source regions. We will leverage a smoke transport model (STILT), developed by Co-I Mallia and Wilmot, which can trace the origin of elevated PM2.5 levels to specific wildfires and use this funding to extend model timeframes. The smoke model will then be combined with perioperative outcomes, patient addresses, and traffic pollution, building on prior work from Co-I’s Pearson and Wan from the Departments of Anesthesiology and Geography. Differentiating upstream smoke events from downstream pollution will enable better understanding of the pathophysiological mechanisms behind inflammatory responses to these varied sources. This non-traditional, cross-campus collaboration will enable us to characterize the risk to patients undergoing surgery and devise countermeasures, such as in-home filtration, PPE, and dynamic surgical scheduling, based on air quality.
This team will tackle a complex problem, the impact of wildfire smoke on perioperative health, and test the feasibility of this field of inquiry while supporting student researchers. If successful, we hope to build multi-institutional collaborations and obtain extramural funding from sources such as the NIH’s Climate Change and Health NOSI (NOT-ES-22-006).
The pathogenic potential of Great Salt Lake dust
KEVIN PERRY, ATMOSPHERIC SCIENCES
The Great Salt Lake (GSL) is rapidly shrinking, exposing a vast lake bed and emitting dust that affects the air quality for the 1.3 million people in the Salt Lake Valley (SLV) with a disproportionate impact on underserved communities. Dust from the GSL contains heavy metals, dangerous for human health. However, the pathogenic content of GSL dust has not been characterized, an urgent gap in our understanding of the health consequences of the drying lake.
To characterize the potential pathogens in the source of GSL dust, we will sample dust from a transect on the exposed lake bed. We will sieve dust and then re-aerosolize it to focus on the respirable fraction of dust that can penetrate deep into the lungs and that poses the most direct infection risk. To characterize the dust microbiome that may more proximally affect people and may contribute to increasing environmental health disparities in SLV, we will collect airborne dust using filter samplers across city transects. For both dust from the GSL lakebed and urban air, we will characterize the dust microbiome, identifying all known human bacterial and fungal pathogens, with next generation sequencing.
This proposal establishes a new multidisciplinary collaboration between researchers in the School of Pharmacy, School of Medicine, College of Mines and Earth Sciences, and College of Engineering, enabling us to collect preliminary data for an NIH proposal to study the epidemiology of GSL dust. By focusing on a major environmental and health justice challenge, our proposal advances the University of Utah’s strategic goals to develop and transfer new knowledge and to engage communities to improve health and the quality of life.
Understand and predict the severe drought events in the western United States and their influence on water resources and human health
ZHAOXIA PU, AYMOSPHERIC SCIENCES
PAUL BROOKS, GEOLOGY & GEOPHYSICS
The western United States has experienced drought in recent years. In 2022, drought conditions were most severe in the States of California, Texas, Oregon, Nevada, Utah, and New Mexico. As reported in July 2022, more than 32 percent of land in western states was classified as experiencing extreme or exceptional drought.
Drought can adversely reduce the quantity of snowpack and streamflow available, thus greatly influencing the ecosystem, human activities, and human health through environmental influence and social and economic impacts.
This project aims to better understand and predict the severe drought events in the western United States and their impacts on water resources and human health, especially in Northern Utah. We seek collaborations from climate, hydrological, ecosystem, and health science. Our objectives are to 1) develop improved drought metrics based on the historical records and current conditions of the atmosphere, land, and plant available water for an effective drought prediction method; and 2) assess the drought impacts on human health, such as lung health of toxic dust caused by a drought in Great Salt Lake. The ultimate goal of the research is to provide effective drought prediction methods for the western United States and identify significant issues, thus making suggestions for essential decision-making.
Development of a Science-Theater collaborative platform
SAVEEZ SAFFARIAN, PHYSICS & ASTRONOMY
Science and technology have transformed our lives and will disrupt and reshape jobs within our community. Yet, from genetic modifications to quantum computing, science remains enigmatic to the public. In recognition of this problem, the National Science Foundation has required every scientific proposal to incorporate elements of outreach. One way to reach wider communities is live theater. The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation supports production of plays about science. The creation of plays about science, however, remain challenging because it requires non-traditional, cross-disciplinary collaborations too elaborate for junior investigators or emerging playwrights.
Our project will develop a collaborative model that draws on the expertise of research faculty in Science, Theater and the Center for Health Ethics, Arts, and Humanities. We will test this approach by developing a play about retroviruses to be performed at the International Retrovirology Conference at Snowbird Utah in September of 2023. Our team has identified a local playwright, Rachel Bublitz, and director, Assistant Professor Alexandra Harbold (Theatre), who, will collaborate with Dr Anna Skalka (Fox Chase Medical Center in Philadelphia), Dr Saffarian’s lab, and health sciences faculty to explore the golden age of molecular biology and the ethical and social implications of retroviral research. This process will be documented to serve as a model for future investigators.
Opportunities for extramural funding include:
1- Allowing junior faculty to propose science-theater collaborations as outreach mechanisms in their NSF proposals. This retroviruses play will be directly incorporated into the next NSF proposal from Dr Saffarian’s lab.
2- Allowing playwrights to develop plays with the potential to seek additional development and production support from arts, cultural and science education foundations.
Overcoming Vaccine Hesitancy and Preventing Cancer ThroughAdaptive Learning Artificial Intelligence and Refinement of Reminder Interventions and Campaigns
NAINA PHADNIS, BIOLOGY
HPV is common (>80% of people), responsible for 36,000 cancer diagnoses each year in the U.S., and largely preventable. Vaccine hesitancy is a barrier to immunization and misinformation during the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated hesitancy, leading to sharp declines in adolescent immunizations, including HPV vaccination. Efforts focused on childhood vaccination, resulted in deprioritization of HPV and adolescent immunization. Patient reminder and recall (RR) strategies have been proven successful in immunization uptake; however, the effectiveness of these strategies varies by geographic and sociodemographic factors. The current study will be among the first to use state-level vaccination registry data to systematically examine missed opportunities and identify spatial and temporal trends of HPV vaccination. This project will inform the creation of an adaptive learning artificial intelligence for refinement of interactive RR strategies and interventions. Solutions arising from this study are scalable, can be tailored for diverse reminder campaigns, responsive to evolving landscapes, and designed to deliver cost-effective solutions. Both innovative and transformative, this cross-campus collaboration will address complex healthcare problems using precision public health strategies, optimized for decreasing vaccine hesitancy and increasing uptake, and provide preliminary results for high-impact NIH and NCI funding proposals.
Investigation of Polymer Functional Groups and Their Impact on Sperm Viability
NITIN PHADNIS, BIOLOGY
We have observed that the viability of sperm decreases depending on the polymer materials used in assisted reproductive technologies. We have done some preliminary studies and have determined that sperm can be negatively impacted by either the functional groups present on polymers, surface charge, surface morphology, and other polymer properties. We have further noted increased incidence in gamete toxicity in contact materials that were recently purchased after product substitutions became necessary due to supply chain issues. We believe this is due to the use of additives, mold release agents, and other contaminants that are present on the polymer surfaces. In this study, we propose to investigate the polymer properties of contact materials used in assisted reproductive techniques (ART) to determine their impact on the viability of sperm after exposure to different polymers over time. Following sperm exposure to various materials, we will test sperm function using the hamster egg penetration test. In addition, the Phadnis lab has developed a “sperm racetrack”, an optically clear counter-current microfluidic channel that can be used as a sensitive assay to measure other functional aspects of sperm including linear velocity, swim efficiency and longevity of motility. In this study, we aim to examine the material properties that may affect sperm viability, to determine whether there are negative impacts on sperm after exposure to specific polymer materials and to identify materials that are most compatible with gametes, with the ultimate goal of optimizing the composition of contact materials used in ART.
You can browse all of the awardees at the University of Utah here.