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Science Top Stories

  • Sophie CaronFaculty Spotlight: Sophie Caron

    Sophie Caron, an Assistant Professor of Biology, was recently appointed as the Mario Capecchi Endowed Chair in the Biology Department. The prestigious faculty appointment will allow Caron to launch a highly innovative research program. Since joining the faculty in 2015, Caron has begun an enormous and long-term research project – understanding how the human brain works – by investigating some of the smallest minds in the business.

  • Pathways to StemPathways to Stem

    For the six years of her son’s short life, Cristin Dixon learned everything she could about neurodegenerative brain disorders, hoping to find a diagnosis. When he passed away three and a half years ago, she still had no definitive answer as to what had afflicted him. “For six years I took care of him 24 hours a day,” Dixon said. “I was his caretaker, his advocate.” She is not done yet. Now a student at Salt Lake Community College (SLCC), Dixon is determined to help other families in the same situation by becoming a medical researcher. She plans to transfer to the University of Utah next fall to complete a four-year degree and work toward medical school. Confronting her will be a bewildering array of regulations and complicated transfer arrangements that will prove challenging to navigate.

  • Vahe BandarianFaculty Spotlight: Vahe Bandarian

    Chemistry Professor Vahe Bandarian is exploring the biosynthetic pathways that are involved in the production of modified nucleic acids, such as those found in RNA. In fact, RNA is among the most highly modified biological molecules, with more than 100 modifications observed to date. While most modifications entail simple transformations, some are so-called hyper-modified bases where multiple steps are involved. Recent studies point to links between RNA modifications and cellular processes, some of which underlie diseases.

  • Ryan WattsAlumni Spotlight: Ryan Watts

    Dr. Ryan Watts, BS’00 in Biology, is the CEO and Co-Founder of Denali Therapeutics, a biotechnology company focused on finding treatments and cures for neurodegenerative illnesses, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Watts and his colleagues at Denali are passionate about discovering drug therapies to help over 22 million people across the world who are fighting crippling neurodegenerative illnesses. In fact, Alzheimer’s disease and other age-related neurodegenerative diseases are reaching epidemic proportions. Expressed solely in financial terms, the cost of treating people with Alzheimer’s and other dementias is estimated to exceed $260 billion by 2020 in the U.S. alone.

  • Sarah Li (left) and Z. Valy Vardeny (right) of the Department of Physics & AstronomyA New Spin On Electronics

    A University of Utah-led team has discovered that a class of “miracle materials” called organic-inorganic hybrid perovskites could be a game changer for future spintronic devices. Spintronics uses the direction of the electron spin — either up or down — to carry information in ones and zeros. A spintronic device can process exponentially more data than traditional electronics that use the ebb and flow of electrical current to generate digital instructions. But physicists have struggled to make spintronic devices a reality. The new study, published online today in Nature Physics, is the first to show that organic-inorganic hybrid perovskites are a promising material class for spintronics. The researchers discovered that the perovskites possess two contradictory properties necessary to make spintronic devices work — the electrons’ spin can be easily controlled, and can also maintain the spin direction long enough to transport information, a property known as spin lifetime.

  • LA LawnsLA Lawns Lose Lots of Water: 70B Gallons a Year

    In summer 2010, Los Angeles was losing about 100 gallons of water per person per day to the atmosphere through the evaporation and plant uptake of lawns and trees. Lawns accounted for 70 percent of the water loss, while trees accounted for 30 percent, according to a University of Utah study published in Water Resources Research. The results, based on measurements taken before Los Angeles enacted mandatory watering restrictions in 2014, shows a pattern of systemic overwatering in the city’s lawns, and a surprising water efficiency in tree cover. Further, the researchers found a correlation between water loss and household income. “The soil was so moist that plants were not limited in water use,” says Elizaveta Litvak, postdoctoral scholar and first author of the new study. “It was the maximum water loss possible.”

  • Gemini NorthSupermassive Black Holes

    Three years ago, a University of Utah-led team discovered that an ultra-compact dwarf galaxy contained a supermassive black hole, then the smallest known galaxy to harbor such a giant black hole. The findings suggested that the dwarfs were likely tiny leftovers of larger galaxies that were stripped of their outer layers after colliding into other, larger galaxies. Now, the same group of U astronomers and colleagues have found two more ultra-compact dwarf galaxies with supermassive black holes. Together, the three examples suggest that black holes lurk at the center of most of these objects, potentially doubling the number of supermassive black holes known in the universe. The black holes make up a high percentage of the compact galaxies’ total mass, supporting the theory that the dwarfs are remnants of massive galaxies that were ripped apart by larger galaxies.

  • Tabitha BuehlerFaculty Spotlight: Tabitha Buehler

    Tabitha Buehler, Assistant Professor (Lecturer) in the Physics and Astronomy Department, is developing top-notch astronomy education and outreach programs with a student group called the AstronomUrs. These students, with Buehler’s guidance, give presentations on-campus and off-campus to local schools, Boy Scouts, and other community groups. They also hold free public star parties on-campus each Wednesday evening, weather permitting. “We estimate that about 2,000 people attended our weekly star parties last year, and the AstronomUrs presented to over 75 additional groups, reaching upwards of 10,000 people in the community last year,” says Buehler. “This success is largely due to Paul Ricketts, my associate, who gives most of the presentations and hosts the star parties.”

  • Ethan Lake2017 College of Science Research Scholar Award

    The College of Science Research Scholar Award is given annually to one graduating student the graduating class who demonstrates a record of exceptional success in research and education. From the Class of 2017, we have selected Ethan Lake, a highly-accomplished student who is graduating with bachelor’s degrees in Physics and Mathematics this year.

  • Doon GibbsAlumni Spotlight: Doon Gibbs

    Doon Gibbs is currently the Director of Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, New York. Brookhaven is a multi-program U.S. Department of Energy laboratory with nearly 3,000 employees, more than 4,000 facility users each year, and an annual budget of about $600 million.

Last Updated: 12/21/16