Shanti Deemyad, an Associate Professor of Physics and Astronomy, recently helped solve a long-standing mystery about lithium, the first element in the periodic table that is metallic at ambient conditions. Lithium, which is a key element in electronics and battery technology, has played an important role in the development of modern condensed matter theories.
The crystal structure of materials at zero pressure and temperature is one of their most basic properties. Until now, it was thought that a complex arrangement of lithium atoms, observed during cooling in the laboratory, was its lowest energy state. But the idea baffled theoretical physicists since lithium has only three electrons and therefore should have a simple atomic structure.
Davar Khoshnevisan, a Professor of Mathematics, was recently appointed as the Department Chair for Mathematics at the U. He started a three-year term on July 1, 2017. “I am honored to serve as Department Chair,” says Khoshnevisan. “We have a world-class faculty, an amazing staff, not to mention fantastic graduate students, visitors, and post docs. It will be a pleasure to work more closely with them toward our many common goals.”
On a balmy morning in late May, fifteen newly-graduated high schoolers and their families filed into the Art Works for Kids Auditorium on the University of Utah campus, greeting one another with excited chatter. The parents beamed with pride — many of their sons and daughters were the first in the family to attend college. Tino Nyawelo, assistant professor in the Department of Physics & Astronomy, cleared his throat in a futile attempt for the group’s attention. Failing to get it, he smiled at the crowd, thinking of his own journey to the university against overwhelming odds. He cleared his throat again, and this time won over the room.
Your body is full of math. From the constant flow of molecules in and out of your cells to the nerve signals zipping through your brain, your physiological processes can be described in terms of mathematical terms and models. It’s an approach to biology and physiology that moves from observational science into fundamental physical principles, according to some mathematicians, including the University of Utah’s James Keener. This week, Keener and his fellow mathematical biologists gather at the U for the 2017 annual meeting of the Society for Mathematical Biology. As part of the proceedings, the society will award Keener the inaugural John Jungck Prize for Excellence in Education. Keener recently spoke with @theU.
HawkWatch International and the University of Utah are partnering on two studies in the Horn of Africa: a new effort studying raptor migration over the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait in Djibouti, and a continuation of vulture extinction studies based in Ethiopia. Evan Buechley, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Utah, will manage the two projects in conjunction with HawkWatch International scientists and University of Utah Biology Professor Cagan Sekercioglu.
You’d think desert woodrats already had a lot of adversity. Besides the constant threat of coyotes and other predators and the scorching Mojave Desert heat, their primary source of food is the creosote bush, or chaparral – a plant so toxic that few other animals will even go near it. But the woodrats’ unique adaptation that allows them to break down creosote toxins may be in jeopardy if temperatures continue to rise, according to University of Utah researchers. Their new study in Molecular Ecology explains why: Livers of mammals (including us) may be less efficient at breaking down toxins at higher temperatures.
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.
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.
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.
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.