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Humans of the U: Brenda Payan Medina

Humans of the U: Brenda Payan Medina


April 26, 2024
Above: Brenda Payan Medina. Credit:  Harriet Richardson/University of Utah

 

I’ve been involved in a lot of areas that are important to me outside of my engineering degree—I’ve worked at the McCluskey Center for Violence Prevention, the Women’s Resource Center, the Center for Student Wellness and with the Utah Prison Education Project. All these positions work directly with students, which is why I decided to pursue a master’s degree in higher education at Columbia University next year.

 

I feel really connected to students who may be struggling, I think because of my own background as a first-generation student. Neither of my parents graduated high school and my grandparents didn’t finish elementary school. It feels like a big step for myself and my siblings to reach a point where we’re graduating college.

I applied to the U through the College of Science ACCESS Scholarship program and when I first got here, I had kind of a hard time. I literally don’t think I would’ve stayed on campus if it weren’t for the ACCESS director at the time, who really advocated for me. I was planning on transferring back home to Price because I had a whole support system down there. Here, there are definitely people willing to help you, but it’s harder to reach out when you’re used to figuring everything out your own, like I had been. I want to use what I learned to help other people have an easier experience navigating college and living away from home, because it can be super overwhelming to try to balance everything.

I’ve seen discourse on social media saying you don’t always need a college degree to succeed. But for students where education has historically not been a part of their family, I think it’s still important to pursue higher education even if it’s  inaccessible to them. It’s one of the reasons I started working with the Utah Prison Education Project and the STEM Community Alliance Program with the arts manager, where I help plan art classes and exhibitions for students in juvenile facilities. It’s really cool because a lot of the students find a drive to pursue their projects when they know their work will be shown at galleries. Working with UPEP and STEMCAP has given me a different perspective about what education looks like and what works for different people, and I’ll hopefully continue working with this population in a similar program at Columbia.

Read the rest of the story in @ The U

ACCESS: Sarah Lambart

'ACCESS'ing Geology & Geophysics

ACCESS Scholars faculty liaison, Sarah Lambart, initially got involved in the program because she wanted to host students in her lab. An Assistant Professor in Geology & Geophysics at the University of Utah, Lambart wanted to offer hands-on activity in small research projects that students could actually work on during the semester. "I really liked working with ACCESS students. [They are] very smart ... very enthusiastic, very curious about learning new things, and so when they created this faculty liaison position, it's something I knew I would be interested [in].”

As principal investigator (PI) of the MagMaX Lab, recent projects have included working of the cause of excess magmatism during the Northeast Atlantic breakup (IDOP Expedition 396), magma genesis and transport, quantifying the mantle heterogeneity and the implications for the Earth dynamics, and, more recently, better understand the formation of critical minerals and ore deposits. If this sounds like an intense program focused on the chemistry of Earth and planetary interiors, it clearly is, especially with her emphasis on the role of magmatic processes during the differentiation and chemical evolution of terrestrial planets. "I use experimental devices such as piston-cylinders and one atmosphere furnaces to simulate high pressure-temperature conditions relevant for planetary interiors as well as various analytical techniques. Those highly-specialized techniques are designed to characterize synthesized and natural samples. "Because one limiting aspect of solid-media apparatus is that all experiments are performed in closed-systems," she writes in her research statement, "I also use innovative experimental strategies to investigate new topics." Those strategies include simulation of magma circulation and magma-rock interaction or melt segregation. The lab team also uses thermodynamic modeling to extrapolate the data they collect and/or as support for semi-empirical models.

It's exactly the kind of rigor that an ACCESS Scholar interested in earth sciences can sink their proverbial shovel into or their underwater collection implements from the bottom of the sea. (More on that later.)

But Lambart's mentoring and department-based liaisoning with ACCESS has a very human side as well. “So first, I am a woman," she says about a STEM discipline that historically has been male-centric. "But I was also a first-generation student.." Currently, most of the students in her team are also "first-gen." "I understand what challenges you might have when you don't necessarily know how the system works. I'm also from France, and so when I arrived in the US, I didn't know how the system worked. I think providing this opportunity very early on in ... [a student's] career, in their degree, can actually really make a difference at the end. So that's why I was very happy to contribute to this program.”

As a faculty liaison, Lambart coordinates the summer activities that take place in Geology & Geophysics, meets with a group of students on a monthly basis for mentorship, and serves on the selection committee. She has hosted three ACCESS scholars in her lab to date.

Expedition 396 women scientific team. From left: Sarah Lambart (Petrologist, University of Utah, USA), Weimu Xu (Sedimentologist, University College Dublin, Ireland), Stacy Yaeger (Micropaleontologist, Ball State University, USA), Sayantani Chatterjee (Inorganic Geochemist, Niigata University, Japan), Marialena Christopoulou (Sedimentologist, Northern Illinois University, USA), Natalia Varela (Paleomagnetist, Virginia Tech, USA), and Irina Filina (Physical Properties Specialist, University of Nebraska, USA). (Credit: Sandra Herrmann, IODP JRSO) [Photo ID: exp396_254]. ^^ banner photo above: courtesy of Sarah Lambart.

A native of Rennes, France, Lambart earned her doctorate from Clermont Auvergne University in 2010 followed by work as a postdoctoral research fellow at first Caltech (2010-2013) and Columbia University (2013-2015). She then took an appointment as a visiting assistant professor at UC Davis (2015-2016. In 2017, she became a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Research Fellow at Cardiff University in Wales, before landing at the U in 2018. She first got interested in her current research as a child; she had a picture of a volcano in Costa Rica in her bedroom that she had cut out of a National Geographic magazine. In high school she decided she wanted to pursue her passion for volcanoes through research.

"From our observations of the beauty of the Hawaiian Islands," says Lambart, "to the discovery of submarine volcanic chains (i.e., mid-ocean ridges) by Marie Tharp more than seventy years ago, we know that our planet is shaped by plate tectonics and magmatism. Combining geochemistry, experimental petrology and thermodynamic modeling, my lab produces innovative tools to constrain the role of crustal recycling, one of the motor of plate tectonics, on the nature of the mantle source of magmas." She remarks that, because of familiar models, most people do not know that the interior of the Earth is actually the color green, not red. "Most representations of the interior of the Earth in textbooks show it red to express the high temperature environment. However, the mantle is dominated by a rock called peridotite that is mostly made of olivine and pyroxenes, two green minerals," she says. (Click here for a 3D picture of a peridotite, as part of the U's Geo 3D rock collection.)

Recent research from Lambart's MagMaX lab includes an article by former student Otto Lang MS'21 on a new approach to constrainthe mineralogy of the magma sources. "I was [also] lucky to be involved in a recent publication on recommendation for sharing F.A.I.R (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable) geochemical data," she says. Her work has taken Lambart to, literally, the far ends of the planet. Insights from results obtained during IODP Expedition 396, on which Lambart has sailed on, were published in 2023. (IODP is an  international marine research collaboration that explores Earth's history and dynamics using ocean-going research platforms to recover data recorded in seafloor sediments and rocks and to monitor sub seafloor environments.) Finally, a highly anticipated paper is expected soon by Ashley Morris, a doctorate student in Lambart's group who worked on an early Eocene dacitic unit collected during the same expedition.

ACCESS Scholars is about the whole being greater than the some of its research parts. The program's signature is to meld academic work with networking, mentoring and work/life balance, a unique undergraduate amalgam in which creativity is paired with analytical inquiry and where experiential learning, in all its forms, is at a premium. As an ACCESS faculty liaison in Geology and Geophysics, Sarah Lambart is no exception. "I love hiking and visiting national parks," she says of her life outside the lab. "During my professional training, I had to cross the country twice. My husband and I used this opportunity to visit as many national parks we could. So far, we visited 32, many multiple times! And I’m sure we will continue to explore new parks in the future."

Sporting an adventurous ethic—from the Atlantic seafloor to 32 of the likes of Yosemite National Park—Sarah Lambart is poised to mentor future Earth scientists at the U.

By David Pace and Seth Harper

ACCESS: A Tale of Two Researchers

ACCESS: A Tale of Two REsearchers

 

The first thing Isabella Scalise noticed when she joined the 2022 ACCESS Scholars program was a feeling of empowerment. How could she not?

Surrounded by a cohort of ambitious scientists-in-training, and under the supervision of women ecstatic to help her find success in her passions, Isabella was taking a huge step in realizing her middle school dream of conducting cancer research.

Wide-eyed middle schooler

It all started with her grandpa’s colon cancer diagnosis. Isabella, a wide-eyed middle schooler at the time, was driven to learn as much as she could. She started taking a cancer and genetics class at Providence Cancer Institute during the summer and found a particular interest in precision medicine, which accounts for an individual’s genetics, environment and lifestyle when crafting a game plan to fight diseases — like cancer. This interest only grew after starting at the U when another family member started experiencing resistance to therapies targeted to treat her cancer.

When it came time to join a lab, an integral part of the ACCESS experience, the Kinsey lab at the Huntsman Cancer Institute made perfect sense.

“The scientific questions being pursued in the Kinsey lab deeply resonate with me,” says Isabella, now a sophomore studying honors biology with minors in mathematics and chemistry. “We work to overcome primary resistance mechanisms to targeted treatments.”

And who was waiting there with open arms, ready to mentor Isabella? A 2017 ACCESS alum.

A Life-Changing Lab

Sophia Schuman describes her ACCESS experience as “eye-opening.” She discovered the program while searching for scholarships and found herself spending the summer of 2017 with a cohort of 24 women, already passionate about Sophia’s interests.

Isabella (left) with Sophia, in the lab together. ^^ Banner photo above: Sophia (left) with Isabella.

"You got to go to college early, live on campus, get exposed to all the sciences. I applied immediately, and I was so excited to hear back,” Sophia explains. “It was the driving force, the reason that I came to the U. I didn't have issues finding my classes on the first day of school because I had already been here, and it felt like this was home a little bit.”

Sophia wasn’t placed in the Kinsey lab, but she says Conan Kinsey, MD, PhD, principal investigator of the lab, found her and “changed my life forever.”

Like Isabella, Sophia had a personal connection to cancer as she had watched someone close to her fight pancreatic cancer. Sophia was amazed by how well the patient’s body held up during the experience, which piqued her own interest in cancer research and drew her to the lab.

“The Kinsey lab brought me into so many different opportunities,” she continues, “but it also taught me so much about how to think, how to be a professional in the industry.”

Part of that professional experience included mentoring, which is where Isabella comes into the equation.

A holistic understanding

The pair combined their shared passion to perform research on autophagy, a primary resistance mechanism to targeted therapies for pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC). During this time, Isabella learned the details and mechanisms behind the procedures they performed, learned how to derive the right scientific questions from their work and even came to understand how the work they were doing fit into the big picture. Along the way, Sophia would send Isabella educational materials that helped her develop a holistic understanding of the science.

“I always felt comfortable asking Sophia questions. She’d always take the time to answer them very thoroughly and when I made mistakes, making sure I learned from them. I've never felt ashamed for making a mistake.”

Isabella said that working under Sophia’s guidance created a comfort in the lab, and Sophia seemed to enjoy it just as much.

“Isabella came in very interested, very teachable and obviously passionate about the work behind it. As well, it was fun having another woman in the lab. I saw a lot in her that I saw in myself. She's willing to stay until the work is done. She asked a lot of really good, intuitive questions, even from the get-go with having very basic concepts and understanding of science.”

The duo no longer works together, but they’ll always be connected by the Kinsey lab, a shared love for research, and ACCESS Scholars.

By Seth Harper

ACCESS: Margaret Call

Margaret Call: Pathfinder

 

Finding your path in life is rarely as simple as a 90-minute coming-of-age movie might suggest. It’s often slow, requires a good deal of trial and error, and can persist deep into the stages of a person’s life.

 

 

Margaret Call found herself facing this age-old dilemma while sitting in an advisor’s office in junior high. They went through the motions, discussing Margaret’s interests and ambitions, until landing on STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics.) Her advisor suggested ACCESS Scholars, a first-year community, research and scholarship program committed to advancing gender equity in STEM at the University of Utah. The suggestion stuck around in Margaret’s mind until senior year of high school when she decided to apply with her eye on picking chemistry as her major on a pre-med track.

As a research-oriented person, Margaret found the opportunities ACCESS offered appealing, even if she wasn’t going to end up under the research umbrella. Keeping her options opened ended up paying off.

The ACCESS Experience

ACCESS kicks off the summer before classes start with a two-week live-in component. Students learn what the College of Science and the U have to offer while getting to know their cohort. For Margaret, this was the highlight of the whole experience.

“The chance to explore the university campus for a couple of weeks helped me to feel comfortable as a student in knowing where I was and what I was doing,” said Margaret. “It was through the summer portion that I made my best friends in college. There is honestly no substitute for making friends in a space where you have common interests and experiences. I know that they have my back when things are difficult, and they understand even the parts related to being a woman in a male-dominated field.”

Beyond finding a community, Margaret found her path through education. A capstone project and environmental science curriculum helped her discover a passion for climate science and policy.

“The summer coursework changed my entire college pathway. I would never have arrived in the geosciences without it. The space to explore different fields that I hadn’t wasn’t aware of in a low-risk environment allowed me to consider pathways I didn’t even know were available.”

18 Months Later

Margaret, now a sophomore in geoscience and geophysics, and over a year removed from the summer component of ACCESS, has dived deep into the world of research. She joined Pete Lippert’s lab in the Utah Paleomagnetic Center, working on an air quality project. The project, an “intersection between atmospheric science, climate science, and geoscience,” as Margaret puts it, works to “understand if biomagnetic monitoring techniques could be used to accurately measure particulate matter in the air.”

It's a sensitive process that can detect major inversion events as well as the difference in air quality in locations 20 feet from each other.

In addition to this research, Margaret stays busy with her work as a Science Ambassador, giving tours to prospective students looking to find their own path, and helping produce the Talking Climate Podcast hosted by the Wilkes Center for Climate Science & Policy.

A Bright Future

“My ultimate ambition, at the moment, is to become some form of researcher,” said Margaret. “Whether that’s through a more academic pathway or through a different laboratory setting, I would really like to eventually be studying climate through a geological lens.”

Her current interest is in the details that landscapes and rocks hold about Earth’s past climate. It’s a path that she credits ACCESS in helping her find.

“ACCESS was one of the single most important things to my success in college. I have made so many incredible connections through the program, to students, professors, mentors, and more that will shape the resources that I am able to access. It helped me to remember to keep an open mind when considering pathways, and now, three majors later, I think I’ve finally found it.”

Perhaps finding your path life is a constant, never-ending journey we’re all on. Thanks to ACCESS Scholars, Margaret got the jumpstart her future needed.

 

by Seth Harper

Interested in applying to the ACCESS Scholars program at the University of Utah? Click here

Phi Beta Kappa

Phi Beta Kappa Society Scholar


Muskan Walia Named Phi Beta Kappa Society Scholar.

Muskan Walia, a second-year student at the University of Utah Honors College, studying math
and philosophy, has been named a Key into Public Service Scholar by the Phi Beta Kappa Society. The Society is the nation’s most prestigious academic honor society, and the Key into Public Service award highlights specific pathways for arts and sciences graduates to launch public sector careers.

Chosen from nearly 900 applicants attending Phi Beta Kappa chapter institutions across the nation, the Key into Public Service Scholars hail from 17 states. These are high-achieving college sophomores and juniors, who display notable breadth and depth in their academic interests.

“I am extremely grateful and honored to be receiving this award from Phi Beta Kappa,” said Walia. “My community here at the University of Utah has provided me with a prodigious liberal arts and sciences education and has nurtured my interest in exploring the dynamics between science, society, and the public sector. I am excited for the incredible opportunity to further explore this interest this summer.”

Walia is an ACCESS Scholar and undergraduate researcher, working with Dr. Fred Adler, Professor of Biology and of Mathematics. In her research, Walia adapted an epidemiological SIR model for spread of disease to model the number of cells infected with SARS-CoV-2 in order to predict when different types of tests will produce false positives or false negatives.

“My summer in the ACCESS Scholars program sparked an interest and motivation to pursue a career in public service,” she said. “Being taught by faculty across the University of Utah in diverse disciplines, I learned about the intersections of science, communication, and policy and how scientists can practice the art of advocacy.

 

Muskan Walia

"My community here at the University of Utah has provided me with a prodigious liberal arts and sciences education and has nurtured my interest in exploring the dynamics between science, society, and the public sector."

 

“Working under the mentorship of Dr. Fred Adler has been invaluable. I wanted to be engaged in mathematics research that centered on justice and informed public policy. There was truly no better pairing than with Dr. Adler. He has wholeheartedly supported and encouraged my curiosity and passion to utilize mathematics principles to tackle the most pressing social justice related questions of our time.”

In addition to her studies, Walia currently serves as the ASUU student government Senate Chair and works as a youth environmental organizer in the Salt Lake City area. She founded a campaign to commit her local school district to a 100% clean electricity transition by 2030, and has assisted with the expansion of local clean energy campaigns in Utah school districts. She is also a leader and mentor at Utah Youth Environmental Solutions Network (UYES), where she supports the development of a new youth-based climate justice curriculum. Her experiences have cultivated a passion and commitment to community building, climate education, and environmental justice.

Each Key into Public Service Scholar will receive a $5,000 undergraduate scholarship and take part in a conference in late June in Washington, D.C. to provide them with training, mentoring, and reflection on pathways into active citizenship.

Below are the names of the 2022 Key into Public Service Scholars and their chapter institutions:

Aylar AtadurdyyevaUniversity of Kansas
Miguel Coste, University of Notre Dame
Noelle Dana, University of Notre Dame
Grace Dowling, Clark University
Brandon Folson, Loyola University Chicago
Justin Fox, University of Maryland- College Park
Sora Heo, University of California - San Diego
Alec Hoffman, Clark University
Samiha Islam, State University of New York at Buffalo
Ruthie Kesri, Duke University
Katherine Marin, University of Florida
Sondos Moursy, University of Houston
Olivia Negro, Ursinus College
Emily Geigh Nichols, Stanford University
Paul Odu, University of Missouri
Vaidehi Persad, University of South Florida
Diba Seddighi, University of Tennessee
James Suleyman, Roanoke College
Jonah Tobin, Williams College
Muskan WaliaUniversity of Utah
For more information about the scholarship and links to individual biographies of the recipients, please visit pbk.org/KeyintoPublicService.

 

by Michele Swaner, first published at math.utah.edu.

 

Arctic Adventures

The Science of Salty Ice


BBC StoryWorks

BBC StoryWorks and the International Science Council present "Unlocking Science," which showcases how science is helping to solve some of society's greatest collective challenges. The University of Utah is the only institution in North America represented in the series, which showcases how science is helping to solve some of society's greatest collective challenges.

Jody Reimer

Counting on Mathematicians to Help Save the Planet

On a brilliant white ice floe floating in the Arctic Ocean, a group of people in bulky coats adjust to the biting cold, having been dropped off by helicopter. “All of a sudden, I turn around and there’s a polar bear and it starts running at us,” says Jody Reimer, recounting a moment of panic. “Luckily, the helicopter swooped back in to scare the bear off, but I had the adrenaline shakes for the rest of the day,” she adds, laughing.

You might expect such a nail-biting anecdote to come from an explorer, but Dr Reimer is a mathematician and lecturer at the University of Utah, as well as being part of a community that has swapped cosy classrooms for some of the Earth’s most inhospitable wildernesses, in a bid to use numbers to understand global warming.

Their adventures enable them to observe first-hand the processes driving change in the polar regions and validate their mathematical theories of sea ice and its role as a critical component in the Earth’s climate system.

A complex problem
The thickness and extent of sea ice in the Arctic has declined quickly since satellite measurements were first taken in 1979.

Sea ice is the Earth’s refrigerator, reflecting sunlight back into space. Its enduring presence is important to our planet’s future because, as more ice melts, more dark water is exposed which absorbs more sunlight. This sun-warmed water melts more ice in a self-reinforcing cycle called ice albedo feedback.

While sea ice decline is perhaps one of the most visible large-scale changes connected to planetary warming on the Earth’s surface, analysing, modelling and predicting its behaviour and the response of the polar system it supports is incredibly difficult, but mathematicians can help.

Kenneth Golden, a distinguished professor of mathematics and adjunct professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Utah, has built a unique sea ice programme over 30 years. Its combination of mathematics research, climate modelling and exciting field expeditions, has attracted students and postdoctoral researchers, including Dr Reimer, who are focused on using this type of science to help tackle the pressing challenges of a rapidly changing climate.

Factoring in animals
Dr Reimer has studied how polar bears and seals respond to changes in their frozen environment. While she used mathematical models to understand the interactions between these creatures and their habitat, she also took measurements and samples from bears in the Arctic, which was something she never expected to do as a mathematician. “They’re not totally sleeping when they are tranquilised; they’re groggy,” she explains. “One of them freaked me out because it seemed like it could wake up at some point.”

Their shrinking habitat means polar bears are walking on thin ice, but it’s hoped that studies like Dr Reimer’s will help experts understand how to protect the majestic predators.

However, it is the “mind-blowing” microscopic world of bacteria and algae that live in salty water pockets inside the sea ice that now excites her. This biological community and its habitat are influenced by changes in temperature, salinity and light, making it difficult to model accurately. In her current work, Dr Reimer constructs models to understand how these factors interact to determine biological activity within the ice. “Understanding how processes on these small scales contribute to macro-level patterns is critical to modelling the impact of a warming climate on polar marine ecology,” she explains.

Crunching the numbers on salty ice
It is the challenge of understanding how the microscopic structure of sea ice affects the behaviour of massive expanses of ice that interests Prof Golden. He has visited the Earth’s polar regions 18 times, braving the westerly winds known as the “Roaring Forties” to reach Antarctica by ship and narrowly avoiding plunging into icy waters while measuring sea ice. “One time I was visited by a massive whale about eight feet away, who could easily have broken the thin floe I was on with a casual flick of its tail,” he says.

Ken Golden

Prof Golden studies the microstructure of sea ice to calculate how easily fluid can flow through it. “Sea ice is salty. It has a porous microstructure of brine inclusions which is very different from freshwater ice,” he says.

Prof Golden has led interdisciplinary teams to predict the critical temperature at which the brine inclusions connect up so that fluid can flow through sea ice, and to develop the first X-ray tomography technique to analyse how the geometry of the inclusions evolves with temperature. “Understanding how seawater percolates through sea ice is one of the keys to interpreting how climate change will play out in the polar marine environment,” he explains.

Discovering this “on-off switch” has helped scientists better understand processes such as how nutrients that feed algal communities living in the brine inclusions are replenished.

The brine in sea ice also affects its radar signature, which affects satellite measurements of parameters like ice thickness used to validate climate models. These models are important because they predict future changes to our climate and are used by world leaders and scientists to come up with mitigation strategies.

Coming in from the cold
The variety of ice presents a challenge, but diversity among researchers, teachers and students creates the perfect environment for fresh ideas. In the US, just one quarter of doctoral degrees in mathematics and computer sciences were awarded to women in 2015, but schemes such as the University of Utah’s ACCESS programme are nurturing talented female mathematicians by helping them unlock opportunities such as mentoring and hands-on research. Expeditions to the Arctic not only give students an elevated experience, but ensure mathematicians are involved in cutting-edge research and solutions, alongside climate scientists and engineers.

When they are not battling blizzards, Dr Reimer and Prof Golden work on collaborative, interdisciplinary projects and co-mentor female undergraduate students as part of the ACCESS programme. After refreshing the mathematics component in 2018 to include climate change, Prof Golden has seen roughly triple the number of ACCESS students interested in taking a maths major or research placement than before.

Rebecca Hardenbrook, who is one of Professor Golden’s PhD students, says: "focusing on pressing issues like climate change attracts more of the people we want into mathematics, which is everyone, but in particular, women, people of colour, queer people; anyone from an underrepresented background.”

Rebecca Hardenbrook

Pooling resources
Hardenbrook joined the ACCESS program ahead of her first year as an undergraduate, spending the summer in an astrophysics lab, which opened her eyes to the possibility of doing research. "It was really life changing," she says, not least because she further decided to pursue a PhD in mathematics with Prof Golden after studying thermal transport through sea ice as an undergraduate.

She now inspires younger students on the ACCESS scheme as a teaching assistant, as well as modelling melt ponds, which are pools of water on the Arctic sea ice. These ponds play a decisive role in determining the long-term melting rates of the Arctic sea ice cover by absorbing solar radiation instead of reflecting it. As they grow and join together, they undergo a transition in fractal geometry, effectively creating a never-ending pattern that can be modelled by mathematicians.

Hardenbrook is building upon a decade of work on melt ponds by Prof Golden and previous students and researchers at the university by adapting the classical Ising model, which was developed more than a century ago and explains how materials can gain or lose magnetism, to model melt pond geometry. “I hope to make the model for sea ice more physically precise so that it can be put into global climate models to create a more accurate approach of addressing melt ponds, which have a surprising effect on the albedo of the Arctic,” she explains.

Adding to the big picture
Mathematicians have already solved the conundrum of how to define the width of the undulating marginal sea ice zone, which extends from the dense inner core of pack ice to the outer fringes , where waves can break the floating ice.

Court Strong, who is an atmospheric scientist and one of Prof Golden’s colleagues at the University of Utah, drew inspiration from an unusual source: the cerebral cortex of a rat’s brain. He realised they could use the same mathematical method to measure the width of the marginal ice zone as they do for measuring the thickness of the rodent’s bumpy brain, which also has a lot of variation. With the aid of this simplified model, the team was able to demonstrate that the marginal ice zone has widened by around 40% as our climate has warmed.

The university of Utah’s ACCESS scheme, including its hands-on research, immerses students in an interdisciplinary environment where maths is part of a bigger picture. It encourages cross pollination, where methods and ideas from seemingly unrelated areas of science can be used to solve problems when the underlying mathematics is essentially the same.

“When you’re presented with an unusual situation, you need different kinds of minds to look at a problem clearly and come up with solutions,” says Prof Golden.

The loss of sea ice seen in the Arctic has happened over just a few decades and continues at an alarming pace.

“We need all the good brains and different ways of thinking that we can get, and we need them fast,” he says.

This article has been reviewed for the University of Utah, National Science Foundation and Office of Naval Research by Elvis Bahati Orlendo, International Foundation for Science, Stockholm and Dr Magdalena Stoeva, FIOMP, FIUPESM.

Originally published by BBC Storyworks
Interview of Jody Reimer and Ken Golden by Dean Peter Trapa - Video

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Discover 2020

Discover 2020


Aftermath 2024

The official magazine of the U Department of Mathematics.

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Spectrum 2023

The official magazine of the U Department of Physics & Astronomy.

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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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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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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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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

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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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