James Detling, PhD’69

James K. Detling (PhD’69) arrived at the University of Utah from Ohio State University where he had just finished his Master’s degree in botany. He followed his graduate advisor, Dr. Lionel Klikoff, who transferred to the U as a tenure-line faculty member. While his advisor guided Detling’s research and mentored him in the ways of becoming a university faculty member, “perhaps my fondest memories are of Dr. Kimball Harper,” he says. Detling’s PhD research involved a study of physiological ecology of saline-tolerant halophytes in the salt deserts west of Salt Lake City. Of Harper, Detling says, “He always graciously shared his vast knowledge of the ecology of Utah’s various ecosystems, and made himself available to answer questions or discuss ideas. Imagine my disappointment,” he says somewhat cheekily, when several years later he learned that Harper had left the U to join the faculty at the Ute’s traditional rival located south of Salt Lake City: Brigham Young University.

In Utah, Detling enjoyed exploring the mountains and deserts, “first to scout out potential field sites for my research in plant ecology,” he says “and then to explore the fabulous outdoor recreational opportunities they provided.” After teaching at the U for one year as a replacement for Harper who went on sabbatical, he taught at a private liberal arts college in Ohio for five years. Following that, in 1975, he returned to the west, to Colorado State University where he remained on the faculty until his retirement in 2010.

In Fort Collins his professional activities included the study of biotic and abiotic factors affecting both structure and function of grassland ecosystems. On the editorial board of the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, the Berkeley California native was also elected Fellow of The American Association for the Advancement of Science. Additionally, he was also designated an ISI Highly cited researcher.

In the 80s Detling retreated to the field of the mixed-grass prairie at Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota. There he studied and reported on how black-tailed prairie dogs create habitat patches characterized by altered species composition, lower standing crops of plants, but also higher forage quality. “Native wildlife species such as bison, pronghorn, and elk preferentially feed on these prairie dog colonies and likely derive nutritional benefits from doing so,” he reported. Findings supported his hypothesis that genetically-based morphological and physiological differentiation had occurred in several native grass species as a result of strong selection pressures from grazing mammals on prairie dog colonies.

A decade later he turned his attention to “Grassland Vegetation Changes and Nocturnal Global Warming,” resulting in a  paper of the same title co-authored by Richard D. Alward and Daniel G. Michunas published in Science.

Since retirement Detling has continued research on grassland ecology with former students and colleagues. He has also turned from the study of one kind of grassland to another--the golf course—which has come in handy since the advent of the coronavirus pandemic has curtailed other beloved activities: traveling and dining out.

 
by David Pace
 

Amy Davis, PhD’03

“I enjoy learning about how infectious diseases have shaped human history because I find it inspiring to frame my current work in a broad historical context,” says Amy Davis, PhD’03.

A Senior Director, Biochemistry Research & Innovation at Utah-based BioFire Diagnostics, LLC, Davis says she was “fortunate to be born into a world with antibiotics and large-scale vaccine production,” while reminding us that “these tools in humanity’s struggle against microbial pathogens have only been around for the last 70-80 years.”

With her work at BioFire whose systems have become the new standard for syndromic infectious disease diagnostics, what she calls her “obsession” with the history of medical science could not have converged at a more timely, and daunting, time. The coronavirus pandemic in the United States is currently emerging in a scorching third wave, and there is a herculean effort underway to bring a vaccine to market. This, of course, will require accelerated and accurate diagnostics, something BioFire’s co-founder Randy Rasmussen, also a PhD alumnus (’98) from the School of Biological Sciences, recently reiterated during a virtual COVID Salon sponsored by SBS in May of this year.

Davis, who earned her BS in biology with honors from Penn State, followed by a year as a Fulbright Scholar, recalls what first drew her to graduate school at the SBS. It was the “fabulous faculty, collaborative culture,” and, of course, the spectacular mountain setting. “My graduate education at the University of Utah taught me how to think critically, work diligently, shake off setbacks, and thrive on the pursuit of understanding,” she says. “I loved everything from the journal clubs to late nights in a quiet lab dissecting tetrads to ‘TA-ing’ for Joe Dickinson's Genetics course to planning the next experiment.”

She remembers that seeing the mitochondrial net phenotype for the first time in a yeast mutant she had isolated in a genetic screen was “pretty exciting!” She also remembers fondly Professor Janet Shaw. While studying the molecular mechanisms of mitochondrial dynamics in Shaw’s lab, Davis was taught by her “amazing mentor and friend…how to ask the right questions, how to write, how to present, and how to balance.”

That training, experience and mentoring have served Davis well. Following her graduation from SBS, she did a post-doc on the other side of the Rockies--at the University of Colorado, Boulder. There she was at the bench researching the biology of the yeast telomerase RNA, an essential core component of the telomerase ribonucleoprotein (RNP) enzyme that synthesizes telomeric sequences onto chromosome ends.

The call of the Wasatch Front, however, as well as that of the U’s Brain Institute, propelled Davis in 2007 back to Salt Lake City where she was manager and then associate director at the Institute for a total of six years. Following that she moved to the U’s Medical School for a two-year stint to help establish a research program development office.

A career in what’s been called “The Century of Biology,” especially as it relates to health, can take one on a circuitous route. Davis’ has been no exception. After spending 20 years in academic environments, Davis made the leap to work in industry. At BioFire she learned to work with dozens of complementary teams to translate research ideas in robust clinical diagnostic tools. To broaden her experience in the biotech space, Davis accepted a role at the start up IDbyDNA as VP of Operations. The company, also located in the U’s Research Park with BioFire, works in metagenomics technology to simultaneously profile tens of thousands of microorganisms and pathogens in any sample.

Emblematic of the extraordinary synergy Research Park was designed for, companies like BioFire and the newer IDbyDNA create opportunities for not only advancing medical technology but the careers of many University of Utah alumni. Davis later returned to BioFire as a Senior Director in research and development, where she is enjoying applying the perspective gained from operations roles to early-stage innovation projects.

To date, no other company has FDA-cleared and CE-IVD (European Union-cleared) marked assays for more pathogens than BioFire. Again, the timing of the company’s ascendancy has proven auspicious.

In the kitchen with the whole fam dam.

“As we are learning from COVID,” says Davis, “emerging pathogens (and emerging antimicrobial resistance of old pathogens) can challenge societies in significant ways. …The more we learn about the patterns of infectious diseases and human efforts to understand and combat their microscopic agents, the better we can prepare for present and future threats.”

While COVID has focused global attention on the threat of emerging viral respiratory pathogens, she says she hopes that this “reality check bolsters efforts to combat emerging antimicrobial resistance in pathogens that have been with us for centuries.”

Meanwhile, Davis continually returns to her passion for the history of medicine. She finds that her reading deeply informs her intense career at BioFire, providing perspective, inspiration and context for their work. And what exactly is on her bedside reading stand? The Mosquito by Timothy C. Winegard; the portentous sounding Superbugs: The Race to Stop an Epidemic by Matt McCarthy; and Microbe Hunters by Paul de Kruif.

From these historical tomes she is happy to base her advice to new graduates of the School of Biological Sciences, particularly telling during this pandemic time: “Take the long view and train for a career that will fulfill you ten, twenty, thirty, forty years from now.”

by David Pace

Dale C. Larsen, BS’59

Dale C. LARSEN


In the mid-1950s, when Dale C. Larsen (BS’59) first enrolled at the U there were only six Colleges on campus including the College of Letters and Science, and a two-year medical school.

Larsen was born and raised in Roosevelt, Utah, a small farming town in northeastern Utah. The drive to Salt Lake City in those days was long and tedious, often on dirt roads and narrow two-lane highways. 

But Larsen had a goal in mind. He wanted to earn a degree at the U and get into dental school. 

“I knew several people who attended the U and liked the idea of doing so myself,” he recalls. He knew a degree in biology or medical biology would ensure access to dental schools. 

After high school, Larsen first served in the Navy in Korea.  “During the Korean war I was an aviation aerial photographer in an air squadron. Around airplanes and in them a lot. I flew from three different aircraft carriers,” he says. 

When the war ended in 1953, Larsen returned to Utah and started attending the U.

“I lived in a basement apartment one block off-campus until I met my wife, Joni. After we got married, we lived in an apartment on about 1400 South and 200 East,” he says. (Today, that location is near Liberty Park.)
 
In high school and for a few years afterward, Larsen played saxophone in a Big Band dance orchestra. "The wife of the leader of the orchestra had a sister named Joni and I met her then and we were married in 1956,” he recalls. 
 

At the U, Larsen’s favorite professor was Stephen D. Durrant, who was an expert in vertebrate zoology and mammalian anatomy. "Durrant’s class on mammalogy was among the best courses I had in school,” says Larsen.

Larsen earned a bachelor of science degree, in Biology, in 1959 and promptly enrolled in dental school at Washington University in Saint Louis, Missouri. He later moved back to Roosevelt, Utah, and held a private dental practice for 47 years. 


He and Joni had four children: Trudi, Troy, Todd, and Trent.                       

"Our oldest son, Troy, attended the U for one year and the youngest son attended a physical therapy program run by the University a number of years ago,” he says. Joni passed away in 2013.

Dr. Larsen, aerial photographer, Korean War

Larsen has enjoyed a life-long passion for aviation.

"I became interested in aviation as a child when I saw neighbor boys flying their model airplanes. Then in the Navy I was an aviation photographer. After coming home (from Korea) I got my private pilot’s license in 1958. Still flying now after 62 years,” he says.  
 
Larsen’s best advice for students is, “get a good education and stick to your goals.

Jason Allen, BS’01

Jason Allen knew early on of the opportunities the state’s flagship research university could offer him just an hour north of where he grew up in Springville.

“I had always wanted to attend the University of Utah due to its prestige within the state and nationally,” he says, especially due to the U’s stellar reputation in science and technology.

He wasn’t disappointed. Now a Physician and Medical Director of the Breast Imaging section in the University of Colorado Health South Region, this doctor of osteopathic medicine (DO) cut his teeth as a researcher in Dr. David Stillman’s lab with Dr. Leena Bhoite. “It was in his lab that I got great exposure to real ‘at the bench’ lab work as well as all the frustrations and excitement that go along with it,” he says.

Working in the Bioscience Undergraduate Research Program (BioURP) at the U was also formative for Allen, including the introductory summer course which he counts as “a great introduction to the program overall, [to] new people and some of the intricacies of basic … lab work.” He especially enjoyed working with Dr. Rosemary Gray and Dr. Janet Shaw, both of whom were “great mentors and significantly helped cultivate my interest in learning about the biological sciences.”

Additionally, the spring undergraduate research symposium “amply prepared me for the requirements of medical school, internship and [a] residency, and even now working in the field of medicine,” he recalls. It wasn’t just the technical know-how and scientific rigor of BIOURP that propelled him forward into his career; the public speaking requirements and likely the network were also useful to him as he prepared for professional school.

After graduating from Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences in 2005, Allen completed a residency in Radiology with the San Antonio Uniformed Services Health Education Consortium in 2010. Following that he began a career in the United States Air Force at David Grant Medical Center as a general radiologist teaching radiology residents. After four years there and nine years of active duty service, he separated from the Air Force and completed fellowship training with the University of California at Davis Hospital in Sacramento.

In the Centennial State Allen is the lead interpreting physician in the breast imaging section. “Our group provides radiology interpretation services and image guided interventions for the University of Colorado Health system, as well as a number of additional smaller hospitals in southern Colorado,” he explains.

It may seem like a relative straight line for Allen’s career path, but he knows as well as most who have successfully arrived at the top of their game that it requires hard work. “Study hard,” he reminds those at the U who are just beginning their academic and professional careers. “Accept challenges and learn from mistakes (both your own AND the mistakes of others).” Setbacks and failures, he concludes, “are stepping stones toward great success!”

Dr. Allen with his son Gavin at his school in the “Watch D.O.G.S” (Dads Of Great Students) program.

The current pandemic has been one of those setbacks for many, including Allen. “Covid-19 has caused our group and the hospital systems we provide services for to streamline our processes and has really pushed us to embrace the use of technology to enable us to communicate with patients and other medical providers in new ways,” he says. “Although it has significantly limited in person interactions, Tele-Health interactions have increased significantly and have enabled us to provide services that were once difficult or impossible to provide.”

It’s not just about work for Allen. A fluent speaker of Brazilian Portuguese, he says he enjoys the great outdoors with his family and his personal hobbies of camping, fishing, water sports and photography.

For Jason Allen, the University of Utah and the School of Biological Sciences was not only the portal for his early initiation into science and medicine, but it turbo-charged his career through early experiences in research, or as he puts it, “at the bench,” not only in the lab but in life.

 

by David Pace

Steve Mimnaugh, BS’73

Steve Mimnaugh and Jay Johnson

Most people get to live one life. So far, Steve Mimnaugh has lived at least three.

"I was always the new kid on the block," he says. From Seattle to Spokane, Washington, and from Wallace, Idaho where his father worked as a mining engineer, to Kearns, Utah, to survive Mimnaugh tacked through life as an extrovert, ending up in student government. His extroversion served him well as this biology alumnus advanced into a spirited life as an emergency physician, member of a rock-and-roll band and co-founder of the innovative and celebrated 'SPLORE (Special Populations Learning Outdoor Recreation and Education), a nonprofit founded in 1978 and dedicated to getting folks with disabilities out into white water rafting and other outdoor sports.

Diverse interests, especially as a young person, can make it difficult to get one’s footing. Such was the case for Mimnaugh, at least at the University of Utah where he moved into research during his undergraduate years, started a PhD, and haltingly applied to medical school three alternating years before being admitted to the U’s. There he was also elected class president. The deviations in his academic career seem to have had more to do with his personality rather than any kind of deficiency. In short, this self-described "granola cruncher" has been in a high evolutionary state his entire life, seemingly barreling through whole epochs in record, breathless time.

On the Green RiIver, Desolation Canyon

Being a biologist, evolution tracks well with Mimnaugh's start-and-stop, somewhat circuitous path. His impetus has always been the need to adapt to a changing environment whether it be particularly onerous (sometimes bizarre) medical emergencies in critical care, securing an audience for the fledgling band The Disgusting Brothers, or raising funds to execute outdoor recreation geared toward those with disabilities. Sometimes all three lives would overlap if not converge, but his time at the School of Biological Sciences was always propulsive with associations that included future Nobel Prize laureate Mario Capecchi who was on Mimnaugh’s graduate committee and especially mammalogist and anatomist Stephen Durrant who hired Mimnaugh as a Teaching Assistant. Even so, he says, “I was not driven by [the idea of] nebulous [research] problems to work on.” Neither did he groove on all the isolation of the lab while working endlessly, it seemed, on thin-layer chromatography, mammalian cell cultures, transmembrane ion transport, and THC as an anticonvulsant. Medical school was the answer.

His experiences as an ER physician, most recently at St. Mark's Hospital in Salt Lake City, was perfect for a restless soul who needed variety. It was also a deeply humbling experience, faced as he was regularly with society's most vulnerable populations and some of the, potentially, most humiliating circumstances a person might find themselves in at four o’clock in the morning. “I was no one's doctor, but everyone's doctor,” he says. This included physician to patients with complications of acute alcohol intoxication or to someone suffering from sequestration of rectal foreign bodies. “I got a reputation,” he said, for handling emergencies that required discretion and empathy as much as medical expertise. He also developed a reputation for a bedside manner that had a way of grounding each patient having a traumatic experience back into the collective story that is both familiar and deeply human.

Steve Mimnaugh, 1970s, While in medical school. Other founding members of the band include two other UofU alumni: Curt Crowther, BS'72, MBA'81 and Sam Falsone, BS'74.

While coy about comparing ER work with what soldiers go through in war, he admits to suffering from a kind of PTSD that he’s had to deal with after 35 years. “I never go to sleep without having bad dreams,” he says. Writing about his experiences, now that he’s retired, has helped, and based on a cursory reading of excerpts from his nonfiction manuscript subtitled “Behind the ER Curtain,” the arc and tone of his recounting is both hilarious and touching, deeply informed by science, especially the way evolution plays out in culture and our everyday perceptions of ourselves and of each other. It’s a narrative that promises to do for the reader what Dr. Mimnaugh has regularly done for a broad spectrum of “everyman” patient: it’s okay; we’re all in this together.

It is no surprise that Mimnaugh has a counterweight—more than one, actually—to the intensity of his professional career wearing a stethoscope. As an avid river-runner in the 1970s, he was approached by recreational therapist Martha Ham who explained that there was to date no codified way of getting people with disabilities like cerebral palsy, or spinal cord-injured clients who can't walk, swim, thermoregulate, or apply their own sunscreen safely down a river so that they could enjoy one of the greatest assets of living in Utah: the out-of-doors. Together they founded ‘SPLORE, which, he says, would not have been possible but for the work and love of thousands of volunteers who seemed to benefit as much from what was often a peak experience for them as 'SPLORE's clients. Both Mimnaugh’s life as a musician in an irreverent but beloved Disgusting Brothers Band and his charitable work are symbiotic. The Band whose sound has the passion of an acoustic campfire concert on a whitewater river trip—electrified and amplified--regularly plays its 60/70s favorites for fundraisers, benefiting organizations like Utah’s Hogle Zoo, the AIDS Foundation as well as, back in the day, ‘SPLORE.

The group proceeded to acquire coveted commercial permits on Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest land, as well as for sections of the Colorado and Green Rivers, permits that continue to be the backbone to the services still provided. “It was such an amazing thing,” he recalls referring to his clients with disabilities, “the excitement, awe and wonder… the laughs. They’re out there in the big wide world, not just group homes.” After forty years, eventually bringing 5,000 constituents per year into the wilderness, ‘SPLORE merged with the National Ability Center located in Park City but not before Governor Scott Matheson awarded Mimnaugh and his disgusting brothers who had joined the cause the Governor’s Golden Key Award.

Retirement for Mimnaugh seems to be wearing well for him. He recently married his long-time partner, Jay Johnson, an oncology certified nurse at Huntsman Cancer Institute. And his reading list these days ranges from Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments to the poetry of Mary Karr; and from Rituals for Finding Meaning by Sasha Sagan, daughter of the late science celeb Carl Sagan, to the cultural critique of Dave Rubin’s controversial Don't Burn This Book: Thinking for Yourself in an Age of Unreason. Then there’s Jared Diamond’s trans-disciplinary non-fiction Guns, Germs & Steel followed by his Collapse and Upheaval. “The universe is 13.8 billion years old,” this Disgusting Brother on the bass and rhythm guitar (as well as vocals) muses, referencing Diamond: “We're here, and in a blink of the eye we're gone."

But this much is certain, he concludes. “We’re good at celebrating stuff.” Perhaps that’s the embedded engine in Steve Mimnaugh for living multiple lives. You need more than one life to celebrate all of it.

by David Pace & Mathew Crawley

George Elliott, PhD’81

"Always be open to unforeseen possibilities and opportunities; never be afraid to fail, and learn from your failures," says George Elliott (PhD'81). "Don’t get bogged down in a very narrow line of pursuit—the broader your knowledge is the more creative and successful a problem-solver you will be." That's great advice to U Biology students today. And it seems to have been the advice Elliott himself followed back in the day when he was at the U, following his sojourn at University of California, San Diego where he earned his bachelor's.

“My graduate career began in 1973,” says Elliott who with his wife Lissa resides in Virginia. “I was one of only two students accepted into the molecular/cellular/genetics part of the Biology Department that had been newly constructed by K. Gordon Lark. Gordon had hired a dozen or more new professors, mostly young and engaged in a potpourri of cutting edge, exciting research.”

Elliott retired from the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) in 2016 following an auspicious career as, first, a patent examiner, manager and Group Director of the Tech Center responsible for biotechnology and pharmaceutical patent examination, and finally as Deputy Chief Policy Officer for Operations in the Office of Policy and International Affairs.

Stationed in Virginia, Elliott coordinated operations of approximately 45 attorneys and 55 admin and program staff responsible for advising U.S. Government on Intellectual Property matters and representing the U.S. government in IP-related international organizations and negotiations around the world. The Office of the Administrator for Policy and International Affairs at USPTO assists the Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in advising the President, through the Secretary of Commerce, and Federal agencies on domestic and international IP issues as well as on United States treaty obligations.

Elliott’s experience at the University of Utah was formative across the board. While at the U, he chose to work with Marty Rechsteiner, now Distinguished Professor Emeritus in Biochemistry, who was continually coming up with new ways to look at intracellular small and large molecule metabolism. “The lessons I learned working with Marty and in my interactions with [SBS faculty] Toto Olivera, Mario Capecchi, Dana Carroll, Bill Gray and others, stayed with me for the rest of my career, whether in research or at the Patent and Trademark Office.”

With respect to COVID-19, Elliott is reassuring to students who are faced with what seems an unprecedented time during their academic careers. "It will pass, eventually, but everybody should take it seriously," he remarks. "The idea that younger people are somehow in less danger is being proven less and less true all the time. And nobody should think it is only about protecting themselves—it’s all about creating situations where the virus is spread. But students should know that—they just need to act on their knowledge."

George Elliott is more than grateful for his own experience at the U. He is also one of several alumni who have established a mechanism of estate giving to benefit the School of Biological Sciences. When asked why he has made a gift of this kind, he says, “The education I received while getting my PhD from U Biology was instrumental in providing us with a very enjoyable life together, and we feel it is very important to ensure that the programs that we benefited from can continue to the benefit of those who follow.”

by David Pace

About Planned Giving:

Some planned gifts may yield certain federal tax advantages and can even give you an income throughout your lifetime. The College of Science’s Crimson Legacy Society is designed to recognize those who have made a deep commitment to the future of the School of Biological Sciences through cash or planned gifts at the $50,000 level or above.

Members will be recognized on the Crimson Legacy donor wall and in the College's annual Discover publication. They will also receive special tokens of appreciation in recognition of their support.

Jim Kaschmitter, BS’72

Armed with optimism and a degree in physics, Jim Kaschmitter BS’72, showed up for his first day on the job at Anaconda Copper’s Research Facility in Salt Lake City only to be told by his supervisor to go home because Chile had just nationalized its copper mines. Undeterred, Kaschmitter found a job with OmniLift Corporation, a Salt Lake City startup that was developing a new type of conveyor system in the Mechanical Engineering Department at the U. While working at the U, Kaschmitter bought one of the first Hewlett Packard HP25 calculators and became fascinated by computers. This fascination has led to a long and successful career in Silicon Valley.

Silicon Valley Beckons
In 1976, Kaschmitter earned a master’s degree in electrical engineering from Stanford University while working for Professor Robert Byer (the William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Applied Physics at Stanford’s Applied Physics Department), helping to build laser spectroscopy equipment. He began a Ph.D. program in Applied Physics but dropped out to take a job at Stanford Telecommunications. Inc. (STI) in Mountain View, Calif. STI was founded by the late James Spilker, Jr., who hired Kaschmitter as an early employee. Spilker was one of the inventors of GPS. While at STI, Kaschmitter designed and built a Viterbi convolutional codec (with an encoder and decoder) for satellite communications.

From there Kaschmitter turned his attention to microprocessors, which were then rapidly advancing in Silicon Valley. He co-developed an automated wafer dicing saw using an Imsai 8080 he and his partner purchased from the first Byte Shop in Mountain View, Calif. Interestingly, this shop had the first Apple computer for sale at the time—an unpackaged PCB with a keyboard. After several interim electronics design jobs, Kaschmitter was recruited to Elxsi Corporation, a San Jose startup founded by ex-Digital Equipment Corporation engineers, where he designed the disk subsystem and worked on the IEEE floating point processor and high-speed bus. He became interested in integrated circuit packaging, which led him to apply for a position at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL)

At LLNL, Kaschmitter undertook several projects, including laser pantography for integrated circuit packaging, image processing, and redundant computing for orbital satellites, solar electric aircraft, and energy storage. In 1987, he co-founded nChip Corporation to commercialize hybrid wafer-scale integration; this technology was later sold to Flextronics. In 1989, Kaschmitter assumed responsibility for developing a low-cost power system for President Reagan’s Star Wars satellite system, but he was frustrated by the expensive, heavy batteries then used in satellites, so he began to investigate lithium-ion, or Li-ion batteries, which were still in the research and development phase. He co-founded PolyStor Corporation in 1993, with a grant from President Clinton’s Technology Reinvestment Project program, and his company subsequently established the first commercial Li-ion manufacturing facility in the U.S. In 1997, he spun off PowerStor Corporation from PolyStor to commercialize a carbon aerogel supercapacitor he’d co-invented at LLNL. PowerStor was subsequently acquired by Cooper Bussmann, Inc., which manufactures 1-2 million supercapacitors per month.

Today, Kaschmitter is CEO of SpectraPower (which he founded in 2002) in Livermore, Calif in order to apply PolyStor’s high-energy Nickel-Cobalt technology for high-altitude electric drones. Initially, the market wasn’t yet ready for the technology, so Kaschmitter subsequently founded UltraCell Corporation to work on reformed methanol micro-fuel cell technology. UltraCell’s fuel cells are deployed today with the U.S. military. In the meantime, Kaschmitter has continued with SpectraPower and now focuses his efforts there on supporting users and developers of Li-based battery technologies.

Memories of the U
“The U is a great school with strong technical departments and academics, especially in the area of physics. The department always had an international outlook but with a supportive small-school atmosphere,” said Kaschmitter. “The students and professors were friendly, approachable, and focused on science. Physics has truly provided the foundation for my career.” He also appreciated the advice provided by Professor Orest Symko, whose insights helped Kaschmitter set personal goals and priorities.

During his undergraduate years, one of his favorite jobs was running the undergraduate Physics Lab, where he maintained and explained basic physics experiments to students. “There have been some stressful times later in my career when I’ve wished I could have that job back!” quipped Kaschmitter.

His advice for undergraduate students is twofold: set career goals and be prepared to work hard to achieve them. As Edison famously said, “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.”

“I’d also encourage students to stay “fact-based” in whatever profession they choose,” said Kaschmitter. “Don’t let the zeitgeist or trendy popular ideas control your technical thinking. Weigh different opinions, but trust in facts and data. Learn to separate hype from reality.”

Like many of us, Kaschmitter is facing uncertainties during the pandemic but believes the quarantine can provide us with opportunities for independent work. For example, Sir Isaac Newton invented calculus, optics, etc., while he was quarantined in the English countryside during the Great Plague. “We probably can’t all do that, but I’ve found the quarantine allows me to get a lot of work done without the usual day-to-day distractions,” said Kaschmitter.

When he isn’t working, he makes time for his other love—flying. He has a long-time interest in aviation and first did a solo flight at age 16 at the Salt Lake International Airport. “My instructor was Bill Edde, and I sometimes flew with his older brother, who was a former WWI Spad fighter pilot. Later in my career, while at LLNL, I developed lightweight wing-mounted solar panels for the Pathfinder and Helios solar electric aircraft, which AeroVironment subsequently used to set altitude records,” said Kaschmitter. He currently owns, maintains, and flies an experimental Velocity XL-RG: N568Y.

In summing up his career, Kaschmitter notes his favorite adage: “If you love your work, you’ll never work a day in your life,” and that’s certainly how I feel about my career." He admits physics is not the easiest path academically, but studying it gives students a fundamental understanding of science and technology that will give them an edge over the competition. “I’ve dealt with many venture capitalists in Silicon Valley and worldwide throughout my career,” he said. “Having a technical background is a real asset—the ones without it are at a disadvantage in today’s technology-reliant world.”

 

Carol Blair, BA’64

 

Carol Blair (BA’64) is a testament to not only the value of providing research opportunities for undergraduates, but also the transformative experience of working directly with graduate students in the lab.

After she had changed her major from chemistry to the brand new (at the time) field of microbiology, she says, “I was given the opportunity to work as a lab assistant with John Stanton and Joel Dalrymple. (My duties were to capture snakes in the freshwater marshes east of Great Salt Lake, care for and conduct experiments with the snakes in the lab, prepare primary chick embryo cell cultures, assay infectious virus, etc.) John and Joel taught me so much and they enjoyed their work so much, and I enjoyed working with them so much, that I decided I wanted to pursue the academic life for the rest of my career.”

Together they worked with Professor Doug Hill, an expert on arboviruses, who made their research truly meaningful.

Blair, a Salt Lake City native, was an honorary Merit Scholar and was awarded the Principal’s Scholarship as top in her high school class. “The University of Utah was clearly the best for pursuing a degree in science,” following high school, she reports. After graduating with an honors program bachelor’s degree, magna cum laude, in 1964, she moved to Berkeley to enroll in the inaugural doctorate program of the Department of Molecular Biology at the University of California.

From Berkeley she traveled to Ireland to become a postdoctoral researcher at Trinity College, Dublin University, where she was promoted to Lecturer in the Department of Microbiology.

Eleven years after leaving Utah, she returned to the West to study arthropod-borne viruses at Colorado State University in 1975 and has evolved with this area of research ever since. In Colorado State, she served in advancing faculty and administrative positions including Department Head. Today, she is Professor Emerita in the Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Pathology.

Blair has many fond memories of the U: organic chemistry classes with the late Dr. James Sugihara; as a member of the Spurs honorary, ushering at Utah football games (even in the snow) and  at basketball games with Bill "the Hill" McGill, the two-time All-American and top NBA pick credited with creating the jump hook.

“But my research and social activities with John and Joel have to be my favorites,” she says. “I still give a lecture to freshman microbiology students at CSU every fall semester … and the most important advice I give them is: get involved in research in your area of interest, even if you don't plan to pursue a career in research. It will help you understand how to evaluate information and evidence you receive from many sources and expand your learning beyond books and the classroom.

Carol Blair's 1964 honors thesis housed in the University's library holdings

During these days of COVID-19, Blair, not surprisingly, sees things as a virologist. “I like to think I understand what we need to do and why we need to do it to get ahead of this pandemic.” She says she misses the personal, professor-student interactions that have always been the norm. “I won't say we told you so,” she remarks, referring to the professional sector she represents, “but moving forward, our government must be better prepared to recognize this type of infectious disease threat as early as possible and implement all available measures (and we have many) to control it.”

Carol and her husband Patrick Brennan, a Distinguished Professor at CSU, love the outdoors “and all its inhabitants (Carol learned this growing up in rural Utah).” In their retirement, they enjoy hiking and snowshoeing in the local mountains, as well as those in Utah where Blair’s career as a microbiologist and virologist first found fertile soil.

 

 
by David Pace
 

Emily Bates, BS’97

It just so happened that the day that the University of Colorado closed down its labs, including Dr. Emily Bates’, she was in labor giving birth to her second child. “I was having conversations with my students about what we needed to do from the hospital bed,” she says. “My husband could not join me for the birth of our son. Our daughter couldn’t meet her brother at the hospital. As soon as it looked like our son and I were healthy, we were sent home.”

Needless to say, the research in Bates’ lab where she is an Associate Professor in the Department of Pediatrics, (Developmental Biology) at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, slowed considerably. “We have not had the opportunity to bring new undergraduate and high school interns into the lab this summer like we usually do, but we have continued to work with one high school student and one undergraduate doing some data analysis from home this summer.”  The lab currently hosts four graduate students as part of the team, but only two people are allowed in the lab at a time.”

At the University of Utah the ACCESS program was key to her success, providing her a cohort of women who were friends and study partners. Established in 1991, ACCESS, a College of Science program now in its 30th year, provides freshmen and transfer students, from a variety of backgrounds, with a scholarship and a supportive path into STEM degrees and careers. For Bates, the program encouraged, she says, “role models to normalize being a woman in science.”

While a scholarship and the rigorous undergraduate research program were main factors in her selection of the School of Biological Sciences, she recalls how fortunate she was to get the right research mentor.  That mentor was Dr. Anthea Letsou in Human Genetics on the University Health campus. “I learned how to test a hypothesis from her, how to use flies to learn about developmental signaling, and how to read a scientific paper.” Perhaps equal to the actual science, Bates learned how to present her research to others. Letsou, she says, “had more confidence in my potential as a scientist than anyone I had met. It was because of her encouragement that I applied to top tier graduate schools.” The whole experience—of the research mentor coupled with ACCESS—gave her confidence and “really jump started my career.”

Photo credit Andrew Silverman

It takes a combination of targeted programs, mentoring and true grit on the part of every student to succeed as Bates did at U Biology. Along the way, she ran cross country for the U her freshman year before turning to marathons (She’s run 18 of them, including as a US representative in Kenya.) Bates credits the unique environment at the U which converged for her, facilitating her graduation in 1997 with a BS and her acceptance to Harvard University for graduate school where she earned her PhD. Returning to Utah, she taught at Brigham Young University for four years before accepting her current position at Colorado.

That was, of course, before COVID-19 reared its head and certainly changed the vector of how she is pursuing her career in pediatrics. She advises students to find a research opportunity with a good mentor and “stick with it,” even during the pandemic. There are skills that can be acquired “at home,” she continues, “that would be useful in labs as soon as they open. For example, learning to critically read a scientific paper, or write programs (in Matlab, R, or Python) to interpret data would be useful in a lot of labs right now.”

In the meantime, she and her family are settling in on the other side of the Rockies from Salt Lake City until a “new normal” makes its appearance. “Luckily,” she says of that singular time in the hospital virtually alone and delivering a child, “my mom had flown in before everything shut down, so she could help us for the first couple of weeks. But other family members have not felt safe flying to visit and meet the newest addition.

“Personally, that has been the hardest part of this pandemic.”

      You can read about the history of the ACCESS program here

 
by David Pace
 

Arie Sitthichai Mobley, BS’00

When Arie Sitthichai Mobley (BS'2000) began teaching at a small liberal arts university in a department for undergraduate neuroscience, she says there were many books on stem cells, but they were either too broadly or narrowly focused, or too advanced for an undergraduate course. The lack of an appropriate textbook motivated her to write her own aimed at undergraduate neuroscience students. Her experiences in the lab and classroom coalesced in a clear vision of what undergraduates needed to learn about stem cells and neurogenesis as well as the level of information required. The book is designed to help students appreciate the potential, and understand the limitations of stem cells, while providing a basic knowledge of stem cell physiology.

Science Direct, in a review of the book, reported that "this early graduate level reference describes [neural stem cells'] physiology and potential for medicine and provides students with fundamental stem cell information. An overview of stem cell sources in the human body and a brief mention of relevant diseases provide context for the value of this knowledge."

Mobley earned her diploma from South Sevier High School in Monroe, Utah in 1991 and, after graduating with a bachelor's from the School of Biological Sciences, continued at the University of Utah, earning a PhD in neuroscience. Her dissertation was on olfactory sensory neurons of the squid, Lolligungula brevis. (The squid were shipped to her in large bags of water from Galveston, Texas.) Following her graduate work at the U, Mobley did her post doctorate at Yale University where she first developed an interest in adult neurogenesis in disease states. From there she became an assistant professor at Western New England University (WNEU) in Springfield, Massachusetts.

Text book authored by Bio Alumna Arie S. MobleyAfter teaching for four years, she moved to Bar Harbor, Maine, where she is currently associate study director at the independent, nonprofit biomedical research The Jackson Laboratory. The Lab is dedicated to contributing to a future of better health care based on the unique genetic makeup of each individual. Mobley's work is focused on understanding and investigating age-related olfaction deterioration that often precedes neurodegenerative disease.

Her research has been published in journals such as the Journal of Neuroscience, Journal of Comparative Neurology, Trends in Neuroscience, Neurobiology, Aging and PNAS. Dr. Mobley has received several grants including the Ruth Kirstein National Research Service Award (NRSA) at the graduate level under Dr. Mary T. Lucero and at the postdoctoral level under Dr. Charles Greer. She went on to obtain an NIH Small Grant Program (R03) award that was instrumental in beginning her independent research program at WNEU.

"In my position as a Study Director I interface directly with customers to assess customer needs and ensure accurate capture of project specifications in order to develop detailed project plans," Mobley writes on The Jackson Lab's website. "I ensure that plans are successfully tracked and seamlessly executed by ensuring that staff understand and are compliant with all policies and procedures to ensure the most efficient operation, and provide customers with the highest quality scientific service.

"I am uniquely positioned to develop and execute strategic innovation and improvement initiatives, with the objectives to increase capacity, expand product offerings, improve service quality and improve customer experience. I participate in research validation data analysis and support implementation of new techniques and processes."

With her husband Michael, the Mobleys have one daughter.

 

 
by David Pace