Andy Thliveris: Remember the Undergrads

Andy Thliveris: 'Remember the Undergrads'


In December 2022, Andrew Thliveris BS’83 made a special trip to Salt Lake City with his wife Lauren. They joined the School of Biological Sciences in a belated (due to the pandemic) remembrance of K. Gordon Lark who had passed away more than two-and-a-half years earlier in April 2020.

Vice Chair and Ophthalmology Residency Training Program Director at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, Thliveris, until his retirement in September, was also Chief of Ophthalmology at the W.S. Middleton VA and holds the rank of Professor at the School of Medicine in Madison. At the event “Andy” remembered that as an undergraduate he worked in the Lark lab for five years and that Lark had a profound impact on him. “He changed my life,” reported Thliveris whose main message to the faculty and friends who had gathered was “Remember the undergraduate students.”

Thliveris also surprised many by announcing that through his affiliation with the Carl Berg Foundation he had arranged to fully fund the Lark Endowed Chair with a check for $430,000. The Lark fund was established in 2017, followed in July 2022 with a campaign to “re-boot.” The ambition was to achieve the level of endowed professorship through an anonymous, matching donation of $250,000. But with Thliveris’ brokered gift—added to many others from generous individual donors—the K. Gordon Lark Endowment was elevated to the more prestigious level of endowed chair.

'Get this guy under control'

K. Gordon Lark. Credit: Ben Okun

With his characteristic humor, Thliveris was eager to recall his time in Lark’s lab.  He confessed to being that “pesky nerdy undergrad, high-maintenance, known to call Gordon at 11 pm on several occasions, [until] finally, Gordon, then speaking to his post-doc Paul Keim, [said], ‘You’ve got to get this guy under control because I have no idea what the hell I told him last night.’”

Lark wasn’t the only one who mentored, managed and otherwise inspired that “pesky” undergrad. Addressing Nobel laureate and Lark colleague Mario Capecchi who was at the event as well, Thliveris remembered how “you spent many hours with me in your office when you taught biochemistry. I was always in there.” He also recalled Baldomero “Toto” Olivera and his amazing cone snails which would later prove critical in the advance of alternatives to opioid pain relievers, as well as the late Naomi Franklin who helped bring sequencing to Lark’s lab and its occupants.

Regarding Martin “Marty” Rechsteiner, now in the U’s  Spencer Fox Eccles School of Medicine, Thliveris recounted his professor “who on the first day of his class of trembling undergrads told us that if we memorized every word out of this mouth then we might just pass his class.”

Clearly, Thiliveris’ sojourn at the U as an undergraduate where he majored in biology and geology & geophysics, and later attended the U’s medical school where he earned his MD, prepared him well. Following his ophthalmology residency at Wisconsin in 1998, he was a postdoctoral research fellow as a launch to his auspicious 28-year career. After joining the faculty in 2000, he took on the position of Veterans Affairs Hospital service chief and later, in 2014, vice chair of resident education and residency director  — roles he held until his retirement and during which time he trained countless physicians, including many of the department’s own faculty.

'Ball of energy'

At the announcement of his retirement, Thilveris said, “Our residents are beyond amazing, and the dedication from the faculty to our program has made short work for our education team. We have a very proud tradition here and are poised to continue for generations to come.” In hearing the news, many in Wisconsin responded with memories of his meticulous teaching, patience, wisdom, and, of course, his delightful sense of humor.

“I am beyond grateful to Andy for his role in my own training and in my recruitment back to UW-Madison,” said Evan Warner, MD. “His kindness, openness, and genuine concern for each and every colleague, trainee, and staff member has been foundational to our department culture, and it is such a privilege to be a part of it. As residency program director, he has been a ball of energy with so many ideas and such passion for seeking feedback and making things better for the residents.”

Phaco Course Directors Andrew Thliveris, MD, PhD, Sarah Nehls, MD, and Daniel Knoch, MD. (Photo © Andy Manis)

Thliveris will also be remembered for his work as director of the department’s cataract extraction phacoemulsification course. In this three-year progressive course, medical and veterinary ophthalmology residents, UW and visiting medical students, and pre-residency fellows from around the country learn the latest cataract surgical techniques. Daniel Knoch, MD who will assume the role of veterans affairs service chief following Thliveris' retirement recalled how “There are dozens of residents, numerous faculty, and thousands of patients that Andy has helped through his after-hours videos, toolbox approach to surgical teaching, probing questions, and high standards.” Anna Momont, MD who has assumed the role of ophthalmology residency training program director acknowledged that because of Thliveris’ “unwavering dedication to our residents and their training,” is leaving the department nationally recognized and a “highly sought-after residency program.”

'Full steam ahead'

To recognize Thliveris’ lasting legacy, the department dedicated its new Surgical Skills Training Facility in his honor. The new space, which expands the department’s training capacity by providing 10 training pods, each outfitted with state-of-the art equipment, will be instrumental in training the next generation of eyecare specialists. “While the decision to retire was a very emotional one,” says Thliveris, it comforts me greatly to know that I am leaving things in such capable hands. Full steam ahead.”

Whatever Gordon Lark said during those 11 pm phone calls to Andrew Thliveris must have been spectacular. And now with the K. Gordon Lark Endowed Chair poised to announce its first recipient soon, the undergraduate has made sure the legacy of founder of the School of Biological Sciences will continue.

By David Pace

Read more about Dr. Thliveris' retirement at UW-Madison website from which some of this article and photos were taken.

Sandra J. Bromley Scholarship


Sandra J. Bromley Scholarship

Providing a Role Model for New Generations

Ray Greer. Banner Photo above: Dannon Allred, Ray Greer and his wife Jill, Michaela Fluck, Keegan Benfield, Eliza Roberts. Credit: Matt Crawley

The Sandra J. Bromley scholarship is a full-tuition scholarship for undergraduate students in the College of Science. It provides in-state tuition, up to 15 credit hours per semester, for eight semesters which allows each recipient to complete their degree. The program, now celebrating its 10-year anniversary, is funded by the generosity of Ray Greer, BS’86, in Mathematics.

Each year, a freshman student is selected as a new Bromley scholar, and rolls into the program, while a senior student graduates. This unique model provides continuous funding to the students and allows the College of Science to assist and monitor the students as they progress through their academic program.

“The Bromley scholarship is extremely valuable because it can serve a student throughout their entire undergraduate career,” says Peter Trapa, dean of the College of Science. “The cumulative effect for the student is truly profound. Each year we see the incredible results.”

In addition, Greer and his wife, Jill, host the Bromley scholars at least once a year on campus. The informal luncheon allows the students to report on their progress and discuss any problems or concerns.

“I have had the pleasure of meeting and getting acquainted with the undergraduates as they progress through their academic goals, and it is always a pleasure to see their progression and academic interest flourish over time. In all I have done throughout my life, this has been one of the greatest and most rewarding experiences I have had the opportunity to be a part of,” says Greer.

Role Model

When Greer was just 12 years old, his mother, Sandra J. Bromley, moved her young family from Texas to Utah. The year was 1976. Bromley was promptly hired at the University of Utah and enjoyed a successful career as a technical illustrator in the College of Mines and Earth Sciences under the direction of Frank H. Brown.

“My mother was the single greatest influence in my life,” says Greer. “She taught me the value of hard work and perseverance. She also insisted that college was not optional. It was like going from junior high to high school — you just did it!”

Greer enrolled at the U for fall semester 1981 and was initially interested in computer science and engineering. However, computer science was highly competitive at the time so available classes were scarce.

“Fortunately, Hugo Rossi, a math professor, convinced me that if I majored in mathematics I could get as much course work in computer science as I wanted,” says Greer.

For several years Greer worked through the rigorous mathematics major requirements. He persevered and completed his math degree in 1986.

Then, in 2000, Greer’s mother moved back to Texas for the remaining years of her life. She passed away in 2011. Shortly thereafter, Greer established the Sandra J. Bromley scholarship to honor his mother by providing a way for deserving students to earn a college degree.

“She worked hard to provide for her family, but her greatest regret in life was not attending college herself, hence the vision behind the Bromley scholarship,” says Greer.

“Her requirement was that she would support me as long as I didn’t quit school,” says Greer.  “That is why the Bromley scholarship requires continuous attendance.”

Solving Problems

Greer has more than 40 years of experience in logistics and transportation industries. He has held senior management positions for Greatwide Logistics Services, Newgistics, Ryder Logistics and FedEx. He served as president of BNSF Logistics, headquartered near Dallas, Texas, from 2011 to 2018.

“Math allows me to think critically about situations and problems generally. Not just numerically but logically, to find patterns and trends that point to likely outcomes,” he says.

In 2018, Greer was named CEO of Omnitracs, a leading company in onboard technology for the transportation industry. Omnitracs is an international billion-dollar company that provides telematic devices and logistics to support drivers and their organizations to be compliant, safe and efficient.

“Math is universal and most importantly it teaches you discipline and persistence to work a problem until it is solved. That process of critical thinking and problem-solving has served me well throughout my entire career,” says Greer.

In 2021, Greer sold Omnitracs and transitioned to advisory board work as well as becoming an operating partner for Welsh, Carson, Anderson and Stowe, focused on supply chain technology investments.

Ray Greer has high hopes and expectations for today’s college students. His advice: “Connecting with people — not apps and cell phones — will differentiate you from the competition.”

The Bromley Scholars

Eliza Robert

“I love the entire vibe of the university”

Eliza Roberts is the most recent recipient of the Bromley scholarship. A freshman at the U, she is pursuing a degree in applied math and physics, with an emphasis in astronomy and astrophysics. Being awarded this scholarship has made Roberts’ experience at the U even more valuable. “It has truly allowed me to focus more on my classes, and even take classes that I wouldn’t have taken otherwise,” she says. “With the scholarship, I don’t have to worry about the financial aspects of college like I was fully intending to, which means that I can explore my passions and dedicate my time to learning.”

In addition to her hard work as a student, Roberts works as a math tutor in the TRIO office at the U. One of her proudest accomplishments is receiving her Girl Scout Gold award, for which she focused on creating a safe backyard space for adults with disabilities. 

Roberts lives in Salt Lake City and makes the most of her time at the U participating in LEAP classes, a year-long learning community for entering University students, and even discovering top-secret study and nap spots on campus. “I love the entire vibe of the university,” she says. “I feel safe, valued, and free. I have been able to explore myself more than I have in years, and it has helped me figure out who I want to be.”

~Julia St. Andre

Dannon Allred
“Space is simply beautiful”

Dannon Allred was awarded the Bromley Scholarship in 2021 and just completed his sophomore year at the U. A passionate learner, he is studying physics with an astronomy emphasis. “Ever since I’ve been interested in science, I’ve felt a pull towards physics and astronomy,” he says. “There’s just a lot in astronomy that spikes my curiosity, there’s a lot that’s unknown, and [outer] space is simply beautiful.”

The Bromley scholarship has given Allred the opportunity to experience college without any financial worries and has allowed him to focus more of his energy on his passion for astrophysics. “Obviously one of the most daunting things about college is paying for it, and that’s a lot of stress that most students have to deal with,” he says. “I would say that’s what’s most impactful about the Bromely scholarship because it allows me to go through college stress-free in that aspect.” 

On top of his astrophysics studies, Allred has been involved in several research projects on campus. “In my freshman year, I was part of Dr. Boehme’s … lab as part of the Science Research Initiative doing research on Organic Light-Emitting Diodes (OLEDs) using spintronics,” explains Allred. “This spring, I did an introductory research project analyzing the spectral emission features of the Sombrero Galaxy with Dr. Anil Seth” who specializes in astrophysics. 

Allred’s hope is to complete a graduate degree in the field as well. Not surprisingly, when he’s not busy studying stars and galaxies far, far away, he loves astrophotography, admiring the universe through the lens of his camera.   ~ Julia St. Andre

Michaela Fluck
“Proceeding Into the Wilderness”

Michaela Fluck works in the Zelikowsky Lab, which researches neural circuits that affect stress, fear, and social behavior. “I’ve always been interested in neurobiology, since I was a kid,” she states. “I’ve had family members who’ve had strokes and other brain injuries.”

A biology major with a psychology minor, Fluck says the study of abnormal psychology is also a passion of hers. “Seeing what can go wrong with the brain and what’s behind [it] …  is super interesting as well.”

Fluck was inspired to become a doctor by her patients at Primary Children’s Hospital, where she works as a phlebotomist. “I want to become an advocate for patients,” she says, “and help people work through the difficulties of medicine. Kids tend to hate procedures no matter what, so helping them work through the procedures is honestly one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done.”

Her favorite class was organic chemistry. “Not a lot of pre-meds can say that,” she jokes. Fluck also loved taking an acting class at the U which relieved the stress of being a STEM student and harked back to her time as an actress in high school, especially her appearance in the the late Stephen Sondheim’s epic musical saga about daring to venture Into the Woods~ CJ Siebeneck

Keegan Benfield
Who knew I could do that?”

As a Bromley Scholar, Keegan Benfield BS’23, was able to spend more time on scientific passions, such as research and projects. “The Bromley Scholarship and the U have helped shape me to be the best that I can be.” 

Along with his double majors in mechanical engineering and physics, Benfield focuses his time on humanitarian efforts, volunteering with Youthlinc and Real life programs. He’s the president of the university’s marksmen club, and has attended National Collegiate events at the National and Junior level.

Prior to graduation, Benfield worked in the Deemyad Lab, researching condensed matter physics. The Lab focuses on theoretical physics, especially the physics of matter at extreme conditions of temperature and pressure.

One of Benfield’s favorite classes was Introduction to Relativity and Quantum Mechanics. “It was an ‘ah-ha!’ class that was challenging and fun,” Benfield says. “I have learned and expanded my knowledge in ways that amaze me. Who knew I could do that?”

Benfield recently completed a summer internship at Cosm and developed educational programs for planetariums using Digistar 7, which features full-dome programs and production services, giant screen films formatted for full-dome theaters, premium-quality projection domes, and theater design services. He plans on getting a master’s or PhD and work in a national laboratory or research company.   ~ CJ Seibeneck


View a LIst of all Bromley Scholars (as of June 2023) and brief updates on their whereabouts

Founders Day Distinguished Alumni

Distinguished AlumnI Awards

The University of Utah Office of Alumni Relations annually presents its Founders Day Distinguished Alumnus/Alumna Awards to alumni for their outstanding professional achievements, public service, and/or commitment to the U.

This year, all four recipients of the award, given out March 1, stemmed from the College of Science. A fifth individual, was presented as an “honorary alum” who has contributed significantly to the advancement of the U.

Musician trapped in scientist’s body

Clifton Sanders PhD’90, arrived in Salt Lake City from Baltimore via University of Michigan in 1977. During his appearance as the featured speaker at the Hugo Rossi Lecture Series March 15, he detailed what it was like to be one of very few Black residents in Utah. Even so, his experience in the Department of Chemistry was generally a positive experience. Today, he is the Provost for Academic Affairs and Chief Academic Officer of Salt Lake Community College, overseeing the education of more than 61,000 students annually.

A saxophonist like his father, Sanders has been called “a musician trapped in a scientist’s body.” “I look at playing music almost as a research program, just like a scientist would,” Sanders says. “There are little experiments you do and in the craft you figure out … how to make it work.” For the past five years, Sanders has volunteered as a mentor for the U’s African American Doctoral Scholars Initiative, providing a scholarly community and educational services to prepare Black Ph.D. students at the U for academic, industry, and entrepreneurial careers through mentoring, advising, and professional development. Recently, he’s back with his sax, appearing locally with the George Brown Quintet known for its unpretentious, “killin’ straight ahead” jazz.

Army 'Brat'-turned neurosurgeon

“Utah is now complimented for its ‘connectedness’” says J. Charles Rich BS’62 MD’65  “—a culture where so many have known each other for so many reasons over so many years. The University of Utah plays a central role in providing that valuable resource.” Rich served as president of both the American Association of Neurological Surgeons and American Academy of Neurological Surgeons and was vice chairman of the American Board of Neurological Surgery. 

He was also a neurosurgical delegate to the American Medical Association House of Delegates and was chief medical officer of the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Olympic Games before joining the Utah Sports Commission Board of Directors. Rich was president of the Spencer Fox Eccles School of Medicine’s Alumni Association for eight years, a member of the U Alumni Board of Directors for three years, a neurosurgical consultant to the University of Utah Athletics Department, and a member of the Crimson Club Board of Directors. 

A self-identified “army brat” growing up during WWII, Rich, a biology graduate who went on to medical school at the U, also served with his family as a foster family for basketball student-athletes and contributed to athletic scholarships for many years. 

Moving Mountains

Anke Friedrich BS’90 MS’93 is an endowed professor of geology at the Ludwig-Maximilians-University of Munich where she established a Master's degree program in geology, led international student field trips involving U students, and set up student exchange programs with several international institutions, including the U. "I benefited enormously from the vibrant and collegial environment at the University of Utah,” she says, “both as a student-athlete and a geology major. Therefore, I am very grateful to my former ski coaches, faculty mentors, and fellow students for their tremendous support and friendship over the years."

An adjunct professor at the U's Department of Geology & Geophysics, Friedrich received the department’s Distinguished Alumni Award in 2019. She played a crucial role in establishing one of the world's first continuously operating space-geodetic networks which served to monitor the tectonic activity around Yucca Mountain, the then-proposed nuclear waste repository site. 

Friedrich volunteered for the Salt Lake Olympic Games in 2002 before moving to Potsdam and helping to establish the first research group in Active Tectonics at a geological institute in Germany. As a student, she was a member of the U’s alpine ski team, earning All-American honors by winning three individual NCAA championships in giant slalom and slalom.

Catalyst for education and growth

James S. Hinckley BS’71 MS’77 is chairman of the Hinckley Institute of Politics Board of Directors and Investment Committee, positions he has held since 1990. Both he and his wife Lyn Hinckley (BS’73), a former elementary school teacher and, currently, a community advocate for the McCluskey Center for Violence Prevention, received the award. 

Graduating with his bachelor’s at the U in biology, Jim joined the family business early on selling cars. He was a member of the Chrysler Corporation West Region Dealer Council 1982 through 1990 and the Chrysler Corp. National Truck Advisory Board from 1988 through 1992. He was president of the Utah Automobile Dealers Association from 1988 through 1989 and was inducted into the Utah Automobile Hall of Fame in 2013. 

An alumnus of what is now the College of Science’s School of Biological Sciences, Jim is a sustaining member of the U’s National Advisory Council and has been a member of the National History Museum of Utah’s Board of Advisors since 2018. “I love learning and sharing my enthusiasm for knowledge by creating opportunities for education and growth,” he says. “My involvement in both academic and community-facing organizations at the U has allowed me to engage with and support students of all ages throughout their educational journeys.”

Flashing the 'U'

Legendary Utah fan John Bircumshaw popularized the “Flash the U” gesture. His passion for the University of Utah Gymnastics program has led him to become a staple in the Utah gymnastics world; he travels with the team, provides a community for the gymnasts’ parents, and is the person that out-of-town parents can depend on to help their daughters. John was hired by Utah Power in 1973 as a meter reader. He apprenticed and became a journeyman lineman before becoming director of apprentice training from 1996 through 2015.  John received the Spirit of Excellence Award from the company for his involvement in building the Olympic Rings for the 2002 Olympic Games, where he served as venue captain at the figure skating and short track speed skating venue. John also served as a Park City volunteer firefighter, a member of the Volunteer Ski Patrol at the Park City Ski Resort, and volunteer director of the resort’s Saturday Patrol.

“The University of Utah provides a high-quality education for all of the Student Athletes who have the opportunity to attend school and participate in sports,” says Bircumshaw who was presented an honorary distinguished alumni award during the Founders Day celebration.


Are you an alumni of the newly-merged College of Science | College of Mines & Earth Sciences? We want to hear from you. Contact or Development Team at to share your story.

Stephen Nesbitt

Stephen Nesbitt

Stephen Nesbitt

“Some of the most fundamental and complex research problems in climate and weather centers on our poor understanding of basic properties of clouds and and our inability to determine quantitatively the many effects cloud and precipitation processes have on weather and climate.”

Recipient of the 2022-23 Distinguished Alumni from ATMOS, Nesbitt leads a research group that makes stunning observations of the troposphere. These include the remote sensing of precipitation using radar and passive microwave sensors as well modeling of cloud dynamics and microphysics, land-atmosphere interaction, as well as data science and high-performance computation.

The uncertainty is complicated by global warming. “In the future,” he says, “my goal is to continue to contribute important advances in this area as the complex challenges that involve flows of water and energy through the earth system.”

Ed Zipser

A native of the snow belt, Nesbitt first took an interest in the weather as a nine-year-old when he would slide off the roof of his parents’ house into massive snow drifts. Transfixed by the Weather Channel he called the local NWS bureau on his own and asked for a tour. They complied. Many years later, mentored by Ed Zipser at Texas A&M, Nesbitt followed him to Utah when the storied observational meteorologist accepted a position at the U. Nesbitt earned his own PhD in 2003.

“You get goosebumps,” Nesbitt says about his current work at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign where he is the associate head and director of graduate studies. “When you go out and plan an experiment about the things that already excite you and collect data with these amazing instruments to quantify how these things work, I sometimes pinch myself: how do I get paid to do this?”

This kind of research has come a long way since the ‘90s. Nesbitt recalls the five to six hours it took to read one summary report off of magnetic tapes from NASA’s first satellite-derived data. “We had no idea what we’d see,” he says. No longer were they only seeing pictures but vertical x-rays inside of clouds. Of course, twenty of those tapes he and his team painstakingly read back in the day could now be stored on an iPhone. Even so, “it was a real breakthrough,” Nesbitt says of satellite technology.

NASA also funded major field campaigns to validate what data researchers were studying from satellites. A U2 spy plane was converted into research aircraft and piloted at seventy thousand feet to probe through storms, collecting visual and hands-on experiences as corroboration. Technology has not only assisted Nesbitt in collecting data, but analyzing it through sophisticated artificial intelligence models to predict impacts from large data sets with large uncertainties.

In Cordoba, Argentina the uncertainties of storms have real-life consequences–just as they do in Buffalo, where last December, lake-effect snow and wind combined in an unusually catastrophic combination. Nesbitt and collaborators were funded $20 million to stage the largest land-based field campaign effort ever conducted outside of the U.S. in the atmospheric sciences. They set up observation sites and dispatched radar trucks (that decades ago inspired the movie “Twister”) on the eastern foothills of the Andes where thunderstorms develop rapidly, some of them twenty-one kilometers tall with an updraft chimney fifty kilometers wide. The confluence of data from multiple dimensions allows for greater predictability of future weather events even with the chaotic nature of convective storms. The impact of global warming on precipitation processes remains a critical research area, and Nesbitt’s work is at the center of that.

In Cordoba, Argentina with the C-band doppler on wheels.

Nesbitt’s time in Utah was complemented by the 2002 Winter Olympics. “It was a really exciting time,” he says, remembering the weather observing ATMOS did for the games as well as the invitation to see the dress rehearsal of the opening ceremonies. And then there was the lake-effect snow stemming from the Great Salt Lake though not quite as extreme as Buffalo’s. He learned to ski and found faculty members’ passion for Utah’s winter sports and the “interesting weather” along the Wasatch Front infectious. He also married a local.

Of late, Nesbitt has trained his sights on the representation of ice clouds, which produce the majority of earth’s precipitation, yet are the most difficult to simulate and observe due to their complex microphysical nature.

Steve Nesbitt’s arrival in Salt Lake earlier this year to accept his award was a homecoming in multiple ways. He got to experience again the campus and its setting which first “sold” him on attending the U. It validated the work he’s been engrossed in ever since he slid off the roof into those Buffalo snow drifts. It was also a reunion of many fellow atmospheric scientists.

Story by David Pace. Images by Mitch Dobrowner for The NYT.



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Clifton Sanders

Distinguished Alumnus

Clifton Gregory Sanders

The University of Utah Department of Chemistry alum Clifton Sanders will receive one of the Founders Day Distinguished Alumnus/Alumna Award on March 1, 2023.

The University of Utah, Office of Alumni Relations, annually presents its Founders Day Distinguished Alumnus/Alumna Awards to alums for their outstanding professional achievements, public service, and/or commitment to the U. Read more about the 2023 Founders Day Awardees.

After completing his Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry at the U in the Department of Chemistry in 1990, Dr. Sanders worked as a researcher and senior scientist for several Utah biomedical technology companies and co-authored several publications, presentations, technical reports, and patents. He began his career at Salt Lake Community College as a faculty member, then as Chair of the Division of Natural Sciences, as Dean of the School of Science, Mathematics, and Engineering, and finally as Provost for Academic Affairs and Chief Academic Officer of Salt Lake Community College, overseeing the education of more than 61,000 students annually.

Dr. Sanders has applied his skills in innovation and research to improve the academic and economic landscapes of Utah. As the state continues to grow and diversify, Dr. Sanders led the development of several STEM programs and provided leadership for several local and national initiatives in STEM education and workforce development. With his leadership, Dr. Sanders played a key role in Salt Lake Community College becoming a Top 10 College nationally for total associate degrees awarded. He has been committed to the quality of student learning and assuring that faculty, administrators, and staff are deeply focused on the issue of degree completion. The programs of success that he and his faculty have implemented encompass and benefit Utah’s increasingly ethnically and socially diverse student population, as they leverage the value of culturally-enriched learning environments.

Dr. Sanders in 2015

Through his leadership role at SLCC and as a volunteer, Dr. Sanders has contributed to the success of the University of Utah. The greatest benefit to the U from Dr. Sanders’ leadership has been the thousands of successful students who started their higher education at SLCC and then transferred to the University of Utah to complete their bachelor’s degrees. Dr. Sanders has also been a leader of the Utah NASA Rocky Mountain Space Grant Consortium, which contributes to the development and diversity of NASA’s future workforce through internships, fellowships, and scholarship awards at the colleges and universities in the Utah System of Higher Education. He played a key role in the funding of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute funding of a joint project between SLCC and the University of Utah’s Center for Science and Mathematics Education. For the past 5 years, Dr. Sanders has volunteered as a mentor for the University of Utah African American Doctoral Scholars Initiative, providing a scholarly community and educational services to prepare African American Ph.D. students at the University of Utah for academic, industry, and entrepreneurial careers through mentoring, advising, and professional development.

Dr. Sanders has received multiple awards for his teaching and his distinguished service to the community over the past three decades. He was awarded the 1995-96 Salt Lake Community College Distinguished Faculty Lecturer Award for Community Outreach and Science Education, and he received a Teaching Excellence Award in 1997 from the Salt Lake Community College Foundation; Salt Lake Community College recently named one of its libraries in his honor, the Dr. Clifton G. Sanders Racial Justice and Black Liberation Library, located at their South City Campus. In 2010, Dr. Sanders was recognized by the Utah Academy of Arts, Sciences and Letters for Distinguished Service to the Community, and in 2017, by the University of Utah, Department of Chemistry as a Chemistry Distinguished Alumnus in 2017.

Hugo Rossi Lecture Series

Clifton Sanders is the speaker for the next Hugo Rossi Lecture Series. The lecture series is designed to bridge the College of Science and College of Education by attracting speakers whose scholarly pursuits include K-16 math/science education research.

Please join us for the March 15 lecture. Click here for more info and registration.

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Jamie Rankin

Jamie Rankin

Ed Stone, 1986

The Voyager spacecraft captured the public imagination in the 1970s and ’80s as Earth’s first ambassadors to the outer planets.

Early career Princeton astrophysicist Jamie Rankin, BS'11 Physics and BA'11 Music Composition, is now playing a leading role on the Voyager team that continues to track the aging probes, each more than 10 billion miles from Earth.

In many ways, the Voyager twins are time capsules of their era. They both carry an eight-track tape player for recording data, they have 3 million times less memory than modern cellphones, and they transmit data about 40,000 times slower than a 5G internet connection. They both have a Golden Record: a message from humanity to the cosmos with greetings in 55 languages, pictures of people and places on Earth, and music ranging from Beethoven to Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode.”

In recent decades, the missions have made few headlines, but the little spacecraft have continued voyaging outward under the leadership of Project Scientist - Ed Stone. Despite their now-archaic memory and transmission systems, the Voyagers remain on the cutting edge of space exploration as the only instruments to ever travel through interstellar space.

Linda Spilker

After Stone’s recent retirement, Linda Spilker, who has been involved with Voyager since 1977, stepped into Stone’s shoes, and Rankin was selected to be the Voyagers’ deputy project scientist.

Only 34 years old, Rankin is one of the youngest researchers ever to hold such an elevated title.

Nicola “Nicky” Fox, director of NASA’s Heliophysics Division, oversees all solar and heliosphere missions for NASA and participated in selecting Rankin as Voyager’s second-ever deputy project scientist.

“Jamie is an absolute rock star,” Fox said. “I think it’s really important that when you see somebody who’s got that much talent, that can do really amazing things, that you give them opportunities.”

Nicky Fox

“Voyager is an amazing mission, and I’m so grateful for this opportunity,” said Rankin, who is an associate research scientist at Princeton and an instructor of the space physics laboratory class. “I am only here because I had so many professors and mentors who believed in me; I never expected to make it to a place like Princeton.

I can’t overstate the importance of mentorship. I love teaching students, and giving them opportunities with NASA space flight instrumentation, because I’m so thankful for the opportunities I’ve been given.”

Rankin was Ed Stone’s last graduate student at Caltech. He had sworn some 25 years before that he wouldn’t take any more grad students, but Rankin lobbied him relentlessly until he took her on.

“I did the first thesis on Voyager’s data from interstellar space,” Rankin said. “I arrived at Caltech six days after Voyager 1 reached interstellar space, so I got to see that whole history unfold. I entered in thinking about Voyager completely from the interstellar perspective, which was very different than anybody else on the Voyager team, most of whom have been with the mission since the beginning.”

Ed Stone, 2019

Voyager’s next generation

“When I walked into the Voyager team room, my first day as a graduate student, I noticed there was at least a three-decade age difference between me and the youngest person in the room,” Rankin said. “And when I started as a graduate student, there was a 50-year age difference between me and Ed. We skipped a generation there."

"But what’s really neat about it is that for future space missions, if people want to send an instrument very far away, they absolutely have to have a multi-generational team. With the Voyagers, they just didn’t know; no one anticipated the mission surviving this long.”

Two years after their 1977 launch, the twin probes flew by Jupiter, beginning the planetary encounters for which Voyager is best known. Both spacecraft visited Jupiter and Saturn, then Voyager 1 headed out of the solar system while the slightly slower Voyager 2 headed on to Uranus and Neptune.

All the planetary encounters were over within 10 years, and on Jan. 1, 1990, the Voyager Interstellar Mission officially began — even though the Voyagers wouldn’t technically be in interstellar space until they exited the heliosphere, the bubble of space around our sun.

Jamie Rankin, 2020

Two quiet decades after leaving behind the outer planets, Voyager 1 crossed the heliopause in August 2012. Its slower twin crossed that boundary six years later, in November 2018.

Mapping the edge of the solar system

“This is just an incredible time to be studying the outer heliosphere,” said NASA’s Fox. “For the first time, we have a lot of assets focused on the outer heliosphere.”

Fox cited the IBEX mission, headed by McComas, which has spent years imaging the outer edge of the solar system; New Horizons, which has long passed Pluto and is closing in on the termination shock; IMAP, also headed by McComas, which will map the heliosphere in detail; and of course the Voyagers, the only spacecraft ever to venture so far away from our sun.

“The science still coming from the Voyagers is amazing — and underappreciated,” said Rankin. “Everything — everything — that we’ve measured in space gets filtered through the solar wind — through the sun and its plasma and magnetic fields. And everything measured from Earth-based telescopes is also filtered through our atmosphere.

The Voyager spacecraft

“The very first time that we could measure space directly, without being disturbed by the sun, was when Voyager crossed into the interstellar medium.”

One thing Voyager measured was the level of incoming radiation, which was almost 10 times higher outside the heliosphere than inside the bubble. That radiation could pose a deadly threat to astronauts, but the Voyagers showed that the sun, via the solar wind and heliosphere, is filtering out as much as 90% of the interstellar radiation.

“The solar wind is actually protecting us,” Rankin said. “Before the Voyagers got out here, nobody knew quite how much we were being shielded.”

The Voyagers also discovered that the sun interacts with its boundary differently than scientists had expected. “When two magnetized plasmas meet, it’s like north-north magnets — they can’t ever mix,” Rankin explained. “So the solar plasma, the solar wind, can’t mingle with the interstellar plasma. But there are also neutral particles out there that aren’t electrified, so they don’t care, they just pass straight through the heliospheric boundaries, unaware. Eventually those do have an influence on our solar environment, and our environment can have an influence on them.” Although the Voyagers are not equipped to measure these neutral particles directly, other missions, like IBEX and New Horizons have provided complementary insights about the nature of these unique interactions throughout the heliosphere.

When IMAP launches in 2025, it will map out that elusive boundary zone in great detail, providing a comprehensive picture to complement the deep but geographically limited data that the two Voyagers have collected.

What does a project scientist — or her deputy — do?

NASA’s enormous array of spacecraft missions generally fall into two categories: Smaller missions that are run by a single principal investigator (nearly always shortened to PI), and larger missions that have PIs for each of their instruments. David McComas, for example, in addition to being Princeton’s vice president for the Princeton Plasma Physics Lab and a professor of astrophysical sciences, is the PI for many missions and instruments, including both the IBEX and IMAP missions and the ISʘIS instrument suite on the Parker Solar Probe.

David McComas

The large missions have a project scientist (and sometimes a deputy) to coordinate the mission’s many-fold research endeavors, to make sure the different instrument PIs don’t become too siloed in their thinking, and to provide leadership.

“Currently on Voyager, what that looks like is making some tough calls,” said Rankin. “These are aging spacecraft, and we want to keep the mission running as long as possible. But they’re in completely new territory, both geographically and in the sense that these are the first spacecraft that have been operating for this long. They just celebrated their 45th launch anniversaries. So how they age, and how long can they keep going — that is all critical to prioritize the science that is left.”

The Voyagers are powered by plutonium-238, which has a half-life of 88 years. “That seemed like forever when they launched, but now we’re more than halfway through that half-life, and there’s not much base power to operate the spacecraft,” Rankin said. “The Voyager teams already shut down some of the instruments — they turned off the cameras with the end of the planetary mission — and I saw Ed lead the Voyager team to a consensus decision to start turning off the heaters to the remaining instruments. Nobody knew if the instruments could operate without the heaters, but the choice was either turn off more instruments, turn off the heaters, or lose the spacecraft. What do you do?”

Fortunately, the instruments have continued to generate and transmit data as the heaters have been shut down, one by one.

The aging spacecraft also have nowhere near the transmission power needed to send a clear signal across the billions of miles back to Earth, which means that Earth-based telescopes have had to work harder and harder to detect their faint signals.

“Ed once described it to me as a blinking refrigerator light bulb in space,” said Rankin. “That’s the kind of signal strength we’re talking about. So we have to have heroic efforts on the ground to communicate with them. If the advancements on Earth hadn’t happened — including building 70-meter dishes for the Deep Space Network — we wouldn’t have been able to keep communicating with the Voyagers as they got further and further away.”

Voyager’s continuing mission, to boldly go where no spacecraft have gone before — and look back

Voyager 1 is now billions of miles outside the heliopause, as far from that boundary as Neptune is from Earth, and speeding onward at about a million miles a day.

And it’s still making remarkable discoveries, said Rankin. “Even at that distance, it still sees effects from the sun. When solar flares or coronal mass ejections erupt from the sun, they travel through the solar system, and it turns out they can pile up and merge into giant events that actually reach all the way to the heliopause and then shove against that boundary — and then that sends ripples into interstellar space. And Voyager can see it.”

The Voyagers’ distance also gives them a completely different perspective on Earth and the sun. “Voyager allows us, for the first time, to look at our own star and our own planetary system from the outside,” Rankin said. “For decades, we’ve looked at other stars from the outside, and gathered remote data, but all that we knew about our own star was ‘from the inside,’ so to speak. So, what do we look like from the outside? The only way to know is to have a spacecraft out there — or, better yet, two spacecraft at different locations.”

by Liz Fuller-Wright, first published @ Princeton


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Stephanie VanBeuge

Stephanie VanBeuge

Lockdowns are something that Stephanie VanBeuge BS’17 knows something about–even before the pandemic.

It was in her third year of graduate school at the University of Oregon when VanBeuge was first diagnosed with brain cancer–on the first day of the school year. She returned to Utah to receive treatment at Huntsman Cancer Institute and was able to return to school almost like nothing ever happened.

Stephanie VanBeuge

“When the pandemic started, I had just finished radiation treatment for my brain cancer. For about four months before lockdown started in March 2020, I was on my own lockdown of sorts recovering from brain surgery and enduring radiation."


Adjusting to the isolation of the early days of the pandemic was easy enough, she admits, “but starting to work from home and then going back into the lab later that year was really difficult, in part because my brain just wasn’t working like it used to. It’s hard for me to gauge how hard the pandemic specifically has been because as I’ve adjusted to the pandemic I’ve also recovered from brain cancer and, as my brain has continued to heal, I’ve had an easier time navigating our ‘new normal.'”

The U, VanBeuge says, gave her a lot of confidence in exploring new topics. “I chose to rotate in labs that were different from the kind of research I had done before. I was able to learn a lot about myself and my interests as a scientist and make an informed decision on my degree.” That was a good thing, because in Oregon students rotate through three labs during their first year and then pick one of those labs in which to work on their PhD. VanBeuge chose Karen Guillemin’s lab where she studied host-microbiome relationships.

Now with her doctorate, VanBeuge, who is originally from Tacoma, WA but grew up in Las Vegas, is looking to start a career in the biotechnology industry. “I was interested in the evolutionarily conserved aspects of this relationship and focused on gut epithelial proliferation in response to colonization by the microbiota.” During her research she found that the multiplication or reproduction of epithelial cells which in the expansion of a cell population (epithelial proliferation) wasn’t a response to a specific bacterial species. Instead, “it’s an innate immune system mediated response to barrier damage.”

Along the way VanBeuge has been active in the University of Oregon Women in Graduate Sciences (UOWGS) - organization where she served as outreach chair for AY 2019-2020. Her research culminated in two papers that she co-authored, “Proteolytic Degradation and Inflammation Play Critical Roles in Polypoidal Choroidal Vasculopathy” in The American Journal of Pathology and “Secreted Aeromonas GlcNAc binding protein GbpA stimulates epithelial cell proliferation in the zebrafish intestine” in bioRxiv. A third paper has also been submitted.

Reporting on her research is just one writing outlet for Stephanie VanBeuge. She’s determined to produce a memoir of what it was like as a young scientist, battling brain cancer in the middle of her education. She has a first draft and plans on completing it soon. The story “is primarily a story about resilience. It’s about facing your fears and uncertainty head on and not letting them stop you from showing up and fighting back. I hope people who read this book are empowered to show up and face their own challenges head on.”

By David Pace, originally published at of

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Nick Borys

Nick Borys

"I just wanted a more interesting job."

Nick Borys, who received his Ph.D. in Physics from the U, is now Assistant Professor of Physics at Montana State University (MSU) in Bozeman, Montana. He has had an interesting journey from receiving an undergraduate degree in mathematics and computer science at the Colorado School of Mines to leading an experimental condensed matter physics and materials science research group at MSU. The Borys Lab researches materials that consist of two-dimensional sheets of atoms and their potential applications in quantum technologies that use the quantum properties of light for sensing, secure communication, and computing.

Images from the Borys Lab

In the lab, Borys and his team perform investigations by studying how new material systems interact with light on very small length scales, very fast time scales, and ultra-cold temperatures. In addition to his research group, he co-led the team that established the MonArk NSF Quantum Foundry at MSU. Borys is presently a co-associate director of MonArk and runs its day-to-day operations at the university. MonArk is a multi-institute, multi-state team focused on developing and researching 2-D materials for quantum technologies as well as innovating new technologies to accelerate the pace of research on 2-D materials. Borys is also the instructor for an upper-division quantum mechanics course in the Department of Physics at MSU.

He was raised in the Rocky Mountain Front Range in Colorado and considers Longmont and the surrounding rural farming area his original home, because that’s where he attended middle school and high school.

Throughout his later school years, he developed a strong interest in computer-based technologies. He taught himself several programming languages, became proficient in many different operating systems, and of course, learned how to build his own systems. While studying at the Colorado School of Mines, he was certain that he wanted to be a software engineer and computer scientist, and he received a bachelor of science degree in 2004.


Nick Borys

“By my junior year, I was moonlighting as a full-time software engineer in the evenings while pursuing my undergraduate degree in the daytime. Looking back, I’m not sure how I managed both.”


Pivotal Experiences
During his undergraduate education, two pivotal experiences ultimately directed his interest to physics. He was working on a construction team, remodeling office space for a local software company. While installing rubber molding one day, the CEO of the company stopped by, and he and Borys began talking about computers and software. The CEO was delighted that Borys had taught himself programming languages, and he hired him on the spot as a part-time software engineer. Over a year, the part-time job transitioned to full-time, and the first company was purchased by another.

“By my junior year, I was moonlighting as a full-time software engineer in the evenings while pursuing my undergraduate degree in the daytime,” said Borys. “Looking back, I’m not sure how I managed both.” By the spring of 2004, he graduated with an undergraduate degree and three years of professional software engineering experience. He had a sense of what a software engineering career would be like, and he looked forward to pursuing the next steps in his career at a larger company.

But fate intervened when he took several courses in the Department of Physics just before graduation. Thanks to inspired teachers, he fell head-over-heels in love with quantum mechanics. “Unfortunately, it was too late to change my major, and I had to settle for just taking a few additional physics classes that allowed me to deepen my passion,” he said.

After graduation, he accepted a new position at Boeing to develop software for the military, but realized within six months that he missed thinking about physics. One day while talking with a colleague who was working on an interesting problem, Borys asked how he could get involved with such projects, and the colleague he told him to get a Ph.D., preferably in computer science or physics. At that point, Borys decided to attend graduate school and pursue a Ph.D. in physics.

The U and Favorite Professors
He wanted to study at the University of Utah first and foremost because of the program and the research. “I knew that I wanted to perform experimental work, and I remember being excited by the research efforts of Professor Jordan Gerton and Distinguished Professor Valy Vardeny,” he said. In addition to the research program, he was also enamored with Salt Lake City and the Wasatch mountains. Growing up in Colorado, he had a love for mountaineering and had just started rock climbing.  So, the University of Utah and Salt Lake City were an excellent fit.

He has fond memories of his classes with Professor Oleg Starykh, Professor Mikhail Raikh, Distinguished Professor Alexei Efros, Professor Eugene Mishchenko, and Werner Gellerman, Adjunct Professor of Ophthalmology & Visual Science. He also loved his conversations with Christoph Boehme, Professor and Chair of the Department of Physics & Astronomy, as well as Jordan Gerton. “All of these professors are excellent physicists, and my interactions with them motivated me to want to be their colleagues one day,” he said. “But undoubtedly, Professor John Lupton, my Ph.D. advisor, made the strongest impact on me and, on a near-daily basis, demonstrated how fun and exciting research could be. Without experiencing John’s passion, excitement, creativity, and professionalism, I am not sure I would have continued on the academic track. Working with him was inspiring and very formative for my excitement for scientific research in academia.”

Post-Graduate Career
After Borys obtained his Ph.D., he continued working in the same lab under the direction of Lupton, who had just moved to the University of Regensburg and offered Borys a postdoc position in his group as the rest of the graduate students finished their degrees. Lupton gave him significant latitude to work independently and help colleagues finish their projects. “The autonomy and independence of this period were great experiences for me, and by working with John and his vibrant team of students and postdocs, I continued to develop a strong passion for academic-style research,” said Borys.

As things wound down at the U, he began looking at national labs for his next position and landed a non-permanent scientist position at the Molecular Foundry at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab. At the Molecular Foundry, he honed the skills he had developed at the U in optical spectroscopy of nanoscale systems and took the opportunity to learn several new experimental and fabrication techniques in the field of nano-optics. The experience deepened his love for academic-style research and gave him a great opportunity to develop a talent for mentoring younger colleagues and graduate students. After five years at the Molecular Foundry, he moved to MSU.

Value of U Education
Borys says the U gave him countless opportunities to develop his passion for physics into a career. The vibrant community of professors, especially his advisor, demonstrated how fun and engaging high-end science can be. “It was not my intention to become a professor when I entered graduate school,” said Borys. “I just wanted a more interesting job. But after seeing the interactions among the professors in the Department of Physics & Astronomy at the U and the type of problems they were working on, I was hooked on the prospect of working in physics full-time at the professor level. They inspired me to pursue an academic career that allowed me to perform the same type of very creative and innovative research.”

Beyond his career, the friendships he developed with peers and colleagues during his graduate studies at the U are among his most cherished and valued relationships to this day.

Advice for students
“It is impossible that I did everything right, but I wouldn’t make major changes if I could do things over again,” he said. “All-in-all, I feel very fortunate to be a professor in a field that I love and in a geographic area that allows me access to my passion for the outdoors.”

If he could go back in time to his younger self, he would tell himself not to be afraid of changing directions in life and that hard work pays off. “Stay disciplined. Stay committed. Be sure to have fun. Enjoy the people with whom you work and all of their unique personalities and diverse backgrounds. Take a bit more time off for climbing trips and vacations with friends,” he said.

In his spare time, he gets outdoors as much as possible, especially enjoying rock climbing and skiing.


By Michelle Swaner, originally published at

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John Deere DNA

Payton Utzman

Many people wouldn’t see a direct line between working on John Deere tractors in rural Washington State and working on a DNA repair enzyme that functions to prevent cancer in humans.

But that’s the unlikely trajectory of Payton Utzman BS’22 who after graduating from the School of Biological Sciences headed off to join Nabla Bio at a 15,000-square-foot state-of-the-art wet laboratory and co-working space for high-potential biotech and life science ventures at Harvard University.

“We are a small team of nine scientists,” says Utzman, “working to synthesize therapeutic antibodies that are designed by artificial intelligence. It has been an amazing experience so far learning so many new skills and applying my undergraduate research experience in such a useful way.”


Payton Utzman BS'22

"The elegant and candid relationship between the structure of a protein and its corresponding function resembled my understanding of how metal parts assembled into an engine can produce incredible amounts of power."


Granted, it wasn’t a just a bounce from the spring seat of a John Deere tractor in Pullman, WA to Boston. But Utzman’s mechanically-oriented mind found a formidably gratifying corollary in biochemistry and structural biology in the Horvath lab. “I spent my childhood weekends helping my father and grandfather maintain various tractors and machinery. By the time I graduated high school, I was a self-taught mechanic, having restored an old pickup and rebuilding the engine through the guidance of a manual,” he remembers. “When I was exposed to the microscopic world of proteins, I was amazed by the enzymatic function of these biological machines. The elegant and candid relationship between the structure of a protein and its corresponding function resembled my understanding of how metal parts assembled into an engine can produce incredible amounts of power. I was then intrigued to learn more about the world of proteins and motivated to join Dr. Horvath’s research team in learning a protein mechanistically functions to repair DNA.”

In addition to making discoveries in DNA repair, the Horvath Lab, headed up by principal investigator and SBS Associate Professor Martin Horvath, applies structural methods and biochemistry to make discoveries in Chronic Neuropathic Pain that may lead to the use of non-opioid drugs. For the DNA repair project the lab studies the atomic resolution structure of MutY, [a human gene that encodes a DNA glycosylase], to understand how this enzyme recognizes and removes Adenine in OG:A base pairs.”

Says Utzman, “to better understand the mechanism of MutY, we are interested in learning about the evolution of this enzyme over millions of years. This led us to studying MutY enzymes from microbes at The Lost City Hydrothermal Field, a site similar to conditions in which life may have been conceived on Earth.” Samples from the Lost City have been collected by another SBS professor William “Billy” Brazelton, a unique partnership with marine biology and the unique mineral structures at the bottom of the Mid-Atlantic.

From these samples containing MutY-encoding genes, Utzman and his colleagues were excited to locate microbes that survive off of energy created from a geochemical reaction involving rocks and water, one of the discoveries that would lead to a better understanding of the nature of cancer.

“One of the most valuable assets of the University of Utah is the large amount of cutting-edge research occurring on campus,” says Utzman of his four years in Utah and his seven semesters as a teaching assistant. “I am so thankful for the research opportunities given to me by the U which have paved the way for me to actually have an impact on treating disease and impacting lives.”

Video on Payton Utzman’s 2020 research - “A Structural Analysis of the LC MutY Metagenome”.

Since exchanging leather work gloves in rural America for the rubber-gloved hands of the science researcher, Utzman has learned how to think critically and solve difficult problems. “I am passionate about getting kids interested in science and showing the amazing problems we can solve by blending scientific disciplines with creativity.”

Pursuant to that interest, Utzman worked together with other dedicated STEM students at the U to found the student-led STEM Tutoring program at the U to provide free tutoring to high school students in the greater Salt Lake City area. Not surprisingly, Utzman believes that the future of medicine is molecular. And while his professional ambition is to continue studying the function of proteins to one day help develop therapeutics to treat disease, he is also driven to outreach–-both in elevating the uninitiated to the scientific method (and critical thinking) and in science communication for the public.

The U graduate is quick to reference Dr. Anthony Fauci, the physician-scientist and immunologist serving as the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the Chief Medical Advisor to the President. During the past three years the young scientist saw Fauci as the country’s undisputed spirit guide through the coronavirus pandemic. “His perseverance to help people and communicate scientific truth is inspiring,” says Utzman who finds the short-statured but brilliant (and reportedly fit) octogenarian as his “hero.”

For Utzman, the greatest advice he can give up-and-coming scientists at the U and elsewhere, is to learn how to learn. “The pandemic was a difficult time for all of us, and it was devastating that the virus affected so many lives. I think one of the biggest take-aways from the pandemic was the importance of scientific research and clear communication with the public. My advice for other students would be to learn how to read and to understand research publications.”

Embedded now in the next chapter of his life, Utzman has secured an excellent foundation. The Beta Theta Pi was a two-time Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) Scholar, an SBS Research Scholar in 2021 and recipient of the Continuing Student School Scholarship in 2020. Additionally, he was lead author of a paper published in the University of Utah Undergraduate Research Journal.

Though far from the farm fields outside Pullman, Washington, the grease monkey in Utzman apparently is forever. He says that despite long days at the bench studying that “elegant and candid relationship between the structure of a protein structure and its corresponding function” he can still become absorbed by those other metal parts, the ones in trucks and motorcycles that coalesce so intricately–those other machines that can kick out a lot of power, but on the level of a combustion engine.

And this just in from Beantown: Payton Utzman is working on yet another engine–training for the Boston Marathon.

At age 81, Dr. Fauci–known to “kill it” on the treadmill at the gym–would be proud.

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Alex Horn

Major Alex Horn

Dr. Horn graduated from the School of Biological Sciences in August 2021. He was a member of Professor Dave Carrier’s Evolutionary Biomechanics Lab. His dissertation, which he defended last year, was titled: “The Social Dependency Hypothesis: An Evolutionary Perspective on Health and Longevity.”

USAF, C-17 Globemaster

I joined the Air Force as an 18-year-old cadet. I came to the U as part of a program that would allow me to later return to the Air Force Academy to teach.

In my doctoral studies, I wanted to understand the relationships between our evolved propensity to form intense fraternal bonds in the face of stress and our abilities to maintain health and performance amidst difficult circumstances.

I was home when I saw the first few hours of the evacuation of Afghanistan on the news. My only thought was that I needed to get over there as fast as possible to help. I was one of the last of eight C-17 crews to deploy from Travis Air Force Base, California.

After landing in Qatar, we were immediately alerted to fly a floor-load of refugees to Germany. It was a seven-hour flight, and the aircraft was full of Afghan evacuees, including many children. I was amazed at their patience and positive attitudes despite the horrible circumstances. A few days later, my crew and I evacuated some of the last military personnel from Kabul, Afghanistan, on the final day of Operation Allies Refuge.

Operation Allies Refuge

It was a seven-hour flight, and the aircraft was full of Afghan evacuees, including many children.


My studies helped me contextualize the experience. The famed “fight or flight” stress response is good for running away from predators in the jungle but not helpful for keeping your crew safe in combat. My research shows there’s another stress response that helps us bond and maintain our composure during extreme stress and threat; this response has yet to be fully characterized.

This operation included some of the most challenging missions of my career, and I couldn’t have done it without the bond with my team. I am humbled to have participated in the largest noncombatant evacuation in history and excited to further that experience by applying my lessons learned to science.


By Alex Horn, originally published at of

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