David T. Chuljian

Describing himself as one of the world’s few “quantum dentists,” David T. Chuljian, PhD’84 in Chemistry, has an unusual perspective on dental decay rates, and particle-hole interactions.

Chuljian grew up in Port Townsend, Washington, until age 14. His father, G. T. “Chuck” Chuljian, had settled there in 1947 and opened a dental practice near the Keystone Ferry Terminal.

“Port Townsend was a very sleepy town in the 1960s. During summer, our day would be chores in the morning, then off on our bicycles and returning for dinner after spending the day with friends,” says Chuljian.

“We owned a small beach cabin on Discovery Bay, so many of our bike rides ended there to go fishing, swimming, or beach walking. Grade school was mostly at a one-room private school, with teachers of varying quality.”

“I had a couple of good teachers in elementary school, one of which was extremely varied in his knowledge and interests and he taught us a wild mix of things for science class – how airplanes work, astronomy, ecology, you name it. Math and science were fun for me after that,” says Chuljian.

“Like many dentists, my dad hoped at least one of us would go into dentistry, and it was assumed that all five of us kids would go on to college,” says Chuljian.

“But the local high school was not very academic – kids in town expected to work at the paper mill after graduation – so my parents sent us to a church-run high school, Auburn Academy, near Tacoma.”

After high school, Chuljian enrolled in Walla Walla College, a private Adventist school in College Place, Washington. He earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry in 1978. During his senior year at Walla Walla he applied to medical school and to various graduate schools around the country.

“At the time, the chairman of our chem department, Barton Rippon, was collaborating with some folks doing bioengineering type stuff, and he encouraged me to apply at Utah,” says Chuljian.

Remarkably, Chuljian did not actually apply to the chemistry department for graduate school.

“In fact, I applied to Utah’s bioengineering program. But my application packet somehow wound up at the chemistry department, where Jack Simons saw it before forwarding it to bioengineering,” says Chuljian.

“Jack then called me and asked if I was interested in interviewing in Chemistry as well as Bioengineering, and said they’d pay for my plane ticket. This seemed like a great deal, so I wound up doing both interviews on the same trip,” says Chuljian.

“As it turned out, Jack’s theoretical chemistry work was extremely interesting, close to physics which I also enjoyed. So, in the end, I went with the chemistry department.” Jack Simons later served as Chuljian’s research advisor.

However, after two years of graduate school, Chuljian’s research wasn’t progressing as he wanted and tenure-track jobs around the country were extremely limited in number.

“I’m reasonably intelligent, but not Einstein, and I could tell I wasn’t really cut out for an academic position in theoretical chemistry,” says Chuljian.

So, in 1980, he applied to dental school at the University of Washington in Seattle and started that program in fall semester 1981.

“Since I already had more than three years towards my chemistry doctorate, I worked on both degrees in parallel, coming back to Utah during summers and Christmas vacations, and working remotely, mostly finishing up papers. Of course, this was all pre-Internet so there were some real challenges.”

“I remember most of my Utah research group: Ajit Banerjee, Deb Mukherjee, Judy Ozment, Gina Frey, Jim Jenkins, Ron Shephard, Rick Kendall, and Hugh Jenkins. I haven’t seen most of them since graduating, although in 2005 Jack had a reunion in Park City and I saw several of them there,” says Chuljian.

Chuljian took a sabbatical during his senior year in dental school to finish up and defend his doctorate thesis in December 1984, then returned to Washington and finished up his clinical requirements and dental licensing exam in August 1985.

That same year, Chuljian moved back to Port Townsend and began working with his father as an associate in the dental practice. He later purchased the office in 1987 and his father retired in 1990.

Chuljian with one of many parrots he has rescued

“It was a standard small-town practice, doing everything including orthodontics and surgery since no specialists were available nearby. When I retired in 2017, I sold the practice which represented 70 years of family-owned dentistry, the oldest business in town I think,” says Chuljian.

Chuljian stays busy with a range of activities and interests, including forestry, flying, and rescue care of birds, in particular parrots. Over the years, Chuljian has rescued and cared for two African Grays, a couple of Amazons, several conures, and three Pionus species of parrots.

Today, Chuljian still resides in Port Townsend, which is no longer a sleepy bywater but has a vibrant arts and boating community. His typical day might include several hours working in his forest tracts, irrigating newly planted trees or removing invasive species, or milling lumber for the local animal shelter’s building projects. Or it could be a 10-hour day drilling and filling at the local public health dental clinic. He enjoys mountain biking, but when he qualified for Medicare he upgraded to an eBike!



Jim Hanson

Jim Hanson

Jim Hanson’s (BS Physics ’85) path to the University of Utah and college was different from most students. When he graduated from high school, Hanson had little interest in attending college and no clear goal as to what he wanted to do with his life. He worked odd jobs until he got tired of living out of his car.

Finally, he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force and trained as a jet engine mechanic. He was stationed in New Mexico for nearly three years. Although he was doing well, he still had no real direction until he was offered an opportunity to train as a flight engineer.

Flying meant a lot of training: physiological demands, understanding performance metrics, learning aircraft systems, and attending survival schools, but once he made the decision his life changed. He was assigned to a weather reconnaissance squadron whose primary duty was to monitor compliance with the nuclear test ban treaty. These missions took his squadron to all corners of the world. His squadron was nicknamed the “Pole Vaulters” because of the many Arctic missions that took them over 90 degrees north latitude. “Military flying was exciting enough by itself and being in the company of highly educated professionals opened my mind to so many new possibilities and opportunities that I had never considered,” said Hanson.

Although Hanson loved what he was doing, he realized that a university degree would open many more doors. He had family in Salt Lake City and was a Utah resident, so the U was the logical choice for his education when he left the Air Force. “Initially, I thought I could schedule my classes early or late enough and still manage a full day of skiing, but I quickly realized that if I wanted to get through college, I had to commit to studying and forget about skiing for a while,” he said.

Experiences at the U

His experiences at the U made all the difference. “When I look back, I realize my time at the U not only changed the direction of my life professionally, it fundamentally changed the person I would become later in life,” he said. “To see the doors that education opened for me and the opportunities that resulted from it has been remarkable. I’m eternally grateful for having received not only a valuable education but also for having developed an intense desire for learning that has sustained me and enriched my life.”

One of his favorite professors was the late Dr. Lynn Higgs, a physics professor, who also served as the Physics Department advisor. Hanson isn’t sure he would have graduated without Higgs’s mentoring. He particularly enjoyed the Introduction to Modern Physics course taught by Christopher Stone, who was a graduate assistant at the time. Dr. Stone is still with the department, serving as associate professor (lecturer). Hanson remembers that Stone had a gift for teaching matched only by his enthusiasm for the subject. Another favorite was the late Dr. Fritz Luty, who taught an optics course.

Being at the U felt like a new lease on life for Hanson after experiencing some difficult years. In retrospect, Hanson believes he had to learn things the hard way. “I appreciated my college experience a lot more when I was older than if I had started at the U right out of high school,” said Hanson. “Physics wasn’t an easy major, but I was much more focused on my studies having been out in the world and having seen the value of a formal education and, especially, the limitations for not having one.”

Navy Career

Following graduation from the U in June 1985, Hanson was offered a chance to become a naval officer. He was advised that it might be a year or more before he could attend Naval Officer Candidate School (OCS) so he continued taking classes at the U and even started a master’s program in electrical engineering before leaving for OCS in June 1986. He received his naval commission in September 1986 and spent the next four years at sea. He found being a naval officer, especially a junior one, was as challenging as anything he had ever done up to that point. “Whenever we were confronted with adversity or a crisis, which was fairly often, we told ourselves that it was just another chance to excel.” said Hanson. “Funny as the expression seemed at the time, I’ve realized that often I’ve learned the most when faced with adversity or failure.” He elected to transfer to the Naval Reserve at the end of his first tour at sea, primarily so he could complete the master’s degree he had started four years earlier.

After he completed the degree in 1993, Hanson accepted a civilian engineering position with the Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) in Coronado, California. He was happy to be back in San Diego since he had spent much of his time there in the Navy. The Naval Air Station at North Island also had a great flying club, and Hanson gave countless airplane rides in the T-34B trainers to friends and co-workers. Later, he accepted a senior engineering position with the U.S. Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (now known as the Naval Information Warfare Systems Command (NAVWAR) in Japan. He had traveled to Japan many times during his military career, but actually living there was an unforgettable experience, and Japan remains one of his favorite places.

Sept. 11, 2001 and Retirement

September 11, 2001 became a defining moment for all Americans. For Hanson it meant returning to active naval service, where he served in various operational and senior staff positions, mostly overseas, for the next 13 years until he retired from the Navy after 28 years of commissioned service in 2014. During this period, Hanson received a Master of Arts degree in National Security and Strategic Studies from the United States Naval War College in Newport, R.I.

Following his retirement, Hanson returned to full-time civilian employment in San Diego. As the propulsion and power team lead for the NAVAIR, he managed a large team of engineers, technicians, and contractors tasked with supporting naval aircraft.

Life as a Navy civilian was very different than being on active duty. “At times it seemed like managing civilians was a lot like herding a bunch of feral cats; it required a whole new set of management skills,” said Hanson. “Yet, I was truly fortunate to be associated with such highly motivated and gifted individuals and still maintain contact with many of them following my retirement.” His organization actively supported STEM (Science, Technical, Engineering and Mathematics) initiatives in the local San Diego area, and mentoring the next generation of scientists and engineers was one of the more rewarding aspects of his work.

Advice for Students

Hanson recently moved from San Diego back to Utah after a 30-year absence. As much as he loves the beaches and weather in Southern California, he is a skier at heart. He’s delighted to live within 15 minutes of Snowbasin.

Hanson believes there has never been a more exciting time to be a scientist, mathematician, or engineer. “A degree in physics gave me a solid foundation for every endeavor I pursued,” he said. “It also instilled in me the ability to think critically and reason effectively in all facets of my life.”

“Everyone hears that life is a journey and it’s true,” said Hanson. “At the end, it really is the journey you’ll remember. Enjoy the ride and make the most of it, maintain a sense of humor, and try not to take anything personally. Believe in yourself and never stop learning.”

Hanson spends time skiing, climbing, and trekking in far-flung parts of the globe. He has traveled to nearly 40 foreign countries and lived in several during the course of his military or civilian duties. One of his favorite places is Norway, where his grandparents immigrated from. Except for 2020, he tries to spend a couple months in Norway each year. He reads, mostly non-fiction. “What I read is not as important as why I read,” he said. “I think my studies at the U left me with an insatiable curiosity to explore and dig deeper, regardless of the subject.”

by Michelle Swaner first published at physics.utah.edu

Bert VanderHeiden

Bert VanderHeiden

Bert VanderHeiden’s (BS Physics ’82, MS Physics ’84 and Ph.D. Physics ‘88) first passions were swimming and water polo. In fact, he won the state championship in swimming in 1975, representing Kearns High School. He was also gifted academically—he excelled in math and was interested in the one physics course that was offered at his high school. The class planted the seed for his decision to major in physics.

When it came time for college, VanderHeiden had received a number of swimming scholarships from other universities. But he wanted a university with a strong science and engineering program, and the U fit the bill perfectly. He came to the U and never looked back. He’s proud to be a U alumnus and is even more proud of his wife and daughters, who are also graduates of the university.

“As a first-generation college student and graduate, having a physics degree has been life changing,” said VanderHeiden. “The degree has opened multiple opportunities professionally and provided a foundation for a career in areas that I found interesting and rewarding. Having a physics degree has given me an incredible amount of knowledge about the nature of the universe and the world around us.”

Favorite professors at the U

One of his favorite professors in the Physics Department was the late Dr. Gale Dick. He found Dr. Dick approachable, and he appreciated his way of encouraging students to ask questions until they fully understood the concepts. “I took full advantage of this opportunity to learn whatever I could from him,” said VanderHeiden.

While pursuing a master’s degree in physics, he worked as a swim coach for a youth competitive swim team. He still enjoys sports, and his competitive nature helped to push him through his education and career.

During grad school, he worked as a graduate assistant under the direction of Emeritus Professor Craig Taylor. VanderHeiden’s research focused on magnetic resonance to study semiconductor structure, with a primary focus on amorphous silicon. Amorphous silicon is a form of silicon that is non-crystallized and disordered, meaning that some of the atoms in its chemical structure resist bonding. Amorphous silicon is used in manufacturing thin films for coating a variety of electronic components and also can be applied to glass, plastic, and metals.

Hercules Aerospace and others

VanderHeiden (far left) and flight demo of innovative pulse jet engine.

While working on his Ph.D., a chance recruiting ad from Hercules Aerospace, in West Valley City, Utah, caught his eye. “Hercules was seeking a scientist to explore the possibly of using magnetic resonance in industrial applications. These were the same techniques I was using to study semi-conductors,” said VanderHeiden.

Over the next three years, he was able to continue his classes and research while working at Hercules. After he received his doctorate in 1988, VanderHeiden had an opportunity to do postdoctoral research in amorphous silicon at the National Laboratories. It was a tough choice, but he decided to stay at Hercules because he had been working on several other technical areas of interest for the company and felt the direct application was more suited to his work.

Hercules merged with Orbital ATK, which later merged to become Northrop Grumman. While working for these companies, VanderHeiden’s career progressed from an individual technical contributor to leading a large organization as the vice president of engineering and technology. Eventually, he served as vice president and general manager of operations and later was promoted to vice president of the military and launch segment. “I was fortunate to have a 36-year career working in a highly technical and focused company,” he said. “I had an opportunity to work on products, such as rockets and missiles to advanced aerostructures.”

VanderHeiden is a founding board member of the Utah Stem Action Center, where he served from 2014 to 2020. The center is a public and private partnership with a mission of promoting Science, Technology, Engineering and Math education by identifying and supporting best practices and leveraging resources across education, industry, government, and community partners to support economic prosperity.

Today, VanderHeiden is retired, although he serves as chief operating officer and a member of the board of directors for a startup tech company called North American Wave Engine Corporation. Wave engines are a class of aircraft engines that operate using pressure waves instead of rotating machinery. Intermittent combustion inside a hollow tube produces pressure waves that push hot gases and produce thrust. As a result, wave engines can operate without the use of any moving parts.

Advice for students

“A degree only starts your journey,” he said. “Remember to keep an open mind and understand your passions. Ask yourself what will keep you engaged and motivated. Will your long-term career goals keep you fulfilled, and will this journey fit you and your personality? Then aggressively explore various career options in academia and industry that fit your future.”

VanderHeiden’s life has taken him full circle now, allowing him to return to his love of sports. “I have more time to spend working out, playing water polo, and wake boarding at Lake Powell,” he said. He also enjoys boating, fishing, skiing, and traveling. “My sense of competition keeps me engaged in weightlifting competitions with my grandsons, even though they outdo me. My love of the water and the sky are still my greatest passions. I enjoy those evenings at Lake Powell, lying on the houseboat and looking up at the stars. I’m still inspired by this world and the universe.”

by Michelle Swaner first published at physics.utah.edu

Todd B. Alder

Todd Alder

Todd B. Alder contracted COVID-19 early on in the pandemic and today still suffers from residual effects. But being just a “long hauler” as opposed to the alternative is what he calls being “lucky.” Says Alder, “Like many of us (I am guessing), this virus has disrupted my life with family and friends, my law practice, and my ability to travel. But on the plus side, I am really enjoying the Zoom calls where I am wearing a dress shirt and tie on top and something very questionable on the bottom.”

It's a scenario of late that many of us find ourselves experiencing (working on Zoom, not necessarily being pant-less), but the light touch that this biologist-turned-patent-attorney has towards not only the pandemic but work and life itself is evident. And so is his generosity. In April Alder was a featured alum in the School of Biological Sciences’ BioLuminaries speaker series (on Zoom, of course). As a registered patent attorney and partner at Thorpe North and Western (TNW) in Sandy, Alder illuminated the circuitous path one can take as a biology student toward fulfillment and job security… not to mention the love of chihuahuas.

More on that later.

The Road Less Traveled

Alder points to his PhD advisor, SBS’s Gary Rose, as the mentor who gave him “great direction over the years, particularly when I was stuck.” At the time Rose’s lab primarily focused on the neurophysiology of electrosensory systems in electric fish. Alder took an alternate path to study neuronal mechanisms underlying temporal processing in the auditory midbrain, a subject related to Rose’s PhD dissertation from a decade earlier. It was Rose’s broad way of thinking about science, research and the labyrinth that is life and career that still benefits Alder today.

“My dissertation was very broad over some fairly diverse scientific disciplines. This would not have been possible without Gary's early influence in teaching that young graduate student to not only see the world in a different way, but to approach problems and question them in a different way as well. I will always be grateful to Gary for helping me to see that there are no isolated questions or problems in science, but that everything has a much broader context and, as Robert Frost wrote, ‘that has made all the difference.’"

That difference played out while Alder was at the U in a remarkably refreshing and surprising way. “I was recording from a neuron in the midbrain of an anuran amphibian,” he explains, “and I thought of a test to further understand how these particular neurons worked.” Normally, neurons are not held in a stable state long enough for the kind of procedure Alder was planning. “But I stopped the program that was making the frog calls and quickly wrote a section of code so the program could do the test.”

It was that recompiling of the code—and a few crossed fingers—that led to a startling discovery. Once he turned the equipment back on the neuron in question was still there. From that test Alder showed that the generally accepted theory explaining how a neuron differentiates between high and low pulse rates was wrong. It turns out that neurons do not accomplish this differentiation though energy integration. Instead, Alder found that neurons were actually counting the number of pulses that occur within the range of pulse rates to which the neuron is tuned.

“That was one of the most exciting days of my life,” Alder says, “and I have always been amazed that those very complex questions were answered with [a] test performed on one neuron (it was repeated of course).” Alder graduated from SBS with his PhD in 2000.

Tripping the Patent Fantastic

Over the course of seven years, the mixture of biology, neurophysiology, molecular biology, etc. actually led to a degree in law which in turn opened up many opportunities for Alder to work with some very diverse and fascinating technologies. Enter his work in patent law following a clerkship at TNW beginning in 2002.

A Utah native, Alder hasn’t moved far geographically (he still lives in Utah and received all three of his degrees, including his law degree, from the U). But career-wise and developmentally it has been a galactic trip. For this reason he is quick to remind up-and-coming biologists at the U that education is not, and should never have been, about getting a job. “If you really contemplate the principles you are learning and integrate them into your life, it will change you and the way you think. To me, that is worth so much more than what type of job your degree can get you.”

About dogs … and a bear

Perhaps because of his wide-ranging academic, research and now patent career, Alder’s interests, like his dissertation, are broad and diverse. He loves to rock hound, watch horror movies, study theoretical physics and philosophy, collect old books, and “seriously mess with door-to-door sales people.” (Hopefully, while masked.) “Oh, and I once goosed a black bear in the wild, which made him terribly grumpy. But that is a story for a different day... .”

Which brings us to another enduring interest of Todd Alder’s and that is his love of chihuahuas. One advantage of working from home non-stop, quarantined from everyone else, is that your pets become a fixture, a pain and, if cuddly enough, a kind of accessory for that dress shirt above that questionable garment immediately below.

You can watch a recording of the BioLuminaries lecture by Todd Alder and co-presenter Heng Xie (PhD’04) on SBS’s YouTube Channel here.


By David Pace

Are you a Science Alumni? Connect with us today!

Nikhil Bhayani, BS’98

Nikhil Bhayani

“Every time I come to the U with my kids,” says Nikhil K. Bhayani, MD, FIDSA (BS’98), “I take them on a reality tour. I [recently] told my youngest son, ‘Let’s retrace my footsteps when I used to go from one of the lecture halls at Presidents Circle, to the Student Union. This is the way my day was like.’”

They ended up at the Pie Pizzeria Underground, a decades-long favorite haunt of students and faculty just west of main campus on 2nd South, famous as much for its densely graffitied walls as its provocatively named specialties like “Hawaii Pie-O” and “Holy Shittake.” “It really feels like a college campus,” says Bhayani of the U. “My son tells me that he wants to get pizza here [at the Pie] every day.”

Though born in Virginia, Bhayani considers Salt Lake City, where he was raised, home. His parents, both originally from India, married in New York City after Bhayani’s father had finished graduate studies at the University of Rhode Island.

“I always wanted to go to medical school,” says Bhayani who graduated in 1998 with a biology major and a chemistry minor. (His brother Mihir also graduated from the University of Utah with a degree in chemistry in 2000 and is also a medical doctor.) While an undergraduate he worked in a bioengineering lab run by Richard Normann, and later in one of the labs at the Moran Eye Center. He recalls fondly some of his fellow Indians, in particular Rajesh, Monica and Leena Gandhi, a few years older than he, but also graduates in biology who went onto medical careers in infectious diseases and cancer.

Bhayani later attended Ross University School of Medicine in Portsmouth, Dominica, and was awarded his medical degree in 2003. In 2006 he completed medical residency training at Mercy Hospital and Medical Center in Chicago where his brother currently lives.

Nikhil and his family now live in Texas where he practices medicine at Dallas-Fort Worth Infectious Diseases, an integrated health care network comprised of physicians, hospitals, case managers, community clinics, and managed care partners.

There he also enlisted as an Infectious Diseases and Epidemiology Physician Advisor at Texas Health Resources in Arlington. In 2016, Bhayani was named Physician of the Year by the Texas Health Arlington Memorial Hospital. Not one to rest on his laurels, he was hired earlier this year as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Internal Medicine, at Texas Christian University and the University of North Texas School of Medicine where he brings his undergrad U experience full-circle by teaching pre-med-students. Especially gratifying recently was when a graduating senior, also interested in infectious diseases, came to him to ask if he could “shadow” him for four weeks for one of the student’s electives.

In clinical practice, says Bhayani, who works long-term with patients who live with HIV and other infectious diseases, “the research is always changing what we do. You have to keep up with developing trends… . We get patients who are insured, who have steady jobs and who are a little more educated, so when they read about new medications they want to make sure they're getting the latest. In private practice you want to be at the top of your educated game. This motivates me to stay on top too."

In his administrative role as physician advisor, Bhayani oversees all infectious disease policy-making—like the use of antibiotics, what lab teams are going to be doing—at fifteen acute care hospitals under the umbrella of the Texas Health Resources system. With a large African immigrant population Dallas/Ft. Worth, also home to a major international airport, experiences emerging infectious diseases and thus needs intense anti-microbial stewardship, including CDC protocols and cooperation with the local health department. Bhayani is at the center of these various sector components.

As you grow up and become successful, always look back and reflect how you got there and give back to the community you were nurtured in.”

It’s an intense but meaningful career, and sometimes Bhayani considers what it would be like to return more to teaching and mentoring, the kind that he feels he got at the University of Utah’s School of Biological Sciences. “My dad always said, ‘As you grow up and become successful, always look back and reflect how you got there and give back to the community you were nurtured in,” says Bhayani. Even so, he never wants entirely to give up his clinical experience at what amounts to the largest nonprofit based healthcare group in the country, second only to Intermountain Healthcare based in Salt Lake City.

“As I reflect, who I am today is thanks to my parents and the University of Utah for giving me motivation and an opportunity to pursue higher education,” says Bhayani who with his wife of eighteen years, also originally from India where her parents still live, is busy raising two sons. This while trying to keep up with following the NBA, NFL and, of course, the Utes, which he loves.

“Most of the work is done by my wife,” Bhayani concedes. He refers to her as the “pillar of the house, that “she keeps everything going. Left to me it would be like college all over again.”

Pizza anyone?

In May 2021, after months of battling the COVID-19 pandemic, Bhayani was selected as Top Physician of the Year by the International Association of Top Professionals (IAOTP) for his outstanding leadership and commitment to the healthcare industry.


by David Pace

Are you a Science Alumni? Connect with us today!

Diana Montgomery, BS’87

Diana Montgomery

“Perhaps my favorite experience at the University of Utah is when I started working in a biology lab for the first time and realizing I fit in and enjoyed the work and the people there,” says Diana Montgomery, BS’87 in Biology. “It certainly helped to solidify my career choice.”

While at the U, Diana worked in Allen Edmundson’s crystallography lab on Wakara Way. In addition to learning practical skills, Diana was included in the research publication, titled “A mild method for the preparation of disulfide-linked hybrids of immunoglobulin light chains” in 1987. The journal was Molecular Immunology. (Read the paper here.)

Shortly thereafter, Diana graduated from the U and moved to Baltimore, Maryland, to begin graduate school at Johns Hopkins University. Her advisor was Ernesto Freire, a well-known expert in biological thermodynamics. Diana completed a doctorate degree in Biology/Biophysics from Johns Hopkins in 1994 and conducted postdoctoral work at Northwestern University in the lab of Richard Morimoto and at the University of Massachusetts in the lab of Lila Gierasch.

Diana is now a Principal Scientist in the department of Pharmacokinetics, Pharmacodynamics, and Drug Metabolism at Merck, in Pennsylvania. She focuses on developing therapeutic proteins as new drugs, two of which are now FDA-approved products, tildrakizumab and bezlotoxumab.

Tildrakizumab (brand name Ilumya) is approved for the treatment of adult patients with moderate-to-severe plaque psoriasis in the United States and Europe. Tildrakizumab is a monoclonal antibody that selectively binds to the p19 subunit of IL-23 and inhibits its interaction with the IL-23 receptor. IL-23 is a naturally occurring cytokine that is involved in inflammatory and immune responses.

Bezlotoxumab (brand name Zinplava) is a monoclonal antibody designed for the prevention of recurrence of Clostridium difficile infections, which can be life-threatening. Bezlotoxumab works by binding to a specific toxin produced by the Clostridium difficile bacteria and neutralizes the toxin’s effects.

Merck is a multinational company and one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world, employing some 74,000 people. In 2020 alone, Merck invested $13.6 billion in drug research and development.

Diana has 24 research publications with nearly 1,400 citations to her credit. Her recent work has focused on describing the effects of immunogenicity on therapeutic proteins. One liability of protein-based therapeutics is their tendency to elicit an unwanted immune response against themselves. One of the manifestations of such an immune response is the activation of B cells, which produce anti-drug antibodies that bind to therapeutic protein drugs and can reduce a drug’s therapeutic effects or be associated with safety issues. Therefore, an important part of therapeutic protein drug development is to characterize the tendency of a drug to elicit anti-drug antibodies and any potential effects on clinical pharmacokinetics, efficacy, and safety.

Reflecting back to her childhood, Diana recalls several key moments that motivated her to study science.

“My father was a mining engineer. He did some geology education while we were hiking, like what type of rocks were on the trail and how to recognize fool’s gold,” says Diana. “When we went camping, he’d explain the Pythagorean theorem with the triangles of the tent. It made math and science familiar to me.”

In high school, Diana developed an interest in molecular biology and biochemistry. She then chose to attend the University of Utah because it was a reputable research university which was close to home. (Diana grew up in Tooele, Utah, about 30 miles from the U.) Diana received an Honors at Entrance scholarship to begin her studies at the U, based on her achievements in high school.

“At the U, several classes in the Department of Biology (now School of Biological Sciences) were designed to encourage students to make and test hypotheses. This form of experimental-based learning was both effective and highly enjoyable,” said Diana.

“Professors like Gordon Lark and John Roth were fantastic. They made their lectures interesting and taught us how to think like a scientist and how to do science in the laboratory. I was lucky to be a part of that, but at the time didn’t realize it was so rare. I believe it is important for students to get a feel for doing science in introductory classes like these, rather than being exposed to it for the first time in graduate school. By the end of my undergraduate years, I was hooked on the scientific paradigm of hypothesis, design, experiment, and interpret. I have the U to thank for that.”

Diana and her husband, Hwa-ping (Ed) Feng have two children, Ellen and Nathan. Diana particularly enjoys gardening and reading. She also volunteers at a local food pantry and at animal-adoption clinics.

The College of Science and its four academic departments – Biological Sciences, Chemistry, Mathematics, Physics & Astronomy – now graduate more than 650 students each year. We are proud of our many alumni who live and work all around the world. Please share your stories with us!

Are you a Science Alumni? Connect with us today!

T. Mitchell Aide, PhD’89

T. Mitchell Aide

Distinguished Alumnus, Biology

Following his graduation with a bachelor’s from University of Texas - San Antonio, California native T. Mitchell (Mitch) Aide ended up in Utah … but via Panama. It was in Central America where he first met School of Biological Sciences (SBS) professors Lissy Coley and Tom Kursar doing tropical forest research. Aide would eventually become Coley’s first graduate student at the University of Utah. Lissy and Tom were “different than some other advisors,” says Aide. “They showed how high-quality research did not have to exclude enjoying life.”

The relationship proved to be a productive one. Aide graduated from U with a PhD in 1989 and continued in his career as a researcher and professor. Recently he was presented the School of Biological Sciences 2021 Distinguished Alumni Award.

During his sojourn at the U (1982-1990) Aide says that the cohort of professors there “created an environment of high-quality research and education

Stand-up guy on Stand up paddleboard (SUP)

without being aggressively competitive.” He remembers the personal and financial support of the department staff when a house he lived in with other graduate students burned down. His graduate work included a single-authored publication in Nature in 1988, demonstrating that the synchrony of production of young leaves for a community of tropical trees may have evolved as an adaptation to reduce herbivory by insects.

Since then he has published more than 140 peer-reviewed articles. And, after Smithsonian and Fulbright postdoctoral fellowships in Panama and Colombia, respectively, he took a position at the University of Puerto Rico - Río Piedras in 1992, where he is now a full professor.

His research interests cover a diversity of topics related to tropical forest ecology, including plant/animal interactions, forest dynamics, population dynamics, restoration ecology, land change, community ecology, conservation, ecological informatics, and ecoacoustics. Presently, his research focuses on land-use change and its implication for biodiversity conservation.

“In addition to Mitch’s own scientific contributions,” wrote Coley in the nomination letter for the alumni award, Aide “has mentored an enormous number of students, most from Latin America. These include 18 Master’s students, 11 PhD students, over 50 undergraduates and eight postdoctoral fellows. His mentorship of the next generation of scientists has had profound impacts on education and conservation in Latin America.”

Aide has also started a company to monitor biodiversity. “This was motivated by his concern for the alarming loss of species in nature,” says Coley, before explaining that her former student’s innovation was to deploy many low-cost acoustic recorders in nature and then analyze the sounds to quantify changes in the community or to track individual species of interest.

“His company developed the sophisticated but user-friendly Automated Remote Biodiversity Monitoring Network (ARBIMON) platform so researchers can analyze these recordings for their own research,” continues Coley. “His goal is to have permanent acoustic biodiversity monitoring stations in thousands of sites throughout the world, including eco-tourism sites, research stations, protected areas, and threatened areas.”

A consummate researcher, academic and now founder of a company, Aide enjoys water sports, including surfing and snorkeling. After more than 40 years publishing on tropical ecology and conservation, and “seeing our poor progress in conserving tropical biodiversity,” he says with some rue, “I will try a different approach—write a novel.”

During this time of pandemic, personal and societal reflection is the order of the day. Aide expects that there will be substantial changes to higher education. Even so, he advises today’s students to “identify what you are good at and what you enjoy and dedicate 110%” to it.

As a 2021 SBS distinguished alumnus, Mitch Aide is an excellent model for dedication and hard work—even when pivoting late in an esteemed career towards fiction writing to further the cause of and raising consciousness about the critical need for conservation.

by David Pace

Ace Madsen

Ace Madsen, MD

The Uinta Basin in the northeast corner of Utah can seem like a ways “out there” near the border of Colorado and one of the most famous dinosaur quarries in the world. In fact as of last month, says  Vernal-based Ace Arthur C. Madsen, BS’79, “it took six months for the pandemic to reach my corner of the state. Now I have two to three patients a week developing Covid-19 or succumbing to it. I believe the mask and hand sanitizer culture is here to stay.”

It’s a sobering reality for a rural and oil-industry region of the state next to some of the most beautiful and remote landscapes in the state, including Flaming Gorge and the Green River drainage as it flows toward its confluence with the Colorado to the south near Moab. But it is home for Dr. Madsen who has raised his family there and is now grandfather to a whopping fifteen grandchildren.

The University of Utah was the place for Madsen to chase his dream of becoming a doctor. Today he is in private practice in internal medicine. As an undergraduate he recalls Richard Van Norman who taught Botany as one of his favorite professors.“He was friendly, liked to spend one-on-one time with his students and seemed to really care about what we thought and our future plans.”

“My background in basic biological science, biochemistry and molecular biology provided me with a solid background and was invaluable to me in my research activities and medical school.” The Department of Biology, now the School of Biological Sciences, was a bit of a boot camp for him and other pre-med students.

“I am very grateful for the no nonsense approach” of many mentors, he says, including the late Gordon Lark, the late James L. Lords, and emeritus professors William R. Gray and Bob Vickery. Once Madsen had graduated in biology, the rigors of his training continued with the late Dr. Frank Moody and as a research assistant at the U’s Medical School in the departments of Pediatric Neurology with Drs. PF Bray and JT Wu as well as the Department of Surgery with Dr. Layton F. Rikkers, now an emeritus professor of surgery at the University of Wisconsin.

In 1981 Madsen graduated with his MD, receiving the Outstanding Research Award. During that time he secured eight publications and 10 abstracts, predominantly on oncofetal antigens such as carcino embryonic antigen (CEA) and alpha-fetoprotein (AFP). Following his graduation from the U Medical School he completed his residency in 1984 in Internal Medicine at Duke University.

Madsen isn’t the only alumnus in his family from the University of Utah. His wife Zoe graduated in mathematics with a minor in chemistry in 1975, and his son Adam earned his BS in biology in 2006 before following his father’s footsteps to medical school. While at the U, Adam, who quarterbacked for the Utes, was named Scholar-Athlete in the Mountain West Athletic Conference in 2004 and was part of the undefeated and Nationally-ranked Tostito’s Fiesta Bowl Champions football team in 2005.

Father (right, in photo above) and son both practice in Vernal.

In addition to his medical practice and his grandfathering, Madsen works in wood and stained glass as hobbies. When asked what advice he would give to current students in the School of Biological Sciences, he is succinct and quick to number what he thinks future graduates from the U should do. 1. “Study hard. It is difficult to get anywhere without good grades. 2. Get involved with research. 3. Get married--best move I made in life.”


By David Pace

Are you a Science Alumni? Connect with us today!

Ed Groenhout, BS’85

ED groenhout

Ed Groenhout, BS’85 in Biology, has developed a deep love for travel and for the people of the world. He and his family have visited five continents and dozens of countries, and they plan to visit Australia and China soon, to complete a trip to all seven continents. 

That same budding spirit of adventure led Groenhout to the University of Utah in 1980 to begin his undergraduate education.

I grew up in a small town in Montana (Bozeman, Pop. 20,000 in 1980) and wanted to experience something different and more diverse, says Groenhout. We had family who lived in Salt Lake City at the time, so my mother felt comfortable sending me far from home. 

It was a pivotal moment in his life. 

Groenhout embraced the opportunity. When he arrived on campus, as an out-of-state student, he lived in the dorms including two years in Van Cott Hall and two years in Austin Hall. (The three original dormitories – Van Cott Hall, Austin Hall, and Ballif Hall – were constructed in the late 1960s and could accommodate 1,200 students.)

Many of my best University memories revolve around dorm life, especially the intramural sports. I also worked for the U’s National Championship Women’s Gymnastics team in the early 1980s. We moved all the equipment from their practice facility to the Huntsman Center for competitions and then back again, says Groenhout.

My education at the U, especially in Biology, started everything for me, says Groenhout. It ignited a passion for learning that continues to this day. I became very interested in molecular biology and that interest translated into my first job working in a lab at the U. 

I must also mention Dr. David Stillman in the Molecular Biology department at the Universitys School of Medicine. He was a great mentor to me and helped me tremendously, and I never would have worked in a lab in New Mexico if he hadn’t taught me everything I knew, says Groenhout. 

At the U, Groenhout’s favorite teacher was biology professor John Roth. Roth had a significant impact on my education. I learned so much in his classes and also got hands-on experience performing his simple but elegant experiments with bacteria and mutations, says Groenhout. 

Upon graduation in 1985, with his Bachelor’s degree, Groenhout experienced another pivotal moment in his life. He was told that he would never get into medical school. 

That was all the motivation I needed, and I have since had an amazing career in medicine, says Groenhout.  In fact, my career has included bench research, academic medicine, the Veteran’s Administration, private practice in a rural location caring for predominantly Medicare and Medicaid patients, and now Public Health.

To get his medical degree, he worked tirelessly and was admitted to the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. He conducted research in Dr. Richard Dorn’s endocrinology lab for four years and his work resulted in a publication in the journal Molecular and Cellular Endocrinology. He was also elected to Alpha Omega Alpha, the medical school honor society. He earned an M.D. degree in 1992. 

Groenhout then completed his medical residency and internship at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, from 1992 to 1995, and worked as a clinical instructor on the faculty of the University of Michigan for two additional years.

But I always wanted to get back West, to the open spaces and rugged beauty, says Groenhout. So, in 1997, he accepted a position as an Assistant Professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, School of Medicine. He worked at UNLV for seven years and was promoted to program director of the Internal Medicine Residency Program there. 

Groenhout met his wife, Yvonne, an ICU nurse, at UNLV. We met at the Med Center and bonded over our mutual love of Diet Coke! They were married in 2003. 

That same year, Groenhout began his private medical practice at the Grants Pass Clinic in Grants Pass, Oregon. He specialized in primary care Internal Medicine there until 2020, when he and his family relocated to Salem, Oregon to work with the Indian Health Services in the Chemawa Clinic. 

It was another pivotal moment in his life. 

My wife Yvonne and I had talked for years about the next step in my career and we both wanted to continue to give back to underserved populations in the U.S., says Groenhout.   Having grown up in Montana I was aware of the healthcare disparities in Native areas of the U.S. and the Covid-19 pandemic only amplified those disparities.

The Chemawa clinic, located about 40 miles south of Portland, is unique because it is one of only four clinics in the U.S. not associated with a Native American Reservation and so Groenhout can provide care to a wider spectrum of patients. Chemawa is also a federally-assisted clinic so medical providers have access to greater resources than many smaller tribal clinics. In fact, the Chemawa clinic serves tribal members from over 100 tribes.

I see about 50 patients each week from predominantly Oregon and Washington states, says Groenhout. There is a high demand for quality medical care in these small communities like Chemawa and Salem where indigenous populations have unique medical needs.

Back: Ed, Yvonne. Front: Kaylee, Sara

As a front-line medical provider, I can say Covid-19 has had an immeasurable impact on my professional life but I am confident that we will emerge stronger and better equipped as a result. It has changed healthcare delivery and opened up new and more creative avenues for interacting with patients, says Groenhout. 

I hope the pandemic improves our trust in science and ignites an interest in science and healthcare in our youth.

I’d also like to recognize my wife, Yvonne, who – during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic – volunteered her ICU nursing skills and traveled to Chicago and the Virgin Islands for two separate two-week shifts. From this experience, she now plans to continue volunteer work both nationally and internationally, says Groenhout. 

In their continuing travels, Groenhout and his family visit Utah on a regular basis, especially for recreation in Bryce National Park and Zion National Park.

To current students, Groenhout says, Things may seem bleak right now, but we will get through this and life will get better and back to normal. Keep focused and determined and don’t let anything stop you!

Are you a Science Alumni? Connect with us today!

Adam Madsen, BA’06

Adam Madsen

Adam Madsen, BA’06 in Biology, was the quintessential student-athlete.

To be a student-athlete requires extraordinary talent on the field and in the classroom. This is particularly true with science degrees due to the rigorous curriculum.

Madsen grew up in the Uinta Basin area, living in both Roosevelt and Vernal, two small farming towns in northeastern Utah.

He graduated Valedictorian from Uintah High School, in Vernal, and excelled not just in academics but also in athletics. He was named Academic All-State in football, baseball, and basketball. In baseball, he was named Utah 3A State MVP, Region X MVP, and USA TODAY– Honorable Mention All-American. In football, he made All-State as quarterback, Region X MVP, National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame Scholar-Athlete Award, and was USA TODAY– Honorable Mention All-American.

After high school, Madsen went to Dixie State University in St. George with athletic scholarships to play football and baseball. At Dixie State he was named NJCAA Football Distinguished Academic All-American, team captain, two-time Dixie Rotary Bowl Champion, and three-time Western States Football League Conference Champion.

He earned an Associate of Science degree at Dixie, then transferred to the University of Utah to play quarterback for coach Urban Meyer and the Utah Utes. At Utah, he was named Scholar-Athlete in the Mountain West Athletic Conference in 2004 and was part of the undefeated and Nationally-ranked Tostito’s Fiesta Bowl Champions football team in 2005.

“I was a Pre-Med student at the time and in considering options, Utah was the best place to further my medical career pursuit and play football,” says Madsen. “The U had a strong reputation in my family, having grown up in Utah and having my mother and father both graduate from the College of Science in the 1970s,” says Madsen.

Left to right, Ty 10; Ally 7; Matt 5; Mya 12; and wife Marci

(Madsen’s mother, Zoe Madsen, earned a B.S. degree in mathematics and a minor in chemistry in 1975, and his father, Arthur Ace Madsen, completed a B.S. degree in Biology in 1976.)

“Being a student-athlete had several challenges. Football was basically a full-time job as far as hours per week it consumed,” says Madsen. “Weekends were mostly focused on football time as well. It wasn’t easy to juggle classes and make ends meet with football’s schedule.”

For Madsen to enroll in some upper-division biochemistry classes, he had to get special permission from team coaches, including Urban Meyer, since he would miss parts of team meetings during the week.

“On a typical day, I would have classes in the morning then have football practice from about 1 o’clock to 7 o’clock, then go directly to the Marriott library where I would stay until 11 o’clock or midnight,” says Madsen. “However, I would not trade my experience of playing football for anything! I learned so many valuable life lessons and made so many life friendships with players and coaches.”

At the U, Madsen’s favorite professor was Charles “Chuck” Grissom, a chemistry teacher who taught many of the upper-division biochemistry classes. “Grissom was available to discuss and answer questions, even with huge class sizes. Also, he showed he cared about students on an individual level,” says Madsen.

“I remember the Monday in class just after our Utah football team got the Fiesta Bowl bid, he brought bags of Tostito’s chips and let me help throw them out to the class. This was a small and simple thing but helped keep us engaged in his teaching.”

After graduating from the U, Madsen attended medical school at Des Moines University College of Osteopathic Medicine, in Iowa, and completed an Orthopedic Surgery Internship and Residency at Ohio University Doctors Hospital, in Columbus, Ohio.

Today, Madsen is an orthopedic surgeon in his hometown, Vernal, Utah. He practices general orthopedics including diagnosing and treating operative and non-operative injuries. He specializes in fractures, arthritis, partial knee replacement, sports medicine, ACL and ligament reconstruction, arthroscopic surgery, and foot and ankle conditions.

“My primary goal is to provide excellent orthopedic patient care to the people of this small-town community.” says Madsen.

His patients often include young student-athletes – much like himself at that age – who are striving to excel in the classroom and on the field.

Madsen and his wife, Marci, have four children: Mya, 12; Ty, 10; Ally, 7; and Matt, 5.

Are you a Science Alumni? Connect with us today!