Jeffrey Webster, BS’81

 

Jeffrey Webster (BS'81)

A native of Chagrin Falls, OH, Jeff Webster, MD, FAAOS, found himself as an undergraduate at the University of Utah for "not the most mature reason, but it's true": the easy access to the world class skiing. He might be surprised at how common the denominator is for arriving freshmen who are held in rapture by the opportunities for outdoor recreation among the nearby Wasatch Mountains.

Whether skiing was an adjunct to the degree he sought in biology as a pre-med student ... or the reverse, will remain obscured for now. What he did find in Salt Lake City in the late 70s was that the U was his crucible for a successful life. "The U made me realize that school and life aren't easy, that you have to do solid, honest work to forge your path."

That path culminated in his career as an orthopedic surgeon, currently at the Reno Orthopedic Clinic. After graduating from the U, he attended Wayne State University for his MD followed by a residency at Indiana University. A sports medicine fellowship at Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis then propelled him back to the west near another ski town, this time at the foot of the Sierra Nevada.

While in Utah the slopes had to compete with another passion of Webster's: his two years on the swim team between 1979 and the year he graduated in 1981. "Under coach Don Reddish I made lifelong friends, learned many life lessons, and met my wife Bridget Duncan Webster of over 36 years now." In the off-season he found himself at the bench doing research. I "did a student project," he explains, "self designed, regarding anabolic steroids in rats. Doc [James] Lords supervised. [It] was never published or presented, but was fun to do. The rats surely would have disagreed with the 'fun to do' part." Typical of the School of Biological Sciences' reputation for the informality with which world-class faculty and students collaboratively interact, Webster remembers sitting more than once in Lords' office where they would "shoot the breeze, talk biology, sports, whatever."

As for today, the clinic where Webster works has been, for over sixty years, a magnet for some of the best and brightest in orthopedic medicine. As one of 30 physicians, the Northern Nevada clinic boasts "the kind of comprehensive, world-class care typically only seen in major metropolitan areas." And, along with all medical practitioners right now, Webster, a Fellow of the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, acknowledges the current challenges in the field because of the Covid-19 pandemic. "The impact has been tremendous, and not all in a good way," he says. "The daily inconveniences are certainly a nuisance, but tolerable. It’s the political malfeasance that’s concerning to me." Even so, he muses, the "virus situation has brought family and friends closer, allowing us to appreciate the most important things in life."

His advice to undergraduates currently navigating their education while wearing masks, social distancing and living with the uncertainty of what's next during this singular time is philosophical:  "Be humble, choose your goals, and work diligently in accomplishing them. The basic tenets of western civilization, Christianity for example, are extremely important and powerful. Lead a virtuous life. ...While not very religious per se, I’ve become more spiritual with time."

Dr. Webster quips that he still loves to ski, though he isn't ready to say if Tahoe is as good as "the greatest snow on earth" of Alta and Snowbird. Fortunately, for both this Ohio native and the School of Biological Sciences, they still share the same Great Basin, across the west desert and the salt flats, connected still by the legacy of the University of Utah.

 

 
by David Pace
 

Kurt Zilm, BS’76, PhD’81

As Yale’s current Chair of the Chemistry Department, it seems clear that Kurt has always understood what the foundation of a successful chemistry department is built on: human connection, collaborative research, and investment in students. As a graduate student at the University of Utah, Kurt took advantage of Professor Ted Eyring’s time, knowledge, and generosity as much as Ted would endure his endless questions and curiosity. He’s spent the past 16 years as the Director of Undergraduate Studies at Yale University, and has committed to create an environment for students that allows them to indulge their curiosity--just as he was able to do with Professor Eyring.

After being at Yale for 38 years, Kurt has recently been part of a renaissance in their college of science as they renovate and build facilities that give all students the opportunities and experiences they need in order to establish themselves as serious chemists and innovators. The department’s investments have made it possible for every undergraduate in organic chemistry to have their own hood with an updated condenser system that delivers chilled water back through a seperate gravity-fed drain system--saving 150,000 gallons of water per year. Kurt has moved his lab three times in the past few years with all the renovating, but of course, is already seeing the extensive benefits to student research.

Since 1995, Yale has made a big push to provide more opportunities for women, minority, economically underprivileged, and other historically underrepresented students in STEM through their STARS Program. Zilm has seen the impact of this program on the science community, and the stats reveal that students who participate in this program continue on in the sciences with a significant impact.

Kurt’s own research is on the cusp of exciting results that he will be publishing in the near future. For one project, he’s been collaborating with a team at Dartmouth trying to figure out what it is that makes infectious prions infectious and how to differentiate them from non-infectious prions. He’s also been working with a team at Yale’s Medical School to understand the molecular mechanism of Alzheimer’s Disease--which he thinks they now understand, and have drugs that seem to work with mice.

These research projects have been 90% of Kurt’s work over the past five years, and it’s all finally starting to bear some fruit. He is quick to talk about the importance of collaboration:

“These projects are really starting to bear fruit only because we’re collaborating with these two teams, and we have the right people and the right facilities to work on this. None of us could have done it on our own.”

For Zilm, it’s all connected: from the similar molecular origins of his two projects, to the investment in students and facilities, to his beginnings at the University of Utah, and the collaborations he’s been part of in the past, present, and future.

 
by Anne Vivienne
 

Anna Vickrey, PhD’20

Anna Vickrey


Anna Vickrey who graduated from the School of Biological Sciences with a PhD in 2020 has always been fascinated with domestication, both the process and the "products" which include the plants and animals important to our lives and history as humans. "I became really interested in the morphological diversity present both in domestic breeds and natural species by going to a lot of dog shows," she says.

The Salt Lake City native also had chickens and pigeons, growing up, and spent time around wild bird species ("My mom 'rehabbed' wild birds out of our house," she reports). As an undergrad at the University of Utah, she became curious about how diversity is generated at the genetic level. "Naively, I was wondering if differences in morphology are generated by 'coding' or 'regulatory' changes to genes. In reality," she admits, "it’s more complicated than that!)." Fortunately for her, this was one of the questions that Associate Professor Mike Shapiro was asking in his pigeon lab which she was able to join and where she continued working through her graduation last spring.

Vickrey keeps pigeons as pets, mostly American Show Racer and Archangel breeds, so the model subject of her research for the past several years is one she'd had a longstanding interest in. While in the Shapiro lab she studied wing color patterns in domestic pigeons. "Even though we know that color patterns are really important for animals in the wild (for things like camouflage and mate choice), there’s still a lot that’s not known about how patterns are generated at the genetic and molecular level," she says. "I also work on head crests, a type of ornamental feather structure--sort of a fancy feather-do--that are present in lots of pigeon breeds and wild bird species."

For each of these projects, she and her team learned some surprising things about the genes that cause these traits. For example, pigeons with a wing color pattern called "barless" also can have vision defects that are called “foggy vision” by pigeon breeders. "The gene that we found is associated with the barless color pattern is known to cause hereditary blindness in humans when the gene is mutated." And while the researchers didn’t expect to discover this connection, foggy vision in barless pigeons is caused by eye defects that are similar to humans with this type of hereditary blindness.

Hitting the books in the Shapiro Lab.

Staggeringly, there are over 300 breeds of domestic rock pigeon. Similar to dogs, these breeds can look extremely different from one another (think of the difference between a Chihuahua and a Great Dane) even though they’re all the same species. Also, the pigeons all over a typical city like Salt Lake are “ferals,” she explains, meaning they’ve descended from the same domestic species.

The School of Biological Sciences houses research on a huge diversity of topics. "As an undergrad and then a grad student I’ve always felt very lucky to have exposure to such diversity--everything from crystallography and protein biochemistry to rainforest ecology!" she says. Now with her PhD, it's clear to Vickrey that it's important to be a lifelong learner. Even while currently finishing up the projects in the Shapiro lab, "we're starting to get some really cool results looking at the bright red skin around the eyes."

In turns out that the color may be another trait that was hybridized into domestic pigeons from the African speckled pigeon. She and her colleagues will also be kept busy during the next few months looking for modifier genes that control head crest size.

And what are her plans long-term? "I want to stay on a career path that allows me to continue to communicate science while keeping me connected to science. I'm really interested in genetic counseling but I'm also looking at a science policy fellowship."

Clearly, Vickrey whose heroes include Marie Curie, the Polish and naturalized-French physicist and chemist who conducted pioneering research on radioactivity, is characterized by a diversity of inquiry she found so available at SBS. Indicative of that are other heroes of hers that she ticks off:  Latino artist Frida Kahlo, the author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (most famous for his iconic The Little Prince), and the late marine biologist Rachel Carson whose signature Silent Spring spring-boarded conservation and nature writing into the national conversation. All of these people, like Vickrey, possess determination, creativity, and passion.

Armed with her doctorate, Anna Vickrey will eventually land at her next formal adventure animated by scientific research and intense learning. In the meantime, her love of domesticated animals continues, an interest that threads through her inquisitive life before and during her time at the U, and now post graduation. Along with reading fiction and cooking, she will always enjoy trail running with her dogs. "I [also] go to a lot of 'animal competitions'" she says, looking for the right term to describe her enduring interest outside her research, "like quarter horse races and sheepdog trials."

 

 

Alumni Webinar

Alumni Webinar


Peter Trapa, PhD
Dean of the CoLLEGE OF SCIENCE

Addressing the World's Challenges in the College of Science

Dean Peter Trapa discusses the critical importance of research, beginning at the undergraduate level, as the College continues to produce changemakers in science and mathematics.

 


 

>> HOME <<


 

Michelle Williams, PhD’87

Michelle Williams

Michelle’s story sounds like it must have been deliberately calculated and executed. How else does someone go from Jamaica at an all-girls boarding school to college in New York City to graduate school at the University of Utah to Global Group President of Arkema, a billion-dollar subsidiary of Altuglas International? Turns out, Michelle had zero plans whatsoever to lead an international company along her career path. Instead, she thought she might like teaching. As she says, “Plan A never works out, and sometimes it’s Plan H or Plan G that finally works!”

She came to the University of Utah after breezing through college so much so that it was all a blur, and she found herself in Dr. David Grant’s research group at the age of 19. “I had no idea what I was getting into.” She, like most 19-year-olds, was looking for adventure and eagerly said goodbye to her teary-eyed mother at the airport. Michelle was checking off her adulting list: she rented an apartment--her ​own​ place; figured out her schedule; supported herself on her tiny teaching and research stipend; and she made her way, “I mucked my way through it.”

Michelle is emphatic that “this is where I grew up.” Only second to her decision to have children, coming to the University of Utah Chemistry Department was the best decision she ever made. Despite her overwhelm when she began her graduate research, she was quick and willing to ask for help, and she’s continued to do so throughout her entire career. “The reality is that I have always found that there are people who will help you. There are always people who see something in you.”

As she was completing her PhD research and dissertation defense, Michelle began casually interviewing with companies while she waited for her experiments to finish. She turned down a job offer from Dow Chemical though the interview was one of the most impactful conversations she would have about her career. The interviewer advised her, “young lady,” at which Michelle rolled her eyes, “you’re going to have opportunities and opportunities, and you need to find a company that has the right personality to match your personality.” She turned down the Dow Chemical position, and, instead, accepted a job at Rohm and Haas.

The job at Rohm and Haas was a continuation of the sense of community she had come to love at the University of Utah. It was a small enough, family-owned company where she could build relationships, and the focus was on learning, training, development and growing people. From a young age, Michelle has developed and followed her core values through every step of the way.

 
by Anne Vivienne
 

Ole Jensen, BS’72

On the surface, Ole Jensen’s start as an undergraduate biology major, angling for medical school, didn’t appear particularly auspicious. His one claim to fame was that as an undergraduate the Salt Lake native was tapped to be a “calf sitter,” which meant that he would sit all night with young bovine used in experiments and monitor their heart rates. The calves were a critical part of the University’s artificial organ program which would eventually produce the world’s first artificial heart in the 1980s.

Not bad for a Utah boy who, when he wasn’t fishing with his Norwegian-born father on the Provo River and elsewhere, spent much of his early life collecting what would become one of the largest insect collections in the state.

It was a heady time to be studying biology at the U. Department Chair Gordon Lark was bringing in guest lecturers and expanding the faculty at a prodigious rate, including micro-biologist Mario Capecchi who would eventually be awarded the Nobel Prize for his work in genetics. Jensen recalls his time in the early seventies as an undergraduate at the U. One day, he says, anatomy professor Stephen Durrant “threw out twenty animal bones spread over a long table and asked the students to identify […them] as part of the midterm exam.” It turned out that the students, who in class had been studying strictly land mammals, got very few correct answers. “One bone that very much perplexed me that I remember to this day,” Jensen continues, “was half of a frontal bone with an ovoid depression. It was from a dolphin: the depression access for the spout!” Needless to say, it was “a particular shock” to find a marine mammal bone in the pile, but it was an experience that Jensen still recalls with some exhilaration.

After graduating from dental school at Northwest University, Jensen continued to Michigan to study oral surgery and, as a post doc, anesthesia, which would eventually lead to a Master’s degree in anesthesiology before returning to the west where he set up practice in Denver. There he plied his trade, as both a science and an art, for the next 38 years. But research has continued to braid its way through his entire professional life—a continuous thread that has kept him at the forefront of the fast-moving field of oral and maxillofacial surgery in which technology, the life sciences and medicine converge. As with many oral surgeons, Jensen performed four-on-one implant operations, which combine bridgework with a maximum of four implants per each of the crescent arrangements or arches.

Eventually, he modified the procedure so that it was less invasive and more intuitive, underscored by his determination to see the implant not as an analogue to a tooth (or teeth) but as a function of bio-mechanical forces, mathematically determined. Eventually he would join forces with business partners to found Clear Choice Dental Implants. “Basically, for five years I wanted to die,” Jensen says of the start-up which now has forty clinics across the nation. The company nearly failed three times, including during the recession of 2008. “I wanted to practice . . . business with integrity, and to be doing things in the best interests of the patients. It’s hard to do that with this kind of work where it’s not too costly and not too difficult for doctors to perform.” In a recent DentalTown podcast, Jensen explains, “If you have a business that is related to dental implants, you’re not going to do stuff that will put the business at risk."

"So this has a business, scientific, and a clinical basis of validity," he says ". . . [and] we stand by the way we treat our edentulous patients… .” Of course success is never final. With his rigorous research background and his bias for asking lots of questions, this time about biofilm, the pervasive glue-like matrix that grows virtually everywhere and can lead to complications in bio-medical work, Jensen took on yet another professional challenge. In September he was hired as Chief Medical Officer for Israel-based NOBIO, helping to create products through Nano-technology in which particles with superior micro-biotic activities are baked into the product to prevent bacteria from growing on surgically implanted devices.

Jensen’s research questions, especially as they’ve related to medicine, have been open ones. “Almost everything I’ve done is in surgery,” he says. “Now I’m doing a project with computers,” referring to his latest adventure. Inspired by the training of pilots who learn to fly by logging many hours in flight simulators, Jensen and his team at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston are developing a program for surgical simulations.

Doon Gibbs, BS’63

Doon Gibbs is currently the Director of Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, New York. Brookhaven is a multi-program U.S. Department of Energy laboratory with nearly 3,000 employees, more than 4,000 facility users each year, and an annual budget of about $600 million.

Brookhaven Lab’s largest facilities include the National Synchrotron Light Source II, the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider, and the Center for Functional Nanomaterials – some of the finest research instruments in the world.

Doon was born in Illinois, where his father was a post doc, but grew up in Salt Lake City near the University of Utah. His father, Peter Gibbs, was a prominent physics professor at the U, and his mother, Miriam, was a school teacher at Wasatch Elementary in the Avenues district. The family home was just off First Avenue and Virginia Street, only a few blocks from campus.

Doon and his younger siblings, Victoria and Nicholas, attended East High School. Upon graduation, Doon moved to Portland to attend Reed College, a private liberal arts school. After two years, he returned to Utah and enrolled at the U. He worked on campus as a writer and reporter with The Daily Utah Chronicle, the University’s student newspaper.

“I tried just about everything else except physics in school,” says Gibbs. “But, there was one physics course that sounded intriguing. It was Gale Dick’s entry-level class, ‘Physics for Poets.’ I signed up for summer semester 1974. Despite my best efforts to not do exactly what my dad did, I found that physics was totally compelling.”

Additional physics and math classes soon followed. He changed his major to Mathematics in 1975, added a Physics major in 1976 and graduated with both degrees in 1977. He was a member of the Phi Beta Kappa and Phi Kappa Phi honor societies.

Although his father was a well known professor of physics at the U, and chairman of the department from 1967-1976, Doon didn’t take a single class from his dad.

“Well, I got physics lessons from my dad every day, but it was usually at home on the front porch or in the kitchen,” says Gibbs. “I didn’t get any college credit.” He chuckles.

Doon pursued a Master’s degree in physics at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, ironically, the same school at which his father had been a post doc. He stayed at Illinois to complete a doctorate degree in condensed matter physics in 1982 – the same field as his dad, although Doon is an experimenter and his father is a theorist. During this time, his research interests focused on the utilization of synchrotron radiation to perform spectroscopy of surfaces.

After graduate school, Doon found an entry-level job as an assistant physicist. The place was Brookhaven National Laboratory. The year was 1983.

At Brookhaven, he specialized in condensed matter physics and X-ray magnetic scattering and was promoted to a senior physicist in 2000.

In 2003, Gibbs was honored with the Advanced Photon Source Arthur H. Compton Award “for pioneering theoretical and experimental work in resonant X-ray magnetic scattering, which has led to many important applications in condensed matter physics.”

He was named Deputy Laboratory Director for Science and Technology in 2007.

By 2010, Gibbs’ management experiences at Brookhaven included the positions of Group Leader of X-ray Scattering, Associate and Deputy Chair of Physics, Head of Condensed Matter Physics, Interim Director of the Center for Functional Nanomaterials, and Associate Laboratory Director for Basic Energy Sciences.

“A science background is a great preparation for an increasingly complex world. The ability to analyze and creatively solve complicated problems is a wonderful advantage,” says Gibbs.

Gibbs was instrumental in overseeing the design and construction of Brookhaven’s Center for Functional Nanomaterials, and has played a significant role in advancing other major Lab projects including the National Synchrotron Light Source II and the Interdisciplinary Science Building. He has also overseen the growth of Brookhaven’s basic energy sciences programs in chemistry, materials science, nanoscience, and condensed matter physics.

“Brookhaven is moving in new and exciting directions,” says Gibbs. “In the next decade, we hope to expand our nuclear and particle physics efforts to build a next-generation electron-ion collider, among other projects. In general, national labs develop and use science and technology to address critical issues such as energy security, national and nuclear security and environmental clean-up.”

Doon met his wife, Teri Barbero, on a blind date in New York City. “We went to a cool Indian restaurant in midtown,” recalls Gibbs. “We were inseparable after that, and were married about a year later.”

The couple lives in Setauket, New York. They have two sons, Theo, 20, and Alex, 18. The family enjoys skiing, soccer, and backyard barbecues.

Doon visits Utah on occasion to visit friends and family. His father is always ready with a physics lesson for the youngster.

The Gandhis, BS’86, 91, 92

Last December, when the three Gandhi children, Rajesh BS’86, Monica BS’91 and Leena BS’92 returned home to Salt Lake City—two from one coast, and one from the other—they celebrated their parents fifty-fifth wedding anniversary. As alumni, all three, from the School of Biological Sciences, they must have had a lot to reflect on.

Their father, Om, now aged 84, had brought his young family to the U in 1967 during the “summer of love” from their native India when Rajesh “Tim,” the only child at the time, was three years old. A Professor of Electrical Engineering at the U for over 50 years (and former department chair) Om has since retired. Says Rajesh, “We essentially grew up in the Merrill Engineering Building.” He and his sisters remember department picnics and other college events. “We were especially impressed as children with all of the colored chalk they had in the classrooms,” remembers Rajesh. Both Om and the Gandhi children’s mother (Santosh) had to leave home at a young age to pursue further education. After Om earned his PhD at the University of Michigan in the late 50s, he returned to the subcontinent where he taught physics for a time in a small town in India before accepting an opportunity to return to the U.S. He chose the U.

Once the children were older, Mrs. Gandhi returned to school herself, and even took classes from her husband. Far from showing her favoritism, he insisted on only answering her questions during office hours! She eventually finished her degree in computer programming before taking a position at the Salt Lake branch of 3M.

It was an educated family, for sure, and all in the sciences. It was also a family inextricably tied to the University of Utah. All three of the Gandhi children attended the U because it was local, “a function of my parents’ having to leave home early [in their studies] in post-partition India,” says Monica who attended Harvard for her MD and who is currently Professor of Medicine and Associate Chief of the Division of HIV, Infectious Disease, and Global Medicine at UCSF. She also serves as Medical Director of the Ward 86 HIV Clinic at San Francisco General Hospital, one of the oldest HIV clinics in the country. All three siblings remember the excitement of coming to the U after going to public schools in the 1970s/80s, recalling how it broadened their horizons from the more limited experiences they had growing up.

“We were all pretty much wedded to the U. Part of our ethos growing up” in Utah, continues Monica. Attending the U was liberating, they say, mind-opening with a bit of counter-culture at play after going through the public school system in Salt Lake. And certainly it was formative.

“I was moved to enter HIV care,” says Monica, “after growing up in a place where I saw friends coming out as gay in high school struggle with stigma. I also became interested in infectious diseases, which differentially affect the poor, after going to India several times as a child to visit grandparents and witnessing the stark contrast between rich and poor. This set me on the path to medical school.

” Beginning her sophomore year Monica worked on chemotaxis in E.coli with her undergraduate advisor Dr. John (“Sandy”) Parkinson in his lab. She will be returning to Utah as this year’s convocation speaker in May. She describes the Bay Area where she currently lives as a place “that couldn’t be more different than Utah.” Although San Francisco is generally a place where gay and transgender individuals have sought refuge from more conservative places throughout the U.S., “stigma towards people living with HIV still exists and must constantly be combatted,” she says.

Before Monica enrolled in the U, Rajesh, five years older, worked in Dr. Baldomero “Toto” Olivera’s lab, the celebrated faculty researcher whose subject model is poisonous cone snails. “Toto was an incredible mentor to me and to countless others,” says Rajesh. “He taught me the transformative power of science and set me on the road to a career in biology and medicine. I would not be where I am without his encouragement and influence.”

Rajesh’s U experience was as much about philosophy and history as biology. Both he and Leena remember fondly the five-term Intellectual Traditions of the West colloquia with professors like the beloved theologian and classicist Dr. Sterling McMurrin. “At the U, I experienced a whole new world from my time in public schools,” says Rajesh. “It was a place packed with people of diverse experiences, interests and perspectives. It was a vibrant and exciting place to be.”

Around the time Rajesh entered medical school, also at Harvard, he recalls with Monica, the state of affairs of that singular time in American medical history. “HIV was just ramping up. It was a devastating disease and one that was being defined in front of our eyes.” Between 1988–90, the medical sector was furiously attempting to figure out how the disease manifested itself. Treatments were very poor. He especially admires Kristen Ries, MD, MCAP who for a time was head of the clinic at the U serving HIV/AIDS patients. The difference, he says, between the attitude toward the sick in small towns compared to, again, a place like San Francisco at this time was “very moving to me,” he says. Currently, he practices medicine in Boston where he is a specialist in infectious disease and Medical Director of the HIV Clinic at Massachusetts General Hospital and Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. He is also actively involved in HIV clinical research, working on discovering a cure for HIV—the disease that defined his generation.

While all three Gandhis ended up as medical doctors, Leena, who has focused on oncology for the past 10-plus years, currently leads early drug development at Lilly Pharma. Leena earned her PhD at the University of California Berkeley in DNA replication studies before attending New York University for medical school, followed by her residency at Mass General and a fellowship at Harvard Medical School, both in Boston. She characterizes her experience at the U as providing “a genuine ‘college experience’. [The School of Biological Sciences] …was all about scientific inquiry,” she says. “I learned something every day from [then] junior faculty like Dr. Mary Bekerhle [now head of the Huntsman Cancer Institute].” Leena also worked in Ted and Tucker Gurney’s lab in cell biology.

“The spirit of scientific inquiry was everywhere,” she continues, “and it really motivated me to go on for a PhD in the science of medicine and the early development of drugs… At the U, I learned that science drives how we interact at the macro level. It was very grounding.” With the benefits of the novel field of immune-oncology, Leena still has patients who have been free of cancer for more than ten years. But, of course, there is still work to be done. “At Lilly I’m able to do work at a much larger scale and with a much broader population.”

The Gandhi Effect found in Rajesh, Monica and Leena Gandhi— from “sea to shining sea”—is indeed a rarity, what one might call “A Triple Threat” that the School is proud to embrace.

Our DNA Magazine

McKay Hyde, BS’97

McKay Hyde (Honors B.A. Mathematics, B.A. Physics ’97) always enjoyed math and science, but it was taking a series of physics classes at the U, between his junior and senior year in high school, that changed his life. “I always enjoyed mathematics,” he said. “But physics showed me how mathematics could be used to solve real-world problems. That was tremendously exciting to me and still is.”

The Hyde Family

Today Hyde is managing director in Equities Engineering for the New York office of Goldman Sachs and is responsible for building systems to manage securities inventory and collateral, working closely with teams across Engineering, as well as the Finance, Operations and Securities divisions. “I like being part of a cross-functional team, building relationships and working together to find solutions that impact the organization and the clients we serve,” he said. “The combination of using mathematics and computer science applied to practical problems is very rewarding.”

He joined Goldman Sachs in 2006 and was named managing director in 2010. At Goldman Sachs, Hyde has had a range of responsibilities. He was head of the global Market Risk Technology team within Finance and Risk Engineering. Before that, Hyde led the Trading Strats team for Interest Rate Products in New York as well as the Core Quant Strats team, which developed models, algorithmic trading methods, and pricing infrastructure used by a number of trading desks. (“Strat” is a term that originated with Goldman Sachs to describe individuals that use tools from mathematics and computer science to build financial models In his Core Quant Strat role, Hyde led the build out of the Strat teams in Bengaluru (formerly Bangalore), India, known as “The Silicon Valley of India.”

McKay Hyde, BS'97

Roots in Utah and at the U

Hyde grew up in Salt Lake City and North Salt Lake, graduating from Woods Cross High School. He met his wife, Marie, in an “outstanding” honors class taught by Professor Emeritus Jack Newell (“Education and Identity”), who served as dean and principal architect of the U’s Liberal Education Program. In his first two years at the U Hyde was also active in the U’s music program, playing the trumpet in several university bands—Concert, Marching, Pep, and Jazz.

Hyde gives credit to the education he received at the U with helping prepare him for a career in the financial sector. “I received a tremendous education in physics and mathematics, including research experience working in the Cosmic Ray group and in probability theory. The U provides great value as an institution—a quality education at a reasonable cost,” he said.

He also has great memories of three professors who made a difference for him during his undergraduate years: Davar Khoshnevisan (professor and current chair of the Math Department), Hyde’s undergraduate research advisor in mathematics; Martha Bradley, former dean of the Honors College, and the late Professor Gale Dick, whose “physics lectures were a work of art,” said Hyde.

Using Agile Principles in Undergraduate Research

Hyde believes students should be encouraged to participate in research opportunities early in their undergraduate years, and he applauds the decision of the College of Science to focus on a new program called the Undergraduate Research Initiative. “Research is very different from coursework—it’s really a separate skill,” said Hyde. “Engaging and encouraging undergrads to work together in research opportunities provides a far richer educational experience that really pays off in preparing students for demanding careers.”

To that end, Hyde thinks the same concepts and principles that teams use in Agile software development can effectively be applied to something like the Undergraduate Research Initiative program. “Creating an Agile environment—whether in software development or research—is essentially the same,” said Hyde.

“It involves developing and supporting a culture that encourages a team of people to work toward a common goal. To that end, a large project or research problem can be broken down into smaller tasks. A scrum master or team leader evaluates the special skills and talents of each individual on the team, assigns them to specific tasks, and the team comes together frequently—typically during a daily stand up —over focused sprints—typically 2-3 weeks long—to complete those tasks yielding demonstrable progress at the end of each sprint. By repeating this process, the team improves while building confidence and trust through repeated accomplishment of its goals.”

Previous Academic Career

After earning degrees at the U in 1997 Hyde completed a Ph.D. in Applied and Computational Mathematics from the California Institute of Technology in 2003. Hyde worked as a postdoc in the School of Mathematics at the University of Minnesota and later joined Rice University as an assistant professor of computational and applied mathematics.

When Hyde first left academia to work at Goldman Sachs, he wondered if he would need to dress and act like a “stereotypical banker.” But he discovered it was a much easier transition. “I found smart people from technical fields applying their skills in the area of finance,” he said. “It made me realize the importance of being open to new opportunities—taking the skills and talents you have and using them in different fields or industries to build relationships with others and do meaningful work. That’s really what it’s all about.”

Hyde and his wife, Marie, enjoy living in New Jersey and are the parents of four children: a son studying music at Berklee College of Music; a daughter at Brigham Young University (currently serving a church mission in Peru); and a son and daughter in high school.

 - First Published in Discover Magazine, Fall 2019

Alumni VS Coronavirus

Alumni Alert
Randy Rasmussen, PhD'98

SBS alumni Randy Rasmussen is the founder of BioFire Diagnostics which, along with ARUP and other Utah biotech companies, is making a difference in fighting the coronavirus.

Randy Rasmussen, PHD'98

UTAH BIOTECH COMPANIES RALLY TO FIGHT THE CORONAVIRUS

After a new virus, COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) was deemed a pandemic by the World Health Organization and then rapidly spread throughout the United States and other countries throughout the world, healthcare professionals and patients alike became vocal about the lack of testing kits available throughout the state and country.

In order to ensure that a greater percentage of the population would have accessibility to testing in the event that it was needed, the Food and Drug Administration announced a series of regulatory changes for laboratories and other diagnostic companies that gave already certified high-complexity laboratories (such as the ones found in hospitals or doctor’s offices) the ability to use their own tests to diagnose COVID-19, instead of the pre-authorized and distributed tests from the CDC.

BIOFIRE CREATED CORONAVIRUS TESTS IN TWO MONTHS

As a result, several Utah biotech companies stepped up to the plate, including Biofire Diagnostics, and it’s sister company BioFire Defense, who created a specific biological test used to help healthcare providers throughout the country screen for the novel virus. Partnering with the Department of Defense on the development of the test, BioFire managed to create the test and have it certified for use in as little as two months, a lightspeed feat just when patients across the world needed one the most.

Biofire

“Part of that [shortened time frame] was because the FDA was amazing. They were so good to work with. My team was sending emails to the FDA in the middle of the night and they were getting responses within minutes. It was super impressive. And so I think that’s why the development time was super-compressed,” says Wade Stevenson, senior vice president of BioFire Diagnostics when discussing the timeline of the BioFire test. “The Department of Defense [also] provided us with some end-targets that supported the product that they wanted and they gave us some funds to help get there. The development work was done by BioFire Defense and then BioFire Diagnostics does most of the manufacturing.”

The BioFire test wouldn’t have become a reality without their hundreds of employees coming in to work on the front lines every day. “You can’t do research and diagnostics from home,” laughs Stevenson when asked how the company is handling the process while adhering to the new social distancing guidelines. “You also can’t fit production lines into anyone’s home. So we, as a company, had to take a hard look at who can do their job at home or not. Governor Herbert did claim BioFire an essential business, however.”

Essential, indeed. Throughout the country, and the rest of the world, BioFire’s diagnostic capabilities are capable of saving the lives of thousands of potentially sick patients. In fact, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio specifically called out another BioFire diagnostic tool, the BioFire FilmArray Respiratory Panels, in his plan to help curb the spread of COVID-19 in New York City. “First thing [healthcare providers] will do, or among the first thing that they will do, is to test you with BioFire,” said de Blasio in a televised March 9th press conference.

De Blasio went on to discuss how providers would use the BioFire respiratory panels to first screen patients for twenty of the most common respiratory viruses to determine if it could be something other than COVID-19. Only after a patient tested negative with the BioFire respiratory test would they be tested for COVID-19, which could save hundreds of tests for those who are likely positive.

“We will be adding COVID-19 to the [respiratory label] but that will take a few more months of development,” says Stevenson. “[When that is added] that will change the game because you can rule out COVID-19 right along with the 20 other cases of respiratory infection.”

Though the FilmArray respiratory panels are already available for purchase, the initial batch of BioFire’s COVID-19 tests was sent to the Department of Defense in mid-March. The company expects to have the test available on a clinical basis around the third week of April.

ARUP LABORATORIES PROVIDES TESTING CAPABILITIES TO UTAHNS

Additionally, to further help meet the need of sick Utahns, ARUP Laboratories, a nonprofit enterprise of the University of Utah, was one of the first non-public health laboratories to offer COVID-19 testing when the pandemic first hit.

ARUP Labs

“ARUP began working with an outside manufacturing partner back in January.  As soon as the FDA issued their guidance in late February, ARUP was able to complete the validation of the test, and we began running tests on March 11,” says Brian Jackson, official spokesperson for ARUP Laboratories.

Between March 11-27th ARUP Laboratories revved up their testing capacity to run 2,400 tests per day. However, in order to preserve both testing capacity and rapid result delivery, ARUP is focusing initial testing efforts on Utah, and as of late March is not offering COVID-19 testing to hospitals outside of the state.

In an online press release, Sherrie Perkins, MD, PHD, and CEO at ARUP says that ARUP has faced challenges in sourcing the needed reagents and other supplies needed to run these tests at scale. And they aren’t the only ones, though BioFire manufactures their own reagents, they too are worried about meeting the demand for their products.

“Demand for the tests is going to be much greater than our ability to provide them,” says Stevenson. “We will very likely launch [the clinical COVID-19 test] under an allocation where we can only fill a [certain number of orders.]” And that’s a problem echoed throughout the entire diagnostic industry.

OTHER COMPANY SUPPORT AGAINST COVID-19

Though the lack of reagents is causing some uneasiness for healthcare providers and biotech companies throughout the country, there are a few other companies throughout Utah who are doing anything and everything they can to normalize the situation as much as possible.

On March 20th, Chris Gibson, CEO of the Salt Lake-based biotech powerhouse, Recursion Pharmaceuticals announced in a series of tweets that they would be partnering with a local “BioSafety Level 3” facility to do a series of experiments on “compounds and their efficacy against COVID-19.”

The Recursion team promised to share any discoveries with the scientific community and Gibson confirmed that the company would not be seeking profit on any discoveries that might be made. But it’s not just the biotech companies throughout Utah rallying around the doctors, nurses, and patients fighting on the front lines. In true tech-community spirit, the companies who make up the Silicon Slopes are working hard to do their part, as well.

In a town hall meeting just days after Gov. Herbert first put the guidelines in place in early March, Silicon Slopes members set up a community relief fund designed to help those in need. They plan to use their allocated funds throughout Utah to fund things like additional FDA approved tests for Utahns, the aquisition of medical supplies for healthcare and nonprofit workers, as well as additional public health and K-12 education efforts.

“One part of Silicon Slopes’ mission is to serve,” says Clint Betts, executive director for Silicon Slopes. “COVID-19 impacts all of us, so it’s important that we all play a role as we address this issue. By pooling our collective resources we’ll be able to come out of this in a lot better position than if we operated in our own siloes.”

Other tech companies in the area, such as Podium, are taking a more targeted approach to help restaurants who have been severely affected by the pandemic. In mid March, the Podium team released their “Text To Takeout” software that allows customers to directly text local restaurants to place, purchase, and pick up their orders. The software makes the process as safe as possible for all parties involved, which provides comfort to customers in a time of uncertainty.

But that’s not all. Other companies like Avii have offered their tax accounting software services to small businesses for free, Woodside Homes announced that they would be collecting PPE for healthcare workers, Nav is offering their expertise with small business finances to those in need, Walker Edison donated over 500 desks to students and workers now forced to work from home, Nearmap is offering their digital software to governments at no cost in order to help them plan COVID-19 relief, and Solutionreach came up with an innovative way to streamline the doctor/patient communication process. And this was all just within the last month.

“We recognize there is a lot of information circulating around COVID-19 and many healthcare organizations are left with no solution to reach out to their patients in a timely fashion with the proper information,” says Solutionreach CEO, Josh Weiner. “Allowing free use of our emergency messaging is just one small way we can continue to support the healthcare community during the COVID-19 situation.”

As the news continues to fill with depressing stories of grief, poverty, and a collapsing system, it’s so important to remember the companies, whether they be biotech or otherwise, who are putting everything into making this situation a little bit better for the rest of us. “There are so many stories of private companies that have approached us and offered their help,” says Betts. “Utah really is going to be a case study for how both the private and public sector can make a difference for the communities they serve.”

 

 - by Kelsie Foreman, in Utah Business Magazine, April 13, 2020