George Elliott, PhD’81

“My graduate career began in 1973,” says George Elliott (PhD’81), who with his wife Lissa resides in Virginia. “I was one of only two students accepted into the molecular/cellular/genetics part of the Biology Department that had been newly constructed by K. Gordon Lark. Gordon had hired a dozen or more new professors, mostly young and engaged in a potpourri of cutting edge, exciting research.”

Elliott retired from the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) in 2016 following an auspicious career as, first, a patent examiner, manager and Group Director of the Tech Center responsible for biotechnology and pharmaceutical patent examination, and finally as Deputy Chief Policy Officer for Operations in the Office of Policy and International Affairs. A patent gives its owner the legal right to exclude others from making, using, or selling an invention for a limited period of years in exchange for publishing an enabling public disclosure of the invention.

Stationed in Alexandria, VA, Elliott coordinated operations of approximately 45 attorneys and 55 admin and program staff responsible for advising U.S. Government on Intellectual Property matters and representing the U.S. government in IP-related international organizations and negotiations around the world.

The Office of the Administrator for Policy and International Affairs at USPTO Assists the Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in advising the President, through the Secretary of Commerce, and Federal agencies on domestic and international IP issues as well as on United States treaty obligations. Among other tasks, the office also formulates U.S. domestic and international policy regarding protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights while promoting the development of intellectual property systems, nationally and internationally. It also advocates improvements in and more effective means of protecting and enforcing intellectual property rights of United States nationals in the U.S. and throughout the world.

Elliott’s experience at the University of Utah was formative across the board. While at the U, he chose to work with Marty Rechsteiner, now Distinguished Professor Emeritus in Biochemistry, who was continually coming up with new ways to look at intracellular small and large molecule metabolism.

“The lessons I learned working with Marty and in my interactions with [SBS faculty] Toto Olivera, Mario Capecchi, Dana Carroll, Bill Gray and others, stayed with me for the rest of my career, whether in research or at the Patent and Trademark Office.”

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

 
by David Pace
 
About Planned Giving:

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

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

Jim Kaschmitter, BS’72

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Carol Blair, BA’64

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 
by David Pace
 

Emily Bates, BS’97

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

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

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

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

Photo credit Andrew Silverman

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

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

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

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

      You can read about the history of the ACCESS program here

 
by David Pace
 

Arie Sitthichai Mobley, BS’00

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With her husband Michael, the Mobleys have one daughter.

 

 
by David Pace
 

Clifford Stocks, BS’80

In these uncertain times when “the new normal” of our lives has yet to emerge, SBS alumnus Clifford Stocks (BS’80) opens a window to fresh air on the COVID-19 pandemic. That updraft comes from his scientific orientation and is underscored by his enduring ambition to use his training in biology and beyond to elevate the health of his fellow humans.

“At the end of the day the COVID-19 pandemic is a blip,” he reminds us. “Yes, it caused and will cause many premature deaths and a disruption of lifestyle, and in many cases irreversible economic burden. However, the biomedical complex in the world has become so sophisticated we will have treatment solutions and a vaccine in short order.” He continues on the updraft with a coda:  “And the world will go on as before, but hopefully this pandemic will help people remember that life can be fleeting and to stop and think about what is important to them. And to let those close to them know they are loved.”

It’s a take on this singular time that the world desperately needs right now, a perspective rooted in valuing not only science but the inviolable drive of people to persevere and to assemble ourselves into the collaborative army of our common humanity.

Stocks knows something about perseverance in both the clinical realm and in that of business. Raised in Wyoming before arriving in Salt Lake City, he wrestled in high school and received a scholarship to the University of Utah. “I wrestled four years under coach Marvin Hess,” he says. “This was the only way I could afford to attend college.”

His memories of the U include warm summer nights, trips to the desert—"the heavy focus on the outdoors and exploring the beauty and wonder of Utah”–epitomized by the slickrock country of Moab where Stocks was born. And his time studying biology gave him the opportunity to learn a range of topics in the biological sciences and to determine that he would “dedicate my life's work toward applying biology to help humankind.”

Not surprisingly, that dedication settled in Stocks largely because of important mentors while at the School of Biological Sciences, including Dr. Mario Capecchi, who would later be awarded the Nobel Prize, and whose biochemistry class “inspired in me a love and respect for the power of molecular biology.”

Dr. Robert Vickery, now SBS professor emeritus, was another formative figure for the budding scientist. He “taught evolution and cemented for me the importance of

Clifford & Renee Stocks

recognizing natural selection processes in many biological systems, says Stocks, “including the ability of cancer to form resistance and the power of differentiation in the immune system to combat infection, disease and neoplasms.”

But it was during his senior year as research technician in the laboratory of Seth Pincus, MD in the Department of Immunology at the U’s Medical Center that the young researcher found a home in science. Stocks stayed on there for four years following his graduation from the U in 1980.

After earning an MBA at the University of Chicago where he also did research in molecular genetics and cell biology, Stocks transitioned from the bench to the business side of biotech when he landed his dream position and stayed for 15 years at ICOS Corporation (before it was acquired in 2007 by Lilly and Company). Following other professional stops Stocks founded Seattle-based biotech company OncoResponse, and as CEO has narrowed his broad range of research interests to immuno-oncology. The company currently has several antibodies directed at modulating immunosuppression of the tumor microenvironment in pre-clinical development and is working toward increasing immunotherapy offerings and improving the lives of cancer patients.

“I have always loved rivers and mountains,” says the former wrestler and kayaker, turning to his life outside the world of the lab and of business. “During the '80s and '90s I was part of a world class whitewater kayaking team that conquered several first descents of rivers in North and South America. Today Stocks is an avid fly fisherman which keeps him near rivers in the mountains.  Along with his wife of 25 years, Renee, and their five children they remain focused on academics, athletics and the outdoors.

“Life and career are a journey so make sure to enjoy it and do not let obstacles weigh you down,” he advises. “Oh, and wear your mask to protect others from the spread of COVID-19, and expect others to do same, to protect you and your loved ones.”

The pandemic may be a “blip,” in the organic scheme of things, but it is also, potentially, a transformative opening for inquiry, discovery and resolution. It is an opportunity for all of us, especially, perhaps, for those at the forefront of public health and in the science-inflected imaginations of those like Clifford Stocks.

 
by David Pace, photo by Cassie Redstone
 

Bill Jack, BA’77

Bill Jack’s undergraduate experience at the University of Utah’s Chemistry Department was foundational and flavored his graduate school and professional path. In hindsight, Bill also recognizes the influence of the few humanities courses he participated in where discussions on James Joyce and American Literature altered his perspective on the world. His only regret about his undergraduate years here at the U, is that he did not slow down and take advantage of broader educational opportunities to learn as much as he could in both the humanities as well as in chemistry.

During one undergraduate summer, Bill was inspired by a single sentence in a physics course that would influence the way he approached the world. The instructor, Dr. Swaggart, began his class by telling the students, “I’m going to teach you about a new way to look at the world.” Bill integrated this sentiment in a variety of different subjects since then, whether in math, social studies, literature, chemistry, anything really. “It’s a different way to see the world, and that broad background just increases your appreciation of the world,” says Bill.

Bill’s educational foundation lead him to a graduate program at Duke University where he thought he would begin a career as a physical biochemist after “tailing” Sidney Velick all summer, but, in an effort to simplify his newlywed life, he asked to work in a lab which quickly altered his path. He ended up being a graduate student with Paul Modrich researching an enzyme that ended up being one of the enzymes that is foundational at New England Biolabs--the only “real” job he’s ever had after he completed his graduate and postdoc work.

Bill has been working at NEB for the past 31 years, and now enjoys the freedom to take risks in his research. He confirms that the company’s founder is absolutely right when he claims that, “New England Biolabs scientists can’t wait to get to work each morning to see how their experiments turned out.” Bill’s latest project is admittedly risky, but that’s what makes it so exciting. The possibility that something might work as he tries to wrap his mind around different ways of analyzing and changing the environment to find a solution for such a fascinating biological phenomena keeps him pushing new boundaries.

Bill is collaborating with a team at Columbia University with an expertise in the biology of the DNA sequence he’s investigating. They’re growing, breaking, and piecing back together the sequences to try to replicate in a test tube the DNA splicing that happens naturally. “I believe that there will be steps along the way that we will have insights into other organisms, other processes whether they be normal ones or ones that cause disease, and there’s also even prospects from a commercial perspective that some of the enzymes involved will be useful in advancing other molecular biology techniques. The company I work for takes enzymes that occur in nature, pulls them out, and characterizes them so they’re available in other workflows to prepare DNA sequences.”

 
by Anne Vivienne
 

Griffin Chure, BS’13

Griffin Chure’s favorite memory of his time at the U was working in Dr. David Blair’s research lab. “During the summers, when class-load was low,” he says, “we characterized the flagellar protein of FIhE, a protein of unknown function." His interactions with Blair and Dr. Sandy Parkinson “firmly set” him on a path towards a career in research.

With a base of confidence provided by mentors in the School of Biological Sciences (SBS), Chure found a natural segue into biophysics, propelled by a course he took from Dr. Saveez Saffarian in 2012. That work “solidified my deep interest in the intersection of biology and physics,” he says, the area in which, after graduation with honors in 2013, he spent his entire graduate career, culminating in 2020 with his PhD in Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics, at the California Institute of Technology Pasadena.

Griffin Chure

Currently, Chure is a postdoctoral scholar in the Department of Applied Physics at Caltech while next year he will be moving to Stanford University as a National Science Foundation Postdoc Research Fellow to work with Prof. Jonas Cremer. There he will help develop and experimentally test physiologically-grounded mathematical models of bacterial evolution.

Chure’s journey started in the small Green River-side town of Jensen (population 412), seventeen miles from the Colorado state line in Uintah County. “Being raised in rural Utah,” he says, “the option to attend a university with a strong standing in the biological sciences and [to] remain close to family and nature made my choice to attend the U an easy one.” SBS was clearly lucky to get Chure as he continues advancing academically at some of the most prestigious research universities, which like the U, are members of the American Association of Universities, composed of the nation’s top research universities.

His advice to students is to explore science and to do it outside of their comfort level. “It is also important,” he says, “to be sure to be involved in science outside the classroom.” It wasn’t until his graduate studies, he explains, that he was “exposed to the beauty that is probability theory, linear algebra, dynamical systems, and other subfields.” That coupled with extensive training in computer programming “foundationally changed the way I pursue research in biology. The future of biology will be written in the language of mathematics, and quantitative methods should become a central feature of biology education at the U.”

Looking at the larger picture of society and science, Chure is worried that we “live in a time where objective truth and reality seems to be losing its importance with the general populace, even to the point where wearing face coverings has become viewed as a political statement.” Work hard, he says, to convey the science you’re doing to the general public. Even beyond the pandemic, he believes, the only way to fight the erosion of trust in science is to help improve the communication.

Outside of research the recently-minted PhD from Utah has a passion for graphic design and art which dovetails nicely with the work of his wife Bárbara de Araujo Soares who writes Hollywood screenplays. They feel fortunate to have gainful employment during the pandemic. “Going forward, the biggest impact this virus will (hopefully) have on our world,” Chure says, “will be a paradigm shift on how we view and support social causes such as health care, homeless and veteran services, and equitable income support.”

 

 

 
by David Pace
 

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