Coal Miner’s Daughter

Coal miner's Daughter


Spotlight on the first woman chair of the Mining Engineering Department’s Industrial Advisory Board — Denee Hayes.

Denee Hayes with her father at the Mining Engineering Department's award ceremony 2023.

“The work I’ve done both within and outside of the mining industry has helped me understand what the outside community thinks about mining,” says Denee Hayes BSME’02. She explains that there is a misunderstanding about how mining contributes to green energy, sustainability and the environment. Through her diverse work experience, she developed the talking points and negotiating skills to be a moderator and mediator between mining and environmental groups. “It really shaped the work that I’m doing today in mining, manufacturing as well as utilities and other sectors.”  

While not on the trajectory of the late Loretta Lynn, whose 1971 Grammy-winning song “Coal Miner’s Daughter (and later, the Academy Award-winning bio-pic starring Sissy Spacek) told the story of the country singer’s upbringing in Butcher Hollow, Kentucky and her elevation into stardom, Hayes’ journey is no less auspicious. In fact, Hayes’ career may end up having a profound impact on the defining issues of our times. Arguably, it already has.  

Hayes was raised in Farmington, NM by parents who owned an oil and gas business. Her father was from Carbon County, Utah and not only worked in oil and gas as well as in mining sales. He also drove a truck for the coal mines in Wyoming. Both of her grandfathers also worked in oil/gas, construction and mining in Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona. Even before high school graduation, Hayes showed an interest in getting a degree in mining engineering. Poised to swoop in, the University of Utah offered a full-ride scholarship and, critically, the industry offered internships and industry experiences starting the summer before she arrived on campus in 1994.  


Thought leader 

Since graduation in 2002 Hayes has become a thought leader in the necessary convergence of mining and the new green economy. This, while working for nine years in-house with Utah’s Kennecott Copper until 2020 when she pivoted to private consulting, which she continues to this day.  On the academic side, she was the first woman chair of the Mining Engineering department’s industrial advisory board. 

 The stakes right now in reimagining the mining sector as it relates to a green economy could not be higher. Regarding the climate challenge at large, we really only have one chance to get it right, according to New York Times David Wallace-Wells. In a recent Tanner Humanities Lecture at the U, the climate journalist reported that half of all carbon emissions have come about in just the last 25 years. Even more startling, the weight of that carbon (yes, there are methods of measuring it), is more than the total mass of everything ever built by humans and still standing on earth.  

 Hayes and her colleagues and collaborators may well be up to the herculean task as they look more closely at the complexity of the mining/environment conundrum, and to find allies. “I like the ability to pull together — the interdisciplinary approach — to solving these problems and issues,” she says.  “Diversity of thought and mining engineering gave me the technical knowledge and the language to work between the parties.” She views her training at the U as forging her into a “jack of all trades,” earning a degree that crosses various kinds of engineering — mechanical, civil, electrical — with the pure sciences of physics, chemistry and high-level mathematics. This interdisciplinary approach has threaded through her training and work experience via software development, utilities, manufacturing, architecture, mining engineering, integrated operations, and corporate leadership, all while deploying her signature bridge-building skills.  

 The span between mining and the environmental ethic is not a small one, and it is by dint of Hayes’ experience in a variety of sectors that she has forged her current work as a consultant. “The work I think I did [at Kennecott and elsewhere] gave me a view of two sides, really seeing how the industry has a PR problem and that mining [professionals] have really pitted themselves against environmentalists and other industries, and how we really need to show that if you are pro-green energy you have to be pro-mining.”  

At first blush, such a statement seems counterintuitive, but she continues. “If you think about the trajectory society is currently on “there are ebbs and flows in everything for green energy” whether it’s photovoltaic materials to convert sunlight into electric energy or other sources of renewable energy, like wind and hydro power.  

The greening of America 

To keep up with green economy demands, Hayes explains that the world “will need to mine the same amount of copper between now and 2030/40 as we have in all of humanity,” And that is an example of just one metal. “Because there’s that much copper that goes into those things [i.e., green technologies, coupled] with population growth, even power transmission — from coal or a green energy source —  you still utilize copper and a whole host of other critical minerals within that energy transmission and distribution.”   

Do you rely on a mobile phone? Hayes is quick to remind us that more than half of the periodical table goes into producing and running your cell phone. Furthermore, “anything in the periodic table needs to be mined.” 

The challenge of greening America is not just about extraction of critical metals from new as well as historical mines (known as brownfield sites) which are being re-opened and are using new technologies to re-mine, for example, tailings. It’s also about water use, of particular concern to those of us in the West. Part of building a consensus between two opposing sides is to hold a space for both without papering over reality, on either side.  

“I think that we now have an opportunity to right some of the wrongs of mining in the past and some of the ways that we didn’t understand how we were harming the Earth,” she says, not only referencing Environmental Protection Agency-designated superfund sites of mines but seeing the sector from the view of digital optimization of the entire value chain. These involve standards, both enforced by governmental regulations as well as industry best practices that don’t exist outside the U.S. which is why Americans have relied on questionable extraction services outside the country, something that Hayes finds unacceptable. “If we want to continue leading the lives we are leading, we have to do our own extraction operations of critical materials ethically.” 

Ethical practices extend as well to current mining employees and can only add to efficiencies that stakeholders demand. Hayes values “helping connect the executive level strategy to the front line, figuring out how to get the front line activated to enact that strategy.” In other words, it's not just about getting employee “buy-in” but demonstrating the “how,” to all of them — operators, maintainers, samplers and surveyors on site — of deploying lofty executive team decisions. “You’re leading people and focused on their safety and well-being and not just managing the tasks at hand,” she says.  

It's all part of Hayes’ “holistic” approach to the issues, of thinking outside the blast hole, as it were, and through the “muck” (a general term in the industry of blasted rock that is ready to be loaded). A thoughtful intervention characterized by the belief that the parts of something are interconnected and can be explained only by reference to the whole is how “defining problems” of our age get solved . . . or at least managed.   

Moving the needle 

In the field.

And clearly for Hayes, it’s not just about operations, safety and profit — or even of financial stakeholders for that matter. It’s about moving the needle in the industry towards not only a greener way of doing things, but a more just and equitable way of doing those things as well.  

 The systemic reimagining of mining is a daunting proposition, and it requires bringing in diverse voices to inform, what Hayes calls, the “broader topics of that broader conversation.” She well remembers being an undergraduate — one of only three or four women in the department. That hasn’t changed much in the last 30 years with most mining organizations reporting only 7-10 percent of a work force made up of women.  

 “The real work needs to be for everyone to understand that a career in mining is a career for the environment, for green energy, and having that will be an attraction for people to come in. [We need to] make it psychologically safe to work in this industry, which it hasn’t always been. It’s work that we all have to do . . . .When you’re trying to tackle these large problems in industry you really need the diversity of thought that comes out of these different mining programs.”  

 The U’s program is no different. As with other institutions of higher education, its metrics of success are research, funding, student enrollment, and student success. “Industry needs to do its part to help create a pipeline of students to the U as well as look to the university to do some of their important research.” “The same holds true in reverse, universities need to be asking industry what will be most impactful for mining of the future.” If things don’t change, mining engineering departments across the country like the U’s will dwindle and die. “We’ve seen that in West Virginia,” she says, referencing beleaguered West Virginia University. In August the flagship Morgantown campus proposed eliminating nine percent of the majors and seven percent of its full-time faculty members.  

Critical materials, critical thought 

Fewer and fewer programs in all academic fields means less and less diversity of thought, which is critically needed. Hayes intends to advocate for better associations between industry and the university for this very reason. It’s a personally held mission that might have not only a macro difference but a micro one as well in these challenging times. She and her husband are the proud parents of another proverbial “miner’s daughter,” and her daughter is likely to be better positioned to consider a degree and a career in mining engineering because of her mother’s continuing hard work in the sector.  

When Denee Hayes recently won an honorary alumna award at the department’s most recent awards ceremony, the coal miner’s daughter had her dad in the room. “He was ecstatic to come and see me.” she says with a smile.  

by David Pace

Solving Water Shortages by Lease

Solving Water shortages Through Lease


Booming growth is driving more demand for water, but climate change, aridification and an over-allocated system ensure a short supply.

Lily Bosworth. Banner Photo Credit: US National Park Service


State lawmakers have looked to farmers to solve Utah’s mounting water issues, hoping they’ll lease water to save the Colorado River and Great Salt Lake.

So far, almost no irrigators have signed up. Their reasons vary, but a pilot program on central Utah’s Price River shows farmers are willing to lease their water if it makes economic sense and if they trust the process. And the state has a lot of hurdles to overcome before water leasing makes a measurable difference.

“If we can generate the revenue we need with water versus putting something in the ground, it works,” said Kevin Cotner, a hay farmer near Price. “It’s yet another cash crop.”

Cotner just wrapped up his third season participating in the Upper Colorado Basin Commission’s water leasing project, called the System Conservation Pilot Program. He irrigated 450 acres this year and left 530 acres fallow. He got paid up to $650 per acre-foot left in-stream.

But Cotner’s participation in the pilot water leasing plan isn’t purely based on economics.

“This is a hard ag area to make a living. Things are pretty severe,” he said. “We’re transforming the desert. Water is one of the big issues.”

Cotner serves as the president of the Carbon Canal Co., and policing use is part of his daily life.

“I’m the bad cop,” he said. “I’m the water guy.”

Even after Utah saw record-breaking snowpack and runoff last winter, Cotner said drought is becoming the norm rather than an exception. Last year, his canal company could only deliver shareholders 38% of the water they’re entitled to on paper.

“That was a hard summer,” he said. “A lot of unhappy people.”

Booming growth in the West is driving more demand for water, but human-fueled climate change, aridification and an over-allocated system have ensured it remains in short supply.

The water leasing pilot is one strategy Upper Basin states identified to get demand back in sync with reality in the Colorado River system.

All the water Cotner conserved by fallowing his fields stayed in the Carbon Canal, making its way back to the Price River, eventually flowing to the Colorado River and Lake Powell reservoir. It will then flow to thirsty Lower Basin states like Arizona and California, helping the Upper Basin fulfill its obligations under the century-old Colorado River Compact.

At least that’s how it’s supposed to work. As of now, Utah and other Upper Basin states don’t have the ability to track where the saved water goes, or ensure another irrigator downstream doesn’t divert it away.

“We want to get there,” said Lily Bosworth, a U alumna from geology & geophysics and now a staff engineer with the Colorado River Authority of Utah. “That’s our goal.”

Read the full article in the Salt Lake Tribune (subscription required). 


More about Lily Bosworth BSG, HGE, '20

Bosworth is a Staff Engineer for the Colorado River Authority of Utah. Born and raised in Ogden, Utah, Lily has observed Utah's dynamic water systems throughout her life and developed an interest in water systems that combine natural and engineered elements with supporting water quality and quantity for all stakeholders. Lily completed bachelor's degrees in Honors Geological Engineering and Environmental Geoscience at the University of Utah, with a thesis on changes in hydrology when beaver dam analogs are installed during the riparian restoration. Lily also completed a master's degree in Hydrologic Science and Engineering at the Colorado School of Mines, with a thesis focusing on water treatment with engineered wetlands. Outside of work, Lily loves to mix and match birding, backpacking, water coloring, yoga, trail running, hiking, biking, and ballet with friends and family.

Andy Thliveris: Remember the Undergrads

Andy Thliveris: 'Remember the Undergrads'


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

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

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

'Get this guy under control'

K. Gordon Lark. Credit: Ben Okun

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

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

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

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

'Ball of energy'

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

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

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

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

'Full steam ahead'

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

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

By David Pace

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

Stephen Nesbitt

Stephen Nesbitt

Stephen Nesbitt

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

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

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

Ed Zipser

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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Bonneville Salt Flats

Bonneville Salt Flats

Jeremiah Bernau

The race to save Bonneville Salt Flats.

In the Utah desert, a treeless expanse of pristine white salt crystals has long lured daredevil speed racers, filmmakers and social media-obsessed tourists. It's so flat that on certain days, visitors swear they can see the curvature of the earth.

The glistening white terrain of the Bonneville Salt Flats, a remnant of a prehistoric lakebed that is one of the American West's many other-worldly landscapes, serves as a racetrack for land speed world records and backdrop for movies like "Independence Day" and "The World's Fastest Indian."

But it's growing thinner and thinner as those who cherish it clamor for changes to save it.

Research has time and again shown that the briny water in the aquifer below the flats is depleting faster than nature can replenish it. As nearby groundwater replaces the mineral-rich brine, evaporation yields less salt than historic cycles of flooding and evaporation left on the landscape.

It's thinned by roughly one-third in the last 60 years. The overall footprint has shrunk to about half of its peak size in 1994. The crust keeps tires cool at high speeds and provides an ideal surface for racing — unless seasonal flooding fails to recede or leaves behind an unstable layer of salt. Racers struggle to find a track long enough to reach record speeds with only 8 miles of track compared to 13 miles several decades ago.

Scientists largely agree that years of aquifer overdraws by nearby potash mining have driven the problem, yet insist that there's no hard evidence that simply paying the mining company to return water to the area will solve it amid detrimental human activity like extracting minerals or driving racecars.

Potash is potassium-based salt primarily used throughout the world as a fertilizer for crops such as corn, soy, rice and wheat. It's extracted in more than a dozen countries throughout the world, mainly from prehistoric lakebeds like Bonneville's.

It's mined from other iconic salt flats, including in Chile, where the thickness is not shrinking in a similar manner.

Collecting water samples near Wendover, Utah, Sept. 13, 2022. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

In Utah, after three decades of studies examining the salt flats, nothing has slowed the deterioration. But officials are funding a new study as they try to find a solution. Researchers are seeking to pinpoint why the salt is fading and what can be done to stop it. Under a $1 million research project spearheaded by the Utah Geological Survey, scientists are gathering data to understand the effects climate change, racing, repaving the salt and operating the mine on leased federal land have on preserving the Salt Flats.

The salt is thinning as climate change drags the West into its third decade of drought, yet it's unclear how that affects the seasonal flood patterns the landscape relies on to maintain its size and footprint.

Frustration is boiling over for Dennis Sullivan, a car-builder and racer who set a land speed record in his 1927 Model T street roadster. His organization, the Salt Flats Racing Association, is convinced the potash mining company that extracts minerals from the flats is the primary reason that the aquifer is being depleted. But rather than point fingers that direction, he and other racers blame the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which oversees the area and is required by federal law to balance multiple uses and preserve it now and into the future.

The Blue Flame at Bonneville Salt Flats on Nov. 4, 1970.

To save the landscape, Sullivan says, the U.S. government needs to find $50 million over 10 years to pay Intrepid Potash, the mining company, to pour briny water it's drawn from the land back on to the flats. He bristles at seeing more time and money spent on research when to him the solution is clear.

"In the world I came from, you study something, you figure out what changes you need to make, you make the changes and then you go back and study it again to see if your changes had an effect on it," said Sullivan. "It's ludicrous to just keep studying it until you do something."

The fragile landscape has become less reliable for racers, who had to cancel "Speed Week" events scheduled for this fall after the salt flats flooded and left them without enough space to drive on.

Though racers insist the answer is obvious, scientists contend that there's no hard evidence that simply returning briny water will reverse the effects of extraction and maintain the salt flats.

Sullivan doesn't blame Intrepid Potash; it has a leasing agreement with the federal government. He says land managers haven't invested in preserving the landscape or replenishing the salt taken off of it.

Intrepid Potash did not respond to questions from The Associated Press.

Jeremiah Bernau, a geologist working on the study with the Utah Geological Survey, said the mining company has already been pouring salt and it's unclear if that's the answer.

A 2016 study found that the areas most susceptible to thinning were places where races are organized. In simple terms, it changes how water can flow through the crust, Bernau said.

"Every use is going to have some sort of impact upon it. It's just trying to rank those, understand how much that impact is and what we can do to mitigate or understand it," Bernau said on a recent tour of the area, where reporters accompanied him as he measured the thickness of the salt and depth of the aquifer.

"My work is trying to understand how is that working and what are the actions that we can do in terms of helping to preserve this landscape," he said.

Backers of the study currently underway hope, if successful, the federal government will consider returning more salt in order to preempt conflict and allow the racers and miners to continue as they have been.

If the study shows salt laydown is effective, Utah state geologist Bill Keach said he expects racers will use the information to push for federal funding to keep up the project.

In 2019, when Utah lawmakers greenlit the initiative, they allocated $5 million, on the condition that the federal government would also provide funding, to return the briny water needed to preserve the salt crust.

Rep. Steve Handy, a Republican who spearheaded the effort, said the racers' lobbyists initially suggested the federal government would meet Utah's investment with an additional $45 million, giving the program the $50 million that Sullivan and other racers say is needed to maintain the status quo.

U.S. Rep Chris Stewart, who represents the area, assured Handy his office was working to secure the funds. Without hard evidence the salt laydown would restore the crust, the $45 million hasn't materialized but Stewart said in a statement that he "remains absolutely committed to finding science-based solutions" to save the crust.

Utah clawed back the majority of the funding after it got no matching federal funds.

"They're doing what they can with $1 million, which has not spread nearly far enough," Handy said, noting that it was ultimately the job of the federal government, not Utah, to manage the land.

But while solutions and the extent to which different parties are responsible is debatable, nobody disagrees that the landscape is a jewel worth preserving. Kneeling down, the crust of fused crystals looks like popcorn. From afar, the surface is moon-like, and draws hundreds of visitors daily, some coming in brightly colored dresses at sunset in search of the perfect picture.

"The fact that you can go out here and see this vast, white expanse with such a beautiful texture on the crust. It unleashes something, maybe more primal in yourself," Bernau said, looking off into the distance.


by Sam Metz and Brady McCombs, first published @

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!



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

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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

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Ed Groenhout

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!

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Adam Madsen

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.

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