Camille-Dreyfus Award

Luisa Whittaker-Brooks recognized with the Camillle-Dreyfus Teacher Scholar Award

Luisa Whittaker-Brooks, an assistant professor in the department of chemistry, is among 16 early career chemists named as a 2021 Camille Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar. Selected by the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation, Camille Dreyfus Teacher-Scholars receive an unrestricted $100,000 research grant.

“I was actually having a meeting with my undergraduate students when I received a text message from my Ph.D. advisor with the news,” Whittaker-Brooks says. “The only thing I could think about after the text was how instrumental my undergrads were in getting this award.”

Camille Dreyfus Teacher-Scholars, according to the Dreyfus Foundation, “are within the first five years of their academic careers, have each created an outstanding independent body of scholarship, and are deeply committed to education.”

Whittaker-Brooks’ award cites her research in “designer hybrid organic-inorganic interfaces for coherent spin and energy transfer.” Her research group, their website says, is “driven by two of the greatest challenges of our time –sustainable energy and low cost electronics for daily use applications. We plan to embark in these new endeavors by synthesizing and elucidating the functional properties of well-defined and high-quality materials for applications in photovoltaics, thermoelectrics, batteries, spintronics, and electronics.”

Story originally published in @theU

Sahar Kanishka

Undergraduate Research Award

Sahar Kanishka

Biology major receives 2021 Outstanding Undergraduate Researcher Award.

Sahar Kanishka remembers daily where her family came from, where they are now, and what opportunity there is for her at the School of Biological Sciences (SBS).

“I’ve always wanted to be a doctor ever since I was younger,” she recently explained in a video interview. “Because my family’s from Afghanistan and they actually fled from the Soviet invasion, they were telling me how the medical resources over there were very scarce when they were escaping. Like things we take for granted here [in the United States]. I want to be able to give back in some way. And that’s my way of giving back, becoming a doctor and contributing what I’ve learned here.”

What Kanishka, now in her junior year as an honors student, is learning happens largely in the Gagnon lab at the SBS where she and her colleagues are studying vertebrate lineage and cell fate choice along with cell signaling and genome engineering. Their subject model is the living zebrafish with which they are attempting to answer the question of how biology builds an animal with millions of cells. The question is complicated by the fact that those millions of cells are continually sharing information while shape-shifting at the same time.


A living organism is the culmination of science turning chaos and cacophony into a kind of marvelous symphony. Using CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing technology, the Gagnon lab is busy marking cells with a genetic barcode that could later be used to trace the lineage of cells that in the zebrafish are similar to other vertebrates, including humans.

The micro “scissors” of CRISPR is no longer just being used to decode the genome, but to make a version, readable to humans, of what cells are doing in real time and how. It’s research that’s contributing to a sea change in genomic studies, and Kanishka is there at the bench experiencing it firsthand. The way Jamie Gagnon, Principal Investigator who holds the Mario Cappechi Endowed Chair at SBS, puts it, the research Kanishka is doing “may lead to a holy grail method for developmental biology—the ability to record developmental history, in living animals, with molecular and spatial resolution.”

Little wonder then that the Undergraduate Research Program at the University of Utah chose Kanishka for this year’s award. In his nomination letter Gagnon, who referred to Kanishka as having “transitioned quickly into an independent scientist," also wrote that he has been “impressed with Sahar’s poise, focus and commitment to research over the last year, which has been particularly challenging for our undergraduate researchers… . Sahar is already the face of STEM research in the College.”

Kanishka’s journey at the U threaded through ACCESS, a signature program of the College of Science. It was a scholarship and mentorship experience that led to re-figuring what research could be. Instead of working primarily on a computer in isolation and doing anatomy lessons from a book, ACCESS and SBS provided her with a hands-on approach in its full cadaver lab. As a pre-med student hoping to earn a joint medical degree and doctorate, Kanishka’s turn as a teaching assistant to professor Mark Nielsen gave her added invaluable experience. ACCESS also gave her a practical skill set, like creating her first research poster and then presenting it publicly.

The ACCESS program

The same has been true in the Gagnon lab where she says you are free to mold your research experience to your own expectations. Research at the U “fosters an environment of curiosity of real research. It’s really beautiful,” she says, “to have someone [like Gagnon] believe in you like that.” This, she concedes, in spite of feeling at times like an imposter as the child of an immigrant family and as a woman. She’s had to “learn through lots of struggles.”

Some lessons from those struggles have been hard won. “You can’t just put science in a box and tell it what to do,” she explains. “I have to allow it the freedom to seek to understand the world rather than to just understand me.” Her joint undergraduate degree in business administration speaks to Kanishka’s sense of the intersectionality of all learning. She was especially impressed with a recent visit by Reshma Shetty, the inaugural SBS Distinguished Lab Alumni who worked with Baldomera “Toto” Olivera in his lab and is a co-founder of Boston-based Gingko Bioworks, a bio-engineering start-up.

But the ballast in Kanishka’s life--both that of her academic career’s and that of her personal story’s--continues to be family. That includes not only her younger sister and parents here in Utah, but also her extended family in Afghanistan and beyond. “I hate that we’re separated by distance,” she says, referring to her overseas cousins, aunts and uncles as “my other parents and siblings. I owe everything to them. They mean everything to me.”

Until she and her extended family are all at least on the same side of the globe, Kanishka has both advice and a caution for her undergraduate colleagues. “Figure out if you want to do something by actually doing it,” she advises, recommending internships for high schoolers not bound for college, including through a program she helps facilitate as a volunteer called Talent Ready Utah. “College can be a business,” she warns, “pumping out students” for a job market they may not resonate with or even prosper in.

But Sahar Kanishka is optimistic about things as well. When asked about the pandemic and the social and economic upheaval, she proffers a winning smile, while adding, “I’m excited to see how college will change and adapt.”

by David Pace

Beckman Abstract

  • Lineage tracing in zebrafish with CRISPR prime editing (S. Kanishka)
    All embryos develop from a single cell. We use lineage tracing to map the relationships between individual cells and back to the initial founding cell. These lineage trees can help us understand how cells acquire their fates during normal development, and how that can go wrong in human disease. An emerging method for lineage tracing in embryos uses cellular barcodes. Cellular barcodes individually tag cells with a unique set of mutations specific to that cell. As cell divisions occur, the barcode is passed on to the progeny cells and a lineage tree can constructed based on cells that share similar barcodes. The CRISPR-Cas9 system for gene editing is an ideal tool for creating a huge diversity of cellular barcodes in embryos. However there are limitations with CRISPR-Cas9, including unpredictable indel formation and difficulties in recovering barcodes from cells. In this project, a modified CRISPR system known as prime editing will be applied in zebrafish, and utilized for lineage tracing. Prime editing allows for precise genome editing by inserting user-specified genetic sequences at a target site in the genome. I hypothesize that we can use prime editing to insert a huge library of user-specified barcodes into the genome of developing zebrafish. Because these barcodes are defined by the experimenter, they can be recovered at the end of the experiment using RNA in situ hybridization. In principle, lineage tracing with prime editing will allow us to discover the spatial arrangement of related cells in intact embryos and tissues. We hope to use lineage tracing with prime editing to understand the mechanisms of heart regeneration in zebrafish.

NAS Membership

mary beckerle elected to the national academy of science

The National Academy of Sciences has elected Mary Beckerle, PhD, Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) CEO and distinguished professor of biology and oncological sciences at the University of Utah (U of U), as a member. Beckerle is among 120 newly elected members announced in a press release during the annual meeting of the National Academy of Sciences.

Election as a member in this organization is widely accepted as a mark of excellence in scientific achievement and is considered one of the highest honors a scientist can receive. Of its more than 2,400 current members, approximately 190 have received a Nobel Prize, according to the National Academy of Sciences.

Beckerle shared she was “very surprised” to learn of her election to the prestigious group. She received a phone call this morning from a member of the National Academy of Sciences informing her of her election. Within minutes, she then received a flood of phone calls, emails, and text messages from colleagues congratulating her. “It was the most connected I have felt to my scientific community since the pandemic began, and it was lovely to be in touch with so many colleagues from around the world,” added Beckerle.

Beckerle’s research discovered a new pathway that is crucial in enabling cells to respond to mechanical signals in their environment. Such signals are now known to regulate cell growth and movement, two behaviors that yield critical insights into cancer biology. The Beckerle Lab is currently focused on understanding the molecular mechanisms underlying this pathway and its impact on tumor progression, particularly in Ewing sarcoma, a rare but deadly bone cancer that typically affects children and young adults.

“Dr. Beckerle’s election to the National Academy of Sciences affirms what her colleagues see every day. She is a driving force as an individual scientist, yet Dr. Beckerle’s hallmark is collaborative leadership that allows teams of scientists to achieve more together than they ever could alone,” said Michael L. Good, MD, University of Utah interim president and CEO of University of Utah Health. In addition to leading HCI, Beckerle holds the Jon M. Huntsman Presidential Endowed Chair and also serves as associate vice president for cancer affairs at the U of U. Beckerle is only the 27th faculty member in the history of the U of U to be elected to the National Academy of Sciences.

Beckerle joined the U of U faculty in 1986, when she set up her first independent laboratory as a young scientist. Prior to coming to Utah, she earned her PhD in molecular, cellular, and developmental biology from the University of Colorado at Boulder, where she received a Danforth Fellowship. She completed postdoctoral research at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and received a Guggenheim Fellowship for her studies at the Curie Institute in Paris.

She has received numerous accolades for her research, including the National Cancer Institute Knudsen Prize in recognition of her contributions to research on the genetic basis of cancer. She is also an elected fellow of other distinguished scientific organizations, including the American Philosophical Society, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the Academy of the American Association for Cancer Research.  She served as President of the American Society for Cell Biology and is a member of the Medical Advisory Board of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

As CEO of HCI, she led the organization to achieve its first-ever designation as a National Cancer Institute-Designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, the highest possible status of a cancer research institute. She also has led HCI’s clinical programs to recognition as among the nation’s Best Cancer Hospitals, according to U.S. News and World Report. Beckerle was appointed as a member of then-Vice President Biden’s Cancer Moonshot Blue Ribbon Panel, where she co-chaired the working group on Precision Prevention and Early Detection.

“It is an incredible honor to be named alongside exceptionally talented colleagues who are part of the National Academy of Sciences,” said Beckerle. “Scientific research is fascinating and motivating work, yet as a scientist, I often feel impatient. Each day, I work with the understanding that people are counting on the scientific community to make discoveries that will improve health, develop better treatments for diseases, enhance quality of life, and, wherever possible, prevent development of diseases like cancer. It is deeply humbling to see my contributions, and those of the many people who have worked in my lab over several decades, recognized in this way. My sincere hope is that the work of my research team will contribute to Huntsman Cancer Institute’s vision of delivering a cancer-free frontier.”

Beckerle adds that the National Academy of Sciences has a major impact in shaping science policy. She looks forward to the opportunity to contribute to the national dialogue on how to advance scientific innovation and impact via her role as a member of this organization.

first published by Ashlee Harrison of Huntsman Cancer Institute in @theU

AAAS Membership

Valeria Molinero elected to the american academy of arts and sciences

Valeria Molinero, Distinguished Professor and Jack and Peg Simons Endowed Professor of Theoretical Chemistry, is among the 252 newly elected members of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. The Academy honors excellence and convenes leaders from every field of human endeavor to examine new ideas, address issues of importance to the nation and the world and work together.

Among those joining Molinero in the Class of 2021 are neuroscientist and CNN medical correspondent Sanjay K. Gupta, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones of the New York Times and media entrepreneur Oprah Winfrey.

Molinero joins 16 other members affiliated with the U, including Nobel laureate Mario Capecchi, Huntsman Cancer Institute CEO Mary Beckerle and Distinguished Professor of Anthropology Kristen Hawkes. The U’s first member was chemist and National Medal of Science recipient Henry Eyring, elected in 1958. Molinero currently directs a center for theoretical chemistry named for Eyring.

“I am surprised and elated by this recognition,” Molinero said. “My most pervasive feeling is gratitude:  to my trainees and collaborators for sharing with me the joy of science and discovery, to my colleagues and scientific community for their encouragement and recognition, and to the University of Utah for the support that has provided me throughout all my independent career.”

Molinero and her lab use computational simulations to understand the molecule-by-molecule process of how ice forms and how polymers, proteins and other compounds can either aid or inhibit the formation of ice. In 2019, the U awarded her its Distinguished Scholarly and Creative Research Award. In 2020, she and her colleagues received the Cozzarelli Prize from the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences for finding that the smallest nanodroplet of water that can form ice is around 90 molecules. Their research has application ranging from climate modeling to achieving the perfect texture of ice cream.

“This is not surprising, as Vale is just an outstanding scientist and colleague,” said Matt Sigman, chemistry department chair.

“Vale Molinero is among the most influential theoretical and computational chemists of her generation,” said Peter Trapa, dean of the College of Science. “ Today’s announcement is a fitting recognition of her exceptional career.”

The College of Science now features eight Academy members, including five from the Department of Chemistry.

The Academy was founded in 1780 by John Adams, John Hancock and others who believed the new republic should honor exceptionally accomplished individuals and engage them in advancing the public good. Studies compiled by the Academy have helped set the direction of research and analysis in science and technology policy, global security and international affairs, social policy, education and the humanities.

Current Academy members represent today’s innovative thinkers in every field and profession, including more than 250 Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winners.

first published by Paul Gabrielson in @theU

Amanda Cangelosi

Amanda Cangelosi receives U's Early Career Teaching Award

Amanda Cangelosi, instructor (lecturer) in the Mathematics Department, has received the 2021 Early Career Teaching Award from the University of Utah. The award is given to outstanding young faculty members who have made significant contributions to teaching at the university. Specifically, the University Teaching Committee looks for a faculty member who has distinguished her or himself through the development of new and innovative teaching methods, effectiveness in the curriculum and classroom, as well as commitment to enhancing student learning.

“I’m honored to receive this award and recognition from the university,” said Cangelosi. “Since my work focuses on the preparation of future Utah K-12 teachers, which intersects with social justice goals in a foundational way, this award means that the U cares about dismantling systemic oppression. There is nothing more systemic than K-12 education, and thus no more impactful space to invest one’s energy.”

In her approach to teaching, Cangelosi believes it's important for children to have math teachers who are skillfully trained to break the unhealthy and dangerous cycle of students who make value judgments about their self-worth based upon their achievement (or lack of) in math. “Issues of mathematical status and power between students in a math classroom need to be recognized and attended to by teachers so children don’t label themselves as “stupid” or, equally-dangerously, as “smart” relative to each other,” she said.

To overcome social divisions and stratifications within the classroom, Cangelosi believes teachers need to focus on creating productive, collaborative, and student-centered learning activities, implementing culturally relevant lessons, using multiple approaches to teaching math, and embracing unconventional approaches. Implementing these strategies require teachers to engage in challenging identity work, understanding the history of education in the U.S., embracing heterogeneous classrooms, and engaging in anti-bias and anti-racist training within mathematical contexts.

In her own teaching, Cangelosi draws heavily from the mainstream math education literature. For example, several of her students were personally affected from watching and reflecting upon Danny Martin's Taking a Knee in Mathematics Education talk from the 2018 annual conference of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

Cangelosi’s teaching contributions include the following:

  • She taught a math lab class at Bryant Middle School for the 2019-2020 academic year to deepen productive collaborations between the U and local schools, thereby creating a seamless practicum space for undergraduate Math Teaching majors, while providing long-term outreach to the local community.
  • Inspired by Utah State University’s teaching practicum, in 2011 she established the current innovative structure of the Math 4095 course—including funding (often out of her own pocket) for mentor teachers, which resulted in onsite, fully-contained classrooms at local schools for University of Utah teaching majors.
  • During the pandemic, she created a sustainable and equitable virtual after-school tutoring program that allowed local high school students to meet with math undergraduates for homework support.
  • She created sanitized manipulatives kits to be distributed to her students for use in online synchronous lectures and labs, to help maintain the integrity of her hands-on collaborative Math 2000/4010/4020 classes during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • She helped develop course curricula for Math 2000, Math 1010, and Math 4090/4095, introducing and modifying resources from her previous work as a secondary math teacher at The Urban School of San Francisco, bringing what are now mainstream practices to the University of Utah.
  • She has made numerous community, school-district-level, and Utah State Board of Education (USBE) contributions, such as diverse teacher recruitment, committees, and professional development.

“I love approaching old concepts in new, nontraditional ways, because we so often confound our understanding of concepts with the arbitrary conventions that we use to communicate them,” she said. “This often challenges student perceptions of classroom status and power in productive ways, often flipping the previously conditioned dynamic on its head and inviting students to rewrite their mathematical identities in a positive light.”

Cangelosi received her Bachelor of Science degree in Mathematics Education, as well as a Master’s of Statistics degree from Utah State University. She also has a post-baccalaureate degree in mathematics from Smith College. She joined the U’s Math Department in 2011.


by Michele Swaner - first published @

2021 College Awards

2021 College of Science AWARDS

This list represents only a small portion of the total awards received by our amazing students and faculty. Congratulations to all our 2021 award recipients!


Student Recognition

CoS Research Scholar Award
Karrin Tennant, BS Biology

CoS Convocation Student Speaker
Issac Martin, BS Mathematics

Churchill Scholarship
Issac Martin, BS Mathematics

Barry Goldwater Scholarship
Tyler Ball, junior, Chemistry

University Outstanding Undergraduate Researcher Award
Sahar Kanishka, Biology

NSF Graduate Research Fellowship
Lydia Fries, Chemistry
Isaac Martin, Mathematics


Faculty Recognition

NSF CAREER Award: William Anderegg, Associate Professor of Biological Sciences

University of Utah Distinguished Research Award: David Bowling, Professor of Biological Sciences

NSF CAREER Award: Sophie Caron, Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences

Geochemical Society Fellow: Thure Cerling, Distinguished Professor of Biological Sciences

National Geographic Explorer Award: Phyllis Coley, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Biological Sciences

Humboldt Foundation Research Award: Denise Dearing, Distinguished Professor of Biological Sciences

2020 Online Excellence Award: Naina Phadnis, Assistant Professor (Lecturer) of Biological Sciences

2020 Genetic Editors' Choice Award: Nitin Phadnis, Associate Professor of Biological Sciences

Developmental Biology Outstanding Paper Award: Michael Shapiro and Elena Boer, Professor and Postdoc of Biological Sciences

James E. Talmage Presidential Endowed Chair in Biology: Michael Shapiro, Professor of Biological Sciences

John B. Fenn Award: Peter B. Armentrout, Distinguished Professor of Chemistry

University of Utah Distinguished Scholarly & Creative Research Award: Vahe Bandarian, Professor of Chemistry

NSF CAREER Award: Caroline T. Saouma, Assistant Professor of Chemistry

Royal Society of Chemistry Emerging Investigator Award: Caroline T. Saouma, Assistant Professor of Chemistry

University of Utah Distinguished Professor: Valeria Molinero, Professor of Chemistry

University of Utah Distinguished Teaching Award: Holly Sebahar, Professor (Lecturer) of Chemistry

2021 Sloan Research Fellowship: Luisa Whittaker-Brooks, Assistant Professor of Chemistry

Early Career Teaching Award: Amanda Cangelosi, Instructor (Lecturer) of Mathematics

NSF Mathematical Sciences Postdoctoral Research Fellowship: Elizabeth Field, Assistant Professor (Lecturer) of Mathematics

NSF Mathematical Sciences Postdoctoral Research Fellowship: Alicia Lamarche, Assistant Professor (Lecturer) of Mathematics

NSF CAREER Award: Priyam Patel, Assistant Professor of Mathematics

Simons Fellowship: Firas Rassoul-Agha, Professor of Mathematics

Fellow of American Mathematical Society: Karl Schwede, Professor of Mathematics

American Association of Physics Teachers Doc Brown Futures Award: Ramón Barthelemy, Assistant Professor of Physics & Astronomy

University of Utah Distinguished Professor: David Kieda, Professor of Physics & Astronomy

Jack W. Keuffel Memorial Chair: Carsten Rott, Professor of Physics & Astronomy

University of Utah Presidential Scholar: Pearl Sandick, Associate Professor of Physics & Astronomy

Fellow of the American Physical Society: Oleg Starykh, Professor of Physics & Astronomy

Cottrell Scholar: Gail Zasowski, Assistant Professor of Physics & Astronomy

>> HOME <<


2021 Churchill Scholar

Six in a Row!

Isaac Martin brings home the U's sixth straight Churchill Scholarship.

For the sixth consecutive year a College of Science student has received the prestigious Churchill Scholarship to study at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom. Isaac Martin, a senior honors student majoring in mathematics and physics, is one of only 17 students nationally to receive the award this year.

Martin’s designation ties Harvard’s six-year run of consecutive Churchill Scholars (1987-1992) and is second only to Princeton’s seven-year streak (1994-2000).

“Isaac’s recognition as a Churchill Scholar is the result of years of remarkable discipline and dedication to a field of study that he loves,” said Dan Reed, senior vice president for Academic Affairs.

Martin decided to apply for a Churchill Scholarship as a freshman, after meeting for lunch with Michael Zhao, a 2017 Churchill Scholar who unexpectedly passed away in 2018.

“I am positively delighted and quite flabbergasted to receive the scholarship,” Martin says, “but I wish I could phone Michael to thank him for making the opportunity known to me. His legacy lives on in the undergraduate program of the math department here at Utah, where many others like me have greatly benefited from the example he set.”

Martin, a recipient of an Eccles Scholarship and a 2020 Barry Goldwater Scholarship, remembers as a kindergartener trying to write down the biggest number in existence and, as an eighth grader, suddenly understanding trigonometry after hours of reading on Wikipedia.

“That sensation of understanding, the feeling that some tiny secret of the universe was suddenly laid bare before me – that’s something I’ve only felt while studying math and physics, and it’s a high I will continue to chase for the rest of my life,” he says.

Books by Carl Sagan and Jim Baggott also kindled his love of math and physics, and after several years of self-directed study in middle and high school and a year at Salt Lake Community College, Martin enrolled at the U as a mathematics and physics double major.

After early undergraduate experiences in the research labs of physics professors Vikram Deshpande and Yue Zhao, Martin found himself gravitating more toward mathematics. He completed a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) at UC Santa Barbara studying almost Abelian Lie groups, which have applications in cosmology and crystallography, under Zhirayr Avetisyan. This experience resulted in Martin’s first research paper. He later completed another REU at the University of Chicago.

“This research was incredibly rewarding because while it applied to physics, the work itself was firmly rooted in the realm of pure math.” Martin says.

Returning to Utah, Martin worked with professors Karl Schwede and Thomas Polstra to study F-singularities, and developed this work into a single-author paper and his currently-in-progress honors thesis with professor Anurag Singh.

“I would not be where I am today without the incredible faculty at Utah and their willingness to devote time to undergraduates,” Martin says.

At Cambridge, Martin hopes to study algebraic geometry, number theory and representation theory (“in that order,” he says) in pursuit of a master’s degree in pure mathematics.

“I’m particularly interested in learning as much as I can about mirror symmetry, which I intend to make my essay topic,” he adds. “I also plan to drink a lot of tea and to buy one of those Sherlock Holmes coats. I will also begrudgingly begin using the term ‘maths’ but I promise to stop the instant I board a plane back to the U.S. in 2022.”

After he returns from Cambridge, Martin plans to earn a doctoral degree in pure mathematics and enter academia, using his experiences in many different educational systems including U.S. and British public schools, homeschooling and online learning, to broaden opportunities for students from a diversity of backgrounds.

“My past has molded me into who I am today,” he says, “and I hope I can use my experiences to create programs in STEM for opportunity-starved students, whether they are held back due to non-traditional schooling or to socio-economic factors.”


by Paul Gabrielsen - First Published in @theU

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For Karrin Tennant, recipient of the 2021 College of Science Research Scholar Award, the never-ending story of environmental science has plenty of plot twists. A member of the Anderegg lab in the School of Biological Sciences (SBS) which studies the intersection of ecosystems and climate change, Tennant has been busy working in the area of nighttime water loss in plants. The work tests a major hypothesis in the field and has the potential to greatly advance our understanding of plant physiology. The award is given annually to the College’s most outstanding senior undergraduate researcher. Tennant will be honored at the College Convocation May 6th and receive a $1,000 award, a plaque commemorating this achievement, and a one-year membership in the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), which includes a one-year subscription to Science.

In his letter of support, Assistant Professor Bill Anderegg and Principal Investigator says, “Karrin has blown me away with her incredible independence, creativity, dedication, initiative, and intellectual maturity. Her Biology Honors research is incredibly exciting, eminently publishable, and on par with advanced and successful Ph.D. students I have mentored.”

Karrin Tennant

One of those plot twists includes nighttime transpiration through tiny pores known as stomata on the underside of tree leaves. Photosynthesis, the process by which green plants and some other organisms use sunlight to synthesize foods from carbon dioxide and water, clearly happens during the day. But why and how do trees like the Black Cottonwood in the Pacific Northwest, continue to draw H20 from the ground at night? "What's the ecological value of this happening?" Tennant asks. At night "can trees pull water from underground like a straw away from competitors?"

Answers to these questions have implications about how forests survive and thrive, especially during drought as the earth continues to warm globally. Tennant sees her work as multi-faceted ... and multi-disciplinary--narrative threads that tell the broader story of not only life systems, as in forests, but even larger systems, and not only ecological.

Tennant's minor in Ecology & Legacy Humanities, introduced to her by adjunct biology professor and Dean of the Honors College Sylvia Torti, extends the questions Tennant is addressing both in the field and in the lab. The intersection between biology and the humanities fosters empathy for the natural world that can inform public discourse as well as public policy that extends beyond scientific inquiry. This "leaning into the interdisciplinary," says Tennant, is what propels her learning at the University of Utah and what appears to be the foundation of an auspicious career later in forest ecology and related fields.

In the meantime Tennant pivots between a growth chamber adjacent to the SBS greenhouses and the lab downstairs. The samples she collects come from as many as thirty-five trees in various degrees of competition with each other for water. Using a Licor LI-6800 photosynthesis system which measures gas exchanges and fluorescence, she determines the flow of C02, O2 and H20 in and out of the leaf through the stomata. She and her team also conduct statistical tests using research software, initiating how the micro affects the macro of ecological systems.

A Texas native, Tennant was attracted to the U because of family in the area and, of course, the mountain environment. Along with her passion for science, she says, "they're what kept me here." Her ambition is to be a research professor someday, to "spread my knowledge and education as far as I can," and "to apply focused research to a much broader discussion."

That discussion has added to the story that Tennant is helping to author, and it seems to move with extraordinary balance and ease between more than one campus lab (she also works with SBS's Bryn Dentinger's fungi lab at the Natural History Museum of Utah), the forest field and the broad community contours represented by the humanities.

In her citation for the award, Dean Peter Trapa talked about Tennant's demonstrated "genuine wonder of the world around" her and her "thirst for knowledge." Her response to the award? "I am honored to be a woman in STEM and to follow the footsteps of other trailblazing female researchers."

by David Pace

Sloan Research Fellow


Assistant Professor of Chemistry Luisa Whittaker-Brooks is one of the recipients of the prestigious 2021 Sloan Research Fellowship, given to researchers “whose creativity, innovation, and research accomplishments make them stand out as the next generation of scientific leaders.”

The awards are open to scholars in eight scientific and technical fields: chemistry, computational and evolutionary molecular biology, computer science, Earth system science, economics, mathematics, neuroscience and physics. Candidates must be nominated by their fellow scientists, and winners are selected by independent panels of senior scholars on the basis of a candidate’s research accomplishments, creativity and potential to become a leader in his or her field. More than 1000 researchers are nominated each year for 128 fellowship slots. Winners receive a two-year, $75,000 fellowship which can be spent to advance the fellow’s research.

Whittaker-Brooks, a 2007 Fulbright fellow, earned her doctorate from the State University of New York at Buffalo before a L’Oreal USA for Women in Science Postdoctoral fellowship at Princeton University. Among other awards, Whittaker-Brooks has received a Department of Energy Early Career Award, a Cottrell Research Scholarship, a Marion Milligan Mason Award for Women in the Chemical Sciences and was named one of C&EN’s Talented 12 in 2018.

“I was very excited as this award is a testament to all the great work that my students have accomplished throughout these years,” Whittaker-Brooks said. “I am happy to see that their endless creativity and research work ethics are highly recognized in the field.”

Her research studies the properties and fabrication processes of nanomaterials for potential applications in solar energy conversion, thermoelectrics, batteries and electronics. She and her research group are also testing hybrid concepts to simultaneously integrate multiple functions, such as a nanosystem that scavenges its own energy.

The Fellowship is funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, a not-for-profit dedicated to improving the welfare of all through the advancement of scientific knowledge. Founded in 1934 by industrialist Alfred P. Sloan Jr., the foundation disburses about $80 million in grants each year in four areas: for research in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and economics; initiatives to increase the quality and diversity of scientific institutions and the science workforce; projects to develop or leverage technology to empower research and efforts to enhance and deepen public engagement with science and scientists.

Since the first fellowships were awarded in 1955, 44 faculty from University of Utah have received a Sloan Research Fellowship.


first published @