Mass Spectrometry

The John B. Fenn Award

Armentrout receives ASMS Award for Distinguished Contributions In Mass Spectrometry.

Peter B. Armentrout the Henry Eyring Presidential Endowed Chair of Chemistry at the University of Utah is the 2021 recipient of the John B. Fenn Award for Distinguished Contribution in Mass Spectrometry.

Armentrout is receiving this award for the development of robust experimental and statistical techniques for the determination of accurate thermochemistry. He developed the guided ion beam threshold dissociation approach to provide insights into the thermochemistry, kinetics, and dynamics of simple and complex chemical reactions. In addition, he developed a suite of software programs for statistically modeling the energy dependence of product formation for most reactive processes.


Armentrout in the lab

"These developments have allowed nearly 2500 distinct bond energies to be measured during his career. The impact of these fundamental measurements has been felt over many fields, including catalysis, biochemistry, surface chemistry, organometallic chemistry, and plasma chemistry."


He shared both the instrumentation designs and the software with laboratories around the world to enable the greater scientific community to study thermochemical processes. These developments have allowed nearly 2500 distinct bond energies to be measured during his career. The impact of these fundamental measurements has been felt over many fields, including catalysis, biochemistry, surface chemistry, organometallic chemistry, and plasma chemistry.

Professor Armentrout is a member of the editorial advisory boards of the Journal of the American Society of Mass Spectrometry and the International Journal of Mass Spectrometry and Ion Processes, and formerly of the Journal of the American Chemical Society, Journal of Physical Chemistry, Journal of Chemical Physics, Organometallics, and the Journal of Cluster Science (charter member).

He is a member of the American Chemical Society, American Physical Society (fellow), American Society for Mass Spectrometry, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (fellow). He presently has nearly 500 research publications that have appeared in the literature. Thirty-six students have received their Ph.D.s with Professor Armentrout.

Talley Fenn, Sara Rockow, Peter B. Armentrout, Brandon C. Stevenson, David Loertscher

The ASMS Award for Distinguished Contribution in Mass Spectrometry is named to honor the memory of John B. Fenn who shared the 2002 Nobel Prize for the development of electrospray Ionization. Fenn joined ASMS in 1986 and remained an active member until his passing in 2010. The award in his name recognizes a focused or singular achievement in fundamental or applied mass spectrometry in contrast to awards that recognize lifetime achievement.


First published at


Betty Vetter Award

Betty Vetter Award

Ramón Barthelemy

Ramón S. Barthelemy, Assistant Professor of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Utah, has been awarded the 2022 WEPAN (Women in Engineering ProActive Network) Betty Vetter Research Award for notable achievement in research related to women in engineering. The award is named in memory of Betty M. Vetter, long-time director of the Commission on Professionals in Science and Technology, who served as the first treasurer of WEPAN and was a founding member of the Board of Directors.

Barthelemy is an early-career physicist with a record of groundbreaking scholarship and advocacy that has advanced the field of physics education research as it pertains to gender issues and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT)+ physicists.

“WEPAN is an impactful member society that hosts the ARC STEM Equity Network, an intersectional effort supporting equity research in STEM,” said Barthelemy. “I am humbled and honored to have my work recognized by an organization that works so tirelessly to enhance inclusion with considerable focus on the various intersections of identity one can have. I’m looking forward to continuing to work with both WEPAN and the ARC STEM Equity Network.”

The field of physics struggles to support students and faculty from historically excluded groups. Barthelemy has long worked to make the field more inclusive—he has served on the American Association of Physics Teachers’ (AAPT) Committee on Women in Physics and on the Committee on Diversity—and was an early advocate for LGBT+ voices in the AAPT. He co-authored “LGBT Climate in Physics: Building an Inclusive Community,” an influential report for the American Physical Society, and the first edition of the “LGBT+ Inclusivity in Physics and Astronomy Best Practices Guide,” which offers actionable strategies for physicists to improve their departments and workplaces for LGBT+ colleagues and students.

Barthelemy recently served as co-lead author on a study of LGBT+ physicists that detailed the difficulties, harassment, and other behaviors that make them leave the profession.

“LGBT+ people feel shunned, excluded and are continually having to readjust and twist themselves to fit into the physics community,” said Barthelemy. “LGBT+ people are inherently a part of this field. If you want physics to be a place that anyone can participate, we have to talk about these issues.”

Gender has a big impact on a person’s perception of their environment. While about 15% of LGBT+ men reported an uncomfortable or very uncomfortable experience, 25% of women and 40% of gender non-conforming people reported similar experiences.

“The study tells us that support has to be available in the entire institution,” said Barthelemy. “LGBT+ individuals in all departments have to be continually coming out when we engage with the broader campus community and new people, since our LGBT identity is seldom assumed. By making our presence known, we can help encourage greater equity, diversity and inclusion throughout the institution.”


In 2019, Barthelemy joined the U’s College of Science as its first tenure-track faculty focusing on physics education research (PER), a field that explores how people learn the content and culture of physics. Since arriving, he has built a program that gives students rigorous training in physics concepts and in education research, qualities that prepare students for jobs in academia, education policy, or general science policy. He founded the Physics Education Research Group at the University of Utah (PERU), where he and a team of postdoctoral scholars and graduate and undergraduate students explore how graduate programs policies impact students’ experience, long-term studies of the experience of women in physics and astronomy and of students of color in STEM programs, and understanding the impacts of a sense of belonging on a student’s performance in introductory STEM courses.

“We talk about inclusivity and diversity in the classroom, but there needs to be more research about what that means. We look at various aspects of interactive classrooms and how it impacts their content learning outcomes,” said Barthelemy. “If you feel like you belong in the classroom, if you feel comfortable raising your hand, you can participate in groups, teaching and learning from peers—that’s an example of inclusivity, looking at people’s sense of belonging.”

The research has implications beyond the classroom—Barthelemy uses the findings to inform and develop policies and best practices to support people from historically excluded groups in physics. “It helps us teach better, but also understanding the culture of physics has implications in the quality of research done in national labs, for example, that inevitably impacts people across the country,” he said.

Barthelemy has had an untraditional journey to academia. He earned his Bachelor of Science degree in astrophysics at Michigan State University and received his Master of Science and doctorate degrees in PER at Western Michigan University. “Originally, I went to graduate school for nuclear physics, but I discovered I was more interested in diversity, equity, and inclusion in physics and astronomy. Unfortunately, there were very few women, People of Color, LGBT or first-generation physicists in my program,” said Barthelemy, who looked outside of physics to understand why. “I found this quite curious,” he said.

In 2021, Barthelemy received the Doc Brown Futures Award, an honor that recognizes early career members who demonstrate excellence in their contributions to physics education and exhibit excellent leadership.

Barthelemy’s work has also been recognized with external funding to complete his projects. In 2020, he and his U colleagues Jordan Gerton and Pearl Sandick were awarded $200,000 from the National Science Foundation to complete a case study exploring the graduate program changes in the U’s Department of Physics & Astronomy. In the same year, Barthelemy received a $350,000 Building Capacity in Science Education Research award to continue his longitudinal study on women in physics and astronomy and created a new study on People of Color in U.S. graduate STEM programs. Lastly, Barthelemy was selected to conduct a literature review on LGBT+ scientists as a virtual visiting scholar by the ARC Network, an organization dedicated to improving STEM equity in academia.

In 2014, Barthelemy completed a Fulbright Fellowship at the University of Jyväskylä, in Finland where he completed research looking at student motivations to study physics in Finland. In 2015, he received a fellowship from the American Association for the Advancement of Science Policy in the United States Department of Education and worked on science education initiatives in the Obama administration. After acting as a consultant for university administrations and research offices, he began to miss doing his own research and made the decision to come to Utah.

Based in Washington, D.C., WEPAN was founded as a non-profit educational organization in 1990. It is the nation’s first network dedicated to advancing cultures of inclusion and diversity in engineering higher education and workplaces. The WEPAN Awards honor key individuals, programs, and organizations for accomplishments that underscore WEPAN’s mission to advance cultures of inclusion and diversity in engineering education and professions. WEPAN Award honorees demonstrate extraordinary service, significant achievement, model programs, and exemplary work environments.

by Michele Swaner, first published @

Outstanding Advisor

Outstanding Advisor

Cyri Dixon has been named a NACADA Outstanding New Advisor.

Cyri Dixon, the Undergraduate Academic Advising Coordinator for the Department of Physics & Astronomy, has won the Outstanding New Advisor Award – Primary Role Category – from the National Academic Advising Association (NACADA). Award selection is extremely competitive and designed to honor and recognize professionals who have made significant contributions to the field of academic advising in higher education. Candidates are nominated by their institution, and each application is carefully reviewed by NACADA committee members. All outstanding advisor nominations include a comprehensive list of the nominee’s professional qualifications, academic accomplishments, letters of support, and documented advising success.

Cyri Dixon

“I am grateful to work with such fantastic students, staff, and faculty. Advising is challenging, but working with my wonderful students makes it all worth it.”


“I am very honored to receive this award,” said Dixon. “I am grateful to work with such fantastic students, staff, and faculty. This award really highlights the strides we have been able to make in our department to create a better student experience and build a community where all students feel welcome and successful. Advising is challenging, but working with my wonderful students makes it all worth it.”

Dixon was previously recognized for her exemplary advising work when she was named Outstanding New Academic Advisor in 2021 by the University of Utah Academic Advising Community (UAAC). She serves as the only undergraduate advisor for the department and has proven to be a valuable resource to undergraduate physics students in all areas of academic advising. She has 236 physics major students that she meets with regularly, and she takes pride in knowing each student by name. She helps each develop a course plan that fits their interests, and she connects them to research and internship opportunities, campus resources, and the department community.

Here are comments from the University of Utah’s President’s Office, faculty, staff, and students about Dixon and her work:

“Dear Cyri, The President’s Office received this email of gratitude from a parent recognizing the talented staff and student employees at our university. Thank you for the hard work, kindness, and caring dedication you show our students and families. You are appreciated, and we value your contribution to the success of our students and university. We know this comes from colleagues like you who make it happen. Thank you.”
~Office of the President

“Whenever I am worried about a student, Cyri knows what is going on or knows what to do to address the problem. Thank you for your help, patience, and for caring about all our students.”
~Dr. Tugdual Stephan Lebohec, faculty

“Cyri’s work represents many of NACADA’s Core Values, but most striking is her laser-like focus on empowering her students. In her philosophy, Cyri shares a little of her own experience as a first-generation student from a rural area; knowing that there so many talented and brilliant students who are limited in opportunities and resources, she [Cyri] writes that this ‘drives my motivation to help any student who walks in my door to not only survive and graduate, but also thrive and make the most of their experience.’”
~Stephanie Begaye, and Ashley Glenn, UAAC Advisor Awards Committee Co-Chairs

“Cyri has been a terrific advisor for me. She has always been available for chats or emails and been quick to respond to all of my questions, even unusual or specific ones that are only tangentially related to completing a physics degree. After every meeting I’ve had with her, I tell my wife, ‘she’s a great advisor.’ I think Cyri absolutely deserves this award.”
~student comment

“Cyri, thank you for taking the time to write a letter of recommendation on my behalf. I wanted to let you know I was accepted into two programs, one of them being the University of Utah! This is a huge step in pursuing my career goals and an immense accomplishment for me.”
-student comment

A first-generation graduate of Utah State University, with a degree in Physical Sciences Education, Dixon also has minor degrees in physics and chemistry teaching. She recently earned a Master of Public Administration degree from the University of Utah. Originally from Idaho, she returned to Utah after living in the Midwest and teaching middle school science and engineering in Arizona. She loves hot air ballooning, Wonder Woman, and her dog, Roka.

Since 1983, NACADA has honored individuals and institutions making significant contributions to the improvement of academic advising. The goal of NACADA is to promote quality academic advising and professional development of its membership to enhance the educational development of students. For more information, visit NACADA.

by Michele Swaner, first published @


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Living Legend

Toto Gets Stamped!

Filipino stamp of "Toto"

Distinguished Professor Baldomero Olivera is featured in the Filipino Postal Office’s “Living Legends” commemorative stamp series.

Affectionately referred to as “Toto,” Olivera has pioneered research on marine cone snails, demonstrating the therapeutic potential of their venom, already resulting in an FDA-approved drug. The University of Utah’s biochemistry and pharmacy departments (UofU Health) are currently expanding on some of this work.

His early research contributions include the discovery and biochemical characterization of E. coli DNA ligase, a key enzyme of DNA replication and repair that is widely used in recombinant DNA technology.

In a 2018 profile, Olivera was described as unconventional: “Not every molecular biologist would think to look in cone snail venom for potential therapeutics. But a long-held interest in the biological environment that surrounded him while growing up in the Philippines — and a habit of making unconventional choices — led Baldomero ‘Toto’ Olivera to do just that.”

After completing his Ph.D. at the California Institute of Technology and postdoctoral research at Stanford University, Olivera returned to the Philippines to establish his independent research program. Now at the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Utah, Olivera has discovered several peptides in snail venom that have reached human clinical trials. One has been approved for the treatment of severe pain.


Baldemaro Olivera

“I didn’t make choices that were conventionally considered wise at the time. The things that didn’t seem so wise at the time turned out to be okay.”


While building a productive research program, he also was developing new ways to educate and inspire future generations of scientists in the U.S. and the Philippines. As a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professor, he has developed hands-on curricula that draw young students to science by teaching them about scientific principles they can observe in the organisms they see every day.

When Olivera was selected as one in the series of “Living Legends” commemorative stamps, graduate student Paula Florez Salcedo in the Olivera lab tweeted “He is a living legend, and I can’t believe I get to learn from him!”

When asked by an interviewer to list something that Olivera knows now in his career as a scientist that he wished he’d known earlier, he says,

“I didn’t make choices that were conventionally considered wise at the time. When I was going back to the Philippines, everyone was saying ‘Why are you doing that? You’re ruining your scientific career.’ But that turned out to be very good for my scientific career because I started working with cone shells. So I really have no major regrets, I must say. The things that didn’t seem so wise at the time turned out to be okay.”

In science and technology, the post office selected to honor national scientist and physician Ernesto Domingo along with the internationally recognized Olivera.

“They have dedicated their lives and talents to the Filipino people,” Postmaster General Norman Fulgencio said in February when the announcement was made. “They deserve to be immortalized in our stamps to inspire not only Filipinos, but every nationality who will see our stamps.”

The post office turned over to representatives of the honorees the framed stamps in tribute to them. “The stamps we issued today are not only meant for delivery of letters, but more importantly to deliver hope,” Fulgencio said.

Furthermore, the stamps “symbolize what Filipinos are capable of — wherever we are, whoever we are up against and whatever it takes,” he said.


by David Pace, first published at


Phi Beta Kappa

Phi Beta Kappa Society Scholar

Muskan Walia Named Phi Beta Kappa Society Scholar.

Muskan Walia, a second-year student at the University of Utah Honors College, studying math
and philosophy, has been named a Key into Public Service Scholar by the Phi Beta Kappa Society. The Society is the nation’s most prestigious academic honor society, and the Key into Public Service award highlights specific pathways for arts and sciences graduates to launch public sector careers.

Chosen from nearly 900 applicants attending Phi Beta Kappa chapter institutions across the nation, the Key into Public Service Scholars hail from 17 states. These are high-achieving college sophomores and juniors, who display notable breadth and depth in their academic interests.

“I am extremely grateful and honored to be receiving this award from Phi Beta Kappa,” said Walia. “My community here at the University of Utah has provided me with a prodigious liberal arts and sciences education and has nurtured my interest in exploring the dynamics between science, society, and the public sector. I am excited for the incredible opportunity to further explore this interest this summer.”

Walia is an ACCESS Scholar and undergraduate researcher, working with Dr. Fred Adler, Professor of Biology and of Mathematics. In her research, Walia adapted an epidemiological SIR model for spread of disease to model the number of cells infected with SARS-CoV-2 in order to predict when different types of tests will produce false positives or false negatives.

“My summer in the ACCESS Scholars program sparked an interest and motivation to pursue a career in public service,” she said. “Being taught by faculty across the University of Utah in diverse disciplines, I learned about the intersections of science, communication, and policy and how scientists can practice the art of advocacy.


Muskan Walia

"My community here at the University of Utah has provided me with a prodigious liberal arts and sciences education and has nurtured my interest in exploring the dynamics between science, society, and the public sector."


“Working under the mentorship of Dr. Fred Adler has been invaluable. I wanted to be engaged in mathematics research that centered on justice and informed public policy. There was truly no better pairing than with Dr. Adler. He has wholeheartedly supported and encouraged my curiosity and passion to utilize mathematics principles to tackle the most pressing social justice related questions of our time.”

In addition to her studies, Walia currently serves as the ASUU student government Senate Chair and works as a youth environmental organizer in the Salt Lake City area. She founded a campaign to commit her local school district to a 100% clean electricity transition by 2030, and has assisted with the expansion of local clean energy campaigns in Utah school districts. She is also a leader and mentor at Utah Youth Environmental Solutions Network (UYES), where she supports the development of a new youth-based climate justice curriculum. Her experiences have cultivated a passion and commitment to community building, climate education, and environmental justice.

Each Key into Public Service Scholar will receive a $5,000 undergraduate scholarship and take part in a conference in late June in Washington, D.C. to provide them with training, mentoring, and reflection on pathways into active citizenship.

Below are the names of the 2022 Key into Public Service Scholars and their chapter institutions:

Aylar AtadurdyyevaUniversity of Kansas
Miguel Coste, University of Notre Dame
Noelle Dana, University of Notre Dame
Grace Dowling, Clark University
Brandon Folson, Loyola University Chicago
Justin Fox, University of Maryland- College Park
Sora Heo, University of California - San Diego
Alec Hoffman, Clark University
Samiha Islam, State University of New York at Buffalo
Ruthie Kesri, Duke University
Katherine Marin, University of Florida
Sondos Moursy, University of Houston
Olivia Negro, Ursinus College
Emily Geigh Nichols, Stanford University
Paul Odu, University of Missouri
Vaidehi Persad, University of South Florida
Diba Seddighi, University of Tennessee
James Suleyman, Roanoke College
Jonah Tobin, Williams College
Muskan WaliaUniversity of Utah
For more information about the scholarship and links to individual biographies of the recipients, please visit


by Michele Swaner, first published at


Societal Impact Scholar

Societal Impact Scholar

Ken Golden Named U Presidential Societal Impact Scholar

President Taylor R. Randall has named Ken Golden, Distinguished Professor of Mathematics, as an inaugural recipient of the University of Utah Presidential Societal Impact Scholar Award.

Dr. Golden and four other scholars are a select group of faculty. Recognized as experts in their respective fields and disciplines, they share and translate their scholarship, research, creative activities and ideas with opinion leaders, policy makers, the public and other audiences outside the university and in ways that can transform society.


Ken Golden

"Dr. Golden is among the rare group of top-level mathematical scientists who is able to reach to the broader public about one of the central issues of our time."


Golden is a brilliant expositor and a passionate advocate for public awareness of our changing climate and the critical role of mathematics in climate modeling. He has given over 40 invited public lectures since 2008, and over 500 invited lectures since 1984. His public lectures emphasize the rapid and significant loss of Arctic sea ice, and how mathematics is helping us predict the future of the Earth’s polar marine environment. Dr. Golden is among the rare group of top-level mathematical scientists who is able to reach to the broader public about one of the central issues of our time.

From tackling the social determinants of health and wellness, to addressing the underlying causes of crime and poverty, to designing interventions to curb poor air and water quality, to helping better inform public debate on society’s most pressing issues, these scholars’ works have a positive impact on people and institutions and help make our world a better, more equitable and enjoyable place in which to live.

The 2022 cohort of impact scholars are:
Kenneth Golden, Distinguished Professor, Department of Mathematics
RonNell Andersen Jones, Professor, College of Law
Michelle Litchman, Assistant Professor, College of Nursing
Susie Porter, Professor, College of Humanities and the School for Cultural and Social Transformation
Paisley Rekdal, Distinguished Professor, Department of English

The Presidential Societal Impact Scholar Award was conceived by and is supported by a gift from University of Utah Professor Randy Dryer.


by Michele Swaner, first published at


Fulbright Scholar

2022 Fulbright Scholar

Rose Godfrey Named 2022 Fulbright Scholar.

According to the Fulbright director at the U, "The Fulbright program is the flagship international educational exchange program designed to build relationships between people in the U.S. and in other countries with the aim of solving global challenges. It is funded through an annual appropriation made by the U.S. Congress to the U.S. Department of State. Grant recipients are selected based on academic and professional achievement as well as a record of service and demonstrated leadership in their respective fields."

I am graduating with a Biochemistry degree, I decided to major in chemistry at the end of sophomore year after the organic chemistry series. I really enjoyed those courses, so much so that I was a teaching assistant for Dr. Holly Sebahar. I have worked in the Bone & Biofilm Research Lab with Dr. Dustin Williams in the Department of Biomedical Engineering since sophomore year.

Rose Godfrey

"During my freshman year, I started volunteering at Promise South Salt Lake Hser Ner Moo Community Center through the Bennion Center where I tutored and read with kids."


I became interested in applying for the Fulbright ETA program from working with kids in several volunteer opportunities and as a ski instructor at Solitude Resort. During my freshman year, I started volunteering at Promise South Salt Lake Hser Ner Moo Community Center through the Bennion Center where I tutored and read with kids. I also started volunteering with Science in the Parks on campus the summer before my junior year. Science in the Parks provides kids opportunities to experience the wonders of science through hands-on experiments to encourage kids on the west side of Salt Lake City to become scientists. I was also president of the American Chemical Society’s Green Chemistry Committee and was involved in outreach that ACS did with local community centers and schools to get kids interested in chemistry.

Outside of research and school, in my free time I like to ski, climb, roller skate, attempt to skateboard, and to propagate plants. I have also picked up crocheting and enjoy doing puzzles.

Outstanding Graduate Student

2022 Outstanding Graduate Student

Daniel Powell named 2022 College of Science Outstanding Graduate Student.

Having completed his B.S in Chemistry here at the U, I was extremely thrilled when Danny joined my research group in the spring of 2016. This was surprising since I was listed as a Materials Chemistry Professor as opposed to an Organic Chemistry Professor (organic synthesis is Danny’s forte). As a young Assistant Professor, I was in desperate need of a student with strong organic synthesis skills that could push the development of solution-processable and high efficient organic electronics to another level and Danny certainly delivered!. With my laboratories in their infancy, Danny displayed both the initiative and drive to push through all the troubleshooting that is required to take a novel idea and turn it into a full-fledged research project without the luxury of senior students to mentor him.

Daniel Powell

Danny displayed both the initiative and drive to push through the troubleshooting that is required to take a novel idea and turn it into a full-fledged research project.


As Danny’s Ph.D. mentor, I have had the opportunity to experience first-hand how he has grown scientifically throughout the challenges of his research projects and his ability to independently solve scientific problems, while staying enthusiastic and engaged. He has repeatedly demonstrated himself to be eager to face and conquer scientific challenges with high ambition and strong work ethics. Danny’s dissertation work displays effectiveness in managing multiple projects with different reaction mechanisms and materials undergoing optical and structural heterogeneities that are often difficult to elucidate. Driving these complex projects to completion illustrates his organizational skills, self-motivation, and independent nature.

Danny was actively engaged with the Lassonde School of Entrepreneurship during his graduate studies. It is quite rare that graduate students will pursue extracurricular activities during their graduate studies given the difficulty and attention it requires, yet Danny not only participated but excelled in this area as well. I have to say that Danny is a very talented scientific communicator and writer!. Often, his papers were ready to be submitted without much addition from my end. He also helped me write ≈85% of a recently funded NSF proposal. I have to admit that I would dearly miss him when he is gone.

Danny recently defended his PhD work and will be joining Blackrock Neurotech (a company housed in Research Park dealing with the development of implantable neurological devices). At Blackrock Neurotech, he will be responsible for seeking both federal and investor funding for the company. I am very sure he will be very successful in his future endeavors.

by Luisa Whittaker-Brooks, Associate Professor, Department of Chemistry


Teaching Assistantship

2022 Teaching Assistantship

Seungsu Lee Awarded Teaching Assistantship from the University of Utah

Graduate student Seungsu Lee has received a Teaching Assistantship Award from the University of Utah. The award is designed to bolster undergraduate education while providing graduate students with experience teaching in undergraduate environments. The opportunity is for full-time graduate teaching assistants.

“Receiving the award means a lot to me in different ways,” said Lee. “It tells me that my proposal is effective and will help many people who study math. Also, the award ensures support from the department and my mentor in implementing my proposal into an actual class. In terms of my career, the award confirms my teaching skills. I learned English as a second language, and I have a strong Korean accent, so receiving the award proves that one can develop communication and teaching skills to teach mathematics efficiently regardless one’s background.”

"When I teach, I love to communicate with students, tell them what they’re doing correctly, and teaching them how to do mathematical reasoning. In particular, I like the moment when students understand what I’m teaching about a mathematical concept, and I can see the “aha” moment in their faces."


Lee will be teaching an asynchronous online class for Math 2270—Linear Algebra--and will have responsibility for creating lecture videos for the department website. Asynchronous learning allows an instructor flexibility in creating a learning environment that will allow for different kinds of learners and learning styles. Lee’s academic advisor is Professor Karl Schwede, and his mentor for the project is Assistant Professor (Lecturer) Matt Cecil.

“I like to chat about mathematics with other people,” said Lee. “When I teach, I love to communicate with students, tell them what they’re doing correctly, and teaching them how to do mathematical reasoning. In particular, I like the moment when students understand what I’m teaching about a mathematical concept, and I can see the “aha” moment in their faces.”

When Lee was a child, his father showed him the magic square. The magic square is a square array of numbers in which all the rows, columns, and diagonals add up to the same sum, which is called the magic constant. This is the fun part in working through the square—you get the same number when you add numbers for each row, column, or even diagonals. “As far as I can remember, the magic square marked the first time that I ever saw a mathematical puzzle,” said Lee.  He was very interested in the algorithm to solve the magic square. As he got older, he started to do more and more math.  When he was in high school, he had a great math teacher, who showed him rigorous ways to think about calculus by using epsilon and delta. This was a turning point for Lee that made him decide to forge a career in math.

He completed his undergraduate degree at Yonsei University in South Korea. “I got interested in algebraic geometry when I was an undergraduate,” he said. “Unfortunately, my university’s graduate school didn’t focus on this area of math, so I searched online and was excited to see that the U’s Math Department has a huge research group in algebraic geometry. I was so happy to be accepted to the department’s program.” After he earns a Ph.D., he plans to seek a research position.


by Michele Swaner, first published at


Graduate Research Fellowship

2022 Graduate Research Fellowship

Sanghoon Kwak has been awarded a Graduate Research Fellowship (GRF) from the University of Utah.

Sanghoon Kwak, a third-year Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Mathematics, has been awarded a Graduate Research Fellowship (GRF) from the University of Utah. The purpose of the GRF is to provide graduate students with an opportunity to do full-time research during an academic year. Recipients are selected and evaluated on the quality and impact of their research or creative project, their achievements, and their potential for success.

“I am tremendously honored and humbled to receive a GRF,” said Kwak. “It’s a huge affirmation of the work I’ve done for last three years and an encouraging nod to my future work. The fellowship will allow me to have more solid blocks of time to dedicate to my research. I also want to recognize the support, trust, and patience I’ve received from my advisors, Distinguished Professor Mladen Bestvina, and Assistant Professor Priyam Patel.”

"I also want to recognize the support, trust, and patience I’ve received from my advisors, Distinguished Professor Mladen Bestvina, and Assistant Professor Priyam Patel."


Kwak studies geometric group theory, which is an area of mathematics devoted to studying groups, endowing them with a metric, and treating them as geometric objects. Geometric group theory is a relatively new area of mathematics, providing a variety of applications to geometry, topology, group theory, number theory and graph theory.Many junior researchers have been drawn to this field, and the Math Department at the university has one of the leading groups.

In his research, Kwak works on the group of symmetries of infinite graphs that correspond to infinite-type surfaces. In the fall of 2021, Dr. Bestvina and Dr. Yael Algom-Kfir, a lecturer at the University of Haifa in Israel who received her Ph.D. in mathematics from the U in 2010,  conducted a pioneering study on the symmetry group of infinite-type graphs. Based on this study, Kwak and other colleagues in the Math Department were able to develop a complete classification, of which infinite-type graphs have symmetry groups with “interesting” geometry. The GRF will allow him to continue his work in this area.

Kwak has always enjoyed the beauty, simplicity, and universality of math. “One of the things I like about mathematics, compared to the other sciences, is that mathematical knowledge has no expiration date,” he said. “An established fact in mathematics, as long as it is rigorously proved, rests forever. For me, publishing a paper is like putting a small stone out there that will last. The stone could be a part of a cornerstone of a castle to build on; it could be placed on top of a pyramid of stones; or it could serve as a kind of Rosetta stone that unlocks understanding between different fields; or it could contribute to a mosaic of stones that helps us understand a larger piece of a picture.”

He received a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) in South Korea. During his undergraduate education, Dr. Bestvina visited KAIST and gave a lecture on geometric group theory. Kwak attended his presentation and wanted to learn more about the correspondence between surfaces and graphs. Following graduation, Kwak was accepted to the U for graduate school. After he receives his Ph.D., he hopes to continue his research and teach at a university.

Below is an example of Kwak’s work.





by Michele Swaner, first published at