Goldwater Scholars 2024

Goldwater Scholars 2024

Two College of Science students awarded the prestigious Goldwater Scholarship for 2024-25

The Barry Goldwater Scholarship is a prestigious award given to undergraduate sophomores and juniors who intend to pursue research careers. Goldwater Scholars often go on to hold distinguished research and leadership positions across many disciplines. For the 2024-2025 academic year, 438 scholarships were awarded to college students across the country. At the University of Utah, two undergraduate students have earned the honor of becoming Goldwater Scholars: Muskan Walia and Nathan Patchen.

Nathen Patchen

“Biochemistry was a great way for me to combine my love of biology and chemistry and understand not only how things work, but why,” says Nathan Patchen about what motivated him to pursue research in that field. Patchen was awarded the Goldwater Scholarship for his work in Yang Liu’s lab, an assistant professor of biochemistry at the Spencer Fox Eccles School of Medicine

Patchen describes his research as broadly being focused on DNA damage repair. He says “[w]e have access to revolutionary gene editing tools that, when used in conjunction with advanced imaging techniques, allow us to explore how cancer cells undergo DNA damage repair as never seen before. Personally, I am doing this by implementing a modified CRISPR-Cas9 that allows us to capture time-resolved images after damage and then produce data about the kinetics of repair.” 

After graduating from the U, Patchen hopes to pursue an MD/PhD to practice medicine while continuing his research on gene editing and aging. Outside of his time in the lab, he enjoys being active through swimming, biking, and running as he trains for an IRONMAN 70.3 in St. George, Utah in May. 


Muskan Walia

“Mathematics is at the cusp of interdisciplinary research” says Muskan Walia. During the College of Science ACCESS Scholars research program, she reflected on her academic interests and goals. She explains, "I wasn’t interested in studying any discipline in a vacuum or in isolation. Rather, I wanted to work on mathematics research that centered justice and informed public policy.”

The majority of Walia’s undergraduate research sprouted from her time in ACCESS where with the help of Fred Adler in the mathematics department at the College of Science, she began to adapt an epidemiological SIR model to predict the number of cells infected with SARS-CoV-2. Since then, she has created other models to further answer her questions about disease. These include a “... model of disease progression within an infected individual, a model of an antigen test, and a model of symptoms to evaluate how testing can be used to limit the spread of infection.”

“Ultimately, I want to lead a team that utilizes mathematical principles to tackle the most pressing social justice related questions of our time.” Walia is one of 57 awardees honored this year who intend to pursue research in mathematics or computer science. Besides innovating mathematical models, Walia enjoys spending time outside bird watching with her mom and gardening with her grandmother.



By Lauren Wigod
Science Writer Intern




2024 College of Science Awards


2024 College of Science AWARDS

The College of Science is committed to recognizing excellence in education, research, and service. Congratulations to all our 2024 College of Science award recipients!


Student Recognition

Research Scholar:
Leo Bloxham, BS Chemistry

Outstanding Undergraduate Student:
Muskan Walia, BS Mathematics

Outstanding Graduate Student:
Santiago Rabade, Geology & Geophysics

Faculty Recognition

Excellence in Research: Zhaoxia Pu, Professor, Department of Atmospheric Sciences

Excellence in Teaching and Mentoring: James Gagnon, Assistant Professor, Biological Sciences

Distinguished Educator:
Diego Fernandez, Research Professor, Geology & Geophysics

Distinguished Service:
Marjorie Chan, Distinguished Professor, Geology & Geophysics

Postdoc Recognition

Outstanding Postdoctoral Researcher:
Rodolfo Probst, Science Research Initiative

Staff Recognition

Staff Excellence Award:
Maddy Montgomery, Sr. Academic Advisor, College of Science

Staff Excellence:
Bryce Nelson, Administrative Manager, Physics & Astronomy

Safety Recognition

Excellence in Safety:
Wil Mace, Research Manager, Geology & Geophysics

Outstanding Undergraduate Research Award

Outstanding Undergraduate Researcher (College of Science):
Dua Azhar, Biological Sciences

Outstanding Undergraduate Researcher (College of Mines & Earth Sciences):
Autumn Hartley, Geology & Geophysics

Outstanding Undergraduate Research Mentor Award

Office for Undergraduate Research Mentor (College of Science):
Sophie Caron, Associate Professor, Biological Sciences

Outstanding Undergraduate Research Mentor (College of Mines & Earth Sciences):
Sarah Lambart, Assistant Professor, Geology & Geophysics

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Vahe Bandarian – 2023 ACS Fellow

Vahe Bandarian has been selected as one of the 2023 American Chemical Society (ACS) fellows.

Associate Dean for Student Affairs in the College of Science, Bandarian arrived at the University of Utah in 2015, and his work at the U currently centers on developing molecular level understanding of biosynthesis of complex natural products. Specifically, his lab has reconstituted the key steps in the biosynthesis of the modified transfer RNA base, queuosine, which is found in all kingdoms of life. Future directions in this area will include probing the biological role of this and other ubiquitous RNA modification. Additional new areas of research being initiated will focus on mechanistic studies of enzymes involved in complex radical-mediated transformations.

Bandarian graduated with a B.S. from California State University-Los Angeles in 1992 then went on to get his Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1998 followed by an NIH postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Michigan.

ACS began this fellowship tradition in 2009 as a way to recognize and honor ACS members for outstanding achievements and contributions to science. Read more about the American Chemical Society and the 42 selected fellows here.

Originally announced on

William Anderegg Receives Blavatnik Award

William Anderegg RECEIVES Blavatnik Award

On July 26, the Blavatnik Family Foundation and the New York Academy of Sciences announced that Dr. William Anderegg is one of three national laureates to receive the 2023 Blavatnik National Awards for Young Scientists. A video announcing Anderegg’s selection for the Blavatnik Award  is available here.

Dr. Anderegg is an associate professor of Biological Sciences at the U and director of the Wilkes Center for Climate Science & Policy. As the 2023 Laureate in Life Sciences, he is being awarded $250,000 for his work on “revealing how trees absorb and release carbon dioxide amidst a changing climate.” This is the largest unrestricted scientific award for America’s most innovative, faculty-ranked scientists and engineers who are under the age of 42.

Anderegg’s recent publications have examined the interaction of plant ecology and climate change, from the scale of cells to forest ecosystems. Specifically, he addresses how drought and climate change affect Earth’s forests and the manifold benefits they bring to society. His work overturns a 50-year foundational theory on how stomata—pores on leaves that facilitate photosynthesis—behave in order to improve carbon gain and minimize water loss, and in turn, how this affects global forests’ response to climate change.

 As a leading voice in the field of climate change, Anderegg’s discoveries are already informing climate solutions, global policies, and public health. He is the first ever winner of the Blavatnik Regional Awards to be awarded the Blavatnik National Award Laureate. 

 “I am thrilled that our important work continues to be recognized,” said Anderegg. “I hope that our contributions to this field of research can help illuminate the future of Earth’s forests and provide urgently-needed tools to tackle climate change and increase resilience in ecosystems and communities in the US and across the globe.”

 The 2023 Blavatnik National Awards received 267 nominations from 134 institutions in 38 U.S. states. Nominees must be faculty-level scientific researchers, 42 years of age or younger. Three independent juries —one each for life sciences, chemistry, and physical sciences and engineering —were composed of some of America’s most distinguished scientists. The juries selected three winning laureates and 28 finalists.  

The Blavatnik National Awards for Young Scientists will celebrated the 2023 laureates and finalists in a ceremony on September 19 at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. (See banner photo above: William Anderegg with Sir Leonard Valentinovich Blavatnik)

In April, Anderegg was one of three 2023 recipients of the National Science Foundation’s prestigious Alan T. Waterman Award for his contributions to ecosystem and climate change science.



Here Comes Trouble Shooting

Here Comes Trouble Shooting

That portion of the foliage of trees forming the uppermost layer of a plant community is called the overstory. But just as critical to the health of that community is what’s called the understory: everything else in a tree down to its deepest roots.

As with trees, so with universities, in particular the School of Biological Sciences (SBS) at the University of Utah. There’s an overstory of students learning, teachers teaching and faculty doing research and publishing their results and making broad impacts everywhere — an overstory of laboratories and facilities continually being built and remodeled. But the understory of that enterprise is, well, its own story. And it’s made up of a fleet of skilled staff that makes the whole shootin’ match run smoothly.

SBS Administrative Coordinator Karen Zundel is the epitome of that understory. Winner of this year’s College of Science Outstanding Staff Award, the twenty-year veteran in what is now the School of Biological Sciences has pretty much seen it all. But to talk to her about her work, her contributions and her stamina is like pulling a sequoia out by the roots (not that anyone would dream of doing that these days).

“Everyone speaks very highly of you,” she is told. “I was excited to meet you.”

Zundel’s response: “Well, we have a really, really terrific faculty. You know, some of the intelligence just sometimes makes my jaw drop.”

It is true that SBS, one of the largest academic units on campus (47 tenure-line faculty with four more waiting in the immediate wings), is well-regarded, with a large footprint of scientific inquiry, from plant biology to mammals (including Right Whales off the coast of Patagonia); from cell and molecular biology to ecology; and from mitochondria to vast forests — data sets plotted for miles and years on both the x and the y axes.

It's also true that SBS is shot through with a high volume of grant money flooding in while sporting a strong claim to gender-equity, rare in any STEM discipline. The School also claims Utah’s only Nobel Prize winner, Mario Capecchi who did much of the research that led to his acclaim as a faculty member in what was then the Department of Biology.

But what about that understory? What pilings of support exist under all that canopy of excellence? No luck hearing about that here; for Zundel, faculty reigns supreme.

“Well, like I say about all of the faculty, I am always just awestruck by the kind of work they're doing. It's one of those things where some people that are not as intelligent as they think they are and are self-important that are kind of a pain to deal with. All of these people [in SBS] are extremely intelligent and genuine and just a joy to work with.”

It’s a generous sentiment by biology’s administrative coordinator and all-around shooter of troubles but one that others might find more nuanced. “The university is a series of individual entrepreneurs held together by a common grievance about parking,” Clark Kerr once said somewhat tongue-in-cheek. The first chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley and twelfth president of the University of California was never affiliated with the U, but he could have easily been talking about the wide swath of life science studies and its faculty at the School of Biological Sciences. And what Kerr never did say was who kept those perpetually unhappy-about-parking faculty happy and productive everywhere else.

Credit: 365 Seattle

Zundel isn’t about to give away the hows, whys and wherefores of what it’s like to be the kingpin of a celebrated understory as large as that of U Biology’s. How does she administer the labs and classrooms of as many as 16 faculty members at a time, faculty who earlier relied on her to manage and submit grant applications and then report on the use of those grants later? How do all of the other assistants whom she manages do the same for the remainder of the faculty pool? Ask her about what it’s like, who she is and how she does it, and she immediately detours to the overstory of amazing work being done by faculty.

“No, no, it's not me. It’s thanks to our faculty. It was a pleasure to help them with some of those [grant] submissions, because, you know, a lot of it is government paperwork. You know they're brilliant at the science and they go, ‘Oh, I really have to submit a form' [and I say,] 'I'll do that for you.' But it’s their science and research at the heart of the grant and we just helped with paperwork and forms. [We] made sure they were complying with all the government requirements, even when the instructions are contradictory.”

Perhaps it’s the nature of the job, like a stage manager in a theater, or a forest ranger taking care of hectares of Douglas Fir:  have your influence be immeasurably felt but don’t ever be heard or seen; you aren’t the one to take that bow.  And Zundel wouldn’t have it any other way. Fortunately, biology faculty at the U who nominated her for the College award are keen to acknowledge Karen’s work, not to mention why she’s so deserving of it.

“Every unit has one person who works behind the scenes and makes things come out right,” wrote SBS Director Fred Adler and David Goldenberg, professor and associate director of undergraduate programs. Karen Zundel “is that person for the School of Biological Sciences.” She is famous for being the go-to person to troubleshoot problems big and small. Additionally, her institutional memory is invaluable, everything from her recollection of fielding members of the public carrying specimens into the front office to find out what they've found to ruminating on the life and times of the late, celebrated plant biologist Robert Vickery, a WWII soldier who was witness to the raising of the American flag on the Japanese Island of Iwo Jima.

But beyond Zundel's being the in-house historian and trouble-shooter, biology professor Dale Clayton puts a finer, somewhat comical, point on it, referring to Zundel’s acumen managing faculty similar to “herding feral cats.” Tasks include travel arrangements for faculty

Sampling of denizens making up the SBS "Understory": Jason Socci, April Mills, Karen Zundel and Jeff Taylor.

and the “convoluted process of wrangling visas” for international faculty. She manages biology’s website updates as well as the messaging on TV monitors in the halls of biology. “Despite our interesting collection of personalities,” quips Clayton, she “has the power to embarrass anyone with a few strokes of the keyboard, “ … however, she has yet to humiliate anyone. It would be fascinating to know how often she has been tempted.”

That sort of hubris doesn't likely live in Zundel. She not only has high regard for faculty, but for staff — even as the stable of administrators has declined recently while faculty membership has grown. She mentions, in particular Ann Polidori, executive assistant to the director and others in the front office and on the front lines of the biology hustle.

“We have got really good staff, and most of them have been with us for a while,” Zundel explains. “On the administrative side, it's really fun to work in it, [making] the department run. And there's nobody that goes nuts, [or says] ‘that’s not my job.’ So they're just a fun group of people to work with.”

Outside of work, the Salt Lake City native loves to travel, especially to the Pacific Northwest and Southern Utah, singling out the viewing the trove of rock art in Nine-Mile Canyon north of Price. She also loves to read, in particular, “cozy mysteries.”

So it turns out the understory is the overstory and vice versa. Which suggests, in true biological form, that the total organism of SBS is like Pando—the stand of aspens spreading over 106 acres in central Utah with an interconnected root system that makes it the largest living organism on earth. And like Pando’s 47,000 genetically identical stems, the organism of School of Biological Sciences is a holistic one, interconnected but as resplendent in its totality as are the individual, reflective and tremulous leaves of a single quaking aspen.

An impressive story — but above and below —if there ever was one, and Karen Zundel is one of the reasons why.

By David Pace



2023 Outstanding Undergraduate Research Mentors

The Office of Undergraduate Research has created a faculty award to honor mentors for their work with students. The Outstanding Undergraduate Research Mentor Award, now in its inaugural year, is given to those who were selected by their college leadership and peers for their dedicated service to mentorship.

Of the 420 mentors across campus who worked with the Office of Undergraduate Research this year, two of the 2023 winners of the Outstanding Undergraduate Research Mentor Award are seated in the College of Science: Ofer Rog (biology) and Gannet Hallar (Atmospheric Sciences).

Dr. Ofer Rog’s research focuses on the complex regulation of chromosomes during meiosis. Dr. Rog and his assembled team of top-notch researchers have developed new methods, used innovative approaches, and carried out meticulous studies that are now revealing key elements of this complex process. The work conducted by him and his research group has provided stunning insights into the fundamental cellular processes explaining the origin and maintenance of different sexes, including our own. As Director Frederick Adler states, “Dr. Rog is also an extraordinary communicator with a dedication to helping colleagues and students find new ways to communicate.”

The Mario Capecchi Endowed Chair in the School of Biological Sciences (SBS), Rog was a catalyst in forming and managing the LGBTQ+ STEM interest group in the College of Science. The group seeks to create change in our campus community with an inclusive environment for LGBTQ+ individuals and allies.

You can read about Rog’s work with condensate illustration in a recent feature in SBS’s OUR DNA here.


Dr. Gannett Hallar has been successfully mentoring undergraduate researchers at the University of Utah since 2016. Her mentees participate in the Hallar Aerosol Research Team (HART) making connections between the atmosphere, biosphere, and climate. Her mentees have successfully received awards such as the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program and Wilkes Scholars. Her commitment to mentoring includes her role as a faculty fellow with Utah Pathways to STEM Initiative (UPSTEM), training in inclusive teaching and mentoring strategies.

As stated by Dean Darryl Butt, “Dr. Hallar is a world-class mentor. Her dedication to our undergraduate students comes naturally, but she is also very deliberate in creating a structure of experiential learning that is inherently unforgettable.”

Director of the Storm Peak Lab, the premier, high-elevation atmospheric science laboratory in the Western U.S., Hallar says the facility atop Steamboat Springs Ski Resort is “the perfect place, to have your head in the clouds.” The laboratory sits in the clouds about 40 percent of the time in the winter. “That allows us to sample clouds and the particles that make clouds at the same time. And from that, the lab has produced about 150 peer-reviewed publications.”

Celebrating Our Exceptional Faculty 2023

4 College Faculty Receive 2023 U Awards

Each year, the University of Utah recognizes the achievements of exceptional faculty members in teaching, research, mentorship and service. Below are the College of Science honorees for this year, with excerpts from their nomination letters.



Calvin S. and JeNeal N. Hatch Prize in Teaching

Kenneth Golden
Distinguished Professor of Mathematics

“Having more than 40 years of classroom experience to perfect the art of teaching, 80-plus publications in academic and scientific journals, more than 500 invited lectures and having presented three times in front of the United States Congress, Dr. Golden has amplified what it means to be a teacher by not only being at the top of his field but also by creating a safe and inclusive environment where students can be challenged to reach their full potential.”



Distinguished Professor

Michael Morse, professor
Department of Chemistry

“Professor Morse’s substantial work exemplifies the highest goals of scholarship and research and he is internationally viewed as a leading expert in the experimental study of small transition metal, lanthanide and actinide molecules. His most recent work is setting the standard for these species and is crucially needed for benchmarking computational chemistry. At the same time, he is dedicated to teaching, mentoring and providing service to the profession and the local community at the highest level.”



Early Career Teaching Award

Claudia De Grandi, associate professor (lecturer)
Department of Physics & Astronomy

“Dr. De Grandi is an outstanding educator because of her persistent aspiration to evolve her teaching practice. I know from experience that she gives students many opportunities throughout the semester to provide feedback regarding the class. Furthermore, I know that she uses this information to shape how she proceeds in the classroom. Her commitment to enhancing her classrooms is one of the many ways that she is able to accommodate a wide range of student needs. As a future educator myself, I admire her devotion to education and her perspective on education as a constantly developing process. Dr. De Grandi’s willingness to adapt is something that all educators could benefit from.”




Early Career Teaching Award

Sean Howe, assistant professor
Department of Mathematics

“During my undergraduate career, Dr. Howe has been instrumental in my success by advising my applications for scholarships, graduate schools and research experiences; and by providing individual instruction on an advanced research project and related topics. I am extremely fortunate and grateful for Dr. Howe’s constant support and the positive impact he has had on my life and academic career. The personal impact of his guidance truly cannot be understated—he has proven to be an outstanding mentor in every manner possible, exhibiting extraordinary character and compassion for his students.”



Celebrate all faculty awards given this year by the University of Utah here:


Lissy Coley Elected to National Academy of Sciences

“I first stepped foot in a tropical rainforest in 1975 and have been back every year doing research on how plants defend themselves against getting eaten by insects,” says Phyllis “Lissy” Coley, distinguished professor emerita of biology at the U. She is newly elected member of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS).

NAS Members are elected to the National Academy of Sciences in recognition of their distinguished and continuing achievements in original research. Membership is a widely accepted mark of excellence in science and is considered one of the highest honors that a scientist can receive. Current NAS membership totals approximately 2,400 members and 500 international members, of which approximately 190 have received Nobel prizes. This year, Coley is the sole U faculty member to receive the honor and is the 12th College of Science faculty member to be elected.

Coley’s colleague and current Director of the School of Biological Sciences Fred Adler said of the news, “The National Academy of Sciences was established by President Abraham Lincoln to advise the nation about science and technology, and membership recognizes extraordinary achievement in research. When it comes to understanding the complexity of ecosystems and the risks they face in today’s world, Distinguished Professor Lissy Coley is the expert I turn to get to the heart of the question.”

Coley’s expertise will now be more accessible. Concluded Adler, “I am delighted that this inspirational scientist, teacher and mentor will have the opportunity to share her wisdom with our nation at large.”

 A Dynamic Duo

Phyllis “Lissy” Coley and Tom Kursar

With the late Tom Kursar, Coley’s partner-in-life and in work, the couple blended her training in ecology and his in biophysics to work in multiple countries in both the African Congo and the Amazon as well as in Panama, Borneo and Malaysia.

Coley’s signature work on understanding the complexity of ecosystems is due to her focus on why tropical forests are so spectacularly diverse. “How can 650 tree species–more than in all of North America–live together in a single hectare of tropical forest?” she asks. Another question related to the first includes what drives speciation. “We have shown that the arms race with insect herbivores leads to extraordinarily rapid evolution of a battery of plant defenses,” she continues, “particularly chemical toxins, such that a given species of herbivore has evolved counter adaptations that allow it to feed on only plant species with similar defenses.”

It turns out that plant species with different defenses do not share herbivores and therefore can co-exist, promoting high local diversity. The concept that the high biodiversity of tropical forests is due to these antagonistic interactions is now widely accepted by her colleagues in the forest ecology sector and now acknowledged by the NAS.

“I am truly honored that my scientific research and conservation efforts are recognized,” said Coley, “but they would not have been possible without wonderful collaborators. And I am happy that the young scientists I have mentored are continuing to explore the many remaining questions in evolutionary ecology.”

Making it personal

To know Coley and Kursar (who died in 2018) is to know that their research is and has been highly personal. And their ambitions would naturally extend to beyond field research to economic opportunity for their friends and associates in Central America, linking even to social justice. Their concern about forest destruction and the peoples who live in those sites has led to bioprospecting. “We used our curiosity-driven (basic) research to create ways to have benefits from intact forests via drug discovery,” explains Coley. Young, expanding tropical leaves invest fifty percent of their dry weight in hundreds of chemicals. “We thought they could be an undiscovered source of pharmaceutical medicines.”

The duo set their project up in Panama, with the majority of the work being done by local scientists. It has resulted in $15 million of seed money to Panama. Their discoveries have led to promising patents, research experiences for hundreds of students and the creation of more jobs than the country’s ubiquitous and potentially destructive logging.

Left to right: Mayra Ninazunta, Dale Forrister, Yamara de Lourdes Serrano Añazco, Lissy Coley, Tom Kursar

Furthermore, the project has established the island of Coiba as a protected World Heritage Site and created a new voice of Panamanian scientists helping to shape government policy and appreciation of their natural treasures.

While Coley retired from teaching in 2020, her lab and its research, until very recently, continues at the School of Biological Sciences. “I think one of the unifying principles that made our department interesting to me,” she concludes, “is that many faculty were interested at some level in evolution.”

The late K. Gordon Lark, department chair in the 70s, was the impetus for that. “Whether we’re talking about molecular or ecological systems, evolutionary/ecological interactions shape all of that. This has been an important unifier of research interest in the School,” Coley says in tribute of Lark. Along with recent hires of outstanding young faculty researchers, which she hopes will continue, this “unifier” has helped keep such a large academic unit intact. “It has been the glue.”

As Lissy Coley always cared deeply about graduate students, she established the Coley/Kursar Endowment in 2018 to fund graduate student field research in ecology, evolution and organismal biology. The endowment is indicative of her dedication, corroborated by Peter Trapa, dean of the College of Science: “Distinguished Professor Coley has advanced our understanding of plant-animal interactions and tropical ecology in spectacular ways. Election to the National Academy is a fitting recognition of her deep and impactful contributions.”


by David Pace

William Anderegg Receives NSF Waterman Award

William Anderegg and National Science Foundation Dir. Sethuraman Panchanathan at Waterman Award Ceremonies, May 9, 2023. Photo provided by NSF.

William Anderegg RECEIVES Waterman Award

Associate professor of Biology William Anderegg is a 2023 recipient of the National Science Foundation‘s Alan T. Waterman Award. Anderegg, who is also Director of the Wilkes Center for Climate Science & Policy, is one of three awardees each of whom receive a medal and $1 million over five years for research in their chosen field of science. The nation’s highest honor for early-career scientists and engineers, The Waterman Award was presented to all recipients at a ceremony during the National Science Board meeting, held in Washington, D.C., on May 9. The award, established by Congress in 1975, is named for Alan T. Waterman, NSF’s first director.

“Receiving the Waterman Award is incredibly meaningful. It’s an amazing honor and I’m still stunned,” said Anderegg. “It will allow us to take on some really aspirational, creative and high-risk projects that we’ve thought about for a while but can now actually tackle. I’m immensely grateful to the wonderful mentors I’ve had throughout my career who played a huge role in my path as a scientist. I feel lucky to be surrounded by such generous and brilliant scientists, and this award has really made me reflect on how important these people have been and still are in my career.”

This is the second year the National Science Foundation has chosen to honor three researchers with the award, which recognizes outstanding early-career U.S. science or engineering researchers who demonstrate exceptional individual achievements in NSF-supported fields.


Read the full story by Ross Chambless in @TheU.
Listen to the National Science Foundation’s recent podcast with Bill Anderegg here.


Founders Day Distinguished Alumni

Distinguished AlumnI Awards

The University of Utah Office of Alumni Relations annually presents its Founders Day Distinguished Alumnus/Alumna Awards to alumni for their outstanding professional achievements, public service, and/or commitment to the U.

This year, all four recipients of the award, given out March 1, stemmed from the College of Science. A fifth individual, was presented as an “honorary alum” who has contributed significantly to the advancement of the U.

Musician trapped in scientist’s body

Clifton Sanders PhD’90, arrived in Salt Lake City from Baltimore via University of Michigan in 1977. During his appearance as the featured speaker at the Hugo Rossi Lecture Series March 15, he detailed what it was like to be one of very few Black residents in Utah. Even so, his experience in the Department of Chemistry was generally a positive experience. Today, he is the Provost for Academic Affairs and Chief Academic Officer of Salt Lake Community College, overseeing the education of more than 61,000 students annually.

A saxophonist like his father, Sanders has been called “a musician trapped in a scientist’s body.” “I look at playing music almost as a research program, just like a scientist would,” Sanders says. “There are little experiments you do and in the craft you figure out … how to make it work.” For the past five years, Sanders has volunteered as a mentor for the U’s African American Doctoral Scholars Initiative, providing a scholarly community and educational services to prepare Black Ph.D. students at the U for academic, industry, and entrepreneurial careers through mentoring, advising, and professional development. Recently, he’s back with his sax, appearing locally with the George Brown Quintet known for its unpretentious, “killin’ straight ahead” jazz.

Army 'Brat'-turned neurosurgeon

“Utah is now complimented for its ‘connectedness’” says J. Charles Rich BS’62 MD’65  “—a culture where so many have known each other for so many reasons over so many years. The University of Utah plays a central role in providing that valuable resource.” Rich served as president of both the American Association of Neurological Surgeons and American Academy of Neurological Surgeons and was vice chairman of the American Board of Neurological Surgery. 

He was also a neurosurgical delegate to the American Medical Association House of Delegates and was chief medical officer of the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Olympic Games before joining the Utah Sports Commission Board of Directors. Rich was president of the Spencer Fox Eccles School of Medicine’s Alumni Association for eight years, a member of the U Alumni Board of Directors for three years, a neurosurgical consultant to the University of Utah Athletics Department, and a member of the Crimson Club Board of Directors. 

A self-identified “army brat” growing up during WWII, Rich, a biology graduate who went on to medical school at the U, also served with his family as a foster family for basketball student-athletes and contributed to athletic scholarships for many years. 

Moving Mountains

Anke Friedrich BS’90 MS’93 is an endowed professor of geology at the Ludwig-Maximilians-University of Munich where she established a Master's degree program in geology, led international student field trips involving U students, and set up student exchange programs with several international institutions, including the U. "I benefited enormously from the vibrant and collegial environment at the University of Utah,” she says, “both as a student-athlete and a geology major. Therefore, I am very grateful to my former ski coaches, faculty mentors, and fellow students for their tremendous support and friendship over the years."

An adjunct professor at the U's Department of Geology & Geophysics, Friedrich received the department’s Distinguished Alumni Award in 2019. She played a crucial role in establishing one of the world's first continuously operating space-geodetic networks which served to monitor the tectonic activity around Yucca Mountain, the then-proposed nuclear waste repository site. 

Friedrich volunteered for the Salt Lake Olympic Games in 2002 before moving to Potsdam and helping to establish the first research group in Active Tectonics at a geological institute in Germany. As a student, she was a member of the U’s alpine ski team, earning All-American honors by winning three individual NCAA championships in giant slalom and slalom.

Catalyst for education and growth

James S. Hinckley BS’71 MS’77 is chairman of the Hinckley Institute of Politics Board of Directors and Investment Committee, positions he has held since 1990. Both he and his wife Lyn Hinckley (BS’73), a former elementary school teacher and, currently, a community advocate for the McCluskey Center for Violence Prevention, received the award. 

Graduating with his bachelor’s at the U in biology, Jim joined the family business early on selling cars. He was a member of the Chrysler Corporation West Region Dealer Council 1982 through 1990 and the Chrysler Corp. National Truck Advisory Board from 1988 through 1992. He was president of the Utah Automobile Dealers Association from 1988 through 1989 and was inducted into the Utah Automobile Hall of Fame in 2013. 

An alumnus of what is now the College of Science’s School of Biological Sciences, Jim is a sustaining member of the U’s National Advisory Council and has been a member of the National History Museum of Utah’s Board of Advisors since 2018. “I love learning and sharing my enthusiasm for knowledge by creating opportunities for education and growth,” he says. “My involvement in both academic and community-facing organizations at the U has allowed me to engage with and support students of all ages throughout their educational journeys.”

Flashing the 'U'

Legendary Utah fan John Bircumshaw popularized the “Flash the U” gesture. His passion for the University of Utah Gymnastics program has led him to become a staple in the Utah gymnastics world; he travels with the team, provides a community for the gymnasts’ parents, and is the person that out-of-town parents can depend on to help their daughters. John was hired by Utah Power in 1973 as a meter reader. He apprenticed and became a journeyman lineman before becoming director of apprentice training from 1996 through 2015.  John received the Spirit of Excellence Award from the company for his involvement in building the Olympic Rings for the 2002 Olympic Games, where he served as venue captain at the figure skating and short track speed skating venue. John also served as a Park City volunteer firefighter, a member of the Volunteer Ski Patrol at the Park City Ski Resort, and volunteer director of the resort’s Saturday Patrol.

“The University of Utah provides a high-quality education for all of the Student Athletes who have the opportunity to attend school and participate in sports,” says Bircumshaw who was presented an honorary distinguished alumni award during the Founders Day celebration.


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