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Weekend Effect

Weekend Effect

Austin Green

Adult female mule deer stares directly at a trail camera

Odocoileus hemionus, aka mule deer.

Puma concolor, aka cougar.

Along wild-to-urban gradients and especially within less developed areas, human recreation can affect wildlife behavior, especially during peaks in human recreational activity.

In a new study published in the journal Animal Behaviour large-scale citizen science camera trapping helped assess whether periodic increases in human recreational activity elicit behavioral responses across multiple mammal species in northern Utah.

Says lead author of the paper, Austin Green, PhD, “we assessed whether increases in human recreational activity during the weekend affected mammalian activity patterns at the community-wide and species-specific level.” The team headed up by Green, a postdoctoral researcher in the Science Research Initiative (SRI) at the U’s College of Science, found little evidence supporting the presence of time-specific, or temporal effect behavioral changes in response to increases in human recreational activity during the weekend, known as the “weekend effect.”

Only elk, Cervus canadensis, and rock squirrel, Otospermophilus variegatus, significantly altered temporal activity patterns during the weekend. “People significantly alter periodical activity during the weekend,” according to the study, “with more activity occurring in midday and less activity occurring in the early evening. This leads to consistent decreases in human-wildlife temporal overlap.”

Instructor of the Human Wildlife Coexistence stream in the SRI, Green is currently working with undergraduates in the field and in the lab located in the Crocker Science Center. Green’s research is focused on the Wasatch Front, a “functional landscape” that combines both human use and conservation. “One way in which mammals avoid the human ‘super-predator,’” says Green, “is by altering their behavior”: how they use both space and time; adjust their interaction with other species; and vary where they feed, sleep and reproduce.

Green’s group uses large-scale fieldwork in both natural and urbanized landscapes; performs data analytics; identifies wildlife in photos using artificial intelligence; and promotes citizen science education and engagement. In this study, says Green, “we were able to show that by altering the time of day that humans recreate, we can reduce the negative impacts of increased recreational activity on wildlife behavior.”

by David Pace, images by Wasatch Wildlife Watch.


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A.A.U. Membership



"It is difficult to overstate the importance of AAU Membership. This elevates the U to an exceptional category of peer institutions."
- Dean Peter Trapa


The University of Utah is one of the newest members of the prestigious Association of American Universities, which for more than 100 years has recognized the most outstanding academic institutions in the nation.

Mary Sue Coleman, president of the Association of American Universities (AAU), announced Wednesday that University of Utah President Ruth V. Watkins has accepted an invitation to join the association, along with the University of California, Santa Cruz and Dartmouth College. The three new members bring the number of AAU institutions to 65.

AAU invitations are infrequent; this year’s invitations are the first since 2012.



“AAU’s membership is limited to institutions at the forefront of scientific inquiry and educational excellence,” said Coleman. “These world-class institutions are a welcome addition, and we look forward to working with them as we continue to shape policy for higher education, science, and innovation.” - Mary Sue Coleman


About the AAU
The AAU formed in 1900 to promote and raise standards for university research and education. Today its mission is to “provide a forum for the development and implementation of institutional and national policies promoting strong programs of academic research and scholarship and undergraduate, graduate and professional education.”

A current list of member institutions can be found here. The membership criteria are based on a university’s research funding (the U reached a milestone of $547 million in research funding in FY2019); the proportion of faculty elected to the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine; the impact of research and scholarship; and student outcomes. The U has 21 National Academies members, with some elected to more than one academy.

An AAU committee periodically reviews universities and recommends them to the full association for membership, where a three-fourths vote is required to confirm the invitation.

Leaders of AAU member universities meet to discuss common challenges and future directions in higher education. The U’s leaders will now join those meetings, which include the leaders of all the top 10 and 56 of the top 100 universities in the United States.


“We already knew that the U was one of the jewels of Utah and of the Intermountain West. This invitation shows that we are one of the jewels of the entire nation.” - H. David Burton


U on the rise
In FY2019 the U celebrated a historic high of $547 million in sponsored project funding, covering a wide range of research activities. These prestigious awards from organizations such as the U.S. Department of Energy, National Institutes of Health and National Science Foundation are supporting work in geothermal energy, cross-cutting, interdisciplinary approaches to research that challenge existing paradigms and effects of cannabinoids on pain management.

They also are funding educational research programs with significant community engagement, such as the U’s STEM Ambassador Program and the Genetic Science Learning Center’s participation in the All of Us Research Program.

“AAU is a confirmation of the quality and caliber of our faculty and the innovative work they are doing to advance knowledge and address grand societal challenges. Our students and our community will be the ultimate beneficiaries of these endeavors. " - President Ruth Watkins


On Nov. 4, 2019, the U announced a $150 million gift, the largest single-project donation in its history, to establish the Huntsman Mental Health Institute. These gifts and awards are in addition to the ongoing support of the U from the Utah State Legislature.

This fall the university welcomed its most academically prepared class of first-year students. The freshman cohort includes 4,249 students boasting an impressive 3.66 average high school GPA and an average ACT composite score of 25.8. The incoming class also brings more diversity to campus with both a 54% increase in international students and more bilingual students than the previous year’s freshman class. Among our freshmen who are U.S. citizens, 30% are students of color.

The U’s focus on student success has led to an increased six-year graduation rate, which now sits at 70%—well above the national average for four-year schools. The rate has jumped 19 percentage points over the past decade, making it one of only two public higher education research institutions to achieve this success.



by Dr. Nalini Nadkarni, professor emerita of SBS

Introduction - October 6, 2022
For forty years, I’ve documented the ecological values that trees provide, like stabilizing soils and providing wildlife habitat. Listen

Autumn Colors - October 13, 2022
The process of moving out the chlorophyll reveals the yellow and orange of other leaf pigments. Listen

Why Apples? - October 20, 2022
Flowering plants have evolved so that their seeds will land in the best place to flourish, the very definition of biological fitness. Listen

The Wonders of Cork - October 28, 2022
Humanity has used cork for millennia. It's light, buoyant, and elastic, thanks to the 40 million air cells per cubic inch. Listen

Body Language - November 3, 2022
I noticed an odd branch on a small maple tree that started growing horizontally but then took a sharp vertical turn. Listen

Baseball Bats - November 10, 2022
Baseball bats use wood from ash trees to provide just the right feel for hitting homers. Listen

Symbolic Power - November 17, 2022
Why do trees pop up on our flags, stamps and money? Listen

Sycamore Trees - November 23, 2022
These trees thrive in city settings because of their rapid growth and tolerance of pollution. Listen

Good Old Trees - December 1, 2022
Habitats thrive when they have plenty of veterans trees in the mix. Listen

Music - December 8, 2022
The conductor’s baton is the smallest instrument in the orchestra pit and it makes no sound.   Listen

Holiday Wreaths - December 15, 2022
With the holidays come evergreen wreaths on people’s doors and windows. Where does all of this holiday greenery come from? Listen

Mistletoe - December 20, 2022
Given the biological purpose of mistletoe it is pretty strange that this parasite is also a symbol of love. Listen

Hermann Hesse - December 29, 2022
One of my favorite books is an essay by the German writer Hermann Hesse, who received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1946. Listen

Petrified Trees - January 5, 2023
On a recent camping trip in Nevada, I visited a display of petrified wood. Listen

Trees and Trains - January 12, 2023
Each mile of train track passes over 3,000 railroad ties – nearly all of them made from trees. Listen

Into the Canopy - January 19, 2023
It wasn’t all that long ago that scientists called the tree canopy "the last biotic frontier." Listen

Trees and Money - January 26, 2023
I recently discovered that not a single tree is cut down to make America's money! Listen

Tu BiShvat - February 2, 2023
One of my favorite ways to honor trees is celebrating Tu BiShvat, the Jewish holiday that commemorates the “New Year for the Trees.” Listen

Tree Architecture - February 9, 2023
The diversity in tropical forests is mind-boggling. Costa Rica alone hosts nearly 2,000 types of trees! Listen

Gambel Oaks - February 16, 2023
We know that when it comes to people, unassuming doesn’t mean uninteresting. The same holds true for trees.Listen

Originally published @

Jessica Venegas

Jessica Venegas

Jessica Venegas

I’ve always wanted to go to the U because that’s where I was born.

“I was born prematurely at the University of Utah Hospital. My parents would tell me stories about how the doctors had to save my life. Growing up and carrying that really inspired me to be a doctor.

I’ve always wanted to go to the U because that’s where I was born and ever since I was young, my dad would make such a big deal about the Utes. When I got accepted and I had the opportunity to get the For Utah scholarship, it honestly changed my life.

My parents are immigrants, so I would have had to go into a lot of student debt to get my undergraduate degree and struggle with keeping multiple jobs and helping my family as well. So getting the opportunity to have this scholarship really changed my life. It also gave me the chance my first year at the U to be on the University of Utah spirit team. I had the opportunity to go to the Rose Bowl and go to the games and really get that college life I always imagined. I feel like that wouldn’t have been possible without the scholarship.

Utes Spirit Team

Growing up, I lived with my grandma for a long time and one day she bought this pop-out coloring book and it was about the human body. I remember looking at this and being really fascinated by this. My grandma was the one who taught me how to draw. We would go over the anatomy book together and we would draw. For me, it was really eye-opening. It was like, ‘Oh my god, this is amazing! I want to learn more about this.’ That’s when it really clicked for me.

That passion and that love for science came back when I was in seventh grade and I had the opportunity to take Introduction to Biology. My biology teacher that year when I was in middle school was really impactful for me.

I chose biology as my major because I’ve always loved biology and I feel this connection with it. The same with anatomy. I want to be a cardiothoracic surgeon. I’ve always been obsessed with the heart. As I was getting older and taking more advanced classes, my sophomore or junior year of high school I took a certified nurse assistant course and I really fell in love with that. But then I got into a really competitive medical assisting course my senior year of high school and that’s where they taught me how to do EKGs and draw blood and give shots and all of that. When I had the chance to work at a clinic alongside doctors, I worked alongside someone who specialized in the heart. That’s something I’ve always been really fascinated with. Working alongside him made me realize that it could potentially be a path that I would want to take.

Over the summer, I got an internship through the PathMakers Scholars and I am currently doing cancer research at the Huntsman Cancer Institute. I also had the opportunity to write a book with M.D.-Ph.D. students. In that book, I wrote about how growing up doing art and connecting that with medicine and the human body was impactful for me. For me, medicine is art.”

by Jessica Venegas, first published @ theU.

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Collaboration of the Cited

Collaboration of the Cited

The cover of Philosophical Transactions, 1665.

Philosophical Transactions, 1665.

Biology’s ‘highly cited’ researchers collaborate in forest science.

The first scientific journal, still in print, was launched in 1665 by the Royal Society in London, but peer review and the ubiquitous citations we’ve come to expect in research documents are a relatively recent innovation. According to the Broad Institute, it began as late as the mid-1970s.

To distinguish high-level “influencers” in research, Clarivate, a company that provides insights and analytics to accelerate the pace of innovation, annually announces the most “highly cited” researchers. This year, three of those are located at the University of Utah, and all of them are based in the College of Science: Peter Stang (chemistry), John Sperry (biology) and William “Bill” Anderegg (biology).

Sperry and Anderegg have worked closely together, publishing multiple papers over the course of about six years in the areas of plant hydrology and forest stress. Their research is an auspicious example of how, in the tradition of peer-reviewed research, scientists routinely stand on the shoulders of others to move forward human understanding of life sciences. This is, of course, especially critical during an era when global warming demands that we have innovative solutions now.

Vascular health and function

When Sperry started working on plant hydro-vascular systems and their failure by cavitation more than forty years ago, he was one of only a small handful of people who knew it was an important topic. “Scientifically, the field was a goldmine,” said Sperry, “wide open with no competition. Once I’d developed a simple method for measuring cavitation in plant xylem as a grad student, I was off to the races.”

Sperry’s acknowledgment as a highly cited researcher would suggest he ran that race well before retiring in 2019. “I’ve always been thankful to Utah biology for going out on a limb with my hire,” he reports. “Once at Utah, the discoveries about cavitation and its consequences for plant ecology and evolution steadily drew more attention and the field grew.”


Sperry holding a custom rotor.

“Once at Utah, the discoveries about cavitation and its consequences for plant ecology and evolution steadily drew more attention and the field grew.”


New method developments by his lab helped acquire larger data sets on how plant form and function have evolved. Sperry custom designed centrifuge rotors to quickly expose the vascular system of plants to a known negative pressure. This in turn allowed him to create the kinds of vulnerability curves, which improve prediction of plant water use and to help move his research toward macro applications in forests to predict plant responses to climate change.

Demonstrating the linkage between the physics of water transport and the physiological regulation of plant gas exchange and photosynthesis via stomata was key to better understanding how plants respond to environmental change. This is because transport physics is easier to measure and model than the physiology underlying stomatal behavior. “I always knew that vascular health and function had to be at least as important to plants as it is to animals, and so it has proven to be.”

Scaling up through computation

While necessity is the mother of invention—as in Sperry’s early centrifuge–computational power, one could argue, is the mother of scaling up research impacts. As a post-doctoral researcher in the lab of Mel Tyree at the University of Vermont, Sperry learned early on the utility of blending theoretical modeling with empirical work. “Decades of weather parameters can [now] be converted into continuous half-hourly predictions of photosynthesis, transpiration, xylem pressures and so forth in a matter of hours,” he explains of how big data revolutionized his work. “In my case, modeling converts the measured cavitation response. . .. This paved the way for improved predictions of responses to climate change. The utility of this approach has gradually become appreciated . . . hence the number of citations.”

It is no coincidence that Sperry and Anderegg who both share a research interest in plant hydraulics are cited frequently. But while Sperry’s work focused on physiological fundamentals, Anderegg’s ongoing forest research is more wide-ranging and focuses on ecological consequences at often large scales. Said Sperry of his colleague, “his measurements helped explain the drought-induced mortality he had observed in the field. … What Bill has done, in spades, is to realize the potential of plant hydraulics for improving large-scale (landscape to globe) understanding of forest health.”

He continues to watch with interest Anderegg’s research which he said, “stimulated the leap from vascular physiology at the whole-plant scale to the forest as a whole and into a future of climate change. He played a key role in identifying how to model the trade-off between transpiration and photosynthesis, which was crucial for bridging the gap between vascular health and photosynthetic health.”

For Anderegg, who first met Sperry when he was a graduate student studying cavitation in Colorado aspens, the feeling of admiration is mutual. While attending a major conference in the field, Anderegg remembers an artistic set of wooden branches—a “mentor tree.” There, “young scientists anonymously wrote the name of someone who had changed their career. John’s name was all over the tree and was the most frequent name by far.”

Sperry would agree with Anderegg when the latter explains how “climate change is already having major impacts on our landscapes, forests, and communities, and thus scientific research to help us understand, mitigate, and adapt to climate change is growing rapidly.” As director of the new Wilkes Center for Climate Science and Policy housed in the College of Science, Anderegg is at the forefront of trying to understand more fully the western United States’ forest environments calling it “a global hotspot for climate impacts.” His aim both within the Wilkes Center and without is “to make our research in this region useful, timely, and relevant.”

“John’s work in the field of plant water transport was seminal and at the vanguard of the field,” said Anderegg, “So it’s not a surprise at all to me that it continues to be widely cited even after his retirement.”

The defining issues of our age

At the helm of the Wilkes Center, Anderegg is keen to collaborate with stakeholders and multiple partners to analyze and innovate on climate solutions. The Center’s intention is to inform policy in key areas of water resources, climate extremes, and nature-based climate solutions. Funded by a $20 million gift from Clay and Marie Wilkes, the Center illuminates climate impacts on local communities, economies, ecosystems, and human health in Utah and around the globe while developing key tools to mitigate, adapt, and manage climate impacts.

The directorship is a natural one for Anderegg whose principal query is driven by concerns that drought, insects, and wildfire may devastate forests in the coming decades. “We study how drought and climate change affect forest ecosystems, including tree physiology, species interactions, carbon cycling and biosphere-atmosphere feedback,” he writes. “This research spans a broad array of spatial scales from xylem cells to ecosystems and seeks to gain a better mechanistic understanding of how climate change will affect forests around the world.”


William “Bill” Anderegg

“We study how drought and climate change affect forest ecosystems, including tree physiology, species interactions, carbon cycling and biosphere-atmosphere feedback”


A recent paper of his in Science presents a climate risk analysis of the Earth’s forests in the 21 century. Before that publication, his team not only determined that more people are suffering from pollen-related allergies and that people who do have these allergies are suffering longer pollen seasons than they used to but that the causes, while wide-ranging, are mainly because of climate change. The Wilkes Center aims to scale up such societally relevant research, provide tools for stakeholders to make decisions and leverage science and education to inform public policy.

Accumulating citations in scientific, peer-reviewed journals leading to warm accolades of being one of an elite group of the “highly-cited” is not just about giving credit where credit is due. Instead, citations are signs of momentum, the importance of a given field of study, and robust collaboration. They are mechanisms for the leveraging of data and interpretation of that data. And, like the exhilarating high-volume transport upwards of water through xylem in trillions of trees across the earth, citations help link together the scientific literature and let scientists stand on the shoulders of giants to tackle society’s greatest challenges.


by David Pace, first published in the School of Biological Sciences

Our DNA 2022


Air Currents 2023

Celebrating 75 Years, The Great Salt Lake, Alumni Profiles, and more.

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Spectrum 2022

Explosive neutron stars, Utah meteor, fellows of APS, and more.

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Aftermath 2022

Arctic adventures, moiré magic, Christopher Hacon, and more.

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Spectrum 2022

Black Holes, Student Awards, Research Awards, LGBT+ physicists, and more.

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Aftermath 2022

Student awards, Faculty Awards, Fellowships, and more.

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Our DNA 2022

Erik Jorgensen, Mark Nielsen, alumni George Seifert, new faculty, and more.

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Notebook 2022

Student stories, NAS members, alumni George Seifert, and Convocation 2022.

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Discover 2021

Biology, Chemistry, Math, and Physics Research, SRI Update, New Construction.

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Our DNA 2021

Multi-disciplinary research, graduate student success, and more.

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Aftermath 2021

Sound waves, student awards, distinguished alumni, convocation, and more.

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Ty Mellor

Ty Mellor

Ty Mellor

A few more than 2,000 people currently live in Salina, Utah—just west of a 217,000-acre geological feature called the San Raphael Swell.

It’s a gateway to some of the most remote (and still yet-to-be-permanently settled land) in the Beehive State. But for Carl “Ty” Mellor, it’s been an ideal launching pad for a career in, of all things, microbial engineering. The double-major in chemical engineering and cellular & molecular biology places Mellor on the edge of a different frontier than that of the magnificent badlands of brightly colored and wildly eroded sandstone formations, populated by wild horses and etched drawings from the ancestors of today’s Native Americans.

Frontiers, after all, can be both big … and small. The deep canyons and giant plates of stone tilted upright in his hometown’s backyard are metaphors for the scientific reveals that await the young scientist who, inversely, investigates the micro universe rather than the macro one of massive geologic upheavals where he spent time as a youth camping and hiking with friends.

“In physics,” says Mellor of his time at the University of Utah, “we were going over things that happen at the micro scale which got me interested. It’s all so complex and there’s so much left to discover on how things work at that scale, and there is so much potential for solutions to real world issues.”

Considered a “non-traditional” student, the twenty-eight-year-old U senior graduated more than a decade ago from North Sevier High School in a class of 46. During that time he worked as a dishwasher, then at Little Caesar’s pizzeria with one winter at Brian Head Ski Resort, followed in his final year at an oil change/tire repair shop. Today, he is the recipient of no fewer than seven university scholarships and awards, including the Joseph T. Crockett and the Neil R. Mitchell Endowed Scholarships.

Montell Seely and daughter Fawn examine Swasey’s Leap. Photo: Lee Swasey

From Salina to the bench at one of America’s top research institutions might seem like a leap as far and precipitous as relatively nearby “Swasey’s Leap.” Local legend has it that Sid Swasey bet his brother Charlie that he could jump his horse over the 14-foot wide, 60-foot deep gap which Charlie proceeded to do. But for Mellor, his was a leap clearly worth making. Now embedded in the Kelly Hughes Lab at the School of Biological Sciences, he is busy co-opting the type 3 secretion system used to build flagella in salmonella to secrete proteins of interest and simplify bacterial protein synthesis.

A leap from North Sevier High School, indeed.

When asked to explain something most people don’t known about salmonella, he explains that the pathogenic bacteria is named after Daniel Salmon, the first person in the U.S. to receive a Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine. But, despite his adoration of a pet chihuahua named “Ace,” he won’t be going to veterinary school.

“I think there is a ton of potential [for research] in aging and disease,” he says. “There is so much that we don’t understand yet about the human body. There is also potential in carbon sequestration, either by manufacturing long-term products using carbon or developing microbial carbon sinks that can sink to the bottom of the ocean for example. Possibly being able to manufacture stronger and lighter materials by mimicking the way certain enzymes have incredibly low error rates.”

The last few years have not been easy for Mellor due to the pandemic. But, perhaps surprisingly, he will tell you that he didn’t mind online classes that much. “I was working grave shifts at the time [at the University of Utah Guest House] and was able to watch all of my lectures during downtime at work. Transitioning back to normal life has been much more difficult.”

Difficult or not, in October Mellor jumped right in to share his research poster titled “One Step Protein Purification via the Type 3 Secretion System” at the annual School of Biological Sciences' Science Retreat. His explanations to the curious as well as potentially the friendly (and admittedly rare) combatant-questioner, was clear, commanding and informed. Poster presentations of this kind are a sort of pay day for an undergraduate: it’s that rare moment when all the hours “at the bench,” under the ‘scope, and under the care of a principal investigator and mentor converge, and one’s scientific findings are distilled into appealing, bite-sized pieces.

As Mellor approaches graduation and graduate studies, he has some advice for his undergraduate cohort: “Keep in touch with old friends and put an effort into connecting to new groups (especially for tough classes). Get lots of fresh air and sunshine, spend some time learning time management, and remember the online skills you had to learn since[,] they’ll always be useful.”

Getting ready for yet another leap, this time out of an airplane, skydiving with brother Casey.

He and his older brother Casey, whom Mellor refers to as his “hero,” still hang out together. “Scientifically, he’s the only one among my family and close friends that I can talk to about research or science in general. Everyone else’s eyes tend to glaze over almost immediately, while he’ll actively argue, ask questions, and come up with his own solutions. We share reading recommendations and talk about any new stuff that pops up in the news… He’s always been there for me.”

You can take the boy out of Salina but you can’t take the Salina out of the man. And Ty Mellor wouldn’t have it any other way.

by David Pace, first published @

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Christine Medina

Earlier this year, when BioKids was awarded a half-million-dollar stabilization grant, where those monies were allocated spoke to the ethic of this celebrated childcare and pre-school at the School of Biological Sciences.

“My first priority was to take care of our staff—to ensure they are receiving equitable wages and benefits,” says Christine Medina, Director. “They are the most critical component to our day-to-day operations. Supporting our staff is the best way to support our families.”

In addition to paying back the College of Science for the building remodel (2020) and and a recent remodeling of its infant/toddler playground, the pandemic relief funds issued by the Office of Childcare: Department of Workforce Services allowed Medina to allot more of her annual budget towards base salaries/wages. As a self-sustaining (recharge) program at the University of Utah, BioKids is required to bring in what it pay outs. And, of course, parents have limits on what they can pay in tuition for their child care costs. “Given the recent workforce demands for increased pay,” Medina says, “the grant has enabled us to meet those demands with most increases around 30% and without further burdening parents.”

This innovative ethic first underscored the launch of BioKids in 1999 when a group of biology faculty decided they wanted to make it easier and more convenient for faculty to care for their young children during the work day. As a parent cooperative program, Medina explains, “parents are involved in the program and encouraged to participate in daily activities and needs of the classrooms. Parents and Staff work together.”

The three amigos.

In the early days, faculty took turns teaching the children and directing the program outside of their positions in the Biology Department (now the School of Biological Sciences). “It was a grass roots effort to provide childcare,” says Medina, and then quips with a smile, “Dave Gard, a cell biology professor [now emeritus], operated BioKids as the Director for a short while and said, ‘it was the worst job I ever had.’” Then when the pandemic happened, and high-touch parental involvement had to end.

Clearly, a new model was needed. Today, in addition to Medina as director, there are 13 employees that thread through three classrooms each hosting a different age range. The three-class model supports the current research for how children learn and develop: infants (3 months to 18 months); toddler (18-33 months) and pre-school (30 months to 5 years old).

What makes BioKids with an enrollment of 40-45 children at any given time distinctive from other day care/pre-schools on campus?

“Most faculty and staff can see their children from their offices/labs while outside on walks or on the playground. Or, they are [just] a short walk away. Many of their colleagues are also enrolled, and their children are spending time creating friendships and bonds that span the family,” says Medina.

In addition to the close proximity of BioKids, housed in Building 44 just south of the Skaggs Biology Building, each cohort of children has a low enrollment with low student/teacher ratios. This allows staff to get to know each individual and plan a “whole child” approach to their learning. The more professional staff also means that children’s progress and comprehension are monitored with developmental assessments and portfolios. BioKids is now accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children, representing early childhood education teachers, para-educators, center directors, trainers, college educators, families of young children, policy makers, and advocates.

Another advantage to the BioKids model is that children move up and progress through classrooms based on their age and the designated age range of each class. Children enroll based on the parents’ need, generally for a 4-to-5-year span and without pause. The child care/pre-school has a reputation as one of the most successful and desired programs in the city. No wonder there’s a three-year wait for families outside of SBS and the College of Science which have priority status in admissions.

Trick-or-treating on campus.

Parents are not the only ones who appreciate the kind of continuity in their child’s life . . . as well as their own . . . that BioKids affords. Staff are clearly happy as well. Turnover is “very low,” something that a 30% raise in wages is likely to further cement. Remarkably, “both original preschool teachers hired in 1999 are still with us today,” says Medina. “Their first hoard of children are now in college!”

As for Medina, she has been an administrator for prominent early childhood programs in Salt Lake for 23 years and serves on several committees throughout the state. There she advises on state-level policies and initiatives for the childcare industry—for both the child and the worker. Her undergraduate degree is in Family and Human Studies, and she also holds a National Administrators Credential and a Child Development Associates credential, along with several state endorsements.

It’s easy to see why BioKids is such a hit. Outside both main biology buildings (South Biology and Skaggs) the ambient noise of childhood play wafts in on any given day, and the ritual of parents coming and going to drop off and pick up their wee ones is heartwarming. Every Halloween (especially now that the pandemic has eased some) a trail of children costumed as lizards (or are they dinosaurs?) and other life forms, arrive at the Main Office to trick or treat and endure comments like, “Oh, wow, the freshman are getting younger every year!”

But it is the daily routine that is most charming. Markus Babst, Associate Professor of Biology and Director of the Cell & Genome Center is all smiles every morning when he drops of his two-and-a-half-year-old at the historic building built during World War II with original windows, moldings, hardware and exposed brick. (The building was originally the student health facility.) A first child, six-year-old Oskar, is already a BioKids graduate, and this second child, Mari, along with her parents are more than happy to have Mari enrolled in what Babst calls “a warm, friendly and educational place.”

End of day, Babst returns on his commuter bike towing its requisite canopied trailer for toddlers, and will sometimes lift his daughter over the chain-link fence to give her a hug, strap her in and then head for home. It’s a bucolic scene right here on campus, usually commandeered by college pursuits, and it spurs passing students to look up from the perpetual viewing of their mobile screen and . . . smile. Sometimes they even stop and watch for a few moments perhaps remembering something nostalgic about their own past as a small person.


by David Pace, first published in

Stephanie VanBeuge

Stephanie VanBeuge

Lockdowns are something that Stephanie VanBeuge BS’17 knows something about–even before the pandemic.

It was in her third year of graduate school at the University of Oregon when VanBeuge was first diagnosed with brain cancer–on the first day of the school year. She returned to Utah to receive treatment at Huntsman Cancer Institute and was able to return to school almost like nothing ever happened.

Stephanie VanBeuge

“When the pandemic started, I had just finished radiation treatment for my brain cancer. For about four months before lockdown started in March 2020, I was on my own lockdown of sorts recovering from brain surgery and enduring radiation."


Adjusting to the isolation of the early days of the pandemic was easy enough, she admits, “but starting to work from home and then going back into the lab later that year was really difficult, in part because my brain just wasn’t working like it used to. It’s hard for me to gauge how hard the pandemic specifically has been because as I’ve adjusted to the pandemic I’ve also recovered from brain cancer and, as my brain has continued to heal, I’ve had an easier time navigating our ‘new normal.'”

The U, VanBeuge says, gave her a lot of confidence in exploring new topics. “I chose to rotate in labs that were different from the kind of research I had done before. I was able to learn a lot about myself and my interests as a scientist and make an informed decision on my degree.” That was a good thing, because in Oregon students rotate through three labs during their first year and then pick one of those labs in which to work on their PhD. VanBeuge chose Karen Guillemin’s lab where she studied host-microbiome relationships.

Now with her doctorate, VanBeuge, who is originally from Tacoma, WA but grew up in Las Vegas, is looking to start a career in the biotechnology industry. “I was interested in the evolutionarily conserved aspects of this relationship and focused on gut epithelial proliferation in response to colonization by the microbiota.” During her research she found that the multiplication or reproduction of epithelial cells which in the expansion of a cell population (epithelial proliferation) wasn’t a response to a specific bacterial species. Instead, “it’s an innate immune system mediated response to barrier damage.”

Along the way VanBeuge has been active in the University of Oregon Women in Graduate Sciences (UOWGS) - organization where she served as outreach chair for AY 2019-2020. Her research culminated in two papers that she co-authored, “Proteolytic Degradation and Inflammation Play Critical Roles in Polypoidal Choroidal Vasculopathy” in The American Journal of Pathology and “Secreted Aeromonas GlcNAc binding protein GbpA stimulates epithelial cell proliferation in the zebrafish intestine” in bioRxiv. A third paper has also been submitted.

Reporting on her research is just one writing outlet for Stephanie VanBeuge. She’s determined to produce a memoir of what it was like as a young scientist, battling brain cancer in the middle of her education. She has a first draft and plans on completing it soon. The story “is primarily a story about resilience. It’s about facing your fears and uncertainty head on and not letting them stop you from showing up and fighting back. I hope people who read this book are empowered to show up and face their own challenges head on.”

By David Pace, originally published at of

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Stolen Ivory

Stolen Ivory

Isotope data strengthens suspicions of ivory stockpile theft.

In January 2019, a seizure of 3.3 tons of ivory in Uganda turned up something surprising: markings on some of the tusks suggested that they may have been taken from a stockpile of ivory kept, it was thought, strictly under lock and key by the government of Burundi.

A new study from University of Utah distinguished professor Thure Cerling and colleagues, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, uses carbon isotope science to show that the marked tusks were more than 30 years old and somehow had found their way from the guarded government stockpile into the hands of illegal ivory traders. The results suggest that governments that maintain ivory stockpiles may want to take a closer look at their inventory.

Thure Cerling

“Due to the markings seen on some samples of the ivory, it was thought that quite a few samples in this shipment could be related to material held in a government stockpile in Burundi.”

Ivory’s isotope signatures

Cerling is a pioneer in the use of isotopes to answer questions about physical and biological processes. “Isotopes” of a given element refer to atoms of the element that vary in their number of neutrons, and thus vary oh-so-slightly in mass. A carbon-14 isotope has one more neutron than carbon-13, for example.

Some isotopes are stable and some are unstable. Unstable isotopes decay into other isotopes or elements through radioactive decay. Since the rate of decay is known for unstable isotopes, we can use the amounts present in a sample to determine ages. That’s how carbon dating works—it uses the rate of decay of unstable carbon-14 to determine the age of organic matter.

Sam Wasser

Around a decade ago, Cerling attended a presentation at the U by Sam Wasser of the University of Washington, who was studying the genetics of wildlife and using those tools to investigate the date and place of wildlife poaching. Cerling, recognizing that his expertise in isotope science might be able to add useful information, began an ongoing collaboration with Wasser.

In 2016, Cerling, Wasser and colleagues published a study that addressed a key question in the ivory trade: how old is the ivory seized by governments? Some traders have claimed their ivory is old, taken before 1976, and thus exempt from sales bans. And with the average size of ivory seizures more than 2.5 tons, researchers, governments and conservationists wonder how much of the ivory is recent and how much is coming from criminal stockpiles—or is stolen from one of several ivory stockpiles held by the governments of some countries in Africa.

“Governments keep their stockpiles for multiple reasons,” Wasser says. “They hope to sell the ivory for revenue, sometimes to support conservation efforts. However, they can only sell ivory from elephants that died of natural causes or were culled because they were problem animals. They can’t sell seized ivory because they don’t know it came from the country.”

With the combination of Cerling’s isotope data and Wasser’s genetic data, the 2016 study found that more than 90% of seized ivory was from elephants that had been killed less than three years before. It was a sobering result, showing active and well-developed poaching and export networks. The study seemed to show that little ivory from government stockpiles had ended up on the black market.

Marked tusks

But the 2019 seizure of ivory in Uganda showed something concerning. Some of the tusks sported markings that looked suspiciously like the markings that CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, uses to inventory stockpiled ivory.

Due to the markings seen on some samples of the ivory,” Cerling says, “it was thought that quite a few samples in this shipment could be related to material held in a government stockpile in Burundi.  We were asked to date samples from this, and three other recent ivory seizures, to see if some samples could possibly be from older stockpiles.”

To determine the ivory’s age, the researchers collected small samples from the tusks and analyzed them for the amount of carbon-14 isotopes in each sample. They were looking specifically for the amount of “bomb carbon” in the tusks. Between 1945 and 1963, nuclear weapons testing doubled the amount of carbon-14 in the atmosphere, so anything living that’s consumed carbon since then—including you—has a measurable carbon-14 signature. The amount of carbon-14 in a sample of ivory that hasn’t yet radioactively decayed can tell scientists when the ivory stopped growing, or when the elephant died.

Paula Kahumbu

The method takes some calibration, using samples from organisms living in the same area. Some of the samples came from schoolchildren in Kenya, through a program called “Kids and Goats for Elephants.” Because most families in rural Kenya keep goats the program, run by Cerling and Paula Kahumbu of WildlifeDirect, engages children in collecting hair samples from goats for isotopic analysis. The isotope data is useful for many applications, including fighting elephant poaching and, in this case, calibrating the bomb carbon decay rate for more accurate dating of ivory.

A consequential result

The researchers analyzed ivory from four seizures in Angola, Hong Kong, Singapore and Uganda. Genetic data ensured that they weren’t sampling two tusks from the same individual. The results of analysis from the Angola, Hong Kong and Singapore seizures were as expected – the results showed ages mostly around three years after the death of the elephant, with no tusks having been taken more than 10 years previous.

But the Uganda seizure, with the inventory markings on the tusks, showed something very different. Nine of the 11 tusks tested had been taken more than 30 years before, with the dates of death ranging between 1985 and 1988. Those dates are consistent with the age of ivory in the stockpile of the government of Burundi, which was inventoried and stored in sealed containers in 1989.

“My suspicions were affirmed,” Wasser says. “The bigger surprise was how near to 1989 the elephants were killed.” At the time Burundi assembled its stockpile, a condition of joining CITES, which assists governments in managing ivory reserves, was that the ivory to be stockpiled was old. The results suggest that that wasn’t the case, Wasser says, which would have violated conditions for Burundi to join CITES.

“The hope is that CITES will request the stockpile to be re-inventoried,” Wasser says, “including aging randomly selected tusks and secure the remaining stocks.”

Find the full study here.


by Paul Gabrielsen, first published in @theU.