Chemist Aaron Puri Receives Simons Foundation Early Career Award

Chemist Aaron Puri Receives Simons Foundation Early Career Award


“I am honored to receive this award and excited to join the community of researchers supported by the Simons Foundation to answer fundamental questions about microbial ecology and evolution.” says Aaron Puri, Assistant Professor in the Department of Chemistry and the Henry Eyring Center for Cell and Genome Science and one of five awardees for 2024.
The Simons Foundation Early Career Investigator in Aquatic Microbial Ecology and Evolution Award recognizes outstanding researchers in the fields of microbial ecology, microbial biogeochemistry, and microbial evolution in marine or natural freshwater systems. Its purpose is to promote the careers of investigators who contribute to understanding these areas.

Puri joined the College of Science faculty in 2019 after working as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Washington. He earned his Ph.D. in Chemical and Systems Biology from Stanford University in 2013, and his B.S. from the University of Chicago in 2008. Puri has also received the NIH Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award and the NSF CAREER Award. 

“This award will enable our research group to work at the interface of biology and chemistry to decipher the molecular details of interactions in methane-oxidizing bacterial communities,” says Puri. His research aims to solve big problems with microscopic solutions. “These communities provide a biotic sink for the potent greenhouse gas methane, and are a useful system for understanding how bacteria interact with each other and their environment while performing critical ecosystem functions.” The Simons Award is an indicator that this is only the beginning of Puri’s research successes.


by Lauren Wigod


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