Pauling Medal

Dr. Cynthia J. Burrows

Dr. Cynthia Burrows

Distinguished Professor Dr. Cynthia Burrows is the 2022 Pauling Medal awardee.

Cynthia J. Burrows, Distinguished Professor in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Utah, where she is also the Thatcher Presidential Endowed Chair of Biological Chemistry. Burrows was the Senior Editor of the Journal of Organic Chemistry (2001-2013) and became Editor-in-Chief of Accounts of Chemical Research in 2014.

Burrows acquired a B.A. degree in Chemistry at the University of Colorado (1975). There she worked on Stern-Volmer plots in Stanley Cristol's laboratory during her senior year. She continued to study physical organic chemistry at Cornell University, where she received a Ph.D. degree in Chemistry in 1982 working in Barry Carpenter's laboratory. Her Ph.D. thesis work focused on cyano-substituted allyl vinyl ethers. Burrows then conducted a short post-doctoral research stint with Jean-Marie Lehn in Strasbourg, France.

The Pauling Medal recognizes chemists who have made outstanding national and international contributions to the field. It was named for Dr. Linus Pauling and is presented by the Puget Sound and Portland sections of the American Chemical Society. Dr. Burrows was awarded her medal October 29th, 2022 in Portland, Oregon, with speeches by Valeria Molinero, Alison Butler, and Jonathon Sessler.

The Burrows laboratory is interested in nucleic acid chemistry, DNA sequencing technology, and DNA damage. Her research team (consisting of organic, biological, analytical and inorganic chemists) focuses on chemical processes that result in the formation of mutations, which could lead to diseases (such as cancer). Her work includes studying site-specifically modified DNA and RNA strands and DNA-protein cross linking. Burrows and her group are widely known for expanding the studies on nanopore technology by developing a method for detecting DNA damage using a nanopore.

One of the objectives of the Burrows Laboratory is to apply nanopore technology to identify, quantify, and analyze DNA damage brought on by oxidative stresses. Burrows focuses on the damage found in human telomeric sequences, crucial chromosomal regions that provide protection from degradation and are subject to problems during DNA replication. Additionally, Burrows’ research in altering nucleic acid composition can provide valuable information in genetic diseases as well as manipulating the function of DNA and RNA in cells.

Awards and honors include:

  • NSF - CNRS Exchange of Scientists Fellowship, 1981–82
  • Japan Soc. for the Promotion of Science Research Fellow, 1989–90
  • NSF Creativity Award, 1993–95
  • NSF Career Advancement Award, 1993–94
  • Bioorganic & Natural Products Study Section, NIH, 1990–94
  • NSF Math & Physical Sciences Advisory Committee, 2005–08
  • Assoc. Editor, Organic Letters, 1999–2002
  • Senior Editor, Journal of Organic Chemistry, 2001–13
  • Robert W. Parry Teaching Award, 2002
  • ACS Utah Award, 2000
  • Bea Singer Award, 2004
  • Fellow, AAAS, 2004
  • Distinguished Scholarly and Creative Research Award, Univ. of Utah, 2005
  • Cope Scholar Award, American Chemical Society, 2008
  • Director, USTAR Governing Authority, 2009-2017
  • Member, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2009
  • ACS Fellow, 2010
  • Distinguished Teaching Award, 2011
  • Editor-in-Chief, Accounts of Chemical Research, 2014
  • Linda K. Amos Award for Distinguished Service to Women of U of U, 2014
  • Member, National Academy of Science, 2014
  • ACS James Flack Norris Award in Physical Organic Chemistry, 2018
  • Willard Gibbs Award, 2018


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Art & Air Quality

Art & Air Quality

Wendy Wischer

Public art piece finds common ground in the fight for air quality.

UTA Trax cars zip from University hills to west-side valleys, past schools, shops and churches. Carrying more than just passengers, these cars hold research-grade air quality sensors. They catalog things we can’t see—ozone, the valley’s main summertime polluter, and PM 2.5, the particulate matter that blankets our wintertime, turning Salt Lake City into a snow globe of ash. Soon they’ll carry something else: segments of public art piece In Search of Blue Sky, decorating  Trax car interiors and the sides of public buses. The installation seeks both to raise community awareness of the air quality data and embed it with personal meaning. “Just putting data out there doesn’t move people, doesn’t change people,” says Wendy Wischer, the project’s artist. “Artwork can pull at emotions, and to act, we need to be moved emotionally.”

Wischer was first approached by John Lin several years ago when the sensors were installed. Both faculty at the University of Utah, Wischer teaches Sculpture Intermedia in the College of Fine Arts and Lin is a professor of Atmospheric Sciences. They received funding through the university’s Global Change & Sustainability Center (GCSC), described on its website as “an interdisciplinary hub catalyzing research on global [climate] change and sustainability.” Creative Writing Ph.D. candidate Lindsey Webb from the College of Humanities became their student collaborator, who collaborated with Wischer and Lin to write the text.

John Lin

“The more we care about each other [and] the more we feel connected to each other, the more we’re going to take action that supports a healthier environment for everybody.”

Wischer boasts a long resume of environmental art installations, having collaborated with geologists and engineers in the past. Her work explores boundaries and the places where art and science collide. Art brings a different perspective and problem-solving process to climate issues, one Wischer believes may help us navigate their complexity. “I often am seeking connecting threads between disparate ideas,” she says. “We need the disciplinary expertise, but we also need to think about … incorporating those skill sets in different ways.”

The In Search of Blue Sky panels will be a pop of color in the cityscape, each one boasting a short poem or phrase on a serene, blue-sky backdrop. Wispy cirrus clouds seen in fair weather drift lazily from one panel to the next. Webb’s words are simple, yet poetic meditations on the air around us, its beauty and degradation. In Search of Blue Sky’s simplicity may be its strongest asset—in the chaos of traffic, billboards and advertisements, it’s a breath of fresh air. It evokes a longing for that simplicity, just out of memory.

A QR code or URL lets passersby with a smartphone instantly access both the project’s website and the data collected in real-time by the Wasatch Environmental Observatory (WEO), perhaps even captured by the train car they’re sitting in. Wischer says, “I hope that this curiosity sparks conversations and that people will take further action, whether that’s riding more public transportation … [or] voting in ways that support certain policies and programs.” The data is meant for everyone. But, says Wischer, most people don’t know it exists. The campaign is accessible and bilingual (both the signage and website are in English and Spanish), and she hopes it will inspire people to learn and care more about the issue, inciting action in whatever form that might take.

Interior signage for buses and trains.

Air quality has been a pressing issue in Salt Lake City for a long time, though little has been done on the state and city levels to address it. One notable takeaway from the data is the inequitable distribution of hazardous air quality. Although everyone is affected, communities on the west side and lower-income areas suffer the most as the negative health effects of air pollution compound with other structural inequalities. As in all climate fights, our greatest weapon comes in community; our strongest allies are each other. Wischer wants the art of In Search of Blue Sky to remind us that we all have a stake in the fight. “The more we care about each other [and] the more we feel connected to each other, the more we’re going to take action that supports a healthier environment for everybody,” she says

“I often am seeking connecting threads between disparate ideas.”

Wischer believes that the biggest victories in the climate fight often come from local, grassroots efforts. “There are a number of different solutions that might be available,” she says, “but we can’t even get there if we don’t have conversations. We have to have common ground to understand why this is important and why we should care about a neighborhood that’s affected differently than our own.” One solution is public transportation, the vessel for In Search of Blue Sky. Wischer notes that the messages inside the Trax cars are different from those outside—they’re messages of thanks. “We’re always saying ‘oh, you should do this, you should do that.’ Rarely do we say ‘thank you’ for actually doing it,” says Wischer.

Our air is precious. When it’s abundant, we hardly notice it. After three short minutes without it, we die. In Search of Blue Sky reminds us what we’re fighting for; it reminds us that we’re all in this together.

Utah Transit Authority Bus Advertising

In Search of Blue Sky will run on UTA buses and Trax cars through the month of January, when Salt Lake’s winter inversion is at its worst. To learn more about the project, visit

By . Originally published @SLUG Magazine, photos by .


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Storm Peak Laboratory

Storm Peak Laboratory

Gannet Hallar in the lab.

There are only a handful of high elevation weather labs in the world, and one of them sits at the top of the Steamboat Ski Area.

Maybe you’ve noticed that building just at the top of the Morning Side Chairlift at the Steamboat Ski Resort with all the crazy antennae and satellite dishes on the roof, and wondered what goes on there. While some local organizations are lucky enough to get inside those doors for special tours, the facility is not open to the public.

The Storm Peak Laboratory is an atmospheric science and snow hydrology research center run by the University of Utah, whose mission is to advance discovery and understanding within these scientific fields. In other words, just as you are out there enjoying the fresh air and pristine wilderness that surrounds the ski area, you’ve got some of the best scientists in the world just a few feet away doing their best to protect it.

Storm Peak Laboratory was constructed during the summer of 1995 in the Rocky Mountains of northwestern Colorado (3220 m M.S.L.; 40.455 deg N, -106.744 deg W). The new facility is the latest stage of an evolutionary process of providing a practical, easily accessible facility for researchers, teachers and students of all ages and abilities.

Snow study plot @ 10,000 ft.

We caught up with Dr. Gannet Hallar, Professor at the University of Utah in the Department of Atmospheric Science, who is the director of Storm Peak Laboratory. Under her leadership, the lab has undergone major changes including new instrumentation, new field courses and a significant building expansion. She host many undergraduate and graduate level field courses at the laboratory from a variety of institutions, including the University of Utah, University of Colorado, Texas A&M, etc.

Tell us about this facility and what makes it special.
We are located at the top of the Steamboat Ski Resort next to the Morning Side chairlift in the Routt National Forest. The lab maintains a special use permit through Forest Service for the land surrounding the facility. We are a unique high mountain in-cloud facility, one of only a few in the country

Storm Peak Lab with a coating of rime.

What kind of research is conducted there?
We do atmospheric science research. We study the impact that gasses and aerosols in the atmosphere have on climate and human health. We also study clouds and what types of particles make clouds, as well as water and ice content in clouds.

What is the commute like and how do you get all the gear up there?
On most days we take the chairlift. We have a Pisten Bully snowcat and use snowmobiles to transport equipment. Some of our researchers use snowshoes to walk to and from the chairlift because they don’t ski.

Mountain meteorology class.

Who is studying there?
Atmospheric scientists who study particles, clouds, and gasses, and we also host snow hydrologists. We have people come from all around the country. We have some permanent staff, but we always have different groups visiting. Right now, we have a group from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and a group from the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder. We also conduct a lot of field classes for students from universities all over the country. We have a 9-person bunk house, full kitchen, classroom and meeting room. The facility is 2,500 square feet.

What’s the data used for?
We do long term monitoring of several things to investigate atmospheric trends. We are part of an international global atmospheric watch program that collects long term data on particles in the atmosphere and measures trace gasses and how they change over time. Similar to all other sites, we are seeing a significant increase in greenhouse gasses, especially CO2. We are also seeing changes to an increasing number of wildlife. We keep a long-term data record that goes into national database and publish papers on what we find about what is changing in our atmosphere.

The deck at Storm Peak.

Are you publicly or privately funded?
We are primarily federally funded and receive most of our funding from the National Science Foundation. It’s always a challenge to stay sustainable and the government shutdown really affected us. If you’re interested in supporting the lab, we always appreciate donations, which can be given through our website.

What is your mission?
A lot of technology development happens here. For example, our group from MIT is developing new technology to measure clouds which has the potential to address climate change and improve the de-icing of airplanes. We also do a lot of graduate and undergraduate training up here. One thing we are very proud of is how many students are trained in this facility, approximately 100 every year.



Originally published, photos by Maria Garcia, Ian McCubbin, and Gannet Hallar.

Skaggs Building

‘Life of Tree’ Returns to Life in the Crocker Science Cntr.

Crocker Science Center

South Physics Building

Henry Eyring Building


Clarivate’s Most Cited

Peter Stang

Distinguished Professor Peter J. Stang.

Peter Stang & President Obama.

Seated in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China.

Chinese International Science & Technology Cooperation Award.

Peter Stang One of Clarivate's Most Cited Scientists.

Each year, Clarivate identifies the world’s most influential researchers ─ the select few who have been most frequently cited by their peers over the last decade. In 2022, fewer than 7,000, or about 0.1%, of the world's researchers, in 21 research fields and across multiple fields, have earned this exclusive distinction.

Peter Stang is among this elite group recognized for his exceptional research influence, demonstrated by the production of multiple highly-cited papers that rank in the top 1% by citations for field and year in the Web of Science.

Peter Stang was born in Nuremberg, Germany to a German mother and Hungarian father. He lived in Hungary for most of his adolescence. In school, he took rigorous mathematics and science courses. At home, he made black gunpowder from ingredients at the drugstore, and developed a pH indicator from the juice of red cabbage that his mother cooked, and sold to his "fellow chemists".

In 1956, when Stang was in the middle of his sophomore year in high school, he and his family fled the Soviet invasion of Hungary and immigrated to Chicago, Illinois. Not speaking English, Stang failed his American history and English courses but scored at the top of his class in science and math. His teachers were confused by his performance and gave him an IQ test. Stang was confused by the unfamiliar format of the test and scored a 78. In spite of this, Stang was admitted to DePaul University and earned his undergraduate degree in 1963. He received his Ph.D. in 1966 from the University of California, Berkeley.

After a postdoctoral fellowship at Princeton Universitywith Paul Schleyer, he joined the chemistry faculty at the University of Utah in 1969. He became dean of the College of Science in 1997 and stepped down as dean in 2007. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, The American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a foreign member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. He was editor-in-chief of the Journal of Organic Chemistry from 2000 to 2001, and Editor-in-Chief of the ACS flagship journal, Journal of the American Chemical Society (2002-2020).

Awards & Honors

  • Priestley Medal, (2013)
  • National Medal of Science, (2010)
  • Paul G. Gassman Distinguished Service Award of the ACS Division of Organic Chemistry, (2010)
  • F.A. Cotton Medal for Excellence in Chemical Research of the American Chemical Society (2010)
  • Honorary Professor CAS Institute of Chemistry, Beijing, Zheijiang U; East China Normal U and East China U of Science and Technology, (2010)
  • Fred Basolo Medal for Outstanding Research in Inorganic Chemistry, (2009)
  • Foreign Member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, (2007)
  • ACS Award for Creative Research and Applications of Iodine Chemistry, (2007)
  • Linus Pauling Award, (2006)
  • Foreign Member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (2006)
  • Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (2002)
  • Member of the National Academy of Sciences.
  • ACS George A. Olah Award in Hydrocarbon or Petroleum Chemistry, (2003)
  • Member, AAAS Board of Directors, (2003–2007)
  • Robert W. Parry Teaching Award, (2000)
  • ACS James Flack Norris Award in Physical Organic Chemistry, (1998)
  • University of Utah Rosemblatt Prize for Excellence, (1995)
  • Utah Award in Chemistry, American Chemical Society, (1994)
  • Utah Governor's Medal for Science and Technology, (1993)
  • Honorary Doctorate of Science (D. Sc. honoris causa) Moscow State University, Moscow, Russia (1992)
  • Fulbright Senior Scholar, (1987–1988)
  • Univ. of Utah Distinguished Research Award, (1987)
  • Fellow AAAS, JSPS Fellow (1985, 1998)
  • Lady Davis Fellowship (Visiting Professor), Technion, Israel, (1986, 1997)
  • Humboldt "Senior U.S. Scientist" Award, (1977, 1996, 2010)
  • Associate Editor, Journal of the American Chemical Society (1982–1999)
  • National Organic Symposium Executive Officer (1985)


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Construction Update

Construction Update

Construction is about to begin on the University of Utah’s new Applied Science Project. The project will restore and renovate the historic William Stewart building and construct an addition to the building on the west side, adjacent to University Street. Construction will start in early October.

Construction Timeline

This important project will provide new and updated space to serve the University of Utah’s educational and research mission. It will serve as the new home for the Departments of Physics & Astronomy and Atmospheric Sciences, focusing on aerospace, semiconductor technology, biotechnology, data science, hazardous weather forecasting, and air quality. Together, the two departments teach more than 5,600 students. See why the University of Utah College of Science is so excited about launching this project.

New construction will provide a 56 percent increase in experimental and computer lab capacity. There will be 40,700 square feet of renovated space in the historic Stewart Building and a 100,00 square foot new addition. The project will preserve and restore the historic character of the William Stewart Building while introducing a modern yet complementary design for the new addition. The new building’s exterior finishes will resemble the latest addition to the Crocker Science building next door.

Tree protection plans are in place, and the project team has taken steps to ensure the safety and preservation of Cottams Gulch, which will remain open and accessible during construction. In addition, the project team is working with Simmons Pioneer Memorial Theater leadership to ensure construction does not affect theater activities.

Cottam's Gulch

What to Expect - Construction Impacts

  • Project construction timeline: October 2022 – May 2025
  • Construction hours are 7 am – 7 pm
  • The installation of six-foot-tall construction fencing around the project site will begin the second week of October
  • The existing rock wall near the University Avenue sidewalk will be dismantled for the duration of construction and restored when construction nears completion.
  • Construction traffic will enter and exit the project site via University Street; Full-time road flaggers will be in place to assist with traffic safety and flow
  • Sidewalks directly east of the Stewart building will be closed; signage will be in place to direct pedestrians east of the construction zone around the Life Sciences building
  • Visit the Applied Science Project construction website.



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Utah F.O.R.G.E.

Utah F.O.R.G.E.

The Utah FORGE Project

The Frontier Observatory for Geothermal Research

There is something deceptively simple about geothermal energy. The crushing force of gravity compacts the earth to the point where its molten metal center is 9,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Even thousands of miles out near the surface, the temperature is still hundreds of degrees.

In some places, that heat reaches the surface, either as lava flowing up through volcanic vents, or as steaming water bubbling up in hot springs. In those places, humans have been using geothermal energy since the dawn of time.

But what if we could drill down into the rock and, in essence, create our own hot spring? That is the idea behind “enhanced geothermal systems,” and the most promising such effort in the world is happening in Beaver County.

Called Utah FORGE (Frontier Observatory for Geothermal Research), the site 10 miles north of Milford is little more than a drill pad and a couple of buildings on Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration land. But it is the U.S. Department of Energy’s foremost laboratory for enhanced geothermal research, and the University of Utah is the scientific overseer. Seven years ago, the U of U’s proposal won out in a national competition against three of the DOE’s own national laboratories.

“If you have to pick the best area in the country to build an EGS plant, you’re going to be driven to Milford. DOE recognized that in 2015,” said Joseph N. Moore, a University of Utah Professor with the Department of Geology & Geophysics and the principal investigator for Utah FORGE.

Professor Joseph N. Moore

Among the advantages:

  • It’s in a known area of thermal activity. Nearby is Roosevelt Hot Springs, and a small nearby geothermal plant has been producing electricity for about 30,000 homes for years.
  • It has hundreds of cubic miles hot granite below the surface with no water flowing through it.
  • There is accessible water that can’t be used for drinking or agriculture because it contains too many naturally occurring minerals. But that water can be used for retrieving heat from underground.
  • It has access to transmission lines. Beaver County is home to a growing amount of wind and solar power generation, helping access to consumers.

DOE has invested $50 million in FORGE, and now it’s adding another $44 million in research money. The U of U is soliciting proposals from scientists.

“These new investments at FORGE, the flagship of our EGS research, can help us find the most innovative, cost-effective solutions and accelerate our work toward wide-scale geothermal deployment and support President Biden’s ambitious climate goals,” said Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm.

The idea is to drill two deep wells more than a mile down into solid granite that registers around 400 degrees. Then cold water is pumped down one well so hot water can be pulled out through the second well. One of those wells has been drilled, and the second is planned for next year.

But if it’s solid rock, how does the water get from one well to the other? The scientists have turned to a technology that transformed the oil and gas industry: hydraulic fracturing, also known as “fracking.” They are pumping water down under extremely high pressures to create or expand small cracks in the rock, and those cracks allow the cold water to flow across the hot rock to the second well. They have completed some hydraulic fracturing from the first well.

Moore is quick to point out that using a fracturing process for geothermal energy does not produce the environmental problems associated with oil and gas fracking, largely because it doesn’t generate dirty wastewater and gases. Further, the oil released in the fracturing can lubricate underground faults, and removing the oil and gas creates gaps, both of which lead to more and larger earthquakes.

Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm

The fracturing in enhanced geothermal does produce seismic activity that seismologists are monitoring closely, Moore said, but the circumstances are much different. In geothermal fracturing, there is only water, and it can be returned to the ground without contamination. And producing fractures in an isolated piece of granite is less likely to affect faults. The hope, he said, is that once there are enough cracks for sufficient flow from one pipe to the other, it can produce continuous hot water without further fracturing.

And it never runs out. Moore said that even 2% of the available geothermal energy in the United States would be enough the power the nation by itself.

This next round of $44 million in federal funding is about taking that oil and gas process and making it specific to enhanced geothermal. That includes further seismic study, and coming up with the best “proppant” — the material used to keep the fracture open. Oil and gas use fracking sand to keep the cracks open, and the higher temperatures of geothermal make that challenging.

“FORGE is a derisking laboratory,” said Moore, meaning the U of U scientists, funded by the federal government, are doing some heavy lifting to turn the theory of EGS into a practical clean-energy solution. He said drilling wells that deep costs $70,000 a day. They drill 10 to 13 feet per hour, and it takes six hours just to pull out a drill to change the bit, something they do every 50 hours. That early, expensive work makes it easier for private companies to move the technology into a commercially viable business. Moore said all of the research is in the public domain.

Moore said FORGE doesn’t employ many full-time employees in Beaver County at this point, but it has used local contractors for much of the work, and it has filled the county’s hotel rooms for occasional meetings. High school students have also been hired to help with managing core samples from the deep wells.

“They’ve collaborated really well with the town,” said Milford Mayor Nolan Davis. Moore and others have made regular presentations to his city council, and they’ve sponsored contests in the high school to teach students about geothermal energy. People in town, Davis said, are well aware that the world is watching Utah FORGE, and there is hope geothermal energy will become a larger presence if and when commercial development begins. “We hope they can come in and maybe build several small power plants.”

Davis also noted that the power from Beaver County’s solar and wind plants are already contracted to California. “We’d like to get some power we can keep in the county.”


by Tim Fitzpatrick, first published @

Tim Fitzpatrick is The Salt Lake Tribune’s renewable energy reporter, a position funded by a grant from Rocky Mountain Power. The Tribune retains all control over editorial decisions independent of Rocky Mountain Power.

This story is part of The Salt Lake Tribune’s ongoing commitment to identify solutions to Utah’s biggest challenges through the work of the Innovation Lab.


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College Merger

College Merger

College of Mines and Earth Sciences to merge with College of Science.

The University of Utah College of Mines and Earth Sciences will merge with the College of Science beginning July 1, 2022, a move that will unite well-funded programs, build synergy and cooperation between faculty and create a much stronger base for science and mathematics education at the U.

Deans Darryl Butt of the College of Mines and Earth Sciences and Peter Trapa of the College of Science have worked with university administration and members of both colleges to plan the details of the merger. The College of Mines and Earth Sciences will retain its name and identify as a unit of the College of Science and all faculty, students, buildings and research programs in both colleges will continue in the combined unit.

President Taylor Randall

“Both of these colleges are leaders in student enrollment and research, providing valuable direction on some of the most important issues we face today. I am confident this union will elevate both programs and provide more opportunities for collaboration and student access to classes.”


“Given the incredibly strong connections and research collaborations between the two colleges already, this proposed merger brings a huge number of opportunities for students and faculty,” said William Anderegg, associate professor in the College of Science’s School of Biological Sciences. “The merger opens doors to new educational programs, student research opportunities and research avenues that should elevate the U’s prominence and impact.”

How it happened

The two colleges have a long history of collaboration, but as they came together in 2018 to begin planning for a new Applied Sciences Building, which will bring together departments from both colleges, the deans and faculty members discussed interdisciplinary collaborations and joint courses of study, leading to the proposal of merging the colleges.

In developing the merger plan, the colleges have met with university administrators and faculty and staff from both colleges. Each department in both colleges conducted an advisory vote from their faculty, with a strong majority of voting faculty being in favor of a merger.

“The alignment of COS and CMES to form a stronger and more synergistic organization would elevate the reputation, and likely national rankings, of the respective programs as the joined faculty become more comparable in size and scope to many peer colleges in the Pac-12,” said Butt. “The union will strengthen the STEM fields at the U, and provide a greater student experience through enhanced advising, tutoring, research opportunities and interdisciplinary programs.”

What will and won’t change

The yearlong Phase 1 of the merger, which begins July 1, 2022, involves integrating non-academic functions of the College of Mines and Earth Sciences, such as accounting and marketing. The deans will work to enhance communication and collaboration in the united college, and continue working with faculty, staff, students and university leadership to streamline the merger.

Students attending classes in either of the colleges this fall likely won’t notice anything different–buildings, faculty and programs will remain as they are. Students working towards existing degrees will still receive those degrees from their respective colleges. No programs will be changed and no staff positions will be eliminated.

Leadership will also look much the same, with department chairs remaining in place, and Butt remaining as dean of the entities comprising the College of Mines and Earth Sciences as the colleges consolidate.

After that, as Phase 2 begins, the unified college will report to a single dean and changes to the governance structure of the college, developed in Phase 1, will be finalized and submitted to faculty, student and administration stakeholders for final approval.

Future endeavors, such as a major in earth and environmental science currently under consideration, will utilize resources from both colleges. But the College of Mines and Earth Sciences will remain as a distinct unit within the College of Science, strengthened by the merger and well-positioned to meet its future mission to the state of Utah as the land grant school of mines.

“We are thrilled to unite with the College of Mines and Earth Sciences, with its tradition of hands-on education and impactful research,” Trapa said. “As a combined college, we’ll be positioned to prepare students for an interdisciplinary world.”

“This is an innovative solution to combine the resources of two historic colleges in a way that preserves the identities and missions of both while elevating them to the top tier of science colleges in the United States,” Butt said.

Get to know the colleges

The College of Science and College of Mines and Earth Sciences are two of the oldest colleges at the U, owing to the early missions of the university to educate Utah’s teachers and the leaders of the mining industry in the state.

The roots of the College of Mines and Earth Sciences extend back to 1901 with the establishment of the State School of Mines. Instruction in earth science and mining engineering goes back even further, to at least 1871. The college’s current name was adopted in 1988 and it currently consists of departments of geology and geophysicsatmospheric sciencesmining engineering and metallurgical engineering (jointly administered with the College of Engineering). The Global Change and Sustainability Center and the University of Utah Seismograph Stations, a network of seismometers throughout the West, are also housed in the college’s Frederick A. Sutton Building. The college has become one of the most research-intensive colleges on campus, with average annual per faculty research awards exceeding $300K. With six majors and four degrees to choose from, students in the college study everything from the nature of snow and ice to processes governing Earth’s processes to the methods and processes for producing critical materials.

The current incarnation of the College of Science was formally organized in 1970 but has roots in science instruction that dates back to the founding of the University of Utah in 1850. It includes departments of mathematicsphysics and astronomychemistry and the School of Biological Sciences—a progression of disciplines that encompasses the structures and processes of life, the universe and, well, everything.

As one of the largest colleges at the U, the College of Science includes around 2,100 undergraduate students and nearly 500 graduate students, with 143 faculty members. In FY 2021, the college received $36 million in research funding.

In recent years the college has renovated the George Thomas Building into the Crocker Science Center and is planning the renovation and expansion, in collaboration with the College of Mines and Earth Sciences, of the William Stewart Building into the 140,000-square-foot Applied Sciences Building.

Learn more about the College of Science and College of Mines and Earth Sciences.


by Paul Gabrielsen, first published at @theU.


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10-year Plan

10-year Plan

U astronomers tackle decade’s biggest questions.

Astronomers and astrophysicists at the University of Utah have been driving discoveries in the field for years. The innovative research from the Department of Physics & Astronomy is making an impact in all areas that the national community has determined as priorities in a once-in-a-decade report that guides the direction of astro-research for years to come.

This Decadal Survey was commissioned by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine to identify goals and challenges for the exploration of the cosmos. Unraveling the secrets of the universe requires vision and extensive planning—astronomers and astrophysicists use massive ground observatories and sophisticated space telescopes for projects that need years of preparation. The guidance of the decadal survey is crucial to this effort.

Released in early November, the decadal survey highlights three key research areas ripe for discovery: “Worlds and Suns in Context” focuses on stars and planets; “Cosmic Ecosystems” describe galaxies and the cosmic web they form; and “New Messengers and New Physics” provides a new view of the universe through high-energy particles, gravitational waves, and deep sky surveys. Scientists in the U’s Department of Physics & Astronomy are leaders in each of these areas.

Kyle Dawson

“Over the past several decades, department faculty pushed forward on an increasing number of research areas in astronomy, astrophysics and particle physics. Now these separate initiatives are coming together, in focus, and beautifully aligned with the decadal survey’s top priorities.”


Kyle Dawson, professor of physics and astronomy, will chair the Astronomy and Astrophysics Advisory Committee (AAAC) in the first full year following the release of the decadal survey. The AAAC is a national panel of experts who advise the National Science Foundation, NASA, and the Department of Energy toward issues within the fields of astronomy and astrophysics that are of mutual interest. “We meet regularly with leadership from the federal agencies that sponsor research in astronomy and astrophysics. The decadal survey gives our panel a guide to work with those agencies to assess progress toward new programs that will allow the United States to maintain its role as a leader in astronomy and astrophysics research.”

Over the past several decades, department faculty pushed forward on an increasing number of research areas in astronomy, astrophysics and particle physics, notes Professor Dawson. “Now these separate initiatives are coming together, in focus, and beautifully aligned with the decadal survey’s top priorities.”

Worlds and Suns in Context

The sun hosts a rich system of planets, from the massive gas giant Jupiter and the icy dwarf planet Pluto, to Earth, the only body in the universe known to sustain life. Recent observations from space and the ground have revealed thousands of other worlds around distant stars. Some are so large as to dwarf Jupiter, others appear to be exotic water worlds. A precious few may even harbor life. A key priority of the decadal survey is to understand the nature and origin of these worlds and the stars that host them. Driving this quest is a profound question, whether we are alone in the cosmos.

Mock-ups from a fast-migration sim (Jupiter through a massive pebble disk) w/planets + host star added.

The Sloan Digital Sky Survey, (SDSS), an international effort to chart the cosmos, is mapping stars across our galaxy, the Milky Way. Scientists at the U are in leadership roles in this large-scale, on-going collaboration. With detailed measurements of millions of stars, SDSS will provide an understanding of their chemical composition, how the elements are spread throughout the galaxy, and the connection between stars, their composition and the planets they host. This world-class project is integral to the decadal survey’s scientific goals.

Research at the U also focuses on planet formation, how worlds emerge from the gas and cosmic dust that encircle all observed young stars. Simulations run on high-performance computers track this process, how planetary building blocks come together, sometimes through violent collisions, to grow into the planets like those in our solar system and around other stars in the cosmos.

Cosmic Ecosystems

Looking beyond the stars visible in the night sky, astronomers have discovered a wealth of exotic objects, including neutron stars, with the mass of the sun packed into a region the size of a small city, and black holes, where matter is so concentrated that space and time warp to form an event horizon, from which nothing, not even light, can escape. Telescopes also reveal galaxies, like our own Milky Way, with hundreds of billions of stars, even supermassive black holes in their centers, strewn across space. Neighboring galaxies, drawn together by gravity, form enormous clusters, the most massive objects in the universe. They are permeated by dark matter, an unidentified, ethereal substance known only through its gravitational influence. Together with galaxies and galaxy clusters, the dark matter sea forms patterns – knots, sheets and walls in a vast cosmic web. A second top priority of the decadal survey is to understand this cosmic web, the structures it contains, and how these structures formed out of the hot, dense early universe.

At the U, researchers are studying the ecosystems that produced this diversity of cosmic structure. With theoretical and computer studies, as well as observations from the ground and space, Utah faculty are probing the nature of galaxies, the central supermassive black holes they harbor, and how stars, gas, and dark matter interact to produce the cosmic structures we observe today. Research on nearby small galaxies, including satellites of our Milky Way and other nearby massive galaxies, will help us understand their formation histories and the role of dark matter in that formation. Upcoming observations with NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, the most sophisticated observatory ever launched, will help university researchers discover supermassive black holes in the central regions of galaxies to learn how these exotic beasts formed. At larger distances and earlier times, large clouds of gas – the precursors of galaxies– provide key diagnostics for researchers at Utah to identify the underlying physics of galaxy formation. Galaxy clusters, with up to thousands of galaxies bound together, are also in focus at Utah as researchers take advantage of NASA’s NuSTAR mission to study the hot X-ray emitting gas trapped in these massive objects. These separate research threads are weaving together a more complete and compelling picture of cosmic structure formation.

New Messengers and New Physics

Studies of the universe began with optical telescopes, using our eyes to capture the signal from distant sources. As technology advanced, we used cameras to record this light, thus allowing for longer integrations and deeper insights into the cosmos. We soon began to explore the cosmos with light not visible to our eyes, from radio waves to X-rays to light with even higher energies. The scientific community has continued to add new messengers from the cosmos beyond the electromagnetic spectrum: High energy particles, neutrinos, and gravitational waves. Combining these multiple messengers is key to understanding the underlying physics of the most extreme events in the cosmos such as stellar explosions, collisions between black holes or neutron stars, and the dramatic forces in the regions surrounding supermassive black holes. Our understanding of the universe has advanced with each new way of observing the sky.

Bryce canyon skies. photo: Anil Seth

The faculty at Utah helped introduce some of these new messengers to the field of astrophysics. The Telescope Array, near Delta, Utah, is the most recent in a series of Utah experiments to study very high energy particles. The highest energy particle on record was detected from this sequence of experiments in Utah. The Utah faculty round out the full suite of messengers with significant contributions to the LIGO interferometer that is used to detect gravitational waves, the IceCube Neutrino Observatory at the South Pole, and the Veritas and HAWC (High-Altitude Water Cherenkov) observatories, and the future CTA and SWGO observatories used to detect the highest energy photons. The Utah faculty also leverages national facilities to use everything between radio and X-rays to explore the physics behind the most dramatic events in the universe.

This theme within the decadal survey also includes new physics, particularly the unknown physical natures of dark matter and dark energy. The possibility for discovering new fields, new particles, new laws for gravity, or new particle interactions motivated the construction of the Vera C. Rubin Observatory in Chile and the Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument in Arizona. Faculty in Utah use the data from these observatories to constrain models of fundamental physics and hunt for the signatures of new physics. Faculty in Utah are also making theoretical predictions for new signatures that dark matter or other new physics may introduce into the full suite of astronomical detectors that are used to track the multiple messengers from the cosmos.

Utah Faculty Researchers

John Belz - Studies the composition of the highest-energy cosmic rays, and investigated the use of novel instruments for their detection. He also uses computational techniques to model extreme spacetimes at the threshold of black hole formation, work complementary to the studies carried out by the Utah gravitational wave physics group.

Douglas Bergman - Uses observations of ultra high energy cosmic rays to test fundamental physics at the highest energies and to explore where extreme acceleration mechanisms exist in the local universe.

Benjamin Bromley - Explores the formation of planets using supercomputer simulations. This work identifies the conditions necessary for a star to host a planet like Earth.

Joel Brownstein - The head of data for the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS). He uses the distribution of luminous matter and dark matter to explore cosmic ecosystems.

Kyle Dawson - Co-spokesperson who sets priorities for cosmological studies within the 500-member, Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument (DESI) collaboration. He uses these spectroscopic data to search for new physics such as dark energy, new theories of gravity, and new fields that affect the evolution of the cosmos.

Paolo Gondolo - Studies theoretical models for new physics related to the nature of dark matter, and uses multi-messenger observational and experimental data to test them.

Charles Jui - Uses ultra high energy cosmic rays as a messenger to explore where extreme acceleration mechanisms exist in the local universe.

David Kieda - Leads multi -messenger astrophysics observations using high energy gamma rays as a messenger to explore particle acceleration around supernova remnants, neutron stars and black holes. Head of US development effort for ultra-high resolution interferometric observations of stars and binary systems.

Tanmoy Laskar - Uses light across the electromagnetic spectrum to investigate new physics in distant cosmic explosions.

Yao-Yuan Mao - Searches for galaxies in the nearby universe that are much smaller than the Milky Way and studies their roles in the cosmic ecosystems and their connection to dark matter.

John Matthews - Uses ultra high energy cosmic rays as a messenger to explore where extreme acceleration mechanisms exist in the local universe.

Carsten Rott - Studies neutrinos as a member of the IceCube collaboration, an observatory built into the pristine ice of the South Pole.

Pearl Sandick - Studies possible explanations for the dark matter in the Universe, how to confirm its nature experimentally, and how it affects our understanding of particle physics.

Anil Seth - Uses NASA’s recently launched James Webb Space Telescope, the Hubble Space Telescope, and other national facilities to study cosmic ecosystems and supermassive black holes.

Wayne Springer - Uses very high energy gamma rays as a messenger to explore particle acceleration around supermassive black holes.

Daniel Wik - Takes a broad view of cosmic ecosystems by exploring clusters of galaxies and their wells of hot gas.

Gail Zasowski - Uses positions, motions, ages, and chemical makeup of millions of stars in the Milky Way and nearby galaxies to better understand today’s worlds and suns.

Yue Zhao - Leads the Utah gravitational wave physics group in the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO).

Zheng Zheng - Studies the connection between galaxies, the dark matter halos in which they live, and the gas that flows in and out of these dark matter halos.




Distinguished Service

Distinguished Service

Pearl Sandick

Pearl Sandick receives Distinguished Service Award.

Pearl Sandick, Associate Professor of Physics and Astronomy and Associate Dean of Faculty Affairs for the College of Science, has received the Linda K. Amos Award for Distinguished Service to Women. The award recognizes Sandick’s contributions to improving the educational and working environment for women at the University of Utah. Amos was the founding chair of the Presidential Commission on the Status of Women, was a professor of nursing, and served for many years as Dean of the College of Nursing and as Associate Vice President for Health Sciences. Throughout her career, Amos was the champion for improving the status and experience of women on campus.

“This is a great honor. I’m privileged to work with amazing students and colleagues who understand the value of a supportive community,” said Sandick. “I am really proud of what we’ve accomplished so far, and I’m excited to start to see the impact of some more recent projects.”

Sandick is a theoretical particle physicist, studying some of the largest and smallest things in the universe, including dark matter, the mysterious stuff that gravitationally binds galaxies and clusters of galaxies together.

Upon her arrival as an assistant professor in 2011, Sandick founded the U’s first affinity group for women in physics and astronomy. For the last two decades, the national percentage of women physicists at the undergraduate level has hovered around 20%. The percentage at more advanced career stages has slowly risen to that level, thanks in part to supportive programming designed to increase retention. The goal of the affinity group within the department is to foster a sense of community and provide opportunities for informal mentoring and the exchange of information, ideas, and resources. The group has also been active in outreach and recruiting. As of fall 2021, the group is now known as PASSAGE, a more inclusive group focused on gender equity in physics and astronomy.

Within the department and in the College of Science, Sandick has improved a number of processes, including writing an effective practices document for faculty hires, based in large part on research related to equitable and inclusive recruitment practices and application review. As Associate Dean, she worked with the College of Science Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee (which she currently chairs) to create college-wide faculty hiring guidelines, which were adopted in 2020. She was also instrumental in several other structural and programmatic initiatives to create a supportive environment in the department, such as the development of a faculty mentoring program and the establishment of “ombuds liaisons” to connect department members with institutional resources.

Through her national service related to diversity and inclusion, Sandick has gained a variety of expertise that she has brought back to the campus community. For example, she has given workshops in the department, the college, and across campus on communication and negotiation, implicit bias, conflict management, and mentorship.

Here are comments from women in the Department of Physics & Astronomy, who have participated with Dr. Sandick in activities sponsored by PASSAGE:

“Being part of PASSAGE has allowed us to connect with others who share similar experiences in the department. It has also helped us connect with people, both within the university community and at other institutions, who have served as role models and mentors.” –Tessa McNamee and Callie Clontz, undergraduates

"PASSAGE became a lifeline during the pandemic and continues to be so. It helps equip members with the tools that they need in various aspects of academia. Professor Sandick makes it her mission to guide us, especially in a time of crisis. I am personally thankful to her and to all of the group members.” –Dr. Ayşegül Tümer, Postdoctoral Research Associate

In addition to her research, Sandick is passionate about teaching, mentoring, and making science accessible and exciting for everyone. She has been recognized for her teaching and mentoring work, with a 2016 University of Utah Early Career Teaching Award and a 2020 University of Utah Distinguished Mentor Award. In 2020, she also was named a U Presidential Scholar. As discussed earlier, women are still widely underrepresented in physics, and Sandick is actively involved in organizations that support recruitment, retention, and advancement of women physicists. She has served on the American Physical Society (APS) Committee on the Status of Women in Physics and as the chair of the National Organizing Committee for the APS Conferences for Undergraduate Women in Physics. She is currently chair of the APS Four Corners Section, which serves approximately 1,800 members from the region.

- by Michele Swaner, first published at

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IF/THEN Ambassador

IF/THEN Ambassador

Janis Louie

IF/THEN is designed to activate a culture shift among young girls to open their eyes to STEM careers.

The august statuary of Washington, D.C. will soon include a University of Utah chemistry professor. A 3D-printed statue of Janis Louie will stand with 119 other statues of women in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) in and around the National Mall from March 5-27.

The exhibit places Louie among the largest collection of statues of women ever assembled, according to the Smithsonian Institution, and celebrates the participants in the IF/THEN Ambassador program that is “designed to activate a culture shift among young girls to open their eyes to STEM careers,” according to the initiative’s website.

“I hope visitors feel inspired, encouraged and empowered,” says Louie. “For me, the exhibit is meant to show that STEM isn’t for one type of person, STEM is for everyone!”

Inspiring a Generation

The IF/THEN Ambassador Program is sponsored by Lyda Hill Philanthropies as part of the IF/THEN initiative. The initiative aims to “advance women in STEM by empowering current innovators and inspiring the next generation of pioneers.”

The Ambassadors program is a part of that initiative, and assembled high-profile women in STEM to act as role models for middle school-age girls. Ambassadors received media and communications training and then engaged in outreach work nationally.

Dr. Louie and family.

After selection in 2019, Louie traveled to a three-day conference with the other Ambassadors. “It was amazing!” she says. “It is the only conference I have ever been to that was 100% female scientists!”

It was a diverse group. “The featured women hail from a variety of fields,” she says, “from protecting wildlife, discovering galaxies and building YouTube’s platform to trying to cure cancer.”

Later, Louie appeared on an episode CBS’ Mission Unstoppable to draw connections between chemistry and the world around us. She also pitched in when another Ambassador’s summer STEM camp needed to go online with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“She asked a variety of the Ambassadors to present to the girls over Zoom, so that the STEM camp could still be impactful,” Louie says. “I was delighted to be one of the presenters!”

Meeting her statue

The process of creating the 120 statues was very different from the traditional sculpture techniques that created the hundreds of other statues in Washington, D.C. At the initial conference, Louie and the other Ambassadors each took a turn being digitally scanned in a booth with 89 cameras and 25 projectors so that the statues could later be 3D printed. (Learn more about the process of creating the exhibit here.)

When completed, the orange statues appeared in Dallas and New York City before the full exhibit was first unveiled in Dallas, Texas in May 2021. Washington, D.C. is the exhibition’s second stop.

Louie and her family traveled to Dallas to see her statue.

“It was surreal, in the best way!” she says, of meeting her doppelgänger.  “My children were able to see not only myself but a field of orange statues of women pioneers—and I was thanked by someone visiting the exhibit for making a difference.”

Meet the other Ambassadors featured in the exhibit here.


by Paul Gabrielsen, first published in @theU


Photos courtesy of the IF/THEN® Collection


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