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Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Committee

equity, diversity, and inclusion committee

 

The College of Science established an Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion committee to promote awareness and active practices to increase diversity on our campus. The committee will work as an advisory body to the College of Science Dean, while also working on initiatives to increase the diversity of students, faculty and staff at the College.

Committee members include:

Pearl Sandick, Dean’s Office (chair)
David Bowling, SBS
Shelley Minteer, Chemistry
Christel Hohenegger, Math
Tino Nyawelo, P&A
Jordan Gerton, CSME
Lindsey DeSpain, Dean’s Office/staff rep

Do you have a concern or an issue that the Equity, Diversity, & Inclusion committee should know about?

 

 

 

department committees:


 

Physics & Astronomy

Mathematics

Chemistry: Curie Club

Presidential Scholar

Presidential Scholar


Pearl Sandick

Pearl Sandick one of Four U Presidential Scholars named.

Four faculty members—a pharmacologist, a political scientist, an engineer, and a physicist—have been named Presidential Scholars at the University of Utah.

The award recognizes the extraordinary academic accomplishments and promise of mid-career faculty, providing them with financial support to advance their teaching and research work.

The 2020 recipients are: Marco Bortolato, associate professor in the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology in the College of Pharmacy; Jim Curry, associate professor and director of graduate studies for the Department of Political Science in the College of Social and Behavioral Science; Masood Parvania, associate professor and associate chair in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering in the College of Engineering; and Pearl Sandick, associate professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy and associate dean of the College of Science.

“These scholars represent the exceptional research and scholarship of mid-career faculty at the University of Utah,” said Dan Reed, senior vice president for Academic Affairs. “They each are outstanding scholars and teachers in their fields of specialty. Their scholarship is what makes the U such a vibrant and exciting intellectual environment.”

Presidential scholars are selected each year, and the recipients receive $10,000 in annual funding for three years. The program is made possible by a generous donor who is interested in fostering the success of mid-career faculty.

Pearl Sandick

Pearl Sandick, a theoretical particle physicist and associate professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, studies explanations for dark matter in the universe—one of the most important puzzles in modern physics.“I love that my work involves thinking of new explanations for dark matter, checking that they’re viable given everything we know from past experiments and observations, and proposing new ways to better understand what dark matter is,” she said. “I find this type of creative work and problem solving to be really fun on a day-to-day basis, and the bigger picture — what we’ve learned about the Universe and how it came to look the way it does — is just awe-inspiring.”

She has given a TEDx talk and been interviewed on National Public Radio’s Science Friday. Sandick is passionate about teaching, mentoring students and making science accessible and interesting to non-scientists. In addition to the Presidential Scholar award, she has received the U’s Early Career Teaching Award and Distinguished Mentor Award.

“One of the great joys of working at the U is our commitment to engaging students at all levels in research,” Sandick said, “and I’ve been thrilled to work with amazing undergraduate and graduate students.”

by Rebecca Walsh first published in @theU

11 Billion Years

 

 


Professor Kyle Dawson

11 billion years of history in one map: Astrophysicists reveal largest 3D model of the universe ever created.

(CNN) A global consortium of astrophysicists have created the world's largest three-dimensional map of the universe, a project 20 years in the making that researchers say helps better explain the history of the cosmos.

The Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS), a project involving hundreds of scientists at dozens of institutions worldwide, collected decades of data and mapped the universe with telescopes. With these measurements, spanning more than 2 million galaxies and quasars formed over 11 billion years, scientists can now better understand how the universe developed.

Image courtesy of SDSS

"We know both the ancient history of the Universe and its recent expansion history fairly well, but there's a troublesome gap in the middle 11 billion years," cosmologist Kyle Dawson of the University of Utah, who led the team that announced the SDSS findings on Sunday. "For five years, we have worked to fill in that gap, and we are using that information to provide some of the most substantial advances in cosmology in the last decade," Dawson said in a statement.

Here's how it works: the map revealed the early materials that "define the structure in the Universe, starting from the time when the Universe was only about 300,000 years old." Researchers used the map to measure patterns and signals from different galaxies, and figure out how fast the universe was expanding at different points of history. Looking back in space allows for a look back in time.

"These studies allow us to connect all these measurements into a complete story of the expansion of the Universe," said Will Percival of the University of Waterloo in the statement.

The team also identified "a mysterious invisible component of the Universe called 'dark energy,'" which caused the universe's expansion to start accelerating about six billion years ago. Since then, the universe has only continued to expand "faster and faster," the statement said.

Image courtesy of SDSS

There are still many unanswered questions about dark energy -- it's "extremely difficult to reconcile with our current understanding of particle physics" -- but this puzzle will be left to future projects and researchers, said the statement.

Their findings also "revealed cracks in this picture of the Universe," the statement said. There were discrepancies between researchers' measurements and collected data, and their tools are so precise that it's unlikely to be error or chance. Instead, there might be new and exciting explanations behind the strange numbers, like the possibility that "a previously-unknown form of matter or energy from the early Universe might have left a trace on our history."

The SDSS is "nowhere near done with its mission to map the Universe," it said in the statement. "The SDSS team is busy building the hardware to start this new phase (of mapping stars and black holes) and is looking forward to the new discoveries of the next 20 years."

 

Adapted from a release by Jordan Raddick, SDSS public information officer
Also published in @theU, Spectrum Magazine, CNN, Forbes, and more.

 

HIV Microscopy

HIV Microscopy


Ipsita Saha, graduate research assistant

Pioneering method reveals dynamic structure in HIV.

Viruses are scary. They invade our cells like invisible armies, and each type brings its own strategy of attack. While viruses devastate communities of humans and animals, scientists scramble to fight back. Many utilize electron microscopy, a tool that can “see” what individual molecules in the virus are doing. Yet even the most sophisticated technology requires that the sample be frozen and immobilized to get the highest resolution.

Now, physicists from the University of Utah have pioneered a way of imaging virus-like particles in real time, at room temperature, with impressive resolution. In a new study, the method reveals that the lattice, which forms the major structural component of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), is dynamic. The discovery of a diffusing lattice made from Gag and GagPol proteins, long considered to be completely static, opens up potential new therapies.

When HIV particles bud from an infected cell, the viruses experience a lag time before they become infectious. Protease, an enzyme that is embedded as a half-molecule in GagPol proteins, must bond to other similar molecules in a process called dimerization. This triggers the viral maturation that leads to infectious particles. No one knows how these half protease molecules find each other and dimerize, but it may have to do with the rearrangement of the lattice formed by Gag and GagPol proteins that lay just inside of the viral envelope. Gag is the major structural protein and has been shown to be enough to assemble virus-like particles. Gag molecules form a lattice hexagonal structure that intertwines with itself with miniscule gaps interspersed. The new method showed that the Gag protein lattice is not a static one.

The Saffarian Lab in the Crocker Science Center

“This method is one step ahead by using microscopy that traditionally only gives static information. In addition to new microscopy methods, we used a mathematical model and biochemical experiments to verify the lattice dynamics,” said lead author Ipsita Saha, graduate research assistant at the U’s Department of Physics & Astronomy. “Apart from the virus, a major implication of the method is that you can see how molecules move around in a cell. You can study any biomedical structure with this.”

The paper published in Biophysical Journal on June 26, 2020.

Mapping a nanomachine.

The scientists weren’t looking for dynamic structures at first—they just wanted to study the Gag protein lattice. Saha led the two year effort to “hack” microscopy techniques to be able to study virus particles at room temperature to observe their behavior in real life. The scale of the virus is miniscule — about 120 nanometers in diameter—so Saha used interferometric photoactivated localization microscopy (iPALM).

First, Saha tagged the Gag with a fluorescent protein called Dendra2 and produced virus-like particles of the resulting Gag-Dendra2 proteins. These virus-like particles are the same as HIV particles, but made only of the Gag-Dendra2 protein lattice structure. Saha showed that the resulting Gag-Dendra2 proteins assembled the virus-like particles the same way as virus-like particle made up regular Gag proteins. The fluorescent attachment allowed iPALM to image the particle with a 10 nanometer resolution. The scientists found that each immobilized virus-like particle incorporated 1400 to 2400 Gag-Dendra2 proteins arranged in a hexagonal lattice. When they used the iPALM data to reconstruct a time-lapse image of the lattice, it appeared that the lattice of Gag-Dendra2 were not static over time. To make sure, they independently verified it in two ways: mathematically and biochemically.

80 nm sections of cells (2020 Biphys Journal) - Saha & Saffarian

Initially, they divided up the protein lattice into uniform separate segments. Using a correlation analysis, they tested how each segment correlated with itself over time, from 10 to 100 seconds. If each segment continued to correlate with itself, the proteins were stationary. If they lost correlation, the proteins had diffused. They found that over time, the proteins were quite dynamic.

The second way they verified the dynamic lattice was biochemically. For this experiment, they created virus-like particles whose lattice consisted of 80% of Gag wild type proteins, 10% of Gag tagged with SNAP, and 10% of gag tagged with Halo. SNAP and Halo are proteins that can bind a linker which binds them together forever. The idea was to identify whether the molecules in the protein lattice stayed stationary, or if they migrated positions.

Rendering of Gag molecules proteins diffusing across a virus-like particle - Dave Meikle/Saffarian Lab

“The Gag-proteins assemble themselves randomly. The SNAP and Halo molecules could be anywhere within the lattice—some may be close to one another, and some will be far away,” Saha said. “If the lattice changes, there’s a chance that the molecules come close to one another.”

Saha introduced a molecule called Haxs8 into the virus-like particles. Haxs8 is a dimerizer—a molecule that covalently binds SNAP and Halo proteins when they are within binding radius of one another. If SNAP or Halo molecules move next to each other, they’ll produce a dimerized complex. She tracked these dimerized complex concentrations over time. If the concentration changed, it would indicate that new pairs of molecules found each other. If the concentration decreased, it would indicate the proteins broke apart. Either way, it would indicate that movement had taken place. They found that over time, the percentage of the dimerized complex increased; HALO and SNAP Gag proteins were moving all over the lattice and coming together over time.

A new tool to study viruses.

This is the first study to show that the protein lattice structure of an enveloped virus is dynamic. This new tool will be important to better understand the changes that occur within the lattice as new virus particles go from immaturity to dangerously infectious.

Saveez Saffarian and Ipsita Saha

“What are the molecular mechanisms that lead to infection? It opens up a new line of study,” said Saha. “If you can figure out that process, maybe you can do something to prevent them from finding each other, like a type of drug that would stop the virus in its tracks.”

Saveez Saffarian, professor in the Department of Physics & Astronomy at the U, was senior author on the paper.

 

by Lisa Potter first published in @theU

Also published in Eurekalert
 

Student Visas

International Students


F1 Visa Update

July 14, 2020 - Update for International Students

Proposed changes in visa restrictions for international students have been rescinded, and visa qualifications will return to the standard set in the spring of 2020. International students are now able to register for classes that best suit their pathway to a degree, regardless of whether the class will be held online or in-person.

The College of Science remains committed to supporting you and helping you reach your academic goals and maintain your visa status under the current Immigration guidelines. The University of Utah continues to monitor this situation and will provide ongoing updates as new information becomes available.

I encourage you to reach out to your academic advisors or, in the case of graduate students, your department’s graduate program coordinator, with any questions or concerns that you may have.

We value the strength and diversity of our international student community, and we will continue to do whatever possible to support you during your academic career in the College of Science.

Sincerely,

 

 

 

Peter Trapa


Notebook 2020

The magazine for the students, faculty, alumni and friends of the College of Science.

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OurDNA Spring ’20

The Fall 2019 Issue of OurDNA Magazine.

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Jordan Herman, PhD’20

Next time you’re stuck between an intimidating toucan and a camouflaged pit viper ...

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Presidential Scholar

Pearl Sandick has been named a University of Utah Presidential Scholar.

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Rapid Response Research

Behind-the-scenes story of an NSF Rapid Response Research grant.

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A.A.U. Membership

Utah joins the prestigious Association of American Universities.

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College Rankings

U.S. News & World Report University Rankings.

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11 Billion Years

Kyle Dawson and a global consortium of astrophysicists create a 3-D map of the universe.

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Back to School

The College of Science reopening plan for fall 2020.

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HIV Microscopy

Ipsita Saha is using electron microscopy to reveal the dynamic structure in HIV.

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Masks for U

Spread the word, not the virus.

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Forest Futures

William Anderegg explains the risks of investing in forests.

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Recent Awards

We're going to need a bigger trophy room.

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Dean’s Update

Updated: June 12, 2020.

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Crab Nebula

Scientists detect Crab Nebula using innovative gamma-ray telescope.

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We Stand…

For a compassionate, equitable, and just society for all.

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Student Info

Guidelines for the Summer 2020 semester.

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Dominique Pablito

Zuni, Navajo and Comanche, student majoring in chemistry and biology.

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OurDNA Fall 19′

The 2019 Issue of Notebook Magazine.

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2020 Convocation

College of Science 2020 Convocation videos and slideshow.

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2020 Churchill Scholar

Michael Xiao brings home the U's fifth straight Churchill Scholarship.

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Karl Gordon Lark

Honoring Karl Gordon Lark, 1930-2020.

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2020 Research Scholar

Delaney Mosier receives top College of Science award.

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Students & COVID-19

Info and resources for students, including financial assistance.

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Goldwater Winner

Isaac Martin awarded prestigious Goldwater Scholarship.

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Science Podcasts

Podcast from the College of Science.

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Courtship Condos

Why is Dean Castillo managing the sexual relations of fruit flies?

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Goldwater Winner

Lydia Fries awarded prestigious Goldwater Scholarship.

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Ana Rosas

Medicine is a family tradition for the Rosas.

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Dean’s Update

The latest information for science students, faculty and staff. Updated: March 24, 2020.

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Coronavirus Research

Physicists receive NSF grant to test coronavirus particles.

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Essential Research

Essential Research Activities and the process to become essential.

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Science VS Virus

Utah scientists address the Coronavirus pandemic.

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Crocker Science Center

New era begins at the U, with the newly renovated Gary and Ann Crocker Science Center.

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Discover 2019

The 2019 Research Report for the College of Science.

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Running with Scissors

In gene-targeting, CRISPR makes a really good pair of "scissors".

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Electrochemistry

Henry S. White - A positive force in Electrochemistry.

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Commutative Algebra

Can commutative algebra help us solve real-world problems?

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Alumni Panel

Distinguished science alumni share their experiences.

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Frontiers of Science

The longest running lecture series at the University of Utah.

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TreeTop Barbie

Nalini Nadkarni has created a "Canopy Researcher" version of the popular Barbie doll.

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Research Funding

Research funding passes $540 million for 2019.

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Fellow of the A.M.S.

Davar Khoshnevisan, named Fellow of American Mathematical Society.

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Math in Paris

I needed to take a math class, so I searched "learning abroad differential equations"

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Going with the Flow

John Sperry studies how plant hydraulics and xylem tissue influence regional weather.

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Staff: Jose Rojas

Jose Rojas probably knows more about how labs operate than most principal investigators.

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Staff: James Muller

Building better science buildings.

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Dean Peter Trapa

Peter Trapa has been named as the new Dean of the College of Science.

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Notebook 2019

The 2019 Issue of Notebook Magazine.

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Quaid Harding

From beekeeping to biology, Quaid Harding is looking for a buzz.

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Zhao Scholarship

Taylor is the first recipient of the Michael Zhao Memorial Scholarship. She’s […]

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Royal Fellow

Christopher Hacon adds another honor of a lifetime to his already stellar resume.

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Rachel Cantrell

2019 Goldwater Recipient A 2019 Goldwater Scholarship has been awarded to Rachel […]

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Leslie Sieburth: Associate Dean

The College of Science is pleased to announce the appointment of Professor Leslie […]

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Pearl Sandick: Associate Dean

The College of Science is pleased to announce the appointment of Professor Pearl […]

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Janis Louie: Associate Dean

The College of Science is pleased to announce the appointment of Professor […]

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New Physics

Pearl Sandick discusses Dark Matter and challenging the Standard Model.

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Teaching Excellence

Kelly MacArthur is recognized for her extraordinary dedication to her students.

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Staff: Mary Levine

An indispensable part of the Department of Mathematics.

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Teaching Excellence

Recognizing extraordinary skill in university teaching.

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Distinguished Research

Professor Molinero’s work is a hallmark of what research and scholarship should be about.

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Distinguished Teaching

Gernot Laicher, Professor/Lecturer in the Department of Physics & Astronomy.

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2019 Research Scholar

The College of Science Research Scholar Award is given annually to one […]

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2019 Hatch Prize

Professor Joel Harris has been awarded the 2019 Hatch Prize for outstanding teaching!

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Associate V.P. for Research

Diane Pataki is now Associate Vice President for Research at the University of Utah.

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2019 Churchill Scholar

Cameron Owen - Chemistry and physics major and student researcher.

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Insects, Bacteria & Ice

Water doesn’t always freeze at 32 degrees and other chilling facts from Valeria Molinero.

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Discover 2018

The 2018 Research Report for the College of Science.

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Student Veteran

2018-19 Student Veteran of the Year, Craig L. Hanson  “When I first […]

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AMS Fellow

Tommaso de Fernex, Ph.D. Associate Department Chair of Mathematics.

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AMS Fellow

“I was delighted to learn the news from the AMS,” said Peter Trapa.

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Plant Genomics

QUESTION: How does RNA decay contribute to gene expression?

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Breakthrough Prize

Christopher Hacon, has been interested in math for as long as he can remember.

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2018 Churchill Scholar

Scott Neville - Mathematics major and student researcher.

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Beckman Alumnae

Ming Hammond recounts her experience in the inaugural class of Beckman Scholars.

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Under Pressure

Unravelling the mystery of a fundamental property of lithium.

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2017 Churchill Scholar

Michael Zhoa - Mathematics major and student researcher.

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2016 Churchill Scholar

Mackenzie Simper - Mathematics major and student researcher.

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Forest Futures

Forest Futures


Know the risks of investing in forests.

Given the tremendous ability of forests to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, some governments are counting on planted forests as offsets for greenhouse gas emissions—a sort of climate investment. But as with any investment, it’s important to understand the risks. If a forest goes bust, researchers say, much of that stored carbon could go up in smoke.

In a paper published in Science, University of Utah biologist William Anderegg and his colleagues say that forests can be best deployed in the fight against climate change with a proper understanding of the risks to that forest that climate change itself imposes. “As long as this is done wisely and based on the best available science, that’s fantastic,” Anderegg says. “But there hasn’t been adequate attention to the risks of climate change to forests right now.”

Meeting of Minds

William Anderegg

In 2019, Anderegg, a recipient of the Packard Fellowship for Science and Engineering from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, convened a workshop in Salt Lake City to gather some of the foremost experts on climate change risks to forests. The diverse group represented various disciplines: law, economics, science and public policy, among others. “This was designed to bring some of the people who had thought about this the most together and to start talking and come up with a roadmap,” Anderegg says.

This paper, part of that roadmap, calls attention to the risks forests face from myriad consequences of rising global temperatures, including fire, drought, insect damage and human disturbance—a call to action, Anderegg says, to bridge the divide between the data and models produced by scientists and the actions taken by policymakers.

Accumulating Risk

Forests absorb a significant amount of the carbon dioxide that’s emitted into the atmosphere—just under a third, Anderegg says. “And this sponge for CO2 is incredibly valuable to us.”

Because of this, governments in many countries are looking to “forest-based natural climate solutions” that include preventing deforestation, managing natural forests and reforesting. Forests could be some of the more cost-effective climate mitigation strategies, with co-benefits for biodiversity, conservation and local communities.

But built into this strategy is the idea that forests are able to store carbon relatively “permanently”, or on the time scales of 50 to 100 years—or longer. Such permanence is not always a given. “There’s a very real chance that many of those forest projects could go up in flames or to bugs or drought stress or hurricanes in the coming decades,” Anderegg says.

Forests have long been vulnerable to all of those factors, and have been able to recover from them when they are episodic or come one at a time. But the risks connected with climate change, including drought and fire, increase over time. Multiple threats at once, or insufficient time for forests to recover from those threats, can kill the trees, release the carbon, and undermine the entire premise of forest-based natural climate solutions.

“Without good science to tell us what those risks are,” Anderegg says, “we’re flying blind and not making the best policy decisions.”

Mitigating Risk

In the paper, Anderegg and his colleagues encourage scientists to focus increased attention on assessing forest climate risks and share the best of their data and predictive models with policymakers so that climate strategies including forests can have the best long-term impact. For example, he says, the climate risk computer models scientists use are detailed and cutting-edge, but aren’t widely used outside the scientific community. So, policy decisions can rely on science that may be decades old.

“There are at least two key things you can do with this information,” Anderegg says. The first is to optimize investment in forests and minimize risks. “Science can guide and inform where we ought to be investing to achieve different climate aims and avoid risks.”

The second, he says, is to mitigate risks through forest management. “If we’re worried about fire as a major risk in a certain area, we can start to think about what are the management tools that make a forest more resilient to that disturbance.” More research, he says, is needed in this field, and he and his colleagues plan to work toward answering those questions.

“We view this paper as an urgent call to both policymakers and the scientific community,” Anderegg says, “to study this more, and improve in sharing tools and information across different groups.” Read the full paper @ sciencemag.org

 

 

by Paul Gabrielsen first published in @theU

 

Dean’s Update

From the Dean


June 12, 2020

Dear College of Science Community,

In the wake of the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and countless others, the country continues to respond to racial injustice and the oppressive systems that enable it.  To be clear, the College of Science stands in solidarity with the Black community, and supports the University in its efforts to address pervasive racism.

In recent days, I have heard from many of you about actionable ideas to advocate for equity for all. Effective action requires sustained dialog, and I will continue to listen to your ideas, as I formulate plans of action with your department chairs.  I am committed to working with all of you to implement and sustain meaningful change toward a better, more equitable future.

 

Sincerely,

Peter Trapa

 

 

 


Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Committee

Working together for a better tomorrow.

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Arie Sitthichai Mobley, BS’00

The Jackson Laboratory

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Michelle Williams, PhD’87

Distinguished Chemistry Alumni 2019

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The Gandhis, BS’86, 91, 92

The Gandhi family is U - through and through.

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Dominique Pablito

Zuni, Navajo and Comanche, student majoring in chemistry and biology.

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2020 Churchill Scholar

Michael Xiao brings home the U's fifth straight Churchill Scholarship.

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Ana Rosas

Medicine is a family tradition for the Rosas.

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Alex Acuna

Bridging the knowledge gap with networks of people.

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Sahar Kanishka

A freshman perspective.

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Tino Nyawelo

I see myself in those kids who are brought here as refugees.

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Karl Gordon Lark

photo by Ben Okun

Karl Gordon Lark, Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the University of Utah, passed away on April 10, 2020, after a seven-year battle with cancer. A renowned geneticist, Lark uncovered fundamental aspects of DNA replication and genetics across many systems, from bacteria to soybeans to dogs. He came to the U in 1970 as the biology department’s inaugural chair with a vision—to build a research and teaching powerhouse in the desert. In just six years he recruited 17 faculty members from all biological disciplines, establishing an institution of scientific excellence.

“Today, the tremendous impact of Gordon’s vision and leadership are felt in the School of Biological Sciences, across campus and throughout the state of Utah,” said Denise Dearing, director of the school. “Gordon was responsible for the expansion of molecular biology—a new field in those days—across the U. He will be dearly missed.”

“The [University of Utah’s] nascent research community, in every field from molecular biology to community ecology, was built by Lark in creative, often wildly unconventional small steps,” wrote Baldomero “Toto” Olivera, Distinguished Professor of Biological Sciences, in an unpublished essay for the Annual Reviews of Pharmacology and Toxicology.Olivera conducts world-renowned research on cone snail venom and pain management, and was recruited by Lark. “It is his guidance that makes me feel unconstrained in exploring unusual solutions to seemingly intractable problems.”

Lark was preceded in death by his first wife, Cynthia (née Thompson). He is survived by his four children, Clovis, Ellen, Suzanna and Caroline and his granddaughter, Willow. He is also survived by his second wife, Antje Curry, his stepdaughter, Tara, and her two children, Liam and Briar. 

A life of inquiry

Curiosity and coincidence guided Lark’s lifelong pursuit of discovery. He was born on Dec. 13, 1930, in West Lafayette, Indiana, into a household that valued intellect. His father was physics chair at Purdue University and his mother was an artist and psychiatrist. Lark was precocious in his academic pursuits and enrolled at the University of Chicago a year after World War II ended at the age of 15. There, he met Leo Szilard, regarded as the father of the Manhattan Project but who had turned his attention from nuclear reactions to the newly emerging field of the molecular basis of life. Szilard suggested that Lark spend the summer at Cold Spring Harbor, a famous laboratory that helped develop the field of molecular biology. There, Lark met Mark Adams, a scientist from New York University who would become Lark’s mentor.

Adams studied phages, which are viruses that invade bacterial cells and take over various host functions to propagate themselves. He not only inspired Lark’s love of research, but also taught him how to organize effective undergraduate science education. In the fall, Lark returned to Chicago to complete his degree and had his first eureka moment—he discovered reversible changes in the physical structure of phage proteins. It would be about four more years before the field generally accepted that molecules could change a protein’s shape.

“To this day, I think it’s one of the best pieces of science I’ve ever done,” Lark reflected in comments to the U’s American West Center. “It was the bringing together of physics and chemistry and biology into one moment. I didn’t think of it that way at the time, but from then on I was hooked!”

Lark returned to Cold Spring Harbor in the summer of 1950 to work with Adams, and there he met his future wife and scientific collaborator, Cynthia. Lark completed his doctorate at NYU, spent two years as a postdoc at the Statens Serum Institut in Copenhagen, Denmark, and one year at the University of Geneva. On subsequent return visits, he met Costa Georgopoulos, a biochemist who discovered a new class of proteins called chaperones. More than 20 years after they first met, Georgopoulos would move to the Department of Biochemistry at the U.

“Gordon and I shared many old friends and colorful memories from our times in Switzerland,” Georgopoulos remembered. “Gordon’s nickname in the lab was ‘double-decker’ because his plentiful, high-rising hair resembled a double-decker bus.”

In 1956, Lark accepted a position at St. Louis University Medical School. Here, Lark had what he called his second epiphany—an experiment to show that in the absence of protein synthesis, replication of DNA stopped at a particular point on the bacterial chromosome. The experiment set the course of his research for the next two decades. In 1963, the Larks moved on to the physics department at Kansas State University where they focused their research on the process of DNA replication in bacteria. They pioneered how to measure the point when DNA begins replicating, how to track the progression of replication in living cells and developed the technique of measuring the size of cells before they begin to replicate. In 1965, the American Association for Microbiology honored Lark with the Ely Lilly Award, given each year to recognize landmark research in microbial physiology.

Building scientific and teaching excellence in Utah

In 1970, the U’s Robert Vickery recruited Lark to build a powerful new biology department in what would become the School of Biological Sciences in 2014. And build he did. During his time as chair from 1970-77, he hired 17 new tenure-track faculty, including Mario Capecchi who would subsequently become a Nobel Prize laureate, Raymond Gesteland and Ray White, who went on to establish new departments in the School of Medicine.

“As chair, Gordon was an unusually skilled administrator, combining a rare insight into the environment that different members of faculty and staff needed to succeed and the energy to provide it,” said Capecchi. “I was attracted to the young Utah biology department in part by Gordon’s support of long-term studies aimed at significant problems, but without the promise of immediately publishable results, quite different from the ‘publish-or-perish’ policies imposed at many other places.”

Lark also impressed the importance of teaching to the biology faculty, both by personal example and with innovative programs. In the department’s very early days, he hired one of the world’s most charismatic young science personalities, David Suzuki, as a visiting scholar to teach the introductory course in genetics. He implemented video recordings of well-taught introductory courses so they could be offered more frequently to more students. For several years as chair, he funded an annual program in which a prominent faculty member from outside the College of Science taught a course in their own area, designed for biology students.

“During Gordon’s final years after retirement and while battling cancer, he voluntarily and unpaid taught an Honors course for a general student audience. With biographical and autobiographical readings, he introduced the human sides of pioneers in the exciting advances of 20th century physics and chemistry, several of whom Gordon had known personally,” said Larry Okun, professor emeritus of biology. “He taught that course right through 2019, his own last fall semester.”

In Utah, the Larks turned their attention from bacteria to plant cells and tissues, particularly soybeans, for the next decade. In the early 1990s, disaster and serendipity struck—the Lark lab was destroyed while the building was under renovation. After a year of trying to salvage their work, they switched to studying whole soybean plants in agricultural fields, focusing on the genetics underlying certain traits, such as the ability of the crop to adapt to different climates. Overall, their laboratory identified genes that increased the yield of soybeans by 10%.

In 1996, tragedy and serendipity struck again. The Lark’s Portuguese water dog, Georgie, had died of an autoimmune anemia disease. Heartbroken, the Larks connected to a dog breeder, Karen Miller, to buy another puppy. When the time came, Miller gave Lark the $1,500 dog for free hoping to guilt him into studying the breed’s genetics.

It worked. Miller coordinated with Portuguese water dog owners from around the country to send Lark blood samples and X-rays of their pets. What became known as “The Georgie Project,” eventually identified genes that determine the size and shape of the head, thickness of the thigh bone, shape of the pelvis and characteristics of the lower foreleg.

A legacy that spans generations

Lark formally retired from the U as a Distinguished Professor in 1999, but his legacy in biology reaches beyond his direct collaborators. The next generation of biologists also feels his influence.

“The magnitude of Gordon’s accomplishments is hard to really capture in today’s world,” said David Grunwald, professor of human genetics at the U’s School of Medicine. “Individuals can have a big effect on an institution. They can either set a precedent that honors creativity, respect and excellence, or they can make everyone feel like a cog in a machine. Gordon built a place that engendered creativity.”

 

 - by Lisa Potter

Prospective Faculty

Why Utah?


 


Utah Recreation

Hiking, biking, running, paddling, skiing, flying, climbing, exploring, and relaxing.

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Explore Salt Lake City

A modern metropolis nestled in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.

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Medical, dental, retirement, tuition , wellness, and Employee Assistance Program.

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Faculty Stories


Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Committee

Working together for a better tomorrow.

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Presidential Scholar

Pearl Sandick has been named a University of Utah Presidential Scholar.

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11 Billion Years

Kyle Dawson and a global consortium of astrophysicists create a 3-D map of the universe.

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HIV Microscopy

Ipsita Saha is using electron microscopy to reveal the dynamic structure in HIV.

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Student Visas

Proposed changes in visa restrictions have been rescinded.

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Forest Futures

William Anderegg explains the risks of investing in forests.

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Dean’s Update

Updated: June 12, 2020.

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Karl Gordon Lark

Honoring Karl Gordon Lark, 1930-2020.

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Courtship Condos

Why is Dean Castillo managing the sexual relations of fruit flies?

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Tino Nyawelo

I see myself in those kids who are brought here as refugees.

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TreeTop Barbie

When Nalini Nadkarni was a young scientist in the 1980s, she wanted to study the canopy – the part of the trees just above the forest floor to the very top branches.

But back then, people hadn't figured out a good way to easily reach the canopy so it was difficult to conduct research in the tree tops. And Nadkarni's graduate school advisors didn't really think studying the canopy was worthwhile. "That's just Tarzan and Jane stuff. You know that's just glamour stuff," Nadkarni remembers advisors telling her. "There's no science up there that you need to do."

They couldn't have been more wrong. Over the course of her career, Nadkarni's work has illuminated the unique and complex world of the forest canopy.

She helped shape our understanding of canopy soils — a type of soil that forms on the tree trunks and branches. The soil is made up of dead canopy plants and animals that decompose in place. The rich soil supports canopy-dwelling plants, insects and microorganisms that live their entire life cycles in the treetops. If the canopy soil falls to the forest floor, the soil joins the nutrient cycles of the whole forest.

She also discovered that some trees are able to grow above-ground roots from their branches and trunks. Much like below ground roots, the aerial roots can transport water and nutrients into the tree.

During Nadkarni's early work as an ecologist she began to realize something else: There weren't many women conducting canopy research.

Nadkarni was determined to change this. In the early 2000s, she and her lab colleagues came up with the idea of TreeTop Barbie, a canopy researcher version of the popular Barbie doll that could be marketed to young girls.

She pitched the idea to Mattel, the company that makes Barbie. "When I proposed this idea they said, 'We're not interested. That has no meaning to us," says Nadkarni. "We make our own Barbies."

Nadkarni decided to make them herself anyway. She thrifted old Barbies; commissioned a tailor to make the clothes for TreeTop Barbie; and she created a TreeTop Barbie field guide to canopy plants. Nadkarni sold the dolls at cost and brought TreeTop Barbie to conferences and lectures.

Her efforts landed her in the pages of The New York Times, and word eventually got back to Mattel. The owners of Barbie wanted her to shut down TreeTop Barbie due to brand infringement.

Nadkarni pushed back.

"Well you know, I know a number of journalists who would be really interested in knowing that Mattel is trying to shut down a small, brown woman who's trying to inspire young girls to go into science," she recalls telling Mattel.

Mattel relented. The company allowed her to continue her small-scale operation. By Nadkarni's count, she sold about 400 dolls over the years.

Then in 2018, more than a decade after Nadkarni started TreeTop Barbie, she got an unbelievable phone call. National Geographic had partnered with Mattel to make a series of Barbies focused on exploration and science. And they wanted Nadkarni to be an advisor.

"I thought, this is incredible. This is like full circle coming around. This is a dream come true," says Nadkarni.

For its part, Mattel is "thrilled to partner with National Geographic and Nalini," a spokesperson told NPR.

Nadkarni knows that everyone might not approve of her working with Barbie. Barbie's role in creating an unrealistic standard of beauty for young women has been debated. Nadkarni has also wrestled with how she feels about it.

"My sense is yes she's a plastic doll. Yes she's configured in all the ways that we should not be thinking of how women should be shaped," says Nadkarni. "But the fact that now there are these explorer Barbies that are being role models for little girls so that they can literally see themselves as a nature photographer, or an astrophysicist, or an entomologist or you know a tree climber... It's never perfect. But I think it's a step forward."

Nadkarni is an Emeritus Professor at The Evergreen State College, and currently is a professor in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Utah.

 

Nalini Nadkarni's story has appeared in The Washington Post, Time Magazine, Taiwan News, News India Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, National Geographic, The Guardian, Science Friday, San Francisco Chronicle, India Today, India Times, KSL News, Salt Lake Tribune, USA Today, BBC, The Morning Journal, CNN, UNEWS, Star Tribune, National Science Foundation, Continuum, TreeHugger, and many others.

 

 

- First Published by NPR News, Fall 2019