Ole Jensen, BS’72

On the surface, Ole Jensen’s start as an undergraduate biology major, angling for medical school, didn’t appear particularly auspicious. His one claim to fame was that as an undergraduate the Salt Lake native was tapped to be a “calf sitter,” which meant that he would sit all night with young bovine used in experiments and monitor their heart rates. The calves were a critical part of the University’s artificial organ program which would eventually produce the world’s first artificial heart in the 1980s.

Not bad for a Utah boy who, when he wasn’t fishing with his Norwegian-born father on the Provo River and elsewhere, spent much of his early life collecting what would become one of the largest insect collections in the state.

It was a heady time to be studying biology at the U. Department Chair Gordon Lark was bringing in guest lecturers and expanding the faculty at a prodigious rate, including micro-biologist Mario Capecchi who would eventually be awarded the Nobel Prize for his work in genetics. Jensen recalls his time in the early seventies as an undergraduate at the U. One day, he says, anatomy professor Stephen Durrant “threw out twenty animal bones spread over a long table and asked the students to identify […them] as part of the midterm exam.” It turned out that the students, who in class had been studying strictly land mammals, got very few correct answers. “One bone that very much perplexed me that I remember to this day,” Jensen continues, “was half of a frontal bone with an ovoid depression. It was from a dolphin: the depression access for the spout!” Needless to say, it was “a particular shock” to find a marine mammal bone in the pile, but it was an experience that Jensen still recalls with some exhilaration.

After graduating from dental school at Northwest University, Jensen continued to Michigan to study oral surgery and, as a post doc, anesthesia, which would eventually lead to a Master’s degree in anesthesiology before returning to the west where he set up practice in Denver. There he plied his trade, as both a science and an art, for the next 38 years. But research has continued to braid its way through his entire professional life—a continuous thread that has kept him at the forefront of the fast-moving field of oral and maxillofacial surgery in which technology, the life sciences and medicine converge. As with many oral surgeons, Jensen performed four-on-one implant operations, which combine bridgework with a maximum of four implants per each of the crescent arrangements or arches.

Eventually, he modified the procedure so that it was less invasive and more intuitive, underscored by his determination to see the implant not as an analogue to a tooth (or teeth) but as a function of bio-mechanical forces, mathematically determined. Eventually he would join forces with business partners to found Clear Choice Dental Implants. “Basically, for five years I wanted to die,” Jensen says of the start-up which now has forty clinics across the nation. The company nearly failed three times, including during the recession of 2008. “I wanted to practice . . . business with integrity, and to be doing things in the best interests of the patients. It’s hard to do that with this kind of work where it’s not too costly and not too difficult for doctors to perform.” In a recent DentalTown podcast, Jensen explains, “If you have a business that is related to dental implants, you’re not going to do stuff that will put the business at risk."

"So this has a business, scientific, and a clinical basis of validity," he says ". . . [and] we stand by the way we treat our edentulous patients… .” Of course success is never final. With his rigorous research background and his bias for asking lots of questions, this time about biofilm, the pervasive glue-like matrix that grows virtually everywhere and can lead to complications in bio-medical work, Jensen took on yet another professional challenge. In September he was hired as Chief Medical Officer for Israel-based NOBIO, helping to create products through Nano-technology in which particles with superior micro-biotic activities are baked into the product to prevent bacteria from growing on surgically implanted devices.

Jensen’s research questions, especially as they’ve related to medicine, have been open ones. “Almost everything I’ve done is in surgery,” he says. “Now I’m doing a project with computers,” referring to his latest adventure. Inspired by the training of pilots who learn to fly by logging many hours in flight simulators, Jensen and his team at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston are developing a program for surgical simulations.

The Gandhis, BS’86, 91, 92

Last December, when the three Gandhi children, Rajesh BS’86, Monica BS’91 and Leena BS’92 returned home to Salt Lake City—two from one coast, and one from the other—they celebrated their parents fifty-fifth wedding anniversary. As alumni, all three, from the School of Biological Sciences, they must have had a lot to reflect on.

Their father, Om, now aged 84, had brought his young family to the U in 1967 during the “summer of love” from their native India when Rajesh “Tim,” the only child at the time, was three years old. A Professor of Electrical Engineering at the U for over 50 years (and former department chair) Om has since retired. Says Rajesh, “We essentially grew up in the Merrill Engineering Building.” He and his sisters remember department picnics and other college events. “We were especially impressed as children with all of the colored chalk they had in the classrooms,” remembers Rajesh. Both Om and the Gandhi children’s mother (Santosh) had to leave home at a young age to pursue further education. After Om earned his PhD at the University of Michigan in the late 50s, he returned to the subcontinent where he taught physics for a time in a small town in India before accepting an opportunity to return to the U.S. He chose the U.

Once the children were older, Mrs. Gandhi returned to school herself, and even took classes from her husband. Far from showing her favoritism, he insisted on only answering her questions during office hours! She eventually finished her degree in computer programming before taking a position at the Salt Lake branch of 3M.

It was an educated family, for sure, and all in the sciences. It was also a family inextricably tied to the University of Utah. All three of the Gandhi children attended the U because it was local, “a function of my parents’ having to leave home early [in their studies] in post-partition India,” says Monica who attended Harvard for her MD and who is currently Professor of Medicine and Associate Chief of the Division of HIV, Infectious Disease, and Global Medicine at UCSF. She also serves as Medical Director of the Ward 86 HIV Clinic at San Francisco General Hospital, one of the oldest HIV clinics in the country. All three siblings remember the excitement of coming to the U after going to public schools in the 1970s/80s, recalling how it broadened their horizons from the more limited experiences they had growing up.

“We were all pretty much wedded to the U. Part of our ethos growing up” in Utah, continues Monica. Attending the U was liberating, they say, mind-opening with a bit of counter-culture at play after going through the public school system in Salt Lake. And certainly it was formative.

“I was moved to enter HIV care,” says Monica, “after growing up in a place where I saw friends coming out as gay in high school struggle with stigma. I also became interested in infectious diseases, which differentially affect the poor, after going to India several times as a child to visit grandparents and witnessing the stark contrast between rich and poor. This set me on the path to medical school.

” Beginning her sophomore year Monica worked on chemotaxis in E.coli with her undergraduate advisor Dr. John (“Sandy”) Parkinson in his lab. She will be returning to Utah as this year’s convocation speaker in May. She describes the Bay Area where she currently lives as a place “that couldn’t be more different than Utah.” Although San Francisco is generally a place where gay and transgender individuals have sought refuge from more conservative places throughout the U.S., “stigma towards people living with HIV still exists and must constantly be combatted,” she says.

Before Monica enrolled in the U, Rajesh, five years older, worked in Dr. Baldomero “Toto” Olivera’s lab, the celebrated faculty researcher whose subject model is poisonous cone snails. “Toto was an incredible mentor to me and to countless others,” says Rajesh. “He taught me the transformative power of science and set me on the road to a career in biology and medicine. I would not be where I am without his encouragement and influence.”

Rajesh’s U experience was as much about philosophy and history as biology. Both he and Leena remember fondly the five-term Intellectual Traditions of the West colloquia with professors like the beloved theologian and classicist Dr. Sterling McMurrin. “At the U, I experienced a whole new world from my time in public schools,” says Rajesh. “It was a place packed with people of diverse experiences, interests and perspectives. It was a vibrant and exciting place to be.”

Around the time Rajesh entered medical school, also at Harvard, he recalls with Monica, the state of affairs of that singular time in American medical history. “HIV was just ramping up. It was a devastating disease and one that was being defined in front of our eyes.” Between 1988–90, the medical sector was furiously attempting to figure out how the disease manifested itself. Treatments were very poor. He especially admires Kristen Ries, MD, MCAP who for a time was head of the clinic at the U serving HIV/AIDS patients. The difference, he says, between the attitude toward the sick in small towns compared to, again, a place like San Francisco at this time was “very moving to me,” he says. Currently, he practices medicine in Boston where he is a specialist in infectious disease and Medical Director of the HIV Clinic at Massachusetts General Hospital and Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. He is also actively involved in HIV clinical research, working on discovering a cure for HIV—the disease that defined his generation.

While all three Gandhis ended up as medical doctors, Leena, who has focused on oncology for the past 10-plus years, currently leads early drug development at Lilly Pharma. Leena earned her PhD at the University of California Berkeley in DNA replication studies before attending New York University for medical school, followed by her residency at Mass General and a fellowship at Harvard Medical School, both in Boston. She characterizes her experience at the U as providing “a genuine ‘college experience’. [The School of Biological Sciences] …was all about scientific inquiry,” she says. “I learned something every day from [then] junior faculty like Dr. Mary Bekerhle [now head of the Huntsman Cancer Institute].” Leena also worked in Ted and Tucker Gurney’s lab in cell biology.

“The spirit of scientific inquiry was everywhere,” she continues, “and it really motivated me to go on for a PhD in the science of medicine and the early development of drugs… At the U, I learned that science drives how we interact at the macro level. It was very grounding.” With the benefits of the novel field of immune-oncology, Leena still has patients who have been free of cancer for more than ten years. But, of course, there is still work to be done. “At Lilly I’m able to do work at a much larger scale and with a much broader population.”

The Gandhi Effect found in Rajesh, Monica and Leena Gandhi— from “sea to shining sea”—is indeed a rarity, what one might call “A Triple Threat” that the School is proud to embrace.

Our DNA Magazine

McKay Hyde, BS’97

McKay Hyde (Honors B.A. Mathematics, B.A. Physics ’97) always enjoyed math and science, but it was taking a series of physics classes at the U, between his junior and senior year in high school, that changed his life. “I always enjoyed mathematics,” he said. “But physics showed me how mathematics could be used to solve real-world problems. That was tremendously exciting to me and still is.”

The Hyde Family

Today Hyde is managing director in Equities Engineering for the New York office of Goldman Sachs and is responsible for building systems to manage securities inventory and collateral, working closely with teams across Engineering, as well as the Finance, Operations and Securities divisions. “I like being part of a cross-functional team, building relationships and working together to find solutions that impact the organization and the clients we serve,” he said. “The combination of using mathematics and computer science applied to practical problems is very rewarding.”

He joined Goldman Sachs in 2006 and was named managing director in 2010. At Goldman Sachs, Hyde has had a range of responsibilities. He was head of the global Market Risk Technology team within Finance and Risk Engineering. Before that, Hyde led the Trading Strats team for Interest Rate Products in New York as well as the Core Quant Strats team, which developed models, algorithmic trading methods, and pricing infrastructure used by a number of trading desks. (“Strat” is a term that originated with Goldman Sachs to describe individuals that use tools from mathematics and computer science to build financial models In his Core Quant Strat role, Hyde led the build out of the Strat teams in Bengaluru (formerly Bangalore), India, known as “The Silicon Valley of India.”

McKay Hyde, BS'97

Roots in Utah and at the U

Hyde grew up in Salt Lake City and North Salt Lake, graduating from Woods Cross High School. He met his wife, Marie, in an “outstanding” honors class taught by Professor Emeritus Jack Newell (“Education and Identity”), who served as dean and principal architect of the U’s Liberal Education Program. In his first two years at the U Hyde was also active in the U’s music program, playing the trumpet in several university bands—Concert, Marching, Pep, and Jazz.

Hyde gives credit to the education he received at the U with helping prepare him for a career in the financial sector. “I received a tremendous education in physics and mathematics, including research experience working in the Cosmic Ray group and in probability theory. The U provides great value as an institution—a quality education at a reasonable cost,” he said.

He also has great memories of three professors who made a difference for him during his undergraduate years: Davar Khoshnevisan (professor and current chair of the Math Department), Hyde’s undergraduate research advisor in mathematics; Martha Bradley, former dean of the Honors College, and the late Professor Gale Dick, whose “physics lectures were a work of art,” said Hyde.

Using Agile Principles in Undergraduate Research

Hyde believes students should be encouraged to participate in research opportunities early in their undergraduate years, and he applauds the decision of the College of Science to focus on a new program called the Undergraduate Research Initiative. “Research is very different from coursework—it’s really a separate skill,” said Hyde. “Engaging and encouraging undergrads to work together in research opportunities provides a far richer educational experience that really pays off in preparing students for demanding careers.”

To that end, Hyde thinks the same concepts and principles that teams use in Agile software development can effectively be applied to something like the Undergraduate Research Initiative program. “Creating an Agile environment—whether in software development or research—is essentially the same,” said Hyde.

“It involves developing and supporting a culture that encourages a team of people to work toward a common goal. To that end, a large project or research problem can be broken down into smaller tasks. A scrum master or team leader evaluates the special skills and talents of each individual on the team, assigns them to specific tasks, and the team comes together frequently—typically during a daily stand up —over focused sprints—typically 2-3 weeks long—to complete those tasks yielding demonstrable progress at the end of each sprint. By repeating this process, the team improves while building confidence and trust through repeated accomplishment of its goals.”

Previous Academic Career

After earning degrees at the U in 1997 Hyde completed a Ph.D. in Applied and Computational Mathematics from the California Institute of Technology in 2003. Hyde worked as a postdoc in the School of Mathematics at the University of Minnesota and later joined Rice University as an assistant professor of computational and applied mathematics.

When Hyde first left academia to work at Goldman Sachs, he wondered if he would need to dress and act like a “stereotypical banker.” But he discovered it was a much easier transition. “I found smart people from technical fields applying their skills in the area of finance,” he said. “It made me realize the importance of being open to new opportunities—taking the skills and talents you have and using them in different fields or industries to build relationships with others and do meaningful work. That’s really what it’s all about.”

Hyde and his wife, Marie, enjoy living in New Jersey and are the parents of four children: a son studying music at Berklee College of Music; a daughter at Brigham Young University (currently serving a church mission in Peru); and a son and daughter in high school.

 - First Published in Discover Magazine, Fall 2019

Jim Sugihara, PhD’47

“I have lived by the principle that one ought to give back more than they receive.” - Jim Sugihara

 

James M. Sugihara, first Ph.D. recipient at the University of Utah and long-time faculty member in Chemistry, passed away on Nov. 12, 2019. He was 101.

Jim Sugihara, 1947

Sugihara holds an important place in the University’s history, as well as Utah’s history.

In 1942, shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, when Sugihara was just 24, he and his family were relocated from California to the Topaz Mountain internment camp in central Utah. The family lost their home and business.

However, Sugihara was granted a leave from Topaz Mountain to pursue an education, since he had already earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry at UC-Berkeley in 1939. He enrolled at the U in 1944 and studied chemistry with professor Henry Eyring.

In 1946, Sugihara’s 84-page Ph.D. dissertation on “The Reactions of Mercaptans on Sucrose and Molasses,” included only three approval signatures: Walter D. Bonner, Lloyd E. Malm and Elton L. Quinn. (Henry Eyring had not yet started work as dean of the Graduate School by that date.)

May and Jim Sugihara, 1964

Sugihara received his doctorate degree in Chemistry in 1947. The University catalog in 1948-1949 then listed the following chemistry faculty: professors Elton Quinn, Lloyd Malm, and Henry Eyring; associate professors Vic Beard, Randall Hamm, Bill Burke, Jim Horton; and assistant professors Stuart Haynes, George Hill, Austin Wahraftig, Ransom Parlin, Bruno Zwolinski, and James Sugihara.

 

“Scientific progress has moved in ways that one could not expect. Research in genetics has become paramount, leading to improvements in medicine and human health that one could not imagine just 10 or 20 years ago.”

- Jim Sugihara at 100 years of age

 

In 1964, Sugihara moved to North Dakota State University and became dean of the College of Science and Mathematics. He was named Dean of the Graduate School and Director of Research in 1974. In 1998, he retired as Professor Emeritus.

In 2010, the James M. Sugihara Scholarship – a permanent named scholarship – was established in the Chemistry Department at the U. It provides financial support for an undergraduate who is studying chemistry and who is living on campus in the Crocker Science House located on Officers Circle in Fort Douglas.

 

Sugihara with scholarship winners Shwan Javdan and Elizabeth Fine

Connor Morgan, BS’19

What does a former Student Body President and Biology alum do after graduating from the U? You start by moving to New Hampshire as a boots-on-the-ground organizer for a presidential candidate.

Connor Morgan (BS,2019) has hung up his cap and gown, and his sojourn at the office of the Associated Students of the University of Utah where he served as president to join candidate and former U.S. Naval Reserve officer Pete Buttigieg, the young mayor of South Bend, IN. Buttigieg, the nation’s first openly gay presidential candidate for a major party, is seeking the Democratic nomination and Morgan is there to help him win the race.

“Right now,” says Morgan, “we’re trying to build relationships with those on our turf, recruiting volunteers who support the mayor and training them on how to recruit their own teams of volunteers.” He says he’s not super excited for the New England winter coming up when there will be more door-to-door canvassing in one of the first states where these sorts of outings either get “legs” or don’t. “But I guess, it’s not too much worse than Utah’s.”

Earlier, at the College of Science convocation and commencement, the double-major (biology and political science) baccalaureate says his face was hurting from smiling so much as he assisted in handing out diplomas and shaking thousands of hands. “But I had a great time.”

While he loved ninety-five percent of the job being student body president, he says he’s now “happy to pass on that other five percent of the job. I’m guessing it will be one of the best jobs I’ve ever had working with student leaders, administrators, faculties, in a collaborative approach with many partners around the U.” One of his ambitions during his own 2018 campaign to represent 32,000 students was to move beyond just developing programs and events, but to have his executive team work internally to create a culture of student advocacy.

“I think student government is unique among other student organizations,” he says. “It was incumbent upon us to advocate on behalf of the student body.”  Through this lens, a movie night became a partnership with the resource office at the Student Union among other collaborations that leveraged the full plate of University offerings.

Morgan also worked to have full participation with the University senators, one each from the colleges and the academic advising center. One of the legacy policies that he and his team led was a push to work more closely with the sustainability and facilities team to recommit to the climate commitment initially made by the University at the end of 2008. The goal? For the University of Utah to be a carbon-neutral campus by 2050 if not by 2032 which is the city of Salt Lake’s target. Before leaving office, Morgan helped set up a task force to reassess the way forward, including the money, infrastructure, energy sources, and sustainable living practices to be folded into the curriculum.

Another related initiative, certainly helped by the nation’s raucous and controversial 2016 presidential election, was to increase the vote in the university community. Under his leadership, campus voting booths increased from six in 2016 to twenty during the most recent mid-terms. “Students are more engaged than they have been in recent memory,” he says. "[Many have felt] disenfranchised and not particularly infatuated with the way things are going–more the [general] direction of things, [than just political] parties. They are eager to do something [about it].”

From the beginning campus safety was a priority for Morgan, so it was deeply ironic that just weeks into fall semester, Lauren McCluskey, a college track star, was murdered on campus by a former acquaintance. Morgan recalls that the days following October 23rd were some of the most formative for him, days that were deeply traumatic. “I didn’t know Lauren personally, and I don’t want to appropriate from her friends, but it was very hard to balance being a twenty-one year-old college student myself with doing my part  to console the student body.”

Morgan visited with McCluskey’s friends, helped plan and then attended the vigil. The October 24th event, he says, was “a really good coping mechanism, especially for student athletes.” The biggest lesson from the tragic ordeal for Morgan was when University trustees expressed their gratitude to him for doing his part. “I thought, ‘Why gratitude for showing up?’ The most important things for a leader to do is not to give a speech or to have the best policy ideas, but to show up. I didn’t know that.” He does now, which triggered new policies and a statement embedded in the ubiquitous class syllabi that looks at campus safety through the lens of interpersonal violence.

There are a lot of things that this twenty-two year old U alumnus now knows, and much of it has been shaped by his generation. "We are very different from our parents,” he muses. “In some sense we have more opportunities like having the breadth of the world’s knowledge at our fingertips; the boom in tech and service jobs, for those who are educated enough in these areas; increasing standard of living for many sectors in our generation. But at the same time in some ways we are more limited [by the] challenges.”

He gives the example that for millennials the country has always been at war. “Most of our adult lives have been dealing with the economic shock of 2008/9. We’ve had a much harder time getting first jobs that can provide for the cost of living, to buy a house. We are the first generation that is expected to have a lower life expectancy and make less money than our parents.”

And then there are the political, social and environmental challenges. “The onus on us is to solve problems through science and [by being] civically engaged.” In important ways, he continues, the democratic process isn’t working for his generation and the ones just ahead of his. “An especially prominent concern with many of the people I grew up with … is that we’ve been in a highly educated bubble: the real world isn’t that bubble.”

As a biology graduate, he is deeply concerned about ignorance over science and the scientific method, but “active distrust of science. In the past science has been labeled elitist, [but] now [it’s] being considered by some as 'fake news.'” While he believes society should heed scientific findings, particularly local and global environmental degradation, it is the job of the new generation to better communicate that science to the public. “Yes, peer reviewed communications are critical,” he says, “but equally if not more important is to share those findings with the public.” Morgan had a great model for outreach and working against what he calls the “science deficit model of communication” from Biology professor Nalini Nadkarni. A forest ecologist, Nadkarni knows from working with populations that range from church-goers to the incarcerated that people don’t like to be lectured to. Instead, her model is to engage and integrate communities, with a two-way collaborative, relational and approachable way of sharing data and experiences.

“The everyday person when they hear that ninety-nine percent of scientists believe in [human-induced] global change … will agree [with them].  The first time I took a step back on how people engage with science it was through rose-colored glasses as a sophomore. I thought that everybody believed in science. That wasn’t true. What are some of the issues are in science communication and how we can bridge some of those gaps?"

As a recent graduate, Morgan’s advice to his fellow Utes is to take advantage of the resources the University of Utah offers. For him being a member of the UtahSwimming and Diving Club helped hi find his passion. “Do academics,” he advises, “but remember college is about much more than that.” Aside from being a great de-stresser, the back-stroker (with a little freestyle and individual medley thrown in) says that clubs also provide an “incredible network of friends” to move forward in life.

Headed eventually for law school, a “couple of years from now,” Morgan hopes that with his background in biology he will be “a scientifically informed policy maker,” whether as an officer in a federal department, or working at the local or state level. A run for public office is a possibility. Currently, being in the petri dish of a presidential campaign in the early weeks of a run for a major party nomination will most likely help him make that decision. Speaking as the public servant that he seems destined to be, he remarks that wherever he ends up he “hopes to be able to do whatever is most needed to be useful.”

Peter Gibbs

Peter Gibbs: 1924-2019

It is with great sadness that the College of Science announces the passing of Peter Godbe Gibbs. Peter was born Dec 7, 1924 in Salt Lake City, Utah to Lauren Worthen Gibbs and Mary Godbe Gibbs. Peter had three brothers, Edwin, David and William, and one sister, Mary Adele. Peter passed away on July 13, 2019.

In 1953 he married Miriam Starling Kvetensky in Urbana, Illinois. They had 3 children (Doon/Teri (spouse), Victoria and Nicholas/Courtney (spouse)), 5 grandchildren (Colin/Kaitlyn (spouse), Connor/Ale (spouse), Julia, Theo and Alex) and 3 great grandchildren, so far (Nico, Santi and Isla). They remained married until Miriam's death and enjoyed 58 years together.

He is survived by his younger brother, William, and all of his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.

Perhaps his best-known accomplishment as Chair was creating the Frontiers of Science Lecture Series in 1968, attracting world-renowned scientists across all fields of science to give popular lectures that anyone could understand. In the early days, he attracted well-known scientists, many his friends, by inviting them to ski with us on the weekends, including elaborate dinners at home. Later, as the Frontiers of Science became well-known, the ski weekends were no longer necessary to attract famous speakers. Extremely well-attended, and imitated around the country, these lectures are now an established University Utah Lecture Series.

History


A Lecture Series Spanning Five Decades

The Frontiers of Science lecture series was established in 1967 by University of Utah alumnus and Physics Professor Peter Gibbs. Gibbs and his fellow physics faculty at the U sought to bring notable researchers from around the country to the University to discuss the current “frontiers” in physics research. The larger goal was to present public lectures that would attract attention to important developments in scientific research.

By 1970, the University had hosted 10 Nobel laureates for public Frontiers lectures. By 1993, when Gibbs retired, the Frontiers organizers had hosted another 20 laureates. Today, Frontiers of Science is the longest continuously-running lecture series at the University of Utah.

The first Frontiers event was presented by Peter Gibbs himself, who discussed “Einstein the Sociologist,” on April 1, 1967. Physics Professors David C. Evans, Grant R. Fowles and Jack W. Keuffel presented the remaining three lectures that year. In the meantime, the group worked on scheduling outstanding speakers for the following year.

Gibbs and colleagues made good on their promise to bring exceptional scientists to campus. During the 1968-69 academic year, eight lectures were held, including ones by C.N. Yang from the University of New York at Stony Brook (“Symmetry Principles in Physics”) and Murray Gell-Mann from the California Institute of Technology (“Elementary Particles”). Nobel laureates gave three of the eight presentations that academic year, and during 1969 as a whole, six of thirteen lectures were given by Nobel laureates. Topics included astronomy, mathematics, anthropology, politics and social issues.

Gibbs and the early FOS organizers were extremely adept at recruiting famous and soon-to-be-famous scientists. They also were keenly aware of the state of scientific research and the social climate of the time. President Nixon was in office, the Vietnam War was escalating and student protests were common on university campuses including the U of U. The United States had just put a man on the moon. Personal computers did not exist.

Through the 1970s as many as ten lectures were presented each academic year, but by 1980 the pace had slowed to a more manageable five or six per year. The FOS series had become immensely popular and the topics were broadened to include biology, chemistry, mathematics and the earth sciences.

In the early 1980s, FOS audiences were treated to firsthand accounts of the discovery of the structure of DNA by James D. Watson (“The Double Helix and Destiny,” 1981) and Francis H.C. Crick (“The Two DNA Revolutions,” 1984), the achievement for which they had received a Nobel Prize in 1962.

Many FOS speakers were not so famous or honored when they spoke here, but became so later in their career. For example, F. Sherwood Rowland spoke on “Man’s Threat to Stratospheric Ozone” in the 1978 academic year, and was a co-recipient of the 1995 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his pioneering studies on the destruction of ozone by chlorofluro- carbons which was his topic in 1978!

From 1994 to 1997, the Frontiers of Science series was complemented by the Davern/Gardner Laureateship. Dean T. Benny Rushing, Biology Professor K. Gordon Lark, and Emeritus Professor Boyer Jarvis wished to honor the memory of two former College of Science faculty members who made extraordinary administrative contributions to the University of Utah: Cedric “Ric” Davern and Pete D. Gardner.

Rushing, Lark and Jarvis secured a generous grant from the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Foundation to fund the Davern/Gardner Laureateship. The Laureateship allowed the College to bring a notable scientist to campus to deliver a public lecture and to interact with research teams and faculty that shared the invitee’s scientific interests. Dr. John Cairns gave the first lecture in November 1994. A total of six Davern/Gardner Laureateship lectures were presented until the grant was exhausted.

The history of venues for Frontiers of Science presentations is quite colorful. From 1967 to 1970, various rooms were used, including 103 North Physics, 200 Music Hall and Mark Greene Hall in the College of Business. By 1974, FOS events were often held in the Waldemer P. Read auditorium in Orson Spencer Hall. The Read auditorium featured stadium seating for about 400 people and was primarily used through the 1980s.

By 1990, the Fine Arts auditorium became the venue of choice because it was newer, larger, and had a better sound system. However, the lighting and sound controls were problematic and scheduling conflicts forced organizers to utilize the nearby Social Work auditorium on occasion.

In the meantime, the College of Science was constructing the Aline Wilmot Skaggs Biology Research Building (ASB) that included a beautiful 325-seat lecture auditorium and an adjoining 125-seat room complete with modern sound systems, digital video projectors and lighting. When ASB opened in 1997, the Frontiers series finally had a home within the College.

In 2003, the College of Mines and Earth Sciences joined with the College of Science to co-host FOS and increase the number of lectures devoted to aspects of geology, geophysics and meteorology. The effort was successful and a total of five presentations were scheduled, including Paul F. Hoffman, Sturgis Hooper Professor of Geology, Harvard University (“Snowball Earth: Testing the Limits of Global Climate Change,” 2003) and Peter B. deMenocal, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Columbia University (“Climate Shifts and the Collapse of Ancient Cultures,” 2004).

In March 2007, Professor Kerry A. Emanuel of MIT discussed the history and science of hurricanes, including how climate change may be influencing storm cycles around the world. He used stunning photos and graphics to explain how hurricanes work, what determines their energy and destructiveness, and the economic and social implications of our policies for dealing with the risks they pose.

In 2008, The 14th Astronomer Royal of Great Britain, Sir Arnold Wolfendale, graced Utah audiences with a superb presentation on “Time: From Harrison’s Clocks to the Possibility of New Physics.” Other international guests were Dr. Jennifer Graves, Distinguished Professor at La Trobe University, Australia, and Dr. Stefan Hell, Nobel laureate and Director of the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Göttingen, Germany.

Lynn Miller, BS’63

Throughout the University of Utah’s remarkable 169-year history, there have been many outstanding alumni who have made a significant impact in Utah, the country, and the world.

College of Science alumnus Lynn C. Miller, BS’ 63 in Mathematics, is an excellent example. As the Chief Actuary at E.F. Hutton Life, in 1978, he was instrumental in the development of a revolutionary form of life insurance known as Universal Life.

Lynn grew up in Salt Lake City near the University of Utah campus. His father, Clyde Miller, BA’34 in Business, spent the majority of his career in Utah politics. Clyde ascended the legislative ranks and eventually served as the Secretary of State and Lieutenant Governor for the State of Utah from 1965-1977. Although Lynn did not follow in his father’s footsteps in the political forum, Lynn’s mastery of diplomacy would become a great asset to complement his mathematics skills.

Lynn was a fervent University of Utah basketball fan and he attended many games at the Einar Nielsen Field House. His enthusiasm for basketball would fuel his passion for mathematics and statistics. For example, he used probability modeling to create a dice game that could statistically simulate a basketball game. His interest in mathematical analysis and statistics would eventually lead to a career in mathematics and actuarial science.

However, when Lynn enrolled at the U as a student, it wasn’t always smooth sailing. “I lacked the focus and confidence to initially thrive,” says Miller. “In fact, due to my early academic struggles, I was placed on academic probation!”

During his junior year, Lynn found the confidence and commitment to academics, due to the kindness and encouragement of Mathematics Professor J.D. Smith. Professor Smith took a special interest in Lynn’s success and encouraged him to realize his true potential.

“I credit the University for supporting me. In addition to my degree, I also received valuable life lessons of hard work, dedication, and perseverance,” says Miller.

After graduating from the U, Lynn began his professional career at the Hercules Powder Company in Magna, Utah. His job allowed him to apply his mathematical skills to analyze test firings for quality control.

While at Hercules, one of his colleagues witnessed Lynn’s mathematical brilliance and mentioned that he should look into becoming an actuary, a specialized math discipline based on the measurement and management of risk and uncertainty.

Lynn seized upon an opportunity at Surety Life Insurance in Salt Lake City and began his career as an actuary. For eight years Lynn juggled his advanced actuary classes and exams, worked long hours, and along with his wife, helped to raise his young family. Ultimately, due to the job at Surety Life, Lynn found himself leveraging his mathematics and actuary skills to the pathway of disrupting the life insurance industry.

In 1972, Lynn discovered that E.F. Hutton had an opening for a Senior Vice President and Chief Actuary position. Observing the grand opportunity that presented itself, Lynn interviewed and, eventually, won the position. During his time at E.F. Hutton, Lynn became one of the key individuals to reinvent the life insurance industry. Lynn shared that a big part of his career growth was due to his awareness of opportunities and faith in his abilities to succeed.

In the late 1970s, traditional whole life insurance came under heavy criticism from the investment community. Policy cash values were being credited with very low interest rates in the 2-3% range, while external new money rates exceeded 10%. In addition, the rigid nature of a typical contract made it difficult to adapt to changing needs of the client. This created the ideal environment for the creation of the universal life product that offered the following:

  • An open, fully disclosed architecture that allows flexibility in the amount and timing of premium payments and in the balance between the savings (cash value) and pure insurance elements.
  • An earnings rate on cash values that reflected the high investment yields available at that time. This provided a significant advantage over established companies who were burdened with investment portfolios earning well under new money rates.

It’s not surprising that universal life created significant controversy, turmoil, and resistance from established insurance companies.

In fact, Mass Mutual and other large mutual companies launched expensive ad campaigns that tried to disparage and rebuke the new product. Lynn met with many groups and key individuals including the IRS, U.S. Treasury, federal and state legislators, tax attorneys, and even fellow industry antagonists to convince them of the attributes and legitimacy of universal life.

In 1981, the IRS provided a Private Letter Ruling, which held that universal life was a legitimate insurance product. The ruling was challenged in 1984. This led to an effort to permanently enact into law what constitutes a legitimate life insurance product. Lynn was extensively involved in this effort and was one of the original authors of the federal income tax definition of what constitutes life insurance for policyholder and company tax purposes, enacted in the DEFRA Tax Act of 1984.

Universal life has since become the dominant form of life insurance for the past quarter century. Last year it represented more than 60% of permanent cash value type life insurance sales.

In 1999, Lynn moved to Pacific Life Insurance Company and became the Chief Actuary for the Life Insurance Division. In 2002, he was promoted to Executive Vice President and Head of the Life Insurance Division. He retired in 2012.

His stellar career positively impacted millions of life insurance customers, and their families, who have benefited from universal life insurance.

Lynn and his wife, Sue, reside in San Diego, CA, and are strong supporters of Utah athletics. They have season football tickets and attend many home games in Rice-Eccles stadium.

 

Student Veteran

2018-19 Student Veteran of the Year, Craig L. Hanson 

“When I first came to the U, I didn’t have much discipline or respect for myself or others. I was fortunate enough to find both in the Navy and Marine Corps. After a year I realized I wasn’t quite ready for college even though I was a pretty good student in high school. So, I left.

I was looking for a challenge and became a certified commercial diver and a diver medic. I didn’t know then the combination of deep water and medicine was foreshadowing my future and what would make me who I am today. I joined the Navy in 2010 and became a corpsman. I really engaged with my training and became a distinguished graduate from both the Navy Hospital Corps School in Great Lakes, Illinois, and Field Medical Service School at Camp Pendleton, California.

In 2011, I was assigned to Golf Company “Joker” Second Platoon in 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment–The Magnificent Bastards–at Camp Pendleton. A month later I was deployed to Afghanistan. My Marines—who I miss all the time—called me “Doc.” We were assigned to an isolated Forward Operating Base in a notoriously dangerous area of operation in the mountainous area of the Helmand Province.

My platoon and I conducted hundreds of dismounted patrols over a seven-month period. In that time, I treated both wounded Marines and countless local nationals-even saving the life of a wounded enemy combatant. And I had the privilege of teaching first aid techniques to Afghan soldiers. Passing my knowledge on to them.

After my two-and-a-half-year tour I realized I had found my passion for medicine. I returned to the U in 2015 and majored in biology with minor in chemistry. Because of my background in emergency medicine, I’ve looked largely at continuing that training and would like to become a trauma surgeon. That being said, I know enough about medicine to know that I’ve barely grazed the surface and am still keeping an open mind about the exact course in medicine I’ll be taking.”

2018 Churchill Scholar

Scott Neville receives Utah's third straight Churchill Scholarship.

Scott Neville of Clearfield, Utah, who graduated from the University of Utah in December with a degree in mathematics and in computer science, has received a prestigious Churchill Scholarship to study at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom.

He is one of only 15 students in the U.S. to receive the award this year and is the third Churchill Scholar from the U, all of whom are mathematicians.

“Having three Churchill scholars in the last four years is truly remarkable,” said Ruth Watkins, president of the University of Utah. “There is no doubt that Scott will continue to successfully represent the U at Cambridge.”

Neville was drawn to math when he was introduced to the Collatz Conjecture in high school.

“The conjecture is interesting for its simplicity and difficulty, as well as its lack of consequence,” said Neville. “I proved via enumeration and equation manipulation that there was only one cycle with exactly one odd number, and none with exactly two odd numbers. This was a known result, but I was ecstatic. I realized there were unsolved problems in math and I could answer them.”

Neville enrolled at the U because he was already involved in an applied mathematics project with professor Duncan Metcalfe in the Anthropology department. The objective was to investigate infeasible years in radiocarbon dating. The work was funded by the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program.

“This was a good learning experience in both research and communicating mathematics, since the senior researcher had only passing familiarity with the math involved,” says Neville.

The project resulted in a poster given at the Undergraduate Research Symposium in 2016.

“In addition, I knew the U had a rigorous mathematics and computer science program, but I hadn’t actually met any of those professors,” says Neville.

While attending the U, Neville presented his work in Japan, completed advanced courses in modern algebra and number theory, and took second place in the ASFM national collegiate mathematics championship in 2017. He also has co-authored three publications with university faculty.

Neville credits many U faculty for helping him through his undergraduate career. Suresh VenkatasubramanianTommaso de Fernex,Duncan MetcalfeArjun KrishnanAditya BhaskaraPeter Trapaand Gordan Savin were each instrumental in helping him with research, presentations, course work and advising.

Neville aspires to become a professor at a research university so he can continue working on math and sharing it with others.

“I want to give back to a community that’s given so much to me. I want to continue learning and pushing the limits of what mathematics, and hence humanity, can do,” said Neville.

The Churchill Scholarship, established in 1963 at the request of Winston Churchill, provides undergraduates with outstanding academic achievement in the science, technology, engineering and math fields the opportunity to complete a one-year Master’s program at the University of Cambridge. The award is worth about $60,000 in U.S. dollars, depending on the exchange rate.

Candidates go through a rigorous endorsement process in order to apply, but only after their home institution has been vetted with the Winston Churchill Foundation. The U was added to the Foundation in spring 2014.

The Churchill Scholarship has been called “the most academically challenging of the U.K. scholarships.”

Neville will begin his studies at Cambridge in October 2018.

 

Ryan Watts, BS’00

Dr. Ryan Watts, BS’00 in Biology, is the CEO and Co-Founder of Denali Therapeutics, a biotechnology company focused on finding treatments and cures for neurodegenerative illnesses, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

Watts and his colleagues at Denali are passionate about discovering drug therapies to help over 22 million people across the world who are fighting crippling neurodegenerative illnesses. In fact, Alzheimer’s disease and other age-related neurodegenerative diseases are reaching epidemic proportions. Expressed solely in financial terms, the cost of treating people with Alzheimer’s and other dementias is estimated to exceed $260 billion by 2020 in the U.S. alone.

Watts graduated from Cottonwood High School and came to the University of Utah, reflecting his desire to attend a top-tier research institution. As an undergraduate, Watts received the opportunity to conduct research in the Department of Biology. It was there that Ryan discovered the passion that would determine his career path. Along with his undergraduate research experience, Ryan served as a teaching assistant for Dr. Baldomero “Toto” Olivera and was a Pediatric Technician in Surgery at Primary Children’s Medical Center.

Watts was particularly impacted by his interactions with Dr. Olivera because he recognized how Olivera’s biochemical insights could be translated into treatments for pain. Ryan excelled in the lab and the classroom, and upon graduation was accepted into Stanford University’s Biological Sciences doctoral training program.

At Stanford, Ryan continued to distinguish himself in research and received his Ph.D. in 2004, focusing on the molecules that regulate nervous system development. Afterwards, he accepted a position at Genentech. During his eleven-year tenure there, Watts focused initially on developing therapies for cancer, then switched his attention to neurodegenerative diseases. He led Genentech’s entry into Alzheimer’s disease discovery and drug development, eventually building and leading their newly created Neuroscience Labs.

Watts and a select group of neuroscientists and investors eventually formed a biotech startup named Denali Therapeutics. In contrast to the broad approach of companies like Genentech, Denali would be fully specialized in solving the mystery of neurodegeneration.

Founded in 2015, and headquartered in South San Francisco, Denali Therapeutics has already raised more than $349 million and grown to more than 110 employees. As the name Denali suggests, the treatment and study of neurodegenerative diseases pose significant challenges. These conditions, and therefore the therapies targeting them, are difficult to track. In contrast to cancer, neurodegeneration is both more difficult to target than cancerous tumors and has fewer and less well-defined biomarkers.

Reflecting on his time as a student at the U, Watts has some advice for the current generation of students. “Build connections with the incredible faculty at the U and explore opportunities to get in the research lab as soon as possible. Top notch research universities like the U offer a unique chance to discover original insights as part of your education.”