Fellow of the AAAS

Fellow of the AAAS

Vahe Bandarian is among the 506 newly-elected Fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

AAAS members have been awarded this honor because of their scientifically or socially distinguished efforts to advance science or its applications. Other fellows currently at the U including Nancy Songer, dean of the College of Education, Thure Cerling, recipient of the 2022 Rosenblatt Prize and Mario Capecchi, 2007 Nobel laureate. The U’s first Fellow was geologist and former university president James Talmage, elected in 1906. Election as a Fellow is an honor bestowed upon AAAS members by their peers.

New Fellows will be presented with a gold and blue (representing science and engineering, respectively) rosette pin and gather in spring 2023 in Washington, D.C. Fellows will also be announced in the AAAS News & Notes section of the journal Science in February 2023.

Bandarian, professor of chemistry and associate dean for student affairs in the College of Science, was elected for “discoveries in the field of tRNA modifications and key contribution to mechanistic basis of radical-mediated transformations leading to complex natural products.”

“I was thrilled when I heard the news and humbled by it,” he says.

Bandarian’s lab studies how bacterial enzymes participate in producing natural chemical products, including many products that aren’t required for the bacteria to grow, but can provide a competitive advantage in the bacteria’s ecosystem.

“These compounds span a large swath of chemical space and include modified bases in RNA, modified peptides and small molecules,” he says. “Our overall goal is to discover and understand the details of these enzymatic transformations.”

Beyond studying natural processes, Bandarian is also interested in how the process of biosynthesis, including these enzymes, can be used to produce designed compounds that could have therapeutic properties.

by Paul Gabrielsen, first published in @theU.

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$1M Grant to Chemists

$1M Grant to Chemists

Grant from the W.M. Keck Foundation will help chemists learn how molecules crystallize, potentially saving time in developing new drugs and industrial materials.

Michael Grünwald

Michael Grünwald, Ryan Looper and Rodrigo Noriega, of the University of Utah Department of Chemistry, received a $1 million grant from the W.M. Keck Foundation funding studies of currently unpredictable aspects of the process of crystallization. Accurate models of how molecules come together to form solid structures will help save time in developing new pharmaceuticals and industrial materials, since researchers will be able to bypass lengthy and expensive screening processes.

“Developing a new drug that is effective, safe and affordable is an enormously expensive and time-consuming process”, says Michael Grünwald. “With our research on how drug molecules crystallize, we hope to really speed things up, so that new antibiotics or antivirals drugs can reach patients more quickly and cheaply.”

Rodrigo Noriega

Predicting how molecules will form crystals is, in the researchers’ words, “extraordinarily difficult.” A crystal is an arrangement of atoms or molecules in a repeating pattern, held together by attractive forces between them. While these atoms or molecules, like Legos, could possibly be arranged in many different ways, the principles of thermodynamics suggest that they will simply arrange themselves in the crystalline structure that maximizes their favorable interactions, just like magnets arrange themselves in a pattern dictated by the magnetic forces between them. This principle works very well for many simple crystalline substances, like table salt or gold, which only have one or two types of atoms and always form the same crystal structure.

Unfortunately, it often doesn’t work that way for organic drug molecules. These molecules are made up of tens or hundreds of atoms and can produce a variety of crystal structures. Often, when developing a new drug, only one of these structures has the “Goldilocks” properties of being stable enough that the drug doesn’t degrade but unstable enough that it can dissolve in the human body.  Identifying which of these different crystal structures, or polymorphs, is the right one and how to reproducibly make the right polymorph requires dedicated teams of researchers, significant experimentation and time—ultimately delaying the delivery of life-saving medicines to the patient.

Ryan Looper

Grünwald, Looper and Noriega, along with graduate students and postdoctoral researchers, have an idea that may help make the process of predicting crystal structures simpler. Current models of crystal formation assume that crystals are built one molecule at a time. But the U team proposes that they’re likely built in chunks of two, three or more molecules, called oligomers, and that this process, rather than leading to the crystal structure favored by thermodynamics, instead picks crystallization pathways that are favored kinetically. Favoring one process over another kinetically simply means picking the faster option—like choosing restaurant X over Y because, even though you like Y’s food better, the wait is much shorter at X.

The team brings together a diverse set of researchers that study chemistry in very different ways: Grünwald is a chemical theorist who develops computer simulations to describe chemical processes, Noriega is a spectroscopist who studies the behavior of molecules in solution and Looper is a medicinal chemist who prepares and studies new drug substances. “Combining our expertise will allow us to build new models, compare them to experiments and extract insights to design new chemical systems”, says Noriega. As a group they aim to create a set of tools to help other chemists select the crystal structures they want and produce them quickly and purely.

“Crystal structure prediction of new drug molecules has the potential to really impact people’s well-being by expediting the development process and lowering the cost,” Looper says. “I am excited about our ideas to improve the drug development process, but many questions remain unanswered. The idea that thermodynamics might not accurately predict crystallization is quite controversial in the field. The Keck foundation’s support of our research is essential to provide new evidence to convince scientists to think a different way.”

About the W. M. Keck Foundation 

The W. M. Keck Foundation was established in 1954 in Los Angeles by William Myron Keck, founder of The Superior Oil Company.  One of the nation’s largest philanthropic organizations, the W. M. Keck Foundation supports outstanding science, engineering and medical research.  The Foundation also supports undergraduate education and maintains a program within Southern California to support arts and culture, education, health and community service projects.

by Paul Gabrielsen, first published in @theU.

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Magnesium Pollution?

Magnesium Pollution?

Salt Lake City, Utah

Research helps explain Salt Lake City's persistent air quality problems.

The 2.4 million people who live along Utah’s Wasatch Front experience some of the most severe winter particulate matter air pollution in the nation. Now, analysis of measurements taken during National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) research flights in 2017 indicates that emissions from a single source, a magnesium refinery, may be responsible for a significant fraction of the fine particles that form  the dense winter brown clouds that hang over Salt Lake City.

The finding was published this week in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.

Lead author Carrie Womack, a scientist with the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder working at NOAA, said analysis of airborne measurements directly from the plume rising from the US Magnesium refinery during a 2017 winter air pollution study in Utah found that emissions of chlorine and bromine, known as halogenated compounds, were significant contributors to the persistent winter brown clouds.

Carrie Womack

“I was struck by the complexity of chemical reactions in the atmosphere,” said U professor John Lin, of the Department of Atmospheric Sciences and a co-author of the study. “Changes in the chemical ingredients of the atmosphere could lead to unexpected outcomes through inter-linked chemical pathways.”

US Magnesium, the largest magnesium producer in North America, extracts the metal from the brine of the Great Salt Lake, at a plant upwind of Salt Lake City.

Particulate matter contains microscopic solids or liquid droplets that are so small that they can be inhaled and cause serious health problems. Particles less than 2.5 microns in diameter, also known as fine particles or PM2.5, pose the greatest risk to health, affecting both lungs and your heart.

“Understanding what causes this PM2.5 formation is the first step in reducing it,” Womack said. “One aspect of our study was characterizing known point sources in the area.”

John Lin

The Utah Division of Air Quality requires reporting of particulate precursors, such as chlorine and nitrogen oxide emissions, which are then shared with the US Environmental Protection Agency. However, NOAA’s measurements also identified significant emissions of bromine, a reactive chemical that is not required to be reported. Modeling demonstrated that the chlorine and bromine emitted by the refinery were responsible for 10 – 25% of regional PM2.5 during winter pollution episodes.

“Our measurements of chlorine and nitrogen oxides agree with what the facility reports to regulators,” Womack said. “But what we found suggests that bromine industrial emissions may deserve a closer look.”

Pollution control regulations and cleaner technologies adopted since the 1970s have steadily improved air quality in the US. Yet some valleys in the Intermountain West still experience high levels of PM2.5 during winter. In Utah’s urban Salt Lake Valley, wintertime levels of PM2.5 exceed national air quality standards an average of 18 days per year. The majority of exceedances occur in December, January and early February during a period when strong, multi-day inversions known as persistent cold air pools develop that trap pollution close to the surface.

These exceedances have been specifically associated with adverse health effects in the region, including a 42% higher rate of emergency room visits for asthma during the latter stages of air pollution events from 2003-2008, according to one study.

Prior to the NOAA study, the chemical composition of PM2.5 in northern Utah, and how it forms, had received considerably less attention than in other regions of the nation despite the severity of the problem in Utah.

“We could see during our research flights in 2017 that the air around the plant was unlike anything we had sampled previously due to the high chlorine emissions,” said NOAA scientist Steven Brown, who led the field campaign. “We were surprised that it had such a large effect on winter PM2.5 across the entire region.”

“Close to the plant, we didn’t even need to check the instruments to know we were flying through the plume,” Womack added. “We could smell it. It smelled like bleach!”

The dominant contributor to regional particulate matter is ammonium nitrate, which is responsible for up to 70% of fine particulate mass during inversion periods and 40% outside of inversions. Ammonium nitrate is a secondary pollutant formed by reactions between ammonia, nitrogen oxides (NOx), and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). The NOAA model demonstrated that halogen emissions from US Magnesium speed up the conversion of NOx and VOCs to ammonium nitrate particulate matter.

Researchers have shared their findings with Utah officials, who had sought NOAA’s help in understanding their poor winter air quality. A previous paper by Womack in 2019 documented other sources of winter smog.

The Utah Department of Environmental Quality is currently conducting a study to identify sources of ammonia.

While the new paper is based on measurements taken in 2017, Womack said emissions of chlorine, which accompany the unreported emissions of bromine, have not shown any sign of significant decline in the last five years.

Researchers from the University of Utah, the University of Toronto, the University of Washington, and the U.S. EPA also participated in the study.

Find the full study here.

By Theo Stein, originally published @theU.





Gerald “Jay” Mace

U researcher to lead study of clouds in cleanest air on Earth.

The Southern Ocean is a remote region of the world that holds significant influence over the Earth’s climate. Compared with other areas on Earth, its atmosphere is relatively untouched by atmospheric particles that come from human activities. This makes the Southern Ocean a unique place to study what the atmosphere might have been like in preindustrial times.

Climate projections for the entire Earth are sensitive to interactions of aerosols, clouds and precipitation in the atmosphere over the Southern Ocean. Seasonal variations in Southern Ocean aerosol properties are well documented, but to improve the accuracy of climate models, scientists need more information about the properties of low clouds and precipitation in the region.

An upcoming field campaign supported by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) will fill in knowledge gaps about the seasonal cycle of clouds and precipitation over the Southern Ocean. As a result, these data are expected to have big impacts on regional and global climate modeling.

Roger Marchand

The Cloud And Precipitation Experiment at Kennaook (CAPE-K) is scheduled to run from April 2024 to September 2025 in northwestern Tasmania.

Gerald “Jay” Mace, a professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Utah, is the lead scientist of CAPE-K. His co-lead is Roger Marchand, a research professor at the University of Washington.

The campaign’s science team consists of scientists from universities and research institutions in the United States and Australia.

CAPE-K received support from a recent DOE proposal call for field campaigns that would improve the understanding and modeling of clouds and aerosols, as well as their interactions and coupling with the Earth’s surface.

DOE’s Atmospheric Radiation Measurement (ARM) user facility will provide instruments and infrastructure for CAPE-K. For 30 years, ARM has collected atmospheric data in under-observed regions around the world, including the Southern Ocean. ARM data are freely available for scientists worldwide to download and use.

A powerful collaboration

CAPE-K will take place in a region unlike many others on the planet.

“It’s the only place where there’s a circumpolar ocean current on Earth,” says Mace, who has current funding for Southern Ocean research through DOE’s Atmospheric System Research (ASR). “And so, you have this shoaling of deep water that absorbs carbon and heat. And then that, coupled with other things like recovering ozone, is causing the Southern Hemisphere to be in a state of change.”

The campaign will enable three science objectives:

  1. Document the seasonal cycle of Southern Ocean low-cloud and precipitation properties and examine how they co-vary with aerosol and with dynamical and thermodynamical factors.
  2. Compare and contrast these relationships with observations from other surface sites and campaigns, including other ARM sites.
  3. Study aerosol-cloud-precipitation interactions in pristine marine low clouds and explore how these interactions can best be represented in models at various scales.

ARM plans to conduct CAPE-K at the Kennaook/Cape Grim Baseline Air Pollution Station. This station is managed by the Australian Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO).

Established in 1976, the station often measures clean air masses that have not passed over land. This is an important vantage point to have as scientists try to determine how much influence human activities have on the Earth’s energy balance.

“The CAPE-K campaign will provide important information on aerosol-cloud-precipitation interactions to help reduce a large source of uncertainty in current climate models,” says DOE ARM Program Manager Sally McFarlane. “The Kennaook/Cape Grim Baseline Air Pollution Station is an ideal location for this study due to its extensive long-term record of aerosol and gas-phase chemistry measurements and its unique location, which results in frequent sampling of pristine air masses from the Southern Ocean.”

For CAPE-K, ARM will provide a portable observatory called an ARM Mobile Facility, which consists of instruments, shelters, and data and communications systems. ARM instruments operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with onsite technicians monitoring the facility around the clock.

In addition to collecting continuous data on cloud and precipitation properties, ARM plans to provide aerosol measurements that will complement those from the baseline station.

Mace is the first person to serve as a lead scientist for multiple ARM Mobile Facility deployments. In 2010 and 2011, Mace led an ARM campaign in Colorado that measured the properties of wintertime clouds and precipitation around the ski town of Steamboat Springs.

Return trips to the Southern Ocean

CAPE-K will mark ARM’s first trip back to the Southern Ocean since 2018, when it finished conducting simultaneous campaigns in the region.

Over a five-month span, ARM instruments collected data on a supply vessel that traveled back and forth between a port in southeastern Tasmania and a set of research stations in the Antarctic.

The other campaign was a two-year deployment to Macquarie Island, which is about halfway between New Zealand and Antarctica, to study surface radiative fluxes and cloud and aerosol properties.

Several researchers from CAPE-K’s science team worked on those two ARM campaigns.

Marchand led the Macquarie Island campaign and was a co-investigator for the other Southern Ocean campaign. CAPE-K co-investigator Alain Protat, from BOM, was also co-investigator for both of ARM’s past Southern Ocean campaigns.

Protat is a CAPE-K co-investigator along with CSIRO’s Ruhi Humphries and Melita Keywood.

CAPE-K also has a modeling and analysis team, which includes former BOM head of research Peter May. He helped set up an ARM site that operated in Darwin, Australia, from 2002 to 2014.

Once CAPE-K is underway, the campaign will benefit even more from established partnerships with BOM and CSIRO.

The CSIRO-operated R/V Investigator will be stationed off Kennaook in July and August 2025—wintertime in the Southern Hemisphere. The ship will then travel into the air masses that flow from the prevailing southwesterly winds to collect data on aerosol, cloud, and precipitation properties.

Mace has been a passenger on the Investigator for past data-collecting missions. He looks forward to boarding the vessel again and seeing what scientific discoveries emerge from CAPE-K.

“We’re going to expect to see very clean air masses, very low aerosol air masses—perhaps some of the cleanest on Earth,” he says.

By Katie Dorsey, originally published @theU.



Thatcher Building

James Talmage Building

Cowles Building

Crocker Science Center

Henry Eyring Building

South Biology

Skaggs Building

South Physics Building

Fletcher Building

Storm Peak Laboratory


Applied Science Building

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

Construction Timeline

This important project will provide new and updated space to serve the University of Utah’s educational and research mission. It will serve as the new home for the Departments of Physics & Astronomy and Atmospheric Sciences, focusing on aerospace, semiconductor technology, biotechnology, data science, hazardous weather forecasting, and air quality. Together, the two departments teach more than 5,600 students. See why the University of Utah College of Science is so excited about launching this project. New construction will provide a 56 percent increase in experimental and computer lab capacity. There will be 40,700 square feet of renovated space in the historic Stewart Building and a 100,00 square foot new addition. The project will preserve and restore the historic character of the William Stewart Building while introducing a modern yet complementary design for the new addition. The new building’s exterior finishes will resemble the latest addition to the Crocker Science building next door. Tree protection plans are in place, and the project team has taken steps to ensure the safety and preservation of Cottams Gulch, which will remain open and accessible during construction. In addition, the project team is working with Simmons Pioneer Memorial Theater leadership to ensure construction does not affect theater activities.

Cottam’s Gulch

What to Expect – Construction Impacts

  • Project construction timeline: October 2022 – August 2024
  • Construction hours are 7 am – 7 pm
  • The installation of six-foot-tall construction fencing around the project site will begin the second week of October
  • The existing rock wall near the University Avenue sidewalk will be dismantled for the duration of construction and restored when construction nears completion.
  • Construction traffic will enter and exit the project site via University Street; Full-time road flaggers will be in place to assist with traffic safety and flow
  • Sidewalks directly east of the Stewart building will be closed; signage will be in place to direct pedestrians east of the construction zone around the Life Sciences building
  • Visit the Applied Science Project construction website.


Traffic and Pedestrian Map

Construction Map


Story by Lisa Potter, first published in @theU.

Applied Science Video

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Collaboration of the Cited

Collaboration of the Cited

The cover of Philosophical Transactions, 1665.

Philosophical Transactions, 1665.

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

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

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

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

Vascular health and function

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

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


Sperry holding a custom rotor.

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


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

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

Scaling up through computation

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

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

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

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

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

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

The defining issues of our age

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

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


William “Bill” Anderegg

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


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

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


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

Pauling Medal

Dr. Cynthia J. Burrows

Dr. Cynthia Burrows

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

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

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

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

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

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

Awards and honors include:

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


first published @ chem.utah.edu

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Art & Air Quality

Art & Air Quality

Wendy Wischer

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

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

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

John Lin

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

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

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

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

Interior signage for buses and trains.

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

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

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

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

Utah Transit Authority Bus Advertising

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

By . Originally published @SLUG Magazine, photos by .


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Storm Peak Laboratory

Storm Peak Laboratory

Gannet Hallar in the lab.

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

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

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

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

Snow study plot @ 10,000 ft.

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

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

Storm Peak Lab with a coating of rime.

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

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

Mountain meteorology class.

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

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

The deck at Storm Peak.

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

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



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

Cowles Building

Widtsoe Building

South Biology

Henry Eyring Building

James Talmage Building

South Physics Building

Thatcher Building


Skaggs Building

Crocker Science Center


Ichthyosaurs Migrations

Ichthyosaurs Migrations

Complete tooth and partial jaws of the ichthyosaur.

Fossil CSI: Mysterious site was ancient birthing grounds for marine giants.

Today’s marine giants—such as blue and humpback whales—routinely make massive migrations across the ocean to breed and give birth in waters where predators are scarce, with many congregating year after year along the same stretches of coastline. Now, new research from a team of scientists—including researchers with the University of Utah (Natural History Museum of Utah and Department of Geology & Geophysics), Smithsonian Institution, Vanderbilt University, University of Nevada-Reno, University of Edinburgh, University of Texas at Austin, Vrije Universiteit Brussels, and University of Oxford—suggests that nearly 200 million years before giant whales evolved, school bus-sized marine reptiles called ichthyosaurs may have been making similar migrations to breed and give birth together in relative safety.

The findings, published today in the journal Current Biology, examine a rich fossil bed in the renowned Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park (BISP) in Nevada’s Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, where many 50-foot-long ichthyosaurs (Shonisaurus popularis) lay petrified in stone. Co-authored by Randall Irmis, NHMU chief curator and curator of paleontology, and associate professor, the study offers a plausible explanation as to how at least 37 of these marine reptiles came to meet their ends in the same locality—a question that has vexed paleontologists for more than half a century.

“We present evidence that these ichthyosaurs died here in large numbers because they were migrating to this area to give birth for many generations across hundreds of thousands of years,” said co-author and Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History curator Nicholas Pyenson. “That means this type of behavior we observe today in whales has been around for more than 200 million years.”

Over the years, some paleontologists have proposed that BISP’s ichthyosaurs—predators resembling oversized chunky dolphins which have been adopted as Nevada’s state fossil—died in a mass stranding event such as those that sometimes afflicts modern whales, or that the creatures were poisoned by toxins such as from a nearby harmful algal bloom. The problem is that these hypotheses lack strong lines of scientific evidence to support them.

To try to solve this prehistoric mystery, the team combined newer paleontological techniques such as 3D scanning and geochemistry with traditional paleontological perseverance by poring over archival materials, photographs, maps, field notes and drawer after drawer of museum collections for shreds of evidence that could be reanalyzed.

3D-modeled image of the Shonisaurus popularis fossil bed.

Although most well-studied paleontological sites excavate fossils so they can be more closely studied by scientists at research institutions, the main attraction for visitors to the Nevada State Park-run BISP is a barn-like building that houses what researchers call Quarry 2, an array of ichthyosaurs that have been left embedded in the rock for the public to see and appreciate. Quarry 2 has partial skeletons from an estimated seven individual ichthyosaurs that all appear to have died around the same time.

“When I first visited the site in 2014, my first thought was that the best way to study it would be to create a full-color, high-resolution 3D model,” said lead author Neil Kelley, an assistant professor at Vanderbilt University. “A 3D model would allow us to study the way these large fossils were arranged in relation to one another without losing the ability to go bone by bone.”

To do this, the research team collaborated with Jon Blundell, a member of the Smithsonian Digitization Program Office’s 3D Program team, and Holly Little, informatics manager in the museum’s Department of Paleobiology. While the paleontologists were physically measuring bones and studying the site using traditional paleontological techniques, Little and Blundell used digital cameras and a spherical laser scanner to take hundreds of photographs and millions of point measurements that were then stitched together using specialized software to create a 3D model of the fossil bed.

“Our study combines both the geological and biological facets of paleontology to solve this mystery,” said Irmis. “For example, we examined the chemical make-up of the rocks surrounding the fossils to determine whether environmental conditions resulted in so many Shonisaurus in one setting. Once we determined it did not, we were able to focus on the possible biological reasons.”

Illustration by Gabriel Ugueto

The team collected tiny samples of the rock surrounding the fossils and performed a series of geochemical tests to look for signs of environmental disturbance. One test measured mercury, which often accompanies large-scale volcanic activity, and found no significantly increased levels. Other tests examined different types of carbon and determined that there was no evidence of sudden increases in organic matter in the marine sediments that would result in a dearth of oxygen in the surrounding waters (though, like whales, the ichthyosaurs breathed air).

These geochemical tests revealed no signs that these ichthyosaurs perished because of some cataclysm that would have seriously disturbed the ecosystem in which they died. The research team continued to look beyond Quarry 2 to the surrounding geology and all the fossils that had previously been excavated from the area.

The geologic evidence indicates that when the ichthyosaurs died, their bones eventually sank to the bottom of the sea, rather than along a shoreline shallow enough to suggest stranding, ruling out another hypothesis. Even more telling though, the area’s limestone and mudstone was chock-full of large adult Shonisaurusspecimens, but other marine vertebrates were scarce. The bulk of the other fossils at BISP come from small invertebrates such as clams and ammonites (spiral-shelled relatives of today’s squid).

“There are so many large, adult skeletons from this one species at this site and almost nothing else,” said Pyenson. “There are virtually no remains of things like fish or other marine reptiles for these ichthyosaurs to feed on, and there are also no juvenile Shonisaurus skeletons.”

The researchers’ paleontological dragnet had eliminated some of the potential causes of death and started to provide intriguing clues about the type of ecosystem these marine predators were swimming in, but the evidence still didn’t clearly point to an alternative explanation.

The research team found a key piece of the puzzle when they discovered tiny ichthyosaur remains among new fossils collected at BISP and hiding within older museum collections. Careful comparison of the bones and teeth using micro-CT x-ray scans at Vanderbilt University revealed that these small bones were in fact embryonic and newborn Shonisaurus.

“Once it became clear that there was nothing for them to eat here, and there were large adult Shonisaurusalong with embryos and newborns but no juveniles, we started to seriously consider whether this might have been a birthing ground,” said Kelley.

Further analysis of the various strata in which the different clusters of ichthyosaur bones were found also revealed that the ages of the many fossil beds of BISP were separated by at least hundreds of thousands of years, if not millions.

“Finding these different spots with the same species spread across geologic time with the same demographic pattern tells us that this was a preferred habitat that these large oceangoing predators returned to for generations,” said Pyenson. “This is a clear ecological signal, we argue, that this was a place that Shonisaurusused to give birth, very similar to today’s whales. Now we have evidence that this sort of behavior is 230 million years old.”

The team said the next step for this line of research is to investigate other ichthyosaur and Shonisaurus sites in North America with these new findings in mind to begin to recreate their ancient world by perhaps looking for other breeding sites or for places with greater diversity of other species that could have been rich feeding grounds for this extinct apex predator.

“One of the exciting things about this new work is that we discovered new specimens of Shonisaurus popularis that have really well-preserved skull material,” Irmis said. “Combined with some of the skeletons that were collected back in the 1950s and 1960s that are at the Nevada State Museum in Las Vegas, it’s likely we’ll eventually have enough fossil material to finally accurately reconstruct what a Shonisaurus skeleton looked like.”

The 3D scans of the site are now available for other researchers to study and for the public to explore via the open-source Smithsonian’s Voyager platform, which is developed and maintained by Blundell’s team members at the Digitization Program Office, and anyone can take a deeper dive with the 3D model @ thesmithsonian.com.

“Our work is public,” said Blundell. “We aren’t just scanning sites and objects and locking them up. We create these scans to open up the collection to other researchers and members of the public who can’t physically get to a museum.”

The paper includes a wide variety of paleobiological and geological data, including geochemical data analyzed at SIRFER, petrographic thin sections that were imaged using Kathleen Ritterbush's system, and involvement of G&G graduate students (Conny Rasmussen is a co-author and her contribution was done when she was a PhD student here).

This research was conducted under research permits issued by the U.S. Forest Service and Nevada State Parks, and was supported by funding from the Smithsonian, University of Nevada, Reno, Vanderbilt University, and University of Utah.

Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park is part of Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest in the Shoshone Mountains of west-central Nevada. It is within the ancestral homelands of the Northern Paiute and Western Shoshone peoples.


by Lisa Potter, first published in @theU.

Additional stories @ CNN, NYT, Smithsonian Magazine, ScienceNews, WaPo, NewScientist, AP News, WIRED, CBS News, and Nature.