College of Mines and Earth Sciences to merge with College of Science.
The University of Utah College of Mines and Earth Sciences will merge with the College of Science beginning July 1, 2022, a move that will unite well-funded programs, build synergy and cooperation between faculty and create a much stronger base for science and mathematics education at the U.
Deans Darryl Butt of the College of Mines and Earth Sciences and Peter Trapa of the College of Science have worked with university administration and members of both colleges to plan the details of the merger. The College of Mines and Earth Sciences will retain its name and identify as a unit of the College of Science and all faculty, students, buildings and research programs in both colleges will continue in the combined unit.
“Both of these colleges are leaders in student enrollment and research, providing valuable direction on some of the most important issues we face today. I am confident this union will elevate both programs and provide more opportunities for collaboration and student access to classes.”
“Given the incredibly strong connections and research collaborations between the two colleges already, this proposed merger brings a huge number of opportunities for students and faculty,” said William Anderegg, associate professor in the College of Science’s School of Biological Sciences. “The merger opens doors to new educational programs, student research opportunities and research avenues that should elevate the U’s prominence and impact.”
How it happened
The two colleges have a long history of collaboration, but as they came together in 2018 to begin planning for a new Applied Sciences Building, which will bring together departments from both colleges, the deans and faculty members discussed interdisciplinary collaborations and joint courses of study, leading to the proposal of merging the colleges.
In developing the merger plan, the colleges have met with university administrators and faculty and staff from both colleges. Each department in both colleges conducted an advisory vote from their faculty, with a strong majority of voting faculty being in favor of a merger.
“The alignment of COS and CMES to form a stronger and more synergistic organization would elevate the reputation, and likely national rankings, of the respective programs as the joined faculty become more comparable in size and scope to many peer colleges in the Pac-12,” said Butt. “The union will strengthen the STEM fields at the U, and provide a greater student experience through enhanced advising, tutoring, research opportunities and interdisciplinary programs.”
What will and won’t change
The yearlong Phase 1 of the merger, which begins July 1, 2022, involves integrating non-academic functions of the College of Mines and Earth Sciences, such as accounting and marketing. The deans will work to enhance communication and collaboration in the united college, and continue working with faculty, staff, students and university leadership to streamline the merger.
Students attending classes in either of the colleges this fall likely won’t notice anything different–buildings, faculty and programs will remain as they are. Students working towards existing degrees will still receive those degrees from their respective colleges. No programs will be changed and no staff positions will be eliminated.
Leadership will also look much the same, with department chairs remaining in place, and Butt remaining as dean of the entities comprising the College of Mines and Earth Sciences as the colleges consolidate.
After that, as Phase 2 begins, the unified college will report to a single dean and changes to the governance structure of the college, developed in Phase 1, will be finalized and submitted to faculty, student and administration stakeholders for final approval.
Future endeavors, such as a major in earth and environmental science currently under consideration, will utilize resources from both colleges. But the College of Mines and Earth Sciences will remain as a distinct unit within the College of Science, strengthened by the merger and well-positioned to meet its future mission to the state of Utah as the land grant school of mines.
“We are thrilled to unite with the College of Mines and Earth Sciences, with its tradition of hands-on education and impactful research,” Trapa said. “As a combined college, we’ll be positioned to prepare students for an interdisciplinary world.”
“This is an innovative solution to combine the resources of two historic colleges in a way that preserves the identities and missions of both while elevating them to the top tier of science colleges in the United States,” Butt said.
Get to know the colleges
The College of Science and College of Mines and Earth Sciences are two of the oldest colleges at the U, owing to the early missions of the university to educate Utah’s teachers and the leaders of the mining industry in the state.
The roots of the College of Mines and Earth Sciences extend back to 1901 with the establishment of the State School of Mines. Instruction in earth science and mining engineering goes back even further, to at least 1871. The college’s current name was adopted in 1988 and it currently consists of departments of geology and geophysics, atmospheric sciences, mining engineering and metallurgical engineering (jointly administered with the College of Engineering). The Global Change and Sustainability Center and the University of Utah Seismograph Stations, a network of seismometers throughout the West, are also housed in the college’s Frederick A. Sutton Building. The college has become one of the most research-intensive colleges on campus, with average annual per faculty research awards exceeding $300K. With six majors and four degrees to choose from, students in the college study everything from the nature of snow and ice to processes governing Earth’s processes to the methods and processes for producing critical materials.
The current incarnation of the College of Science was formally organized in 1970 but has roots in science instruction that dates back to the founding of the University of Utah in 1850. It includes departments of mathematics, physics and astronomy, chemistry and the School of Biological Sciences—a progression of disciplines that encompasses the structures and processes of life, the universe and, well, everything.
As one of the largest colleges at the U, the College of Science includes around 2,100 undergraduate students and nearly 500 graduate students, with 143 faculty members. In FY 2021, the college received $36 million in research funding.
In recent years the college has renovated the George Thomas Building into the Crocker Science Center and is planning the renovation and expansion, in collaboration with the College of Mines and Earth Sciences, of the William Stewart Building into the 140,000-square-foot Applied Sciences Building.
The John B. Fenn Award
Armentrout receives ASMS Award for Distinguished Contributions In Mass Spectrometry.
Peter B. Armentrout the Henry Eyring Presidential Endowed Chair of Chemistry at the University of Utah is the 2021 recipient of the John B. Fenn Award for Distinguished Contribution in Mass Spectrometry.
Armentrout is receiving this award for the development of robust experimental and statistical techniques for the determination of accurate thermochemistry. He developed the guided ion beam threshold dissociation approach to provide insights into the thermochemistry, kinetics, and dynamics of simple and complex chemical reactions. In addition, he developed a suite of software programs for statistically modeling the energy dependence of product formation for most reactive processes.
"These developments have allowed nearly 2500 distinct bond energies to be measured during his career. The impact of these fundamental measurements has been felt over many fields, including catalysis, biochemistry, surface chemistry, organometallic chemistry, and plasma chemistry."
He shared both the instrumentation designs and the software with laboratories around the world to enable the greater scientific community to study thermochemical processes. These developments have allowed nearly 2500 distinct bond energies to be measured during his career. The impact of these fundamental measurements has been felt over many fields, including catalysis, biochemistry, surface chemistry, organometallic chemistry, and plasma chemistry.
Professor Armentrout is a member of the editorial advisory boards of the Journal of the American Society of Mass Spectrometry and the International Journal of Mass Spectrometry and Ion Processes, and formerly of the Journal of the American Chemical Society, Journal of Physical Chemistry, Journal of Chemical Physics, Organometallics, and the Journal of Cluster Science (charter member).
He is a member of the American Chemical Society, American Physical Society (fellow), American Society for Mass Spectrometry, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (fellow). He presently has nearly 500 research publications that have appeared in the literature. Thirty-six students have received their Ph.D.s with Professor Armentrout.
The ASMS Award for Distinguished Contribution in Mass Spectrometry is named to honor the memory of John B. Fenn who shared the 2002 Nobel Prize for the development of electrospray Ionization. Fenn joined ASMS in 1986 and remained an active member until his passing in 2010. The award in his name recognizes a focused or singular achievement in fundamental or applied mass spectrometry in contrast to awards that recognize lifetime achievement.
Highly tunable composite materials—with a twist.
The above animation shows the patterns created as two circles move across each other. Those patterns, created by two sets of lines offset from each other, are called moiré (pronounced mwar-AY) effects. As optical illusions, moiré patterns create neat simulations of movement. But at the atomic scale, when one sheet of atoms arranged in a lattice is slightly offset from another sheet, these moiré patterns can create some exciting and important physics with interesting and unusual electronic properties.
Mathematicians at the University of Utah have found that they can design a range of composite materials from moiré patterns created by rotating and stretching one lattice relative to another. Their electrical and other physical properties can change—sometimes quite abruptly, depending on whether the resulting moiré patterns are regularly repeating or non-repeating. Their findings are published in Communications Physics.
The mathematics and physics of these twisted lattices applies to a wide variety of material properties, says Kenneth Golden, distinguished professor of mathematics. “The underlying theory also holds for materials on a large range of length scales, from nanometers to kilometers, demonstrating just how broad the scope is for potential technological applications of our findings.”
"We observe a geometry-driven localization transition that has nothing to do with wave scattering or interference effects, which is a surprising and unexpected discovery."
With a twist
Before we arrive at these new findings, we’ll need to chart the history of two important concepts: aperiodic geometry and twistronics.
Aperiodic geometry means patterns that don’t repeat. An example is the Penrose tiling pattern of rhombuses. If you draw a box around a part of the pattern and start sliding it in any direction, without rotating it, you’ll never find a part of the pattern that matches it.
Aperiodic patterns designed over 1000 years ago appeared in Girih tilings used in Islamic architecture. More recently, in the early 1980s, materials scientist Dan Shechtman discovered a crystal with an aperiodic atomic structure. This revolutionized crystallography, since the classic definition of a crystal includes only regularly repeating atomic patterns, and earned Shechtman the 2011 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.
Okay, now onto twistronics, a field that also has a Nobel in its lineage. In 2010, Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov won the Nobel Prize in Physics for discovering graphene, a material that’s made of a single layer of carbon atoms in a lattice that looks like chicken wire. Graphene itself has its own suite of interesting properties, but in recent years physicists have found that when you stack two layers of graphene and turn one slightly, the resulting material becomes a superconductor that also happens to be extraordinarily strong. This field of study of the electronic properties of twisted bilayer graphene is called “twistronics.”
In the new study, Golden and his colleagues imagined something different. It’s like twistronics, but instead of two layers of atoms, the moiré patterns formed from interfering lattices determine how two different material components, such as a good conductor and a bad one, are arranged geometrically into a composite material. They call the new material a “twisted bilayer composite,” since one of the lattices is twisted and/or stretched relative to the other. Exploring the mathematics of such a material, they found that moiré patterns produced some surprising properties.
“As the twist angle and scale parameters vary, these patterns yield myriad microgeometries, with very small changes in the parameters causing very large changes in the material properties,” says Ben Murphy, co-author of the paper and adjunct assistant professor of mathematics.
Twisting one lattice just two degrees, for example, can cause the moiré patterns to go from regularly repeating to non-repeating—and even appear to be randomly disordered, although all the patterns are non-random. If the pattern is ordered and periodic, the material can conduct electrical current very well or not at all, displaying on/off behavior similar to semiconductors used in computer chips. But for the aperiodic, disordered-looking patterns, the material can be a current-squashing insulator, “similar to the rubber on the handle of a tool that helps to eliminate electrical shock,” says David Morison, lead author of the study who recently finished his Ph.D. in Physics at the University of Utah under Golden’s supervision.
This kind of abrupt transition from electrical conductor to insulator reminded the researchers of yet another Nobel-winning discovery: the Anderson localization transition for quantum conductors. That discovery, which won the 1977 Nobel Prize in Physics, explains how an electron can move freely through a material (a conductor) or get trapped or localized (an insulator), using the mathematics of wave scattering and interference. But Golden says that the quantum wave equations Anderson used don’t work on the scale of these twisted bilayer composites, so there must be something else going on to create this conductor/insulator effect. “We observe a geometry-driven localization transition that has nothing to do with wave scattering or interference effects, which is a surprising and unexpected discovery,” Golden says.
The electromagnetic properties of these new materials vary so much with just tiny changes in the twist angle that engineers may someday use that variation to precisely tune a material’s properties and select, for example, the visible frequencies of light (a.k.a. colors) that the material will allow to pass through and the frequencies it will block.
“Moreover, our mathematical framework applies to tuning other properties of these materials, such as magnetic, diffusive and thermal, as well as optical and electrical,” says professor of mathematics and study co-author Elena Cherkaev, “and points toward the possibility of similar behavior in acoustic and other mechanical analogues.”
Find the full study in Communications Physics.
Betty Vetter Award
Ramón S. Barthelemy, Assistant Professor of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Utah, has been awarded the 2022 WEPAN (Women in Engineering ProActive Network) Betty Vetter Research Award for notable achievement in research related to women in engineering. The award is named in memory of Betty M. Vetter, long-time director of the Commission on Professionals in Science and Technology, who served as the first treasurer of WEPAN and was a founding member of the Board of Directors.
Barthelemy is an early-career physicist with a record of groundbreaking scholarship and advocacy that has advanced the field of physics education research as it pertains to gender issues and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT)+ physicists.
“WEPAN is an impactful member society that hosts the ARC STEM Equity Network, an intersectional effort supporting equity research in STEM,” said Barthelemy. “I am humbled and honored to have my work recognized by an organization that works so tirelessly to enhance inclusion with considerable focus on the various intersections of identity one can have. I’m looking forward to continuing to work with both WEPAN and the ARC STEM Equity Network.”
The field of physics struggles to support students and faculty from historically excluded groups. Barthelemy has long worked to make the field more inclusive—he has served on the American Association of Physics Teachers’ (AAPT) Committee on Women in Physics and on the Committee on Diversity—and was an early advocate for LGBT+ voices in the AAPT. He co-authored “LGBT Climate in Physics: Building an Inclusive Community,” an influential report for the American Physical Society, and the first edition of the “LGBT+ Inclusivity in Physics and Astronomy Best Practices Guide,” which offers actionable strategies for physicists to improve their departments and workplaces for LGBT+ colleagues and students.
Barthelemy recently served as co-lead author on a study of LGBT+ physicists that detailed the difficulties, harassment, and other behaviors that make them leave the profession.
“LGBT+ people feel shunned, excluded and are continually having to readjust and twist themselves to fit into the physics community,” said Barthelemy. “LGBT+ people are inherently a part of this field. If you want physics to be a place that anyone can participate, we have to talk about these issues.”
Gender has a big impact on a person’s perception of their environment. While about 15% of LGBT+ men reported an uncomfortable or very uncomfortable experience, 25% of women and 40% of gender non-conforming people reported similar experiences.
“The study tells us that support has to be available in the entire institution,” said Barthelemy. “LGBT+ individuals in all departments have to be continually coming out when we engage with the broader campus community and new people, since our LGBT identity is seldom assumed. By making our presence known, we can help encourage greater equity, diversity and inclusion throughout the institution.”
In 2019, Barthelemy joined the U’s College of Science as its first tenure-track faculty focusing on physics education research (PER), a field that explores how people learn the content and culture of physics. Since arriving, he has built a program that gives students rigorous training in physics concepts and in education research, qualities that prepare students for jobs in academia, education policy, or general science policy. He founded the Physics Education Research Group at the University of Utah (PERU), where he and a team of postdoctoral scholars and graduate and undergraduate students explore how graduate programs policies impact students’ experience, long-term studies of the experience of women in physics and astronomy and of students of color in STEM programs, and understanding the impacts of a sense of belonging on a student’s performance in introductory STEM courses.
“We talk about inclusivity and diversity in the classroom, but there needs to be more research about what that means. We look at various aspects of interactive classrooms and how it impacts their content learning outcomes,” said Barthelemy. “If you feel like you belong in the classroom, if you feel comfortable raising your hand, you can participate in groups, teaching and learning from peers—that’s an example of inclusivity, looking at people’s sense of belonging.”
The research has implications beyond the classroom—Barthelemy uses the findings to inform and develop policies and best practices to support people from historically excluded groups in physics. “It helps us teach better, but also understanding the culture of physics has implications in the quality of research done in national labs, for example, that inevitably impacts people across the country,” he said.
Barthelemy has had an untraditional journey to academia. He earned his Bachelor of Science degree in astrophysics at Michigan State University and received his Master of Science and doctorate degrees in PER at Western Michigan University. “Originally, I went to graduate school for nuclear physics, but I discovered I was more interested in diversity, equity, and inclusion in physics and astronomy. Unfortunately, there were very few women, People of Color, LGBT or first-generation physicists in my program,” said Barthelemy, who looked outside of physics to understand why. “I found this quite curious,” he said.
In 2021, Barthelemy received the Doc Brown Futures Award, an honor that recognizes early career members who demonstrate excellence in their contributions to physics education and exhibit excellent leadership.
Barthelemy’s work has also been recognized with external funding to complete his projects. In 2020, he and his U colleagues Jordan Gerton and Pearl Sandick were awarded $200,000 from the National Science Foundation to complete a case study exploring the graduate program changes in the U’s Department of Physics & Astronomy. In the same year, Barthelemy received a $350,000 Building Capacity in Science Education Research award to continue his longitudinal study on women in physics and astronomy and created a new study on People of Color in U.S. graduate STEM programs. Lastly, Barthelemy was selected to conduct a literature review on LGBT+ scientists as a virtual visiting scholar by the ARC Network, an organization dedicated to improving STEM equity in academia.
In 2014, Barthelemy completed a Fulbright Fellowship at the University of Jyväskylä, in Finland where he completed research looking at student motivations to study physics in Finland. In 2015, he received a fellowship from the American Association for the Advancement of Science Policy in the United States Department of Education and worked on science education initiatives in the Obama administration. After acting as a consultant for university administrations and research offices, he began to miss doing his own research and made the decision to come to Utah.
Based in Washington, D.C., WEPAN was founded as a non-profit educational organization in 1990. It is the nation’s first network dedicated to advancing cultures of inclusion and diversity in engineering higher education and workplaces. The WEPAN Awards honor key individuals, programs, and organizations for accomplishments that underscore WEPAN’s mission to advance cultures of inclusion and diversity in engineering education and professions. WEPAN Award honorees demonstrate extraordinary service, significant achievement, model programs, and exemplary work environments.
Cyri Dixon has been named a NACADA Outstanding New Advisor.
Cyri Dixon, the Undergraduate Academic Advising Coordinator for the Department of Physics & Astronomy, has won the Outstanding New Advisor Award – Primary Role Category – from the National Academic Advising Association (NACADA). Award selection is extremely competitive and designed to honor and recognize professionals who have made significant contributions to the field of academic advising in higher education. Candidates are nominated by their institution, and each application is carefully reviewed by NACADA committee members. All outstanding advisor nominations include a comprehensive list of the nominee’s professional qualifications, academic accomplishments, letters of support, and documented advising success.
“I am grateful to work with such fantastic students, staff, and faculty. Advising is challenging, but working with my wonderful students makes it all worth it.”
“I am very honored to receive this award,” said Dixon. “I am grateful to work with such fantastic students, staff, and faculty. This award really highlights the strides we have been able to make in our department to create a better student experience and build a community where all students feel welcome and successful. Advising is challenging, but working with my wonderful students makes it all worth it.”
Dixon was previously recognized for her exemplary advising work when she was named Outstanding New Academic Advisor in 2021 by the University of Utah Academic Advising Community (UAAC). She serves as the only undergraduate advisor for the department and has proven to be a valuable resource to undergraduate physics students in all areas of academic advising. She has 236 physics major students that she meets with regularly, and she takes pride in knowing each student by name. She helps each develop a course plan that fits their interests, and she connects them to research and internship opportunities, campus resources, and the department community.
Here are comments from the University of Utah’s President’s Office, faculty, staff, and students about Dixon and her work:
“Dear Cyri, The President’s Office received this email of gratitude from a parent recognizing the talented staff and student employees at our university. Thank you for the hard work, kindness, and caring dedication you show our students and families. You are appreciated, and we value your contribution to the success of our students and university. We know this comes from colleagues like you who make it happen. Thank you.”
~Office of the President
“Whenever I am worried about a student, Cyri knows what is going on or knows what to do to address the problem. Thank you for your help, patience, and for caring about all our students.”
~Dr. Tugdual Stephan Lebohec, faculty
“Cyri’s work represents many of NACADA’s Core Values, but most striking is her laser-like focus on empowering her students. In her philosophy, Cyri shares a little of her own experience as a first-generation student from a rural area; knowing that there so many talented and brilliant students who are limited in opportunities and resources, she [Cyri] writes that this ‘drives my motivation to help any student who walks in my door to not only survive and graduate, but also thrive and make the most of their experience.’”
~Stephanie Begaye, and Ashley Glenn, UAAC Advisor Awards Committee Co-Chairs
“Cyri has been a terrific advisor for me. She has always been available for chats or emails and been quick to respond to all of my questions, even unusual or specific ones that are only tangentially related to completing a physics degree. After every meeting I’ve had with her, I tell my wife, ‘she’s a great advisor.’ I think Cyri absolutely deserves this award.”
“Cyri, thank you for taking the time to write a letter of recommendation on my behalf. I wanted to let you know I was accepted into two programs, one of them being the University of Utah! This is a huge step in pursuing my career goals and an immense accomplishment for me.”
A first-generation graduate of Utah State University, with a degree in Physical Sciences Education, Dixon also has minor degrees in physics and chemistry teaching. She recently earned a Master of Public Administration degree from the University of Utah. Originally from Idaho, she returned to Utah after living in the Midwest and teaching middle school science and engineering in Arizona. She loves hot air ballooning, Wonder Woman, and her dog, Roka.
Since 1983, NACADA has honored individuals and institutions making significant contributions to the improvement of academic advising. The goal of NACADA is to promote quality academic advising and professional development of its membership to enhance the educational development of students. For more information, visit NACADA.
Toto Gets Stamped!
Distinguished Professor Baldomero Olivera is featured in the Filipino Postal Office’s “Living Legends” commemorative stamp series.
Affectionately referred to as “Toto,” Olivera has pioneered research on marine cone snails, demonstrating the therapeutic potential of their venom, already resulting in an FDA-approved drug. The University of Utah’s biochemistry and pharmacy departments (UofU Health) are currently expanding on some of this work.
His early research contributions include the discovery and biochemical characterization of E. coli DNA ligase, a key enzyme of DNA replication and repair that is widely used in recombinant DNA technology.
In a 2018 profile, Olivera was described as unconventional: “Not every molecular biologist would think to look in cone snail venom for potential therapeutics. But a long-held interest in the biological environment that surrounded him while growing up in the Philippines — and a habit of making unconventional choices — led Baldomero ‘Toto’ Olivera to do just that.”
After completing his Ph.D. at the California Institute of Technology and postdoctoral research at Stanford University, Olivera returned to the Philippines to establish his independent research program. Now at the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Utah, Olivera has discovered several peptides in snail venom that have reached human clinical trials. One has been approved for the treatment of severe pain.
“I didn’t make choices that were conventionally considered wise at the time. The things that didn’t seem so wise at the time turned out to be okay.”
While building a productive research program, he also was developing new ways to educate and inspire future generations of scientists in the U.S. and the Philippines. As a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professor, he has developed hands-on curricula that draw young students to science by teaching them about scientific principles they can observe in the organisms they see every day.
When Olivera was selected as one in the series of “Living Legends” commemorative stamps, graduate student Paula Florez Salcedo in the Olivera lab tweeted “He is a living legend, and I can’t believe I get to learn from him!”
When asked by an interviewer to list something that Olivera knows now in his career as a scientist that he wished he’d known earlier, he says,
“I didn’t make choices that were conventionally considered wise at the time. When I was going back to the Philippines, everyone was saying ‘Why are you doing that? You’re ruining your scientific career.’ But that turned out to be very good for my scientific career because I started working with cone shells. So I really have no major regrets, I must say. The things that didn’t seem so wise at the time turned out to be okay.”
In science and technology, the post office selected to honor national scientist and physician Ernesto Domingo along with the internationally recognized Olivera.
“They have dedicated their lives and talents to the Filipino people,” Postmaster General Norman Fulgencio said in February when the announcement was made. “They deserve to be immortalized in our stamps to inspire not only Filipinos, but every nationality who will see our stamps.”
The post office turned over to representatives of the honorees the framed stamps in tribute to them. “The stamps we issued today are not only meant for delivery of letters, but more importantly to deliver hope,” Fulgencio said.
Furthermore, the stamps “symbolize what Filipinos are capable of — wherever we are, whoever we are up against and whatever it takes,” he said.