Jordan Herman, PhD’20

WWJHD?


Few encounter a fer-de-lance snake and walk away unscathed. While working in Costa Rica recent School of Biological Sciences (SBS) graduate Jordan Herman (PhD’20) moved closer to observe a toucan dismembering the green iguana it was having for lunch. When the bird took off and dropped half of it, Herman picked up the iguana’s tail and realized she had nearly stepped on the coiled and camouflaged pit viper at her feet. As the bird returned to finish its meal, Herman stood still, suddenly stuck between an intimidating toucan and the venomous snake. She escaped the dangerous situation by offering up the tail and backing away slowly.

For Herman, this moment earned her “a new appreciation for how cool and terrifying nature can be.”

Herman originally came to the SBS graduate program in 2014 from the University of Minnesota–Twin Cities. Her research has been focused on the fitness consequences that mockingbirds experience when they are co-exploited, how the co-occurring parasites interact with each other, and the roles that host defenses play in these species interactions.

An associate in the Clayton-Bush lab, Herman thrives in the outdoors and has always been captivated by birds. While working as a field assistant in the Galapagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador, she became hooked on parasitic nest flies and their endemic bird hosts. This interest, in turn, brought her to Argentina, where she worked on the effects of parasitic nest flies and brood-parasitic cowbirds on their shared host, the chalk-browed mockingbird.

Her passion for the outdoors extends to her adopted home of Utah. When she isn’t backpacking all over the Intermountain West, you can find her spending time in her Salt Lake City garden with her four chickens–Dotty, Penguin, Mungo, and Jerry. Currently, she and her partner Joey have also been treating themselves to sushi takeout from Sapa, a local Asian fusion restaurant where, she says, “you can still order mussel shooters!”

Outside of her research, Herman has also made a lasting impact in SBS where she is grounded in a close-knit community of biologists with wide-ranging research interests. As a mentor, she has soared by offering strong support and advice to those around her. “Jordan’s unwavering sense of self allows her to be a generous mentor,” explains fellow graduate student, Maggie Doolin (Dearing lab), “and one of the most consistent sources of truth and support I’ve encountered anywhere throughout my life. She is one-of-a-kind,” continues Doolin, “and I’m lucky to have had her welcome me to the SBS grad program for all things life and science.” When asked what the best advice Herman herself has received in graduate school, she replies, “Publish early!” You can find Herman’s publications in journals like Ecology and the Journal of Avian Biology.

Clearly an expert in field research, Herman uses her knowledge to give back to her community. “Given the amount of field research, field courses, and outdoor recreation that happens in SBS, our community has a major need for wilderness preparedness,” she says. This need gave rise to Herman’s involvement in developing the biennial subsidized Wilderness First Aid course which is available to students, faculty, and staff in the SBS. A future goal is to expand this program to more personnel across the College of Science.

Jordan Herman, PhD, is truly a force of nature. Next time you’re stuck between an intimidating toucan and a camouflaged pit viper, remember to ask yourself, WWJHD?:  What would Jordan Herman do? The School of Biological Sciences is indebted to Jordan Herman. She will always have a place here among the wide variety of birds and lifelong friends nestled at the base of the Wasatch Mountains.

 

by Andy Sposato

Andy is a graduate student in the Gagnon lab and co-founder of the LGBTQ+ STEM Interest Group in the College of Science.

Presidential Scholar

Presidential Scholar


Pearl Sandick

Pearl Sandick one of Four U Presidential Scholars named.

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

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

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

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

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

Pearl Sandick

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

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

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

by Rebecca Walsh first published in @theU

A.A.U. Membership

UTAH JOINS THE A.A.U.


 

"It is difficult to overstate the importance of AAU Membership. This elevates the U to an exceptional category of peer institutions."
- Dean Peter Trapa

 

The University of Utah is one of the newest members of the prestigious Association of American Universities, which for more than 100 years has recognized the most outstanding academic institutions in the nation.

Mary Sue Coleman, president of the Association of American Universities (AAU), announced Wednesday that University of Utah President Ruth V. Watkins has accepted an invitation to join the association, along with the University of California, Santa Cruz and Dartmouth College. The three new members bring the number of AAU institutions to 65.

AAU invitations are infrequent; this year’s invitations are the first since 2012.

 

 

“AAU’s membership is limited to institutions at the forefront of scientific inquiry and educational excellence,” said Coleman. “These world-class institutions are a welcome addition, and we look forward to working with them as we continue to shape policy for higher education, science, and innovation.” - Mary Sue Coleman

 

About the AAU
The AAU formed in 1900 to promote and raise standards for university research and education. Today its mission is to “provide a forum for the development and implementation of institutional and national policies promoting strong programs of academic research and scholarship and undergraduate, graduate and professional education.”

A current list of member institutions can be found here. The membership criteria are based on a university’s research funding (the U reached a milestone of $547 million in research funding in FY2019); the proportion of faculty elected to the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine; the impact of research and scholarship; and student outcomes. The U has 21 National Academies members, with some elected to more than one academy.

An AAU committee periodically reviews universities and recommends them to the full association for membership, where a three-fourths vote is required to confirm the invitation.

Leaders of AAU member universities meet to discuss common challenges and future directions in higher education. The U’s leaders will now join those meetings, which include the leaders of all the top 10 and 56 of the top 100 universities in the United States.

 

“We already knew that the U was one of the jewels of Utah and of the Intermountain West. This invitation shows that we are one of the jewels of the entire nation.” - H. David Burton

 

U on the rise
In FY2019 the U celebrated a historic high of $547 million in sponsored project funding, covering a wide range of research activities. These prestigious awards from organizations such as the U.S. Department of Energy, National Institutes of Health and National Science Foundation are supporting work in geothermal energy, cross-cutting, interdisciplinary approaches to research that challenge existing paradigms and effects of cannabinoids on pain management.

They also are funding educational research programs with significant community engagement, such as the U’s STEM Ambassador Program and the Genetic Science Learning Center’s participation in the All of Us Research Program.

“AAU is a confirmation of the quality and caliber of our faculty and the innovative work they are doing to advance knowledge and address grand societal challenges. Our students and our community will be the ultimate beneficiaries of these endeavors. " - President Ruth Watkins

 

On Nov. 4, 2019, the U announced a $150 million gift, the largest single-project donation in its history, to establish the Huntsman Mental Health Institute. These gifts and awards are in addition to the ongoing support of the U from the Utah State Legislature.

This fall the university welcomed its most academically prepared class of first-year students. The freshman cohort includes 4,249 students boasting an impressive 3.66 average high school GPA and an average ACT composite score of 25.8. The incoming class also brings more diversity to campus with both a 54% increase in international students and more bilingual students than the previous year’s freshman class. Among our freshmen who are U.S. citizens, 30% are students of color.

The U’s focus on student success has led to an increased six-year graduation rate, which now sits at 70%—well above the national average for four-year schools. The rate has jumped 19 percentage points over the past decade, making it one of only two public higher education research institutions to achieve this success.

11 Billion Years

 

 


Professor Kyle Dawson

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

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

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

Image courtesy of SDSS

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

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

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

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

Image courtesy of SDSS

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

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

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

 

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

 

HIV Microscopy

HIV Microscopy


Ipsita Saha, graduate research assistant

Pioneering method reveals dynamic structure in HIV.

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

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

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

The Saffarian Lab in the Crocker Science Center

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

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

Mapping a nanomachine.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A new tool to study viruses.

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

Saveez Saffarian and Ipsita Saha

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

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

 

by Lisa Potter first published in @theU

Also published in Eurekalert
 

Forest Futures

Forest Futures


Know the risks of investing in forests.

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

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

Meeting of Minds

William Anderegg

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

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

Accumulating Risk

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

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

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

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

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

Mitigating Risk

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

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

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

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

 

 

by Paul Gabrielsen first published in @theU

 

Crab Nebula

Utah scientists detect Crab Nebula using innovative gamma-ray telescope.

Scientists in the Cherenkov Telescope Array (CTA) consortium today announced at the 236th meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) that they have detected gamma rays from the Crab Nebula using a prototype Schwarzschild-Couder Telescope (pSCT), proving the viability of the novel telescope design for use in gamma-ray astrophysics. University of Utah faculty and staff in the Department of Physics & Astronomy are key members of the international research team announcing this technological breakthrough.

Animation showing 18 gamma-ray events from the Crab Nebula.

“The Crab Nebula is the brightest steady source of TeV, or very-high-energy, gamma rays in the sky, so detecting it is an excellent way of proving the pSCT technology,” said Justin Vandenbroucke, associate professor, University of Wisconsin. “Very-high-energy gamma rays are the highest energy photons in the universe and can unveil the physics of extreme objects including black holes and possibly dark matter.”v

Detecting the Crab Nebula with the pSCT is more than just proof-positive for the telescope itself. It lays the groundwork for the future of gamma-ray astrophysics. “We’ve established this new technology, which will measure gamma rays with extraordinary precision, enabling future discoveries,” said Vandenbroucke. “Gamma-ray astronomy is already at the heart of the new multi-messenger astrophysics, and the SCT technology will make it an even more important player.”

The use of secondary mirrors in gamma-ray telescopes is a leap forward in innovation for the relatively young field of very-high-energy gamma-ray astronomy, which has moved rapidly to the forefront of astrophysics. “Just over three decades ago, TeV gamma rays were first detected in the universe, from the Crab Nebula, on the same mountain where the pSCT sits today,” said Vandenbroucke. “That was a real breakthrough, opening a cosmic window with light that is a trillion times more energetic than we can see with our eyes. Today, we’re using two mirror surfaces instead of one, and state-of-the-art sensors and electronics to study these gamma rays with exquisite resolution.”

The initial pSCT Crab Nebula detection was made possible by leveraging key simultaneous observations with the co-located VERITAS (Very Energetic Radiation Imaging Telescope Array System) observatory. “We have successfully evolved the way gamma-ray astronomy has been done during the past 50 years, enabling studies to be performed in much less time,” said Wystan Benbow, director, VERITAS. “Several future programs will particularly benefit, including surveys of the gamma-ray sky, studies of large objects like supernova remnants, and searches for multi-messenger counterparts to astrophysical neutrinos and gravitational wave events.”

The pSCT - photo: Amy C. Oliver

Located at the Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory in Amado, Arizona, the pSCT was inaugurated in January 2019 and saw first light the same week. After a year of commissioning work, scientists began observing the Crab Nebula in January 2020, but the project has been underway for more than a decade.

“We first proposed the idea of applying this optical system to TeV gamma-ray astronomy nearly 15 years ago, and my colleagues and I built a team in the U.S. and internationally to prove that this technology could work,” said Vladimir Vassiliev, principal investigator, pSCT. “What was once a theoretical limit to this technology is now well within our grasp, and continued improvements to the technology and the electronics will further increase our capability to detect gamma rays at resolutions and rates we once only ever dreamed of.”

David Kieda, professor at the U and dean of the Graduate School, was principal investigator of the U pSCT team and system engineer of the telescope. Along with Harold Simpson, facilities director of the U’s Department of Physics & Astronomy, and graduate research assistant Ahron Barber, Kieda led the design and fabrication of multiple auxiliary systems for the telescope:  sun protection, signal cable, power and communication systems and the specification and selection of the telescope’s drive system. The Utah team also solves a big problem—how to keep the telescope’s sophisticated high speed  camera cool.

“The camera is like a racecar engine the size of the toaster—it generates a lot of heat,” Kieda said. “We can’t vent the heat near the camera because that would distort the local air and affect the telescope performance. So we came up with a sophisticated cooling system using high capacity heat exchangers and fans in the camera, cooled by a remotely located chilled water supply.”

Kieda was also tasked with integrating all the telescope subsystems originating from teams around the country into a workable system.

“I call this ‘putting  the ship in the bottle’. It’s the same thing building cameras—how do I actually get the pieces together correctly?” Kieda said. “The telescope camera weighs nearly a thousand pounds. You have to stage the lifts, position it, and install it in tight quarters without damaging the secondary mirrors , while keep everybody safe. It was a challenge—this is the first time anyone has built this type of telescope.”

The pSCT was made possible by the contributions of thirty institutions and five critical industry partners across the United States, Italy, Germany, Japan, and Mexico, and by funding through the U.S National Science Foundation Major Research Instrumentation Program.

“That a prototype of a future facility can yield such a tantalizing result promises great things from the full capability, and exemplifies NSF’s interest in creating new possibilities that can enable a project to attract wide-spread support,” said Nigel Sharp, program manager, National Science Foundation.

Now demonstrated, the pSCT’s current and upcoming innovations will lay the groundwork for use in the future Cherenkov Telescope Array observatory, which will host more than 100 gamma-ray telescopes. “The pSCT, and its innovations, are pathfinding for the future CTA, which will detect gamma-ray sources at around 100 times faster than VERITAS, which is the current state of the art,” said Benbow. “We have demonstrated that this new technology for gamma-ray astronomy unequivocally works. The promise is there for this groundbreaking new observatory, and it opens a tremendous amount of discovery potential.”

About the pSCT

The SCT optical design was first conceptualized by U.S. members of CTA in 2006, and the construction of the pSCT was funded in 2012. Preparation of the pSCT site at the base of Mt. Hopkins in Amado, AZ, began in late 2014, and the steel structure was assembled on site in 2016. The installation of the pSCT’s 9.7-m primary mirror surface —consisting of 48 aspheric mirror panels—occurred in early 2018, and was followed by the camera installation in May 2018 and the 5.4-m secondary mirror surface installation—consisting of 24 aspheric mirror panels—in August 2018. Scientists opened the telescope’s optical surfaces and observed first light in January 2019. It began scientific operations in January 2020.  The SCT is based on a 114 year-old two-mirror optical system first proposed by Karl Schwarzschild in 1905, but only recently became possible to construct due to the essential research and development progress made at the Brera Astronomical Observatory, the Media Lario Technologies Incorporated and the Istituto Nazionale di Fisica Nucleare, all located in Italy. pSCT operations are funded by the National Science Foundation and the Smithsonian Institution.

For more information visit https://www.cta-observatory.org/project/technology/sct/ 

About CTA

CTA is a global initiative to build the world’s largest and most sensitive very-high-energy gamma-ray observatory consisting of about 120 telescopes split into a southern array at Paranal, Chile and a northern array at La Palma, Spain. More than 1,500 scientists and engineers from 31 countries are engaged in the scientific and technical development of CTA. Plans for the construction of the observatory are managed by the CTAO gGmbH, which is governed by Shareholders and Associate Members from a growing number of countries. CTA will be the first ground-based gamma-ray astronomy observatory open to the worldwide astronomical and particle physics communities. *Adapted from a release written by Amy Oliver, Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory.

For more information visit http://cta-observatory.org/ 

Media Contacts

Dave Kieda, Dean of the Graduate School; professor, Department of Physics & Astronomy

Lisa Potter, research/science communications, University of Utah Communications

 

- by Lisa Potter - UNews

 

2020 Research Scholar

Delaney Mosier

Delaney Mosier receives top College of Science award.

Delaney Mosier, a graduating senior in mathematics, has been awarded the 2020 College of Science Research Scholar Award for her cutting-edge work in the area of sea ice concentration, using partial differential equation models.

“I am humbled to receive this award,” said Delaney. “The College of Science is teeming with groundbreaking research, so it’s an overwhelming honor to be considered one of the top researchers in the College. I’m proud to be a representative of the amazing research going on in the field of mathematics.”

Delaney is also proud to receive the award as a woman. “I strive to be a positive role model for girls and women in STEM. I hope that by earning this award, I can inspire other women to consider working on mathematics research.”

In his letter of support for Delaney’s nomination, Distinguished Professor Ken Golden, who has served as her supervisor and mentor, discussed her research abilities, natural leadership skills, and mathematical prowess, indicating that Delaney is one of the most talented and advanced students he has seen in his 30+ years of mentoring.

Super Student

The College of Science Research Scholar Award, established in 2004, honors the College’s most outstanding senior undergraduate researcher. The Research Scholar must be a graduating undergraduate major of the College of Science, achieve excellence in science research, have definite plans to attend graduate school in a science/math field, and be dedicated to a career in science/math research.

Studying the Behavior of Sea Ice

Delaney studies patterns in the behavior of sea ice in polar regions. She’s interested in how physical processes affect these patterns on a short-term basis and how climate change can affect them in the long-term.

The primary goal of her research with Dr. Golden is to understand better how and why sea ice is changing over time. Considered relatively low order, their model allows them to study intimately the details of the sea ice pack, which can provide insights that might not yet be apparent to the climate science community. Her work tries to answer one of the most important research questions of the modern age: Why is polar sea ice melting so rapidly and will it ever recover?

She has always been passionate about the environment and finds the project exciting because it incorporates mathematics along with studying climate. “My project is very dynamic,” she noted. “Each time I meet with Dr. Golden, we discuss something new to incorporate into our model or seek a new way to understand it. It’s thrilling to be a part of such unique and innovative work.”

Utah Strong

She became seriously interested in math because of her 7th grade algebra teacher. “Mrs. Hein fostered an exploratory environment—I collaborated with my peers and was often challenged to explore the world of mathematics for myself,” she said. “I couldn’t get enough of it. To this day, math remains the one activity that I can completely lose myself in. Math challenges my mind in exhilarating and motivating ways.”

Mentors at the U

Delaney credits Dr. Golden with helping her pursue a variety of opportunities that have furthered her career as a mathematician. She also has praise for Dr. Courtenay Strong, associate professor of atmospheric sciences, and Dr. Jingyi Zhu, associate professor of mathematics, who have served as mentors and helped guide her research.

“My friend and roommate, Katelyn Queen, has been a wonderful mentor and inspiration to me throughout my journey,” said Delaney. “She is always willing to give me advice and support me in my endeavors. I have watched her excel in her first year of graduate school, and that has inspired me in moving forward.” She also thanks fellow students and her parents for their love and support. “My parents are simply the best,” said Delaney.

Her favorite teacher at the U is Dr. Karl Schwede, professor of mathematics. “I had Dr. Schwede for several classes and learned so much,” she said. “He has high standards for his students, which motivated me and helped me to retain the material. He is also supportive and helpful.”

When she isn’t studying or doing research, she loves to dance and listen to music. She was a competitive Irish dancer from ages 11 – 17. She is also an avid reader, especially during the summer.

The Future

Goodbye Salt Lake City

Delaney will begin her Ph.D. studies in applied mathematics this fall. She hasn’t yet decided if she will work in industry, continue with climate research, or become a professor. “Whatever I decide to do, my goal is to use mathematics to have an impact on the world,” she said.

 

by Michele Swaner

 

 

Science Podcasts

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Hear directly from College of Science leadership and researchers.

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Courtship Condos

Dean Castillo

Playing to the ethic of pursuing pure science, new faculty member Dean Castillo is driven by research questions not necessarily the research organism. While working on his bachelor’s and even before that while growing up in rural northern California, he worked with “tons of different organisms,” he says, including fungi. So it wasn’t difficult for him as a geneticist to move from his earlier subjects such as tomatoes and nematodes at Indiana University, where he earned his PhD, to fruit flies (Drosophilia) during his postdoc at Cornell and now at the University of Utah.

The question for Castillo was the same: how do natural and sexual selection shape mating interactions and behaviors, species interactions, and ultimately speciation?

The focus of Castillo, a recent faculty arrival at the School of Biological Sciences, remains evolutionary interactions between organisms, whether in “fruit” or the flies that feed on the yeast of that fruit. Genes determine behavior, and in the case of the fruit fly the female can mate with more than one male and store different sperm in different organ “storage areas” before determining which sperm will be used. How does that anatomically happen and what genes are motivating the female to determine which sperm is used?

Drosophilia - Fruit Flies

“Why does one female mate but another doesn’t?” he further asks. Once his lab determines how and where sperm from two different males is being stored in one female they will pursue other areas of inquiry: finding the genes that control female choice in the brain and, instead of pollen competition from his tomato days, it’s now sperm competition.

The equipment Castillo uses for his research includes one centimeter-high glass “condos” for the tiny flies with removable “gates.” From cotton-topped vials where the flies live on a bed of molasses and yeast, the researcher inserts a female in one side of a bifurcated chamber and a male in the other. Once the researcher lifts the gate between the sides, they can observe the eternal mating behavior of the two sexes on the micro level.

Behavior is only part of the Castillo lab’s integrative approach which combines these condo experiments with population and molecular genetics to understand the genetic basis of sexual behaviors. The approach is also designed to explore the reduction or cessation of reproduction between members of different species. (Think of crossing a horse and a donkey to produce a mule, which is sterile). Comparative genomics can help track this “reproductive isolation,” as it is termed, across the tree of life.

Drosophilia - Fruit Flies

“By studying the mechanistic and genetic links between sexual selection and reproductive isolation we can determine the influence of these forces on generating biodiversity,” says Castillo, sitting in the adjacent office to his lab on the fourth floor of the Aline W. Skaggs biology building. The almost feral view out his windows eastward to the Wasatch is a reminder of one of the big attractions to taking a position at the University of Utah: its stunning setting and, perhaps more importantly, its accessibility to wild nature. In fact, the flies that Castillo studies are easily found in the area, including in American Fork Canyon and Zions National Park. His wife Deidra, who with Dean also earned her PhD from Indiana University at Bloomington, begins her research soon in the Vickers lab one floor down. It turns out that there is overlap between her research in plant-insect interactions and Vickers’ research in moth olfaction and neuroethology.

Managing courtship condos to get at basic biology questions like how genes control behavior can seem random, even mercurial. This is especially true when compared to the careful planning required to procure one’s own family when both parents are academics. (The Castillos have three children, including a one-year-old.) It turns out that their first child was born during qualifying exams. Later, number two entered the scene while they were both defending their theses, the third during their postdocs prior to their move to Utah.

 

Dean Castillo with a few thousand research subjects.

For the time being, the five Castillos will be staying put except, perhaps, for combining science with mountain and high-desert camping trips looking for fruit flies.

by David Pace