Conscious of the Planet

'Conscious' of the Planet

June 13, 2024
Above: Ishita Juluru, Frances Benfell and Hannah Rogers and co-founders of the climate app Conscious.

"No one has to be perfect," says Frances Benfell, co-founder of the climate app Conscious. "[I]t's about finding where it's reasonable for people, because no one should have to be breaking their back to be perfect. Instead, we want people to think: what can you actually feasibly fit into your life?"

Hannah Rogers, co-founder of the climate app Conscious

A student at the University of Utah, she along with co-founders Hannah Rogers and Ishita Juluru have been awarded the prestigious Wilkes Student Climate Innovation Prize. The prize was awarded at the second annual Wilkes Climate Summit at the U in May.. The innovative project aims to reform consumer behavior towards sustainability by empowering individuals to make informed choices and take meaningful action against climate change.

Conscious seeks to bridge the gap between producers and consumers in the realm of sustainable consumption. Set to undergo development this summer, the app will provide users with essential information about the environmental footprint of products through a simple barcode scanning feature. From carbon emissions and water usage to sustainable alternatives, Conscious will equip consumers with the knowledge needed to make eco-conscious purchasing decisions.

"Basically, we just want to make climate conscious consumption really easy for people because there's a huge information gap between producers and consumers," explains Frances Benfell, one of the Conscious’s creators. "So we're creating an app that will allow you to scan a barcode and see a product's carbon footprint, how much water was used, where it was made, and where it's shipping from. And then it will give you a list of third-party vetted alternatives that have a lower carbon footprint that you can purchase directly within the app."


Beyond its goal to provide consumers with easily accessible information, Conscious aims to foster engagement among its users to drive real change. In addition to its barcode scanning feature, the app will incorporate gamification elements, allowing users to participate in challenges and competitions with friends, colleagues, and community members.

"We're also ‘gamifying’ the process so you can be on different leaderboards, at your workplace or at your school or with your friends," adds Juluru, "and also compete with your friends in different challenges, like a Clean Air Challenge or sustainable Christmas shopping challenge. You’ll be able to see your contributions in comparison with others, which will motivate people to be more engaged."

Reducing ego anxiety

The project started with its creators’ frustrations surrounding the difficulty and hopelessness they felt trying to take climate action. "I think climate change is really isolating sometimes, especially in Utah," shares Benfell. "There's a lot of times where I feel like I'm in a room where I'm the only person who cares. And it's really nice to be able to see all the other efforts people are making. You can reduce ego anxiety by making better decisions, but also seeing that other people are trying too, and not feeling like you're alone in the fight."

The Wilkes Student Climate Innovation Prize will provide crucial support for the development and launch of Conscious. Despite initial setbacks with their software developer, the team is now back on track with two dedicated software engineers, including founder Juluru. 

Launching initially in the U.S., Conscious will focus on wealthy industrial countries where companies and consumers play significant roles in driving climate change. With plans to expand globally, the app will eventually provide tailored resources and information unique to every state.

“We want to have comprehensive resources that show, ‘here’s all the places you can learn about the legislative session; here's where you can learn about where your representatives stand on climate issues,” says Benfell. 

Disrupting the status quo

The Conscious team

Conscious aims to disrupt the status quo of consumerism by empowering individuals to leverage their purchasing power against major climate contributors. By steering consumers away from unsustainable companies, Conscious seeks to send a powerful message and drive systemic change. “The idea is not about people ‘righting their wrongs’ or not being ‘sustainable enough.’ It's more about sending a message to those major climate contributors. Because if we're shifting demand away from high-polluting companies, then we're hurting their bottom line, which they care about a lot more than the environment,” explains Rogers. “There is huge value in putting your money where your mouth is. Yes, you can vote for change in our government. But the biggest way that you vote is what you buy.”

Conscious represents a new frontier in sustainable consumerism, where every purchase becomes an opportunity for positive environmental impact. As the app gears up for development, its creators are poised to lead a movement towards a more sustainable future, one purchase at a time.


by Julia St. Andre

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Outstanding Undergrad Research Awards 2024

Outstanding Undergrad Research Awards 2024

April, 2024
Above: Student recipients at the 2024 OUR Awards Ceremony

The University of Utah is one of the top research academic institutions in the Intermountain West, and it’s thanks in major part to the U’s undergraduate student researchers and the faculty who advise and mentor them.

Some of the university’s up-and-coming researchers and mentors were honored at the 2024 Office of Undergraduate Research (OUR) Awards, held virtually on April 1.

Every year, OUR recognizes one undergraduate student researcher from each college/school with the Outstanding Undergraduate Researcher Award, according to the office’s website. Partnering colleges and schools are responsible for selecting the awardee.

This year, 18 undergraduate researchers were honored with the Outstanding Undergraduate Researcher Award, two of them from the College of Science / College of Mines & Earth Sciences:

Autumn Hartley (Mentor: Professor Sarah Lambart)

Dua Azhar (Mentor: Professor Sophie Caron)

Autumn Hartley

Autumn Hartley (she/they) is also a College of Science ambassador and has a passion for science and learning as geology and geophysics major. Originally from Midway, Utah, she moved to Salt Lake City when she started school at the U where she became involved in many different organizations including oSTEM, which connects LGBTQ+ students in STEM. Outside of academia, she loves all things artistic. “I’m a writer, graphic designer, and a character designer when I’m not in the lab!” she says.

Dua Azhar

Born and raised a Utahn in Draper, Dua Azhar (she/her) is an honors physics student with a biomedical emphasis. During her undergraduate years here at the U, she says, “I intend to tie my education and research together towards an MD/PhD, in order to specialize in neurology.” Along with the sciences, she love the arts, especially film and photography. “So if you don’t see me in the lab, you’ll most likely see me making something with a camera!”

Opening remarks at the event were made by Associate Dean Annie Fukushima, followed by Provost Mitzi Montoya and VP Research Erin Rothwell. They were followed by the presentation of Undergraduate Research Scholarship recipients which included the 2023 – 2024 recipients of the Francis Family Fund Scholarships, Dee Scholarship, and Parent Fund Scholarship.

The Monson Essay Prize winner, Pablo Cruz-Ayala, was then acknowledged followed by the 18 OUR & Research Mentor Awards by college.

At the ceremony event, award recipients were able to thank their mentors, family and others for their support.

More information and criteria for both awards can be found on the OUR’s website Watch video of OUR awards 2024 program below:

2024 Convocation Student Speaker: Dua Azhar

2024 Convocation Student SPeaker: Dua Azhar

May 2, 2024

Above: Dua Azhar (left) with Swoop (Buteo jamaicensis) dressed appropriately for the lab in PPE.

On May 2 physics graduate Dua Azhar spoke at the College of Science's 2024 convocation ceremony staged at the Huntsman Center. Her complete remarks are below.

Thank you, Dean Bandarian for the introduction. I am honored to speak today before the deans, faculty, family and friends, and of course Class of 2024, congratulations!

We’re all here today because of our love for the sciences. I know I've always been drawn to the mysteries of the natural world, from the universe to the human brain, all the way down to quantum mechanics. That rush of excitement and ideas that comes when reaching towards that you don’t understand keeps me motivated. So, it would make sense that I am here today graduating with a degree in physics. But if you told high school me I’d be doing that, I’d probably burst out laughing.

What I’ve learned these past few years is that there is a caveat to deciphering these mysteries because, as Cillian Murphy’s character says in the film Oppenheimer, “theory will take you only so far.” You see, in quantum mechanics, Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle states that it’s impossible to know all information about a particle. If you think this drives scientists crazy, you’re absolutely right. The past four years for all of us have also been filled with uncertainty, and I don’t know about you, but I also went a bit crazy. Yet, I and all of you are here today to celebrate the chances we took and the perseverance through the uncertainties that have come with this journey.

Dua Azhar gives student speech at 2024 Convocation.

For many of us here today, this is our first proper graduation – the last time we gathered for graduation, it was on Zoom and in parking lots. The global pandemic also didn’t stop after those make-do send-offs. However, we all decided to continue our educational journeys despite that uncertainty. Like many of you, I struggled during that time. Despite the difficulties, it was also beautiful because we came together to help each other push through it all. I know for a fact that I would not have been able to go through that time without the mentorship and support of the faculty, who went out of their way to not only accommodate all of us but also provide individual support, in and outside of classes. For example, while I was uncertain about my studies, it was because of the faculty and the college’s resources that I was able to forge my educational path, combining my interests in neuroscience with physics. I know many of you could share similar stories, because together, we persevered through uncertain times to reach this day.

And we didn’t get here alone. We all have loved ones that have supported us and set us on our paths. In my case, I cannot take credit for any of this without acknowledging the uncertainties my parents faced as immigrants. Exactly 30 years ago, being one of the few Pakistanis in Utah at the time, my father graduated from the U in mechanical engineering. His studies and career path influenced my own, and it was through both of my parent’s sacrifices in adapting to a new country that I am here today.

Watching my parents and the talented individuals around me, I have learned the value of taking chances amidst uncertainty. My parents took a chance for a better opportunity for our family. WE all took the crazy chance to go to college during a pandemic! And I took a chance on the sublime complexity that is physics.

As we leave here today, we’ll be entering anew into a world that is now especially uncertain and scary. But we can come together again to push through it. Some of us graduates might not know where we will go next, but there is a beauty to that uncertainty. It will bring the excitement, the collaboration, and the knowledge needed for us, together, to solve the problems and mysteries that keep us up at night. So sure, theory might only take you so far, but theorize anyway. Then take a chance, because you won’t know until you try.

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Gentrification drives patterns of alpha and beta diversity in cities

Gentrification drives patterns of alpha and beta diversity in cities

April 18, 2024
Photo: Mountain lion in the Wasatch Mountains. Credit: Austin Green.

Over the past two decades, a return of investment and development to once-neglected neighborhoods has meant a significant increase in spending on restoring parks, planting trees and converting power and sewer easements into publicly accessible greenspaces.

That trend — sometimes called “green gentrification” — tended to raise property values, helping to price out many neighborhoods’ original inhabitants. That led to an obvious question: What had those changes done to local animal populations, and what might that say about the changing dynamics of how nature functions in American cities?

This requires a staggeringly complicated analysis, and a new study published earlier this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), a vast and diverse array of data includes nearly 200,000 days of camera trap surveillance, taken over three years across almost 1,000 sites in 23 U.S. cities each with a unique mammal population, pattern of urban development and interaction between the two.

Austin Green, PhD

Some of that data have been accumulated by conservation ecologist Austin Green, a post-doctoral researcher and Human/Wildlife Coexistence stream leader in the acclaimed Science Research Initiative (SRI) at the College of Science. Leveraging the citizen science movement in the intermountain region, Green and his SRI team played a critical role in assembling a cohesive, detailed data-driven narrative of how gentrification  — when lower-income people are forced out from American neighborhoods — the animal populations in the areas they’re leaving behind shift toward local species less typically associated with city environments. In turn, this phenomenon adds to the larger conversation in the U.S. about the reach and complexity of racial inequity.

Green's research is part of a monumental effort to collect and interpret data that have global implications about how humans and wildlife co-exist, especially in this case, as it relates to the continuing gentrification of cities, where more than 58 percent of the world population lives. Informed by Green's work in the SRI program combined with that of many others', scientific breakthroughs, as illustrated in the PNAS study, can directly influence conservation and adaptive management strategies.

Students in this particular stream at the U learn about wildlife ecology and conservation, as well as how to conduct ecological fieldwork, design complex studies of animal behavior and human-wildlife coexistence, curate and format large scale-datasets, and conduct advanced statistical analysis.


You can read the full article by SAUL ELBEIN in The Hill about this fascinating research and its findings published in PNAS here.



Goldwater Scholars 2024

Goldwater Scholars 2024

Two College of Science students awarded the prestigious Goldwater Scholarship for 2024-25

The Barry Goldwater Scholarship is a prestigious award given to undergraduate sophomores and juniors who intend to pursue research careers. Goldwater Scholars often go on to hold distinguished research and leadership positions across many disciplines. For the 2024-2025 academic year, 438 scholarships were awarded to college students across the country. At the University of Utah, two undergraduate students have earned the honor of becoming Goldwater Scholars: Muskan Walia and Nathan Patchen.

Nathen Patchen

“Biochemistry was a great way for me to combine my love of biology and chemistry and understand not only how things work, but why,” says Nathan Patchen about what motivated him to pursue research in that field. Patchen was awarded the Goldwater Scholarship for his work in Yang Liu’s lab, an assistant professor of biochemistry at the Spencer Fox Eccles School of Medicine

Patchen describes his research as broadly being focused on DNA damage repair. He says “[w]e have access to revolutionary gene editing tools that, when used in conjunction with advanced imaging techniques, allow us to explore how cancer cells undergo DNA damage repair as never seen before. Personally, I am doing this by implementing a modified CRISPR-Cas9 that allows us to capture time-resolved images after damage and then produce data about the kinetics of repair.” 

After graduating from the U, Patchen hopes to pursue an MD/PhD to practice medicine while continuing his research on gene editing and aging. Outside of his time in the lab, he enjoys being active through swimming, biking, and running as he trains for an IRONMAN 70.3 in St. George, Utah in May. 


Muskan Walia

“Mathematics is at the cusp of interdisciplinary research” says Muskan Walia. During the College of Science ACCESS Scholars research program, she reflected on her academic interests and goals. She explains, "I wasn’t interested in studying any discipline in a vacuum or in isolation. Rather, I wanted to work on mathematics research that centered justice and informed public policy.”

The majority of Walia’s undergraduate research sprouted from her time in ACCESS where with the help of Fred Adler in the mathematics department at the College of Science, she began to adapt an epidemiological SIR model to predict the number of cells infected with SARS-CoV-2. Since then, she has created other models to further answer her questions about disease. These include a “... model of disease progression within an infected individual, a model of an antigen test, and a model of symptoms to evaluate how testing can be used to limit the spread of infection.”

“Ultimately, I want to lead a team that utilizes mathematical principles to tackle the most pressing social justice related questions of our time.” Walia is one of 57 awardees honored this year who intend to pursue research in mathematics or computer science. Besides innovating mathematical models, Walia enjoys spending time outside bird watching with her mom and gardening with her grandmother.



By Lauren Wigod
Science Writer Intern




2024 College of Science Awards


2024 College of Science AWARDS

The College of Science is committed to recognizing excellence in education, research, and service. Congratulations to all our 2024 College of Science award recipients!


Student Recognition

Research Scholar:
Leo Bloxham, BS Chemistry

Outstanding Undergraduate Student:
Muskan Walia, BS Mathematics

Outstanding Graduate Student:
Santiago Rabade, Geology & Geophysics

Faculty Recognition

Excellence in Research: Zhaoxia Pu, Professor, Department of Atmospheric Sciences

Excellence in Teaching and Mentoring: James Gagnon, Assistant Professor, Biological Sciences

Distinguished Educator:
Diego Fernandez, Research Professor, Geology & Geophysics

Distinguished Service:
Marjorie Chan, Distinguished Professor, Geology & Geophysics

Postdoc Recognition

Outstanding Postdoctoral Researcher:
Rodolfo Probst, Science Research Initiative

Staff Recognition

Staff Excellence Award:
Maddy Montgomery, Sr. Academic Advisor, College of Science

Staff Excellence:
Bryce Nelson, Administrative Manager, Physics & Astronomy

Safety Recognition

Excellence in Safety:
Wil Mace, Research Manager, Geology & Geophysics

Outstanding Undergraduate Research Award

Outstanding Undergraduate Researcher (College of Science):
Dua Azhar, Biological Sciences

Outstanding Undergraduate Researcher (College of Mines & Earth Sciences):
Autumn Hartley, Geology & Geophysics

Outstanding Undergraduate Research Mentor Award

Office for Undergraduate Research Mentor (College of Science):
Sophie Caron, Associate Professor, Biological Sciences

Outstanding Undergraduate Research Mentor (College of Mines & Earth Sciences):
Sarah Lambart, Assistant Professor, Geology & Geophysics

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U Fulbright Scholar Semi-Finalists 2024

Three Science Students selected as Fulbright SEMI-finalists

March 21, 2024

Nine U students selected as Fulbright finalists; three of them call the College of Science home.

The University of Utah is proud to announce that nine students have been selected as semi-finalists for the prestigious Fulbright U.S. Student Program. Three are affiliated with the College of Science in the Fulbright area of Research.

Sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, this nationally competitive program supports academic exchanges between the United States and over 140 countries around the world. Selected program participants pursue graduate study, conduct research, or serve as English Teaching Assistants abroad. See

For 2024-2025, the University of Utah submitted 19 Fulbright applications. Its cohort of semi-finalists represents multiple schools and colleges, including the College of Education, College of Humanities, College of Science, College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, David Eccles School of Business, and the Honors College. The group includes two students who intend to enter graduate programs, three students who proposed research projects, and four students who aim to serve as English Teaching Assistants. Projected countries include Costa Rica, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, South Korea, and Taiwan.

Making it to the semi-finalist round is a significant accomplishment for these students and means that their applications have been forwarded by the Fulbright National Screening Committee to the Fulbright Commission or U.S. Embassy in the host country for final review. Finalists will be notified later this spring, with the timing of notifications varying by country.

Below are the three finalists from the College of Science all in the category of Research.

Marina Gerton (B.S. in Biology and Chemistry, December 2023) aims to undertake a research project at the University of Costa Rica under the mentorship of Mario Espinoza that focuses on the secret life of snappers--insights from fish movements. Gerton got an early start in science. She graduated from West High School in Salt Lake City where she participated in the 2018 University of Utah Science and Engineering Fair with her project "Mucoadhesive HA-based film releasing metronidazole to treat bacterial vaginosis." Her ambition is to pursue a PhD in marine science, specifically focusing on conservation research.

"While I had a slightly different focus when I first started in the lab," she says, "I’m now working on using paper and plant waste products (think recycled paper, yard clippings, agricultural waste, etc.) as, essentially, a food source for this really interesting bacteria Teredinibacter turnerae." Currently working in Eric Schmidt's lab in the Department of Medicinal Chemistry, she says that "one of the most interesting aspects of her research is that the bacteria she works with live in symbiosis with another organism, shipworms, and actually grow within specialized host cells in the shipworms’ gill tissue." It’s especially interesting, she states, as we know this species produces various compounds of medicinal interest, and "we’re still able to see production of those compounds when it’s grown on these waste products."

Gerton loves boxing and swimming, but is quick to say that she loathes running "with a passion." She also claims that watching commercials for Best Friends or the WWF can make her cry. (She avoids them along with pineapple on her pizza.) Finally, what would she do if she had more time outside of academics? One word: bake.

Moses Samuelson-Lynn (HBS in Math, BA in German, Spring 2024) aims to research “A New Set of Efficient Initial Variables for Cluster Algebras of Finite Mutation Type” at the Max Plank Institute for Mathematics in the Sciences in Germany. His main interest is in pure mathematics, especially number theory, analysis, geometric graph theory, geometric group theory and algebraic geometry.

His undergraduate research has led him to multiple presentations at the Joint Mathematics Meetings. His ambition is to earn a PhD in pure mathematics with the goal of becoming a research professor.

Samuelson-Lynn lives in West Valley City and he enjoys playing piano, bicycle riding, chess, origami and programming. In addition to his Fulbright aspirations, he will be joining a research team in Germany over the summer of 2024 directly after graduation. He will be investigating applications of subatomic-scale sensitivity of nitrogen vacancy centers in ultra-pure diamond at GSI Helmholtz in Darmstadt, Germany. He is completing an honors thesis on the classification of surfaces and is a member of the university German club.  UPDATE (4/3/2024): Moses Samuelson-Lynn has been announced as a finalist and will now be participating in the program as Fulbright scholar. Congratulations!


Catherine Warner (HBS, Math'19; Ph.D. in Math, Spring 2025) is a graduate student in the mathematics department where she anticipates earning her PhD in 2025. She aims to undertake a research project titled “Semiduality Groups: An Analog of Duality Groups” at the University of Sannio in Italy.

Werner's path to mathematics wasn’t exactly obvious. "I began undergrad as a biomedical engineering student," she says. "And even before that I mostly played golf throughout my earlier schooling while secretly reading classical philosophy in my free time,"  She quickly realized that engineering wasn’t enough. "I realized that ever since my early reading as a child, I’m used to expecting some deeper structures to reality, some sort of a deeper meaning. I just didn’t know how to find it."

Following the completion of her undergraduate degree, and partly pushed by that curiosity "and partly for lack of anything better to do," she adds, "I signed on for abstract math. I did so with hesitation because it seemed to me to be airy, lacking contact with reality. But the more I pursued geometric group theory, the more I became fascinated. Because I realized something pretty fundamental: One of the ways of finding hidden structures of the world is math — the amazing pursuit of the human mind, attempting to penetrate and order reality by following the structure of the mind itself."  UPDATE (3/21/2024): Catherine Warner has been announced as a finalist and will now be participating in the program as Fulbright scholar. Congratulations!


Fulbright alumni from the United States and around the world have gone on to achieve distinction in government, science, the arts, business, philanthropy, and education. Among the ranks of Fulbright alumni are 62 Nobel Prize recipients, 78 MacArthur Foundation Fellows, 89 Pulitzer Prize winners, and 41 current or former heads of state or government.

Fulbright semi-finalists from the University of Utah were advised throughout the application process by the Office of Nationally Competitive Scholarships (ONCS) housed in the Honors College. ONCS staff members assist outstanding students and alumni in developing competitive applications, preparing for interviews, and securing University endorsements for a variety of prestigious nationally competitive scholarships, including Fulbright.

You can learn about all of the Fulbright semi-finalists at the U here.

The 2025-2026 Fulbright competition will open on April 2, 2024. To learn more, contact Alison Shimko, the University of Utah’s Fulbright Director and the Associate Director of ONCS, at or consult

2024 Wilkes Climate Hackathon

2024 Wilkes Climate HackathoN

On January 26 and 27, the Wilkes Center for Climate Science & Policy held its second annual Climate Solutions Hackathon, with wildland fire as this year’s theme.

The challenge posed to U students of any major was to propose an innovative, data-driven solution in one of five categories: 1) prediction and forecasting; 2) risk mitigation; 3) alert systems and evacuations, 4) community resiliency and rehabilitation, or 5) health hazards.

The hackathon organizers encouraged undergraduate and graduate students to form teams and submit a proposal in a slide deck within 24 hours. During the in-person portion of the event, U faculty from various departments along with local representatives from the US Forest Service engaged the different student teams with feedback and guidance. 

The Wilkes Center also provided a Video Mentoring Space with short, pre-recorded videos of researchers sharing suggested solution pathways.

Ultimately, the Wilkes Center received 17 submissions.  Below are the top three winners.


Team Wildfire Resilience Collective: (from left to right) Elizabeth Williams, Hannah Meier, Tegan Lengyel, Rebecca Senft.

First Place ($3,000)
Wildfire Resilience Collective

Rebecca Senft (Ph.D. graduate student, School of Biological Sciences)
Hannah Meier (Ph.D student, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
Tegan Lengyel (Ph.D. graduate student, School of Biological Sciences)
Elizabeth Williams (Undergraduate, biomedical engineering and pediatric clinical health)

Rebecca Senft was noncommittal about the hackathon until a week before. “Then I was like, yeah, I'm going to do it! I'm going to sit down and actually spend this time with my cohort members, and bond, and learn about this problem, and see what I can throw at the wall that will stick.”

Her teammate, Hannah Meier, said she had already been thinking about resilience a lot. “I lived in California during the big 2020 fires and then moved to Oregon and came here from Oregon. So, I'm very familiar with wildfires.”

Team Fire Nest: (from left to right) Suhaani Shelat, Kalina Manova, Navi Brar and Sarah Choe.

Second Place ($2,000)
Fire Nest

Kalina Manova, (Undergraduate, Biomedical Engineering)
Suhaani Shelat (Undergraduate, Mechanical Engineering)
Navi Brar (Undergraduate, Biochemistry)
Sarah Choe (Undergraduate, Computer Science)

They proposed a fire-safe home development company for communities in the Wildland-Urban Interface and other fire-prone areas. Their idea seeks to address the home insurance crisis where many insurers in wildfire-prone areas like California are pulling back coverage or exiting the state entirely.

 Unfortunately, a lot of the fire prone areas are not really fire resistant, just due to poor planning,” said Kalina Manova. “There aren't really many laws that enforce it. Even after a wildfire has burned through an area.”

 Their idea is to increase awareness about fire-resistant homes and provide a low-cost service system to help communities implement fire-safe housing practices.

“Our development company's goal, at the end of the day, is to help communities become more fire resistant and be able to come back easier economically and wiser from natural disasters like fires,” said Sarah Choe.

Team Fire Smart Educational Program: (from left to right) Xuan Hoang, Gaby Karakcheyeva, Brandon Saavedra, Celine Cardena, (Shreesh Srivastava not pictured)

Third Place ($1,000)
Fire Smart Educational Program

Gaby Karakcheyeva (Undergraduate, Biology)
Celine Cardeña (Undergraduate, Sociology & Gender Studies)
Brandon Saavedra (Undergraduate, Architecture)
Xuan Hoang (Undergraduate, Multidisciplinary Design)
Shreesh Srivastava (Undergraduate, Computer Science)


This team focused on creating a K-12 educational program around wildfire.

 “I got like zero wildfire education growing up,” said Gaby Karakcheyeva. “It would be really nice if we could teach people to not start wildfires and teach people to appreciate nature and all that stuff.”

They proposed a citizen-science model for engaging communities to gather data which could be integrated into Utah’s K12 curriculum. They also envision partnerships with the US Forest Service, which currently provides a wildland fire curriculum content, and the local Unified Fire Authority in Utah.  

 We want to be able to educate our future generation on the risk of wildfires and wildlife management,” said Celine Cardeña.

by Ross Chambless


All the hackathon submissions can be read and explored on the Wilkes Center’s Hackathon webpage.

You can also listen to Ross Chambless’ interviews with the winning teams on the Wilkes Center’s Talking Climate podcast.

Deep in the hack.


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Rhodes Scholar Finalist

Rhodes Scholar Finalist: Eliza Diggins

February 27, 2024 |

The University of Utah is proud to announce that Eliza Diggins, a senior Honors student double-majoring in physics and applied mathematics, was selected as a finalist for the 2024 Rhodes Scholarship.

One of the oldest and most celebrated awards for international study in the world, Rhodes Scholarships provide tuition and living expenses for two or three years of graduate study at the University of Oxford.  Along with “outstanding scholarly achievements,” Rhodes Scholars must demonstrate “character, commitment to others and to the common good, and the potential for leadership in whatever domains their careers may lead.”

Diggins, who hails from Sandy, Utah, is a cross-disciplinary researcher in astrophysics and epidemiology. She is completing an Honors thesis titled “Constraining Modified Gravity Using Galaxy Cluster Dynamics” and has worked throughout her undergraduate career to couple mathematical and computational skills with observational data and statistical method. She plans to carry these skills forward in a graduate program in astrophysics, where she intends to investigate the dynamics of galactic and extra-galactic systems and become a more holistically skilled researcher, capable in both theory and observation.

In addition to excelling in her coursework, Diggins has contributed to research projects and labs run by College of Science faculty, Daniel Wik, associate professor of physics and astronomy; Frederick Adler, professor of mathematics and director of the School of Biological Sciences; as well as Melodie Weller, assistant professor, School of Dentistry. These faculty members celebrated Diggins’ “drive, scientific curiosity and collaborative nature,” “the tremendous energy and enthusiasm” she brings to her academic work, and her “ability to convey mathematically intensive and innovative research.” Along with her selection as a Rhodes Scholarship finalist, Diggins received a nationally competitive Goldwater Scholarship, an Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (UROP) award, a Wilkes Center Scholarship (awarded by the Wilkes Center for Climate Science and Policy in the College of Science) and a Thomas J. Parmley Scholarship for Outstanding Undergraduate Student from the Department of Physics & Astronomy. Finally, Diggins serves as the inaugural chair of the Physics & Astronomy Student Lecture Series and was selected to present her research at the American Society for Virology conference and to members of the Utah state government at Research on Capitol Hill (ROCH).

“Diggins’ research on the gravitational properties of X-Ray emitting intra-cluster medium and Modified Newtonian Dynamics (MOND), galaxy evolution, and plasma dynamics answers important galactic questions and will allow her to contribute to the scientific community in myriad ways, ensuring that she will contribute to the future of scholarship about not only our world, but our universe as well,” says Ginger Smoak, director of the Office of Nationally Competitive Scholarships. Smoak also celebrated Diggins’ community work and how it “aligned with Rhodes Scholarship values, including a commitment to others and to the common good.”

Diggins taught English to low-income immigrant adults through the Adult Education Program at Guadalupe School in Salt Lake City and facilitates a transgender friendship circle for Encircle, a local nonprofit committed to advancing the well-being of LGBTQ+ youth, young adults, and their families. Her community recommenders praised her as one of the “brightest, most authentic, and committed people” they had met and stated that “her dedication transformed lives.”

For Diggins, competing for the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship was “a difficult but illuminating experience.” She felt honored, she explained, “to meet and build relationships with the other Rhodes candidates, each of whom brought unique and interesting perspectives and qualifications.” Overall, she found the experience “instructive in forcing me to think very deeply about various aspects of my life.”

Per the Rhodes Trust, more than 2,500 students began the application process this year; 862 were ultimately endorsed by 249 different colleges and universities; 240 applicants from 90 different colleges and universities reached the finalist stage of the competition. Since 1904, the University of Utah has had 23 Rhodes Scholarship recipients, including Sabah Sial in 2023 (see

Diggins was advised throughout the Rhodes Scholarship application process by the University of Utah’s Office of Nationally Competitive Scholarships (ONCS) housed in the Honors College. ONCS staff members assist outstanding University of Utah students and recent alumni in developing competitive applications, preparing for interviews, and securing University endorsements for a variety of prestigious nationally competitive scholarships.

To learn more, see

This story originally appeared in @TheU

May 20 2024 — The U’s Marriott Library  announced recipients of the 2024 Alison Regan Library Thesis Award. Eliza Diggins was one of three. These students were chosen for their exceptional senior theses in the fields English, of physics and astronomy, and chemistry. Each student received $1,000 in recognition of their outstanding work. Read more about this honor in @ the U.

Nash Ward Receives 2024 PME Speaker Award

Nash Ward Receives 2024 PME Speaker Award

Nash Ward has always wanted to visit all seven continents.  So, in high school when he saw that Professor Ken Golden made trips to Antarctica as part of his research on sea ice, he reached out to see if he could be a part of the team.


Nash’s undergraduate research on sea ice began his first semester as a freshman at the University of Utah.  Under Golden’s mentorship he has been working in mathematical geophysics, looking at the fractal dimension of the sea ice pack, with a primary focus on the brine microstructure.  He also looks at how these brine pathways are formed and what the fractal properties have to do with that.  On a larger scale, he looks at ice floes in the sea ice pack and how that geometry is formed.  The brine microstructure is responsible for a lot of the physical properties of sea ice, including electromagnetic, thermal, and fluid transport properties.  On a larger scale, the orientation of ice floes helps to protect the ice pack from surface waves that would break up the pack.  Understanding these structures is an important component in modeling the role sea ice plays in the bigger picture of climate change.

Nash had the opportunity to present his research at the Joint Mathematics Meetings (JMM) held in San Francisco, CA in January 2024.  There were over 5,500 participants registered, making this the world’s largest mathematics gathering.  Nash received a JMM 2024 Pi Mu Epsilon (PME) Speaker Award for his presentation there.  This award recognizes outstanding student speakers in the PME Paper Sessions.

Nash plans to become a professor one day.  He is excited to continue researching and is also interested in mentoring the next generation of scientists and researchers.  He’ll take the first step toward becoming a professor this fall when he begins a graduate program in Applied Mathematics.

Nash would advise any undergraduate who wants to get involved in research to start by sending emails.  He suggests finding a professor who is doing cool work, reading a few of their papers, and then emailing them to ask about it.  From there, he says, see if you can meet up to talk about what they’ve been working on.

It’s worked for him, and it should work for you!  You might even end up checking something off your bucket list . . . like traveling to the Arctic ice cap.

by Angie Gardiner

Originally appeared at