Outstanding Post-Doc

Outstanding Post-Doc

Amir Hosseini has received an Outstanding Post-Doctoral Fellow Award from the College of Science.

Amir received his PhD in Chemistry from Indiana University, where he trained with one of the world’s premier organic electrochemists (Dr. Dennis Peters). He then joined the University of Utah in December 2020, as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the NSF Center of Organic Synthetic Electrochemistry (CSOE) where he is working in Prof. Henry White’s laboratory.

Amir’s research project is focused on the discovering novel electroorganic transformations and using variety of electroanalytical tools to explore the mechanism of the reaction at the molecular level. Recently, he developed a new synthetic strategy for electrooxidation of alcohols that is refer to as electroreductive oxidation. The general idea is to electrochemically generate highly oxidizing radicals by reduction of a sacrificial reagent, i.e., reduction is used to initiate a desired oxidation reaction. Amir has demonstrated that this process is effective for selective oxidation of alcohols to aldehydes and acids.

Amir Hosseini

Amir is greatly passionate about mentoring and education of the next generation of scientists. He participated in the Science Research Initiative (SRI) program during the 2021 spring semester when he mentored undergraduate students.


This mentorship activity included defining research projects, teaching each student the basic knowledge relevant to their research project, and supervising the progress of research projects. Additionally, he has been part of ACCESS program working with other CSOE volunteers to assist students in performing at-home chemistry experiments. Finally, he mentors graduate students, teaching them the fundamentals of electrochemistry and laboratory safety, and advising them on their graduate research.

Equity and inclusion in academic setting is a very important matter for Amir. He is currently serving as the post-doc representative on the DEI committee of the Department of Chemistry. However, his outreach activities are not limited to academia. He volunteers to help new Iranian and Afghan families settling in Salt Lake City. In this role, he assists families who need a translator for taking care of paperwork, enrolling their children in school, and communicating with federal and state officials regarding their urgent needs.

NSF Fellowship

NSF Graduate Research Fellowship

Kaitlin O'Dell awarded a Graduate Research Fellowship from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

“I feel so honored to receive such a prestigious award,” said O’Dell. “I never imagined I would receive the amazing feedback I got while I was applying for the fellowship. The research I plan on doing is groundbreaking work in numerical methods, so to have that recognized is beyond exciting! The fellowship is really going to allow me to focus on my research and hopefully give not only the numerical community—but the science and engineering community—a great way
to model high-dimensional equations.”

O’Dell’s work is primarily focused on the numerical modeling of high-dimensional partial differential equations. She and her team specifically are developing a particle method that will preserve the energy dissipation structure of the physical systems. Once the actual numerical procedure is developed and analyzed for validity, the team hopes to test it on many physical models to gain a better understanding of these higher-order systems. These physical models can range from materials science to fluids, mechanics, and engineering.

Kaitlin O'Dell

“I never imagined I would receive the amazing feedback I got while I was applying for the fellowship. The research I plan on doing is groundbreaking work in numerical methods, so to have that recognized is beyond exciting!"


She excelled at math as a kid, but it wasn’t until she began doing research as an undergrad that she realized how much she enjoys math. “I was able to do research on engineering topics that I was already familiar with and combine them with my two favorite subjects—numerical analysis and ordinary differential equations,” she said. “This really opened my eyes as to what I could be doing in the field of math and the broad range of research I could perform as an applied mathematician.”

O’Dell started out studying engineering at the University of New Mexico (UNM) because of her love for space and science. She enjoyed internships and had the opportunity to work at NASA Ames Research Center. However, she began to find that she was enjoying the math modelling aspect of engineering more than the actual engineering. She decided to switch her major to applied math during her senior year, and she began doing research with Professor Emeritus Deborah Sulsky on beam theory (a way of calculating the load-bearing and deflection characteristics of beams) as part of her honors thesis.

“Dr. Sulsky is an amazing mentor, and she’s very much the reason that I’m now doing a Ph.D. in mathematics.” After O’Dell graduated from UNM in 2020, with honors from the university and honors in mathematics, she decided to apply to the U because of the reputation of the Math Department and the fact that the graduate students seemed happy. “At the time I wasn't sure what I would research, but I found a project that I absolutely fell in love with, and now I couldn’t be happier,” she said. After she obtains her Ph.D., O’Dell would like to stay in academia, but she also envisions working in industry. “I’ll most likely apply to a wide variety of things and choose which I think will be the best fit for me.”

by Michele Swaner, first published @ math.utah.edu


Outstanding Post-Doc

Outstanding Post-Doc

Julie Jung has received an Outstanding Post-Doctoral Fellow Award from the College of Science.

Julie Jung spent much of her time in high school roaming greenhouses working for a wheat lab at the USDA. Since then, she has pivoted her research to ecology, having worked first with owls, songbirds, chipmunks and pollinators within New England's deciduous forests.

Following graduation with honors in Biology from Williams College, Jung found herself on a plane to Panama to do field work at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute as a graduate student in biology. There she spent the next several rainy seasons studying how red-eyed treefrogs escape hatch in response to snake vibrations.

Julie Jung

"I was so excited to have been peed on by a titi monkey while walking to lab."


"I was so excited to have been peed on by a titi monkey while walking to lab," she remembers. During the course of getting her doctorate from Boston University, Jung slowly grew into her role as a behavioral biologist.

As winner of this year's College of Science's "Outstanding Post-Doc Award," Jung has found a scientific home in the Werner Lab still studying the phenomenon of "phenotypic plasticity"—or how the same genotype produces distinct phenotypes depending on environmental conditions—but this time in nematodes.

Jung's NSF-funded research hopes to establish a general model of plasticity across diverse systems. The pivot from field to bench work has been jarring but only partial—as she and her lab members still get out to the Great Salt Lake to collect soil specimens.

Outside of research, Julie Jung loves to climb mountains and practice the salsa dancing skills she picked up in Panama.

by David Pace, first published @ biology.utah.edu


NSF Fellowship

NSF Graduate Research Fellowship

Samantha Linn awarded a Graduate Research Fellowship from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

“Recognition from the NSF feels like a pat on the back from one of your greatest role models,” said Linn. “It means “well done,” but it also means, “keep up the good work.” I am grateful because the fellowship gives me more freedom to focus on research and continue my participation in organizations that I care a lot about, such as the Association for Women in Mathematics, the Prison Mathematics Project, and the Living Room Exchange of Mathematics.”

The fellowship provides three years of support over a five-year fellowship period for individuals working on a graduate degree who have demonstrated potential for significant research achievements in STEM or STEM education.

Linn’s research is focused on understanding randomness in various biological processes. In particular, she has spent time thinking about what is known as the “redundancy principle,” which is about the need of many copies of the same entity (think cells, molecules, or ions, for example) to fulfill a biological function. The redundancy principle states that while these copies may seem energetically wasteful, this redundancy is necessary for certain tasks to occur sufficiently fast. Such a task might be neurotransmitters, which we think of as random searchers, looking for postsynaptic receptors, which we think of as targets.

Samantha Linn

“Recognition from the NSF feels like a pat on the back from one of your greatest role models,” said Linn. “It means “well done,” but it also means, “keep up the good work.”


Linn has been working on characterizing what might be expected from the fastest searcher. “One advantage of my work is that the application doesn’t need to be solely centered on biology,” she said. “In fact, the questions I ask are often relevant to many areas of physics, chemistry, and sociology. There are many more questions to be asked, with specific applications in mind, so I’m sure this work will keep me busy for a while!”

Linn grew up loving math, and she spent a lot of her free time doing sudoku puzzles and other math games. It wasn’t until halfway through college that she became aware of the possibility of pursuing a career in mathematics.

Before moving to Utah for graduate school, she studied biomedical engineering at the University of Minnesota. She had planned to study medicine, but became concerned by the lack of math in her pre-med classes. With the help of mentors, she realized that she would be happier pursuing a Ph.D. in mathematics.

Samantha wasn’t sure where she wanted to go for graduate school—she had flights booked for graduate program visits, but everything was canceled at the last minute with the start of the COVID pandemic in March 2020. After participating in Zoom calls with at least 50 graduate students and faculty at various programs, she decided that the people in Utah were the happiest. She had never been to Salt Lake City until the day she moved here, but  it has worked out well. Linn likes the graduate program, finds it fun, and she’s very happy she made the decision to come to the U. After graduate school, she hopes to continue her research as a postdoc and, ultimately, have a career in academia as a full professor.

by Michele Swaner, first published @ math.utah.edu


Outstanding Undergraduate

Outstanding Undergraduate

Luis Rufino, a senior who will graduate with a degree in physics, has overcome many academic challenges at the U. His efforts were rewarded when he received the College of Science Outstanding Undergraduate Student Award.

“When I first heard the news, I was surprised because I didn’t feel I deserved it, even though I’ve worked hard,” he said. “Maybe I’m suffering from the imposter syndrome, and I’m still questioning my abilities, but winning the award gave me reassurance that I’ve been successful in achieving my goal of improving as a student.” As a freshman at Salt Lake Community College, Rufino didn’t have a promising start. When he transferred to the U, his GPA was low. He was worried that he wouldn’t be able to keep up or survive upper-division physics classes.

Pearl Sandick and Luis Rufino

“The number of research opportunities available in the department is amazing and critical to development as a student or researcher. Even if you decide not to pursue graduate school, you will be a stronger candidate in the job market after completing a physics degree at the U.”


“I knew that I wanted to attend graduate school, which meant that I had to improve in my physics classes and also get some research experience,” he said. “Throughout my academic career at the U, I’ve tried to do my best and still find time for research. A physics degree is already quite challenging and wanting to do research on top of that added another layer of stress and difficulty.” Rufino thinks that one of the most important skills he learned at the U was how to manage school, research, and everything else that life throws at an undergraduate. He’s also learned how to bounce back from failure, especially in research.

His research is focused on exploring new physics to describe dark matter—the particles that gravitationally bind galaxies and clusters of galaxies together. The Standard Model of particle physics is the theory that explains how the most elementary particles interact with each other and combine to form composite objects, like protons and neutrons. Developed over the course of many decades, what we know today as the Standard Model was formulated nearly half a century ago and remains a focus of study for particle physicists. By itself, the Standard Model fails to provide an explanation for many important phenomena, such as the existence of dark matter in the universe.

Theoretical physicists have begun to think of a new group of particles that can potentially describe dark matter. These theoretical particles are called the Supersymmetric Standard Model, which suggests that a “cousin” or partner particle may exist for every fundamental particle in the Standard Model. One of these partner particles has the potential of being the mysterious dark matter particle.

Luis Rufino

But how do we find these partner particles? Whenever two particles interact with each other, they emit light and other particles. The same thing happens when two dark matter particles find each other. The light observed from these dark matter interactions can tell us about the dark matter characteristics. Rufino works on investigating the light originating from possible dark matter interactions from dwarf galaxies. He enjoys the research because it allows him to explore new ideas that have the potential to change much of what we know about physics.

He became interested in physics as a kid by watching pop-science movies, science cartoons, and superhero movies “I’d watch Jimmy Neutron, Dexter’s Laboratory, Spiderman, and Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, with Neil deGrasse Tyson,” Rufino said. “I have to give Neil deGrasse Tyson all the credit for my passion for physics. After the first or second episode, I was convinced physics was what I wanted to study, especially astronomy. Of course, now I’m more passionate about discovering new physics.”

His favorite professors in the department have been Dr. Tugdual LeBohec, Dr. Charlie Jui, and Dr. Pearl Sandick. He enjoys the way Dr. LeBohec incorporates history into a lecture before getting into physics. Dr. Jui empathizes with students in their struggles to master complex concepts. He remembers the late nights, the constant stress, and, sometimes, the nightmares that physics students experience. Dr. Jui’s ability to connect with students made Rufino feel at ease in taking his class.

Dr. Sandick has been the most influential person in Rufino’s life and academic career. “She is a person I strive to become, and I’m very grateful to have her as my research advisor,” he said. “The number of research opportunities that are available in the department is amazing and critical to development as a student or researcher. Even if you decide not to pursue graduate school, you will be a stronger candidate in the job market after completing a physics degree at the U.”

When he isn’t studying, he likes to run, play soccer, rock climb, and hang out with friends. Currently, he’s training for his second marathon.

After five years of endless toil, Rufino plans to take a gap year between graduation and graduate school. He wants to spend more time with the people he cares about and explore hobbies, such as working with leather goods, building mechanical keyboards, and playing video games. After his gap year, he will begin graduate studies at Syracuse University.

by Michele Swaner, first published @ physics.utah.edu


Student Researcher

Student Researcher Award

Elijah Counterman has been rewarded for his excellence in research by winning the College of Science University Student Researchers Award.

“This is a great honor for me and comes with significant recognition for my mentor’s work and the work I’ve been fortunate to do with him,” said Counterman. “I feel extremely grateful to receive such an award!”

Under the guidance of Sean Lawley, Associate Professor in the Department of Mathematics, Counterman has been working on answers to some fundamental questions in the area of pharmacokinetics, the branch of pharmacology concerned with the movement of drugs within the body. Counterman has focused on the following question: if a patient misses a dose of medication, and they realize it the following day, should they take one pill or two to compensate for the missed dose?

Elijah Counterman

“The mathematical models are interesting because of their direct implication to medicine and the health and well-being of a patient,”


“These models use random variables to mimic the unpredictability and forgetfulness of human beings.” said Counterman. The models Counterman used were developed from some of the work of renowned Hungarian mathematician Paul Erdős and others in the 1930s.

“I’m interested in the research because I plan to graduate from the U next spring and attend medical school in the fall of 2023,” said Counterman. “Questions such as these—where math and medicine/biology overlap—are extremely applicable and interesting. I want to make an impact in the math world as a physician researcher. Mathematics seems to be one of the least utilized, yet potentially revolutionary fields, in the developing world of medical research.”

Counterman says he has always enjoyed studying math. He excelled in the subject in middle school, which allowed him to take undergraduate math classes at the U as a sophomore in high school. By the time he graduated from Highland High School in Salt Lake City, he was more than halfway through the coursework needed to obtain a bachelor’s degree in mathematics. “I love math because of its magnificently wide range of applications as well as its ability to answer fundamental questions,” he said.

Counterman has praise for the Math Department, noting that the professors are supportive, approachable, and easy to talk to. He has enjoyed the relatively small class size and the different teaching styles. He is impressed with the department’s research opportunities, teaching excellence, and reputation of the faculty.

Counterman’s entire college experience at the U has occurred during the pandemic. He has found online classes difficult because he thrives on interpersonal and face-to-face instruction.

Outside of math, Counterman makes the time to play violin and guitar. He enjoys running, hiking, skiing, and occasionally writing poetry. He is very involved with his local faith organization and in serving the community through those efforts.

Counterman’s awards from the U and at Highland High School

  • College of Science University Student Researchers Award: spring 2022
  • Calvin Wilcox Memorial Scholarship fall 2022 - spring 2023
  • Dean’s List: fall 2021
  • Mathematics Departmental Scholarship: fall 2021 - spring 2022
  • Dean’s List: spring 2021
  • Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) Program participant: spring 2021
  • Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) Program participant: fall 2020
  • Dean’s List: fall 2020
  • Mathematics Departmental Scholarship: fall 2020 - spring 2021
  • College of Science Freshman Scholarship in Science and Mathematics: fall 2020 - spring 2021
  • Utah Flagship Scholarship: fall 2020 - spring 2024
  • Mathematics Sterling Scholar: spring 2020
  • Valedictorian: spring 2020 Highland High School
  • High School University Program Participant: fall 2017 - spring 2020
  • National Honors Society: fall 2018 - spring 2019
  • Academic All State (Cross Country 2019)

by Michele Swaner, first published @ physics.utah.edu


Goldwater Scholar

Goldwater Scholar

Rock climbing in Southern Utah.

Alison Wang, a junior in chemistry, has been awarded a prestigious Goldwater Scholarship for 2022-23.

Alison enrolled at the U in 2019 and declared chemistry as her major, with her eyes set on going to medical school. However, her honors general chemistry professor, Luisa Whittaker-Brooks, encouraged her to seek a research opportunity in Caroline Saouma’s lab as a first-year-student.

Unfortunately the pandemic delayed Alison's start to lab work until fall of her sophomore year, but she came to love research – so much so that she now is planning to enroll in either an M.D./Ph.D. or Ph.D. program.

Her research is focused on mechanistic studies for the electrocatalytic reduction to CO2 to CO or formate at Mn centers. She was a UROP scholar (twice), and participated in the department of chemistry’s NSF-funded REU program last summer.

Alison Wang

These opportunities helped Alison gain valuable skills in communicating science, which she refined in February at the Utah Conference on Undergraduate Research (UCUR). She secured funding through the Office of Undergraduate Research (OUR) to present a poster at the spring national American Chemical Society (ACS) meeting in San Diego in March, where she won the division of inorganic chemistry’s undergraduate poster award (one of only five!).

The conference also allowed her to explore other areas of chemistry, and has helped her hone in on the field of bioinorganic chemistry for her Ph.D. She clearly is a chemist who is off to a fantastic research career!

Alison is a first-generation Chinese American, having lived all over the US before graduating high school in Utah. In addition to her studies and research, Alison works at the Utah Lions Eye Bank and as a waitress. In her spare time, she enjoys rock climbing, eating at Osteria Amore, and is helping to train a guide dog.

In addition to the Goldwater scholarship Alison has also received the Laya F. Kesner and Leon Watters Memorial Award, and the Undergraduate Research Scholarship from the University of Utah Department of Chemistry.

Sonia Sehgal

Sonia Sehgal


U Biology's Sonja Sehgal accepted a Beckman Scholarship this past spring to add to the trove of awards that were already sitting on her academic “mantle” at home. Collective kudos include a Biology Research Scholars Award, a College of Science Scholarship and a Utah Flagship Scholarship.

The Beckman, however, is a step up from her other awards. It represents an unprecedented opportunity, perhaps found nowhere else, in which an undergraduate researcher can hone her craft at the bench and under extraordinary mentorship. The program is a 15-month, mentored research experience for exceptional undergraduate students in chemical and biological sciences, and Martin Horvath, associate professor in the School of Biological Sciences, will serve as her mentor. (Rory Weeks, undergraduate in the Department of Chemistry is the second U Beckman Scholar for 2020-21.) Each scholar receives a $21,000 research stipend to facilitate nine academic calendar months and two three-month summers of research experience. Recipients from around the nation participate in the prestigious Beckman Symposium each summer with one another. Their research began in June 2020 and will conclude in August 2021.

“I started out as a freshman in the ACCESS,” the biology senior explains, referring to the decades-long program hosted by the College of Science Program for Women in Math and Science. “Through this program, I was able to explore various fields in STEM which really kick-started my interest in pursuing biology! Joining the Horvath Lab further sparked my curiosity and has shown me that science goes beyond the stereotypical image of a “scientist.”

Tracking toward a career in medicine

Sonia Sehgal (undergraduate, Biology Research Scholar, Beckman Research Scholar) and Martin Horvath discuss the structure of MutY

Sonia Sehgal (undergraduate, Biology Research Scholar, Beckman Research Scholar) and Martin Horvath discuss the structure of MutY.

Sehgal is far from stereotypical, as a scientist or as an undergraduate. As a woman she knows that she’s in the minority as she works through her academic career and finally a professional career in STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics). As a complement to her academic career, the Sandy, Utah native has found a job as a University Ambassador. “The ambassadors work closely with the Office of Admissions to share our experience and bring a personal perspective to prospective U of U students,” she says. “When not giving tours or working recruitment events, we can be found having a good time with each other or,” she quips, “practicing walking backwards.”

Though Sehgal finds herself walking backwards while giving tours, she is definitely moving forward in her academic career. “I’m excited to continue doing research and I also plan on attending medical school after graduation. I want to learn about the various mechanisms that can cause diseases to present themselves in different forms across individuals. I want to use this platform to relay these findings with patients and create more representation in the field to strive for a more trusting and effective patient interaction.”

But before medical school, there’s research to be done, a focus in undergraduate education in the SBS that has arguably become the School’s signature.  “In the Horvath lab,” Sehgal explains about her work, MUTYH is a DNA repair enzyme commonly related to diseases like cancer. I am currently finding the role of different biological probes to see how they can affect the activity of this enzyme. Learning more about regulating the activity of MUTYH will allow us to create better drug-targeting systems for cancer in the future.” What most people, even the scientifically-inclined, may not know about the model subject Sehgal is studying is that the MutY enzyme can be found in almost every living organism, yet there is still a lot we don’t know about it.

Hangin' out.

That’s something that inspires rather than discourages Sehgal who will graduate with her BS in 2021. With the help of the Beckman Scholarship, the mentorship of Horvath and the broad view of higher education she gets by being an ambassador, Sehgal finds her future as she tracks toward a career in medicine, promising. And true of all of accomplished undergraduate researchers of Sehgal’s stripe, she is poised for far more awards, and accomplishments.

“The Beckman experience has been going well,” she reports. “Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the first stage has been virtual. I have been working on coding and molecular docking. However, I look forward to getting into the lab next semester and start testing!” Of Sehgal Horvath adds, "Sonia has a gift for finding a simple clear question to address in her science. She will go far. I feel really lucky to have had the chance to work with her these past years."

Asked what her interests and “likes” she doesn’t stray very far from her time in the lab. She likes rock climbing, dogs … and getting positive results for polymerase chain reaction (PCR), a method widely used to rapidly make millions to billions of copies of a specific DNA sample.

It’s the sort of thrill that allows a budding scientist, like Sonia Sehgal, to take a very small sample of DNA and amplify it to a large enough amount to study in detail.

Beckman Abstract

  • "Finding the role of biological probes on MUTYH activity,"(S. Sehgal)
    DNA damage is implicated in many cancers, such as colorectal cancer. One form of this damage occurs when guanine becomes oxidized to form 8-oxoguanine (OG). MUTYH is a base excision repair (BER) enzyme in humans that excises adenine (A) at OG:A lesions in DNA and thus prevents mutations that may arise after rounds of replication. Interestingly, both inhibition and overactivation of MUTYH can contribute to cancer-causing activity. In this project, MUTYH will be studied through computational modeling and an activity assay to find biological probes that can bind to the protein and affect its function. These probes can later be tested in animal models and may serve as the foundation for anticancer drug discovery. In addition, through analyzing the effect of biological probes on this enzyme, the BER pathway and the dual role of MUTYH in preventing and causing cancer can be further understood. Use of these probes to control MUTYH activity and BER overall can aid with creating more efficient drug targeting systems for cancer treatment in the future.



by David Pace



Women in Mathematics

Women in Mathematics

Last spring, the Math Department’s student chapter of the Association for Women in Mathematics (AWM) planned a conference, with speakers, mini courses, breakout sessions, and professional development panels. About 60 participants were expected. Unfortunately, when the pandemic hit in March, everything changed, and the conference was canceled.

Despite the setback, the chapter still moved forward and will host a series of online activities and communications for attendees. In recognition of these remarkable efforts, the chapter was recently selected as the winner of the 2020 AWM Student Chapter Award for Scientific Excellence. Christel Hohenegger, associate professor of mathematics, serves as faculty advisor for the chapter.

"We are very thankful and excited to have won this award and receive national recognition,” said Claire Plunkett, vice president of the chapter for 2020-2021. “This is a national award from the AWM, and we are one of more than a hundred student chapters, so it’s a great honor to be chosen. We feel the award reflects how our chapter's activities have continued to grow and gain momentum over the past several years, and we’re excited to continue to sponsor events and expand our activities.”

For the academic year, the chapter has invited four speakers and all talks will be held on Zoom. Confirmed speakers include Nilima Nigam, professor of mathematics at Simon Fraser University; Kristin Lauter, principal researcher and partner research manager for the Cryptography and Privacy Research group at Microsoft Research; and Christine Berkesch, associate professor of mathematics at the University of Minnesota. The annual conference has been rescheduled for June 2021.

In addition, the chapter will continue to host joint monthly lunch discussions with the SIAM (Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics) student chapter; a professor panel in which faculty research is shared with students; joint LaTeX (a software system for document preparation) workshops held with the SIAM student chapter; a screening of a documentary called Picture aScientist, a discussion co-hosted with other women in STEM groups; and bi-weekly informal social meetings. For more information about the U’s AWM chapter, visit http://www.math.utah.edu/awmchapter/.

 - first published by the Department of Mathematics

Goldwater Winner

Isaac Martin

Isaac Martin awarded prestigious Goldwater Scholarship.

The College of Science is pleased to announce that Isaac Martin, a junior studying mathematics and physics, has been awarded Utah's second Goldwater Scholarship for 2020-21.

During middle school and most of high school, Isaac lived in Dubai with his family, where he attended an online high school, allowing him to focus on science and math classes. When his family moved to Utah the summer before his senior year, he decided to attend Salt Lake Community College (SLCC) instead of finishing high school, taking as many math and physics classes as he could.

“It was incredible because I had never had teachers like that before,” said Isaac. “My professors at SLCC were more than happy to talk with me after class and during office hours. They were the main reason I was able to complete SLCC's catalog of math and physics courses in a year. They were instrumental in my decision to switch out of my pre-declared computer engineering major into a math and physics double major at the U.”

Transition to Math

During Isaac’s first four semesters at the U, he intended to pursue a physics Ph.D. and focused primarily on physics classes; however, after brief stints in two different labs, he realized mathematics is a better fit for his talents and interests.

Last summer, Isaac participated in a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and his work has since resulted in a publication. Isaac has been planning to attend the University of Chicago’s REU math program this summer, but if that doesn’t happen due to COVID-19 concerns, he will continue working on positive characteristic commutative algebra with his U supervisors, Thomas Polstra, a National Science Foundation postdoc, and Professor Karl Schwede.

He is indebted to professors in the Math Department, including Dr. Adam Boocher, previously a postdoc at the U and now assistant professor of mathematics at the University of San Diego; Professor Srikanth Iyengar; Dr. Schwede, Dr. Polstra; and Professor Henryk Hecht. “The thing I appreciate most about my mentors is their willingness to take time out their day to talk to me and offer advice,” said Isaac. “My conversations with them are mathematically insightful, but they also reassure me that I'm worth something as a person and am good enough to pursue a career in math.”

Career Goals

When he’s not doing math, Isaac is most likely either playing piano, rock climbing, running in the foothills, or beating his roommates in Smash Bros Ultimate. “I used to have a huge passion for video game programming and would compete in game jams, which are game development competitions held over 36- or 48-hour time intervals,” said Isaac. “I haven’t been able to do that much in the last few years, but would like to pick it up again as a hobby.”

Isaac hopes to have a career in academia as a pure mathematics researcher. “I'd especially like to study problems in commutative algebra and representation theory with relevance to mathematical physics,” he said. Isaac also remains interested in the world of condensed matter. “There is so much novel mathematics dictating theoretical condensed matter, and I expect many exciting breakthroughs will happen there in the near future.”


The Goldwater Scholarship



As the result of a partnership with the Department of Defense National Defense Education Programs (NDEP), Mrs. Peggy Goldwater Clay, Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation, announced that the Trustees of the Goldwater Board have increased the number of Goldwater scholarships it has awarded for the 2020-2021 academic year to 396 college students from across the United States. “As it is vitally important that the Nation ensures that it has the scientific talent it needs to maintain its global competitiveness and security, we saw partnering with the Goldwater Foundation as a way to help ensure the U.S. is developing this talent,” said Dr. Jagadeesh Pamulapati, Director of the NDEP program, as he explained the partnership. With the 2020 awards, this brings the number of scholarships awarded since 1989 by the Goldwater Foundation to 9047 and a scholarship total to over $71M.

From an estimated pool of over 5,000 college sophomores and juniors, 1343 natural science, engineering and mathematics students were nominated by 461 academic institutions to compete for the 2020 Goldwater scholarships. Of students who reported, 191 of the Scholars are men, 203 are women, and virtually all intend to obtain a Ph.D. as their highest degree objective. Fifty Scholars are mathematics and computer science majors, 287 are majoring in the natural sciences, and 59 are majoring in engineering. Many of the Scholars have published their research in leading journals and have presented their work at professional society conferences.

Goldwater Scholars have impressive academic and research credentials that have garnered the attention of prestigious post-graduate fellowship programs. Goldwater Scholars have been awarded 93 Rhodes Scholarships, 146 Marshall Scholarships, 170 Churchill Scholarships, 109 Hertz Fellowships, and numerous other distinguished awards like the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships.


by Michele Swaner