Pearl Sandick receives Distinguished Service Award.
Pearl Sandick, Associate Professor of Physics and Astronomy and Associate Dean of Faculty Affairs for the College of Science, has received the Linda K. Amos Award for Distinguished Service to Women. The award recognizes Sandick’s contributions to improving the educational and working environment for women at the University of Utah. Amos was the founding chair of the Presidential Commission on the Status of Women, was a professor of nursing, and served for many years as Dean of the College of Nursing and as Associate Vice President for Health Sciences. Throughout her career, Amos was the champion for improving the status and experience of women on campus.
“This is a great honor. I’m privileged to work with amazing students and colleagues who understand the value of a supportive community,” said Sandick. “I am really proud of what we’ve accomplished so far, and I’m excited to start to see the impact of some more recent projects.”
Sandick is a theoretical particle physicist, studying some of the largest and smallest things in the universe, including dark matter, the mysterious stuff that gravitationally binds galaxies and clusters of galaxies together.
Upon her arrival as an assistant professor in 2011, Sandick founded the U’s first affinity group for women in physics and astronomy. For the last two decades, the national percentage of women physicists at the undergraduate level has hovered around 20%. The percentage at more advanced career stages has slowly risen to that level, thanks in part to supportive programming designed to increase retention. The goal of the affinity group within the department is to foster a sense of community and provide opportunities for informal mentoring and the exchange of information, ideas, and resources. The group has also been active in outreach and recruiting. As of fall 2021, the group is now known as PASSAGE, a more inclusive group focused on gender equity in physics and astronomy.
Within the department and in the College of Science, Sandick has improved a number of processes, including writing an effective practices document for faculty hires, based in large part on research related to equitable and inclusive recruitment practices and application review. As Associate Dean, she worked with the College of Science Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee (which she currently chairs) to create college-wide faculty hiring guidelines, which were adopted in 2020. She was also instrumental in several other structural and programmatic initiatives to create a supportive environment in the department, such as the development of a faculty mentoring program and the establishment of “ombuds liaisons” to connect department members with institutional resources.
Through her national service related to diversity and inclusion, Sandick has gained a variety of expertise that she has brought back to the campus community. For example, she has given workshops in the department, the college, and across campus on communication and negotiation, implicit bias, conflict management, and mentorship.
Here are comments from women in the Department of Physics & Astronomy, who have participated with Dr. Sandick in activities sponsored by PASSAGE:
“Being part of PASSAGE has allowed us to connect with others who share similar experiences in the department. It has also helped us connect with people, both within the university community and at other institutions, who have served as role models and mentors.” –Tessa McNamee and Callie Clontz, undergraduates
"PASSAGE became a lifeline during the pandemic and continues to be so. It helps equip members with the tools that they need in various aspects of academia. Professor Sandick makes it her mission to guide us, especially in a time of crisis. I am personally thankful to her and to all of the group members.” –Dr. Ayşegül Tümer, Postdoctoral Research Associate
In addition to her research, Sandick is passionate about teaching, mentoring, and making science accessible and exciting for everyone. She has been recognized for her teaching and mentoring work, with a 2016 University of Utah Early Career Teaching Award and a 2020 University of Utah Distinguished Mentor Award. In 2020, she also was named a U Presidential Scholar. As discussed earlier, women are still widely underrepresented in physics, and Sandick is actively involved in organizations that support recruitment, retention, and advancement of women physicists. She has served on the American Physical Society (APS) Committee on the Status of Women in Physics and as the chair of the National Organizing Committee for the APS Conferences for Undergraduate Women in Physics. She is currently chair of the APS Four Corners Section, which serves approximately 1,800 members from the region.
IF/THEN is designed to activate a culture shift among young girls to open their eyes to STEM careers.
The august statuary of Washington, D.C. will soon include a University of Utah chemistry professor. A 3D-printed statue of Janis Louie will stand with 119 other statues of women in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) in and around the National Mall from March 5-27.
The exhibit places Louie among the largest collection of statues of women ever assembled, according to the Smithsonian Institution, and celebrates the participants in the IF/THEN Ambassador program that is “designed to activate a culture shift among young girls to open their eyes to STEM careers,” according to the initiative’s website.
“I hope visitors feel inspired, encouraged and empowered,” says Louie. “For me, the exhibit is meant to show that STEM isn’t for one type of person, STEM is for everyone!”
Inspiring a Generation
The IF/THEN Ambassador Program is sponsored by Lyda Hill Philanthropies as part of the IF/THEN initiative. The initiative aims to “advance women in STEM by empowering current innovators and inspiring the next generation of pioneers.”
The Ambassadors program is a part of that initiative, and assembled high-profile women in STEM to act as role models for middle school-age girls. Ambassadors received media and communications training and then engaged in outreach work nationally.
After selection in 2019, Louie traveled to a three-day conference with the other Ambassadors. “It was amazing!” she says. “It is the only conference I have ever been to that was 100% female scientists!”
It was a diverse group. “The featured women hail from a variety of fields,” she says, “from protecting wildlife, discovering galaxies and building YouTube’s platform to trying to cure cancer.”
Later, Louie appeared on an episode CBS’ Mission Unstoppable to draw connections between chemistry and the world around us. She also pitched in when another Ambassador’s summer STEM camp needed to go online with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“She asked a variety of the Ambassadors to present to the girls over Zoom, so that the STEM camp could still be impactful,” Louie says. “I was delighted to be one of the presenters!”
Meeting her statue
The process of creating the 120 statues was very different from the traditional sculpture techniques that created the hundreds of other statues in Washington, D.C. At the initial conference, Louie and the other Ambassadors each took a turn being digitally scanned in a booth with 89 cameras and 25 projectors so that the statues could later be 3D printed. (Learn more about the process of creating the exhibit here.)
When completed, the orange statues appeared in Dallas and New York City before the full exhibit was first unveiled in Dallas, Texas in May 2021. Washington, D.C. is the exhibition’s second stop.
Louie and her family traveled to Dallas to see her statue.
“It was surreal, in the best way!” she says, of meeting her doppelgänger. “My children were able to see not only myself but a field of orange statues of women pioneers—and I was thanked by someone visiting the exhibit for making a difference.”
Meet the other Ambassadors featured in the exhibit here.
Photos courtesy of the IF/THEN® Collection
January 17, 2022
Getting ready for a field expedition is always an adventure. After packing, COVID testing, homework, buying supplies, planning travel, and coordinating a study, we are very ready to be on our way. Read More >
January 24, 2022
Our first day in the field we went to “El Garrapatero.” Meaning “Tick Eater,” both the site and its namesake, which happens to be a beach, are named after a common bird called an Ani. Read More >
January 31, 2022
Philornis downsi is well known because its larvae are harmful to bird nestlings. The larvae suck blood, hence the “vampire” part of their name. Read More >
February 7, 2022
Lions, Iguanas, and Birds
People and wildlife share the space, which means you have to be careful not to step on an iguana or sit too close to a sea lion! Read More >
February 14, 2022
Readers should note that biologists, grad students, and intrigued 13-year-olds may stop frequently to observe things. Read More >
February 21, 2022
If it’s true that a picture paints a thousand words, you will have several thousand to read today! Read More >
February 28, 2022
We’re beginning to look inside the nests with a camera, taking notes on the contents of each. Read More >
March 7 2022
It’s a Small World
Every day, walking around town, to the beach, the station, or on our patio outside, our group constantly points out ants, carpenter bees, geckos, millipedes, katydids and grasshoppers. Read More >
March 14, 2022
We woke up early to get ready, and catch a bus to the dock on the other side of the island. The drive went through the highlands, where it was beginning to rain. Read More >
March 14, 2022
Old Town Quito
The city, full of people, is so different from Puerto Ayora. The streets are packed with shops and each big hill is covered in bright colorful buildings. Read More >
Of Mice and Monarchs
Monarch butterflies possess a potent chemical armor. As caterpillars, they eat plants filled with toxic cardenolides that build up in their bodies and make them unpalatable to most—but not all—predators. In central Mexico, where the largest winter monarch aggregations occur, scientists observed that rodents attack monarchs that fall to the ground. In particular, the black-eared mouse (Peromyscus melanotis) specializes in these bitter-tasting insects, eating as many as 40 per night.
In a new study, University of Utah biologists found that mice at California monarch overwintering sites can also consume monarch butterflies. Working at one of the largest monarch aggregations outside of Mexico, Pismo State Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove, the researchers discovered that the western harvest mouse (Reithrodontomys megalotis) also ate the grounded monarchs. However, with the precipitous decline in western monarch populations, this butterfly buffet may be in jeopardy.
The authors do not think that rodents are contributing to the western monarch decline, nor that the monarchs are the only thing that mice can eat. Rather, documenting this new feeding behavior is a reminder of how little we know about the interactions that may be lost as insect populations decline.
“We are in an insect apocalypse right now. There are estimates that 40% of studied invertebrate species are threatened and that over 70% of flying insect biomass is already gone. This is devastating on its own and is also going to have enormous impacts on the other organisms that feed on insects,” said Sara Weinstein, the postdoctoral researcher who led the study.
“Western monarchs and other western butterflies need conservation attention and part of that awareness-raising is illuminating the many ways these animals are interconnected to other insects, birds, mammals, as well as our human communities. This study helps us appreciate more deeply how fewer butterflies means less food for other native animals” said Emma Pelton, senior conservation biologist at the Xerces Society.
The study published in the journal Ecology on Dec. 12, 2021.
To study mouse-monarch interactions, the researchers first trapped rodents in the grove in February 2020. The rodents were released, but their feces were kept to screen for monarch DNA—which they found in one sample. This first survey occurred in late winter as monarchs were leaving the aggregation and few remained for mice to munch. Weinstein and colleagues intended to return the following fall during peak monarch season. However, after years of decline, the western monarch population crashed.
“At a site where 100,000 butterflies used to roost, in 2020 there where were fewer than 200 monarchs. So, we had to change tactics,” Weinstein said. “We tested whether rodents would feed on the butterflies using captive-reared monarchs.”
Weinstein set up lab-reared monarch carcasses under camera traps and captured footage of wild harvest mice eating butterflies. She also caught a half dozen mice and offered them monarchs. The mice ate monarchs, typically favoring the abdomen or thorax, high-calorie parts with fewer toxins.
“Many rodent species are likely to have some resistance to cardenolides in monarchs, due to genetic changes at the site where these toxins bind,” said Weinstein. “The Pismo Grove is one of hundreds of western monarch aggregation sites, and it seems likely that, at least in the past, rodents throughout the western monarch range may have supplemented their winter diets with monarchs. If you can handle the cardenolides in a monarch, their bodies are full of fat and offer a pretty good meal.”
This meal will be a lot harder to find, as over 90% of western monarchs have disappeared in the last 40 years. The missing beauties will surely impact the ecosystem that depends on them for food.
Denise Dearing, Distinguished Professor at the U, was senior author of the study. Photos and animations by Sara Weinstein.
Find the study, “Harvest mice (Reithrodontomys megalotis) consume monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus), in the journal Ecology: https://doi.org/10.1002/ecy.3607
The Science of Biological Data
In an age when cross-disciplinary collaboration has become a buzzterm, especially in academia, Fred Adler puts his mathematical models where his mouth is. Multi-disciplinary work—in which academic silos are breached in the search for truth—is the hallmark of what Adler, who has a joint appointment in mathematics and biology, does.
His is the kind of work that will be supported by the new science building recently announced by the College of Science, dedicated to applied and multi-disciplinary work, and where most STEM students at the U will eventually find themselves for a time.
As Director of the Center for Quantitative Biology, Adler and his team have applied their data-driven tool kit to everything from viruses to animal behavior, and from biodiversity to infectious diseases. Who else can claim a lab’s subject models as varied as aphid-tending ants, hantavirus, and the Southern Right Whale off the coast of Argentina?
The Adler group’s approach to research is driven by basic questions about how biology works. To bring together several threads of research, the lab began a study of rhinoviruses, the most common cause of the common cold, and how they routinely and rapidly change. The study uses mathematical models based on known interactions in the immune system and genetic sequences. “We hope to build detailed evolutionary models of this rapidly change set of viruses,” Adler reports.
He and his team are now looking at cancer in humans. There are, of course, hypotheses of how cancer takes over cells in the body and grows. But too many of these hypotheses are based on assumptions that cells behave as they do with complete information and clever plans for the future instead of the confusing world of a real tissue.
“However useful some of these [current] models are,” says Adler, “they are not based on a realistic assumption.” In fact, a prime contribution of the mathematical modeler is “to make sense of things from the perspective of what you’re modeling.” What access to information does the cell or organism have, is a central, guiding question.
Part of how cancer behaviors may be better scientifically “unpacked” is through game theory but expanded over time and space and placed in a context of incomplete information between constituent parts.
Mathematical models, or more accurately, an ensemble of models later aggregated like political polls or weather models to predict the future, may be the answer. “We usually don’t get a simple smoking gun,” says Adler referring to complicated questions in biology, whether developmental, behavioral-ecological, immuno- or micro-biological. “With nine or ten big mathematical models running all the time you have a [more robust] hypothesis,” he says.
“All thinking is done using modeling,” Adler reminds us, “whether it’s through language or, in my case, mathematics.” The strength of the latter is that when mathematical modeling is added to the classical biologist’s models, it is “perfectly explicit about its assumptions. When you do the math right (and we always do), the logic leading from assumptions to conclusions is airtight ‘true.’”
This is important because a mathematical argument can’t be controverted. “If conclusions in biological research are wrong, it’s the assumptions that are wrong,” and the researcher can then pivot on those assumptions.
Modeling of this kind, of course, has proven helpful, most recently, in the study of Sars-CoV-19, the virus that has propelled the world into a pandemic. The coronavirus does not operate in isolation, but with other components through the human immune system.
This kind of work is animated not just by its predictive character using statistics—as in the case of artificial intelligence or machine learning (“We aren’t all cyborgs, yet,” Adler says)—but, it is predictive in a mechanistic sense in that it cares deeply about the more nuanced and open-ended “how,” the foundation of the scientific method.
Adler started out at Harvard as a pure mathematician, but by the time he arrived at Cornell University as a graduate student, he had discovered that he really enjoyed talking and collaborating with biologists. Stanford-based Deborah Gordon, a renowned expert on ants, which as he puts it, “achieve a lot of stuff fairly robustly through simple rules,” was one of them. He also found himself with David Winkler in upstate New York in a bird blind and observing the breeding and offspring-raising behaviors of tree swallows. The complicated models he built based on that research were never published, but Adler was hooked on life sciences.
Whether it’s modeling the lungs of cystic fibrosis patients looking for a transplant, determining that the changesnin Covid-19 are driven not just by mutations in the virus but adaptations of human immune response, or other “bench to bedside” medical science, Fred Adler has found a home in the mechanistic aspects, the “how,” of basic science.
How to synthesize his research over the past thirty years is the next big question. For now he will continue with modeling biological systems, their signaling networks based on the body’s own network of “trust” between components, and determining how those systems are corrupted… and maybe how to fix them.
The Student Emergency Fund
Earlier this year the College of Science asked our supporters to help science students impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The response was overwhelming.
“Thank you for this generous scholarship. It will not go to waste. With the money I am receiving, I will be able to stay in school and not have to take any semesters off.”
Faculty, staff, alumni, and friends of the college came together to help our students in need, making 283 donations in support of the Student Emergency Fund. So far, the fund has supported 83 students in need with over $108,000 in scholarships, ranging from $200 to $4,000 per student.
“Words cannot begin to express my appreciation to have been chosen as a recipient of your donation. You have no idea how much relief I felt. I am very grateful that I can further pursue my studies.”
Students received help after facing issues like unexpected medical diagnoses and hospitalizations, caring for terminally ill family members, rapidly increasing drug costs for essential medications, and job losses due to the pandemic.
“I am so grateful for this support. I can’t wait to graduate and be able to pay it forward to others in need.”
Theory Meets Intuition
Will Feldman, Assistant Professor of Mathematics, joined the Department of Mathematics in 2020. He studies mathematical models of physics and thinks about the things most of us take for granted, for example, fluid flow, water droplets, and flame propagation. These models are often developed by engineers or physicists using basic assumptions, but the resulting equations can be difficult or impossible to solve exactly.
“I’m interested in proving mathematically rigorous results for these models,” said Feldman. In his research, the results sometimes show the limitations of the modeling assumptions used to derive the equations. Other times, they explain the behavior of all the solutions of the equation without relying on special formulae. “And sometimes, the results are used to justify numerical computations, which are meant to approximate solutions of these equations,” he said.
One particular type of problem Feldman has studied is called “homogenization”—the study of the physical properties of complicated heterogeneous materials. The idea is to “average” or “homogenize” the complicated small-scale inhomogeneities in the material to derive simpler effective equations to describe properties at larger scales. For example, the ideas of homogenization theory can be used to study the shapes of water droplets on surfaces that have microscopic roughness, such as a plant leaf, a piece of glass, or a table top.
“I like to work out these kinds of questions because I get to use both physical intuition and theoretical mathematical tools,” he said.
Feldman wasn’t always interested in mathematics. As an undergraduate, he thought he wanted to study physics or history. He started taking math classes because math was useful in studying advanced physics. “I had a lot of amazing math professors, and I started to like math a lot,” he said. “Eventually, I realized I could maybe study math and also bring in my interest in applications (especially physics). Basically, that’s how I ended up studying partial differential equations.”
Like many undergrads who study math, Feldman was worried he would need a special talent to succeed at math, but he had supportive and encouraging mentors, so he never got too discouraged. “I hope the experience of having good mentors has taught me to be a good mentor, too, and show my students I believe in them and the many interesting possibilities available in a career in or related to mathematics,” he said.
Before joining the U, Feldman received his Ph.D. from UCLA in 2015 and was an L.E. Dickson Instructor at the University of Chicago from 2015-2019. He was also a member at the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS) from 2019-2020. The IAS is one of the world’s leading centers for curiosity-driven basic research, based in Princeton, NJ.
In 2019, Feldman was awarded the John E. and Marva M. Warnock Presidential Endowed Chair for Mathematics by the University of Utah. He will hold the chair for five years and anticipates the funding will provide new and interesting directions for his research. He hopes to have a positive impact by training, mentoring, and supporting a next generation of mathematicians. “It was a great honor to be offered the Warnock Chair,” said Feldman. “I am obviously very proud to receive the award and grateful to the Warnock family and the university.”
As he moves forward in his research, he’s been thinking about problems involving interfaces in heterogeneous media. He’s also been wondering about transport equations and models of grain boundary motion in polycrystalline materials. He’s looking forward to discussions and collaborations with his colleagues in the Math Department, especially in the applied and probability groups.
Feldman and his wife are in the midst of raising two young children. He enjoys the great hiking in Utah and is looking forward to relearning how to ski and maybe starting new outdoor activities, such as climbing and biking. He enjoys cooking and has become obsessed (during the pandemic) with making a great cup of coffee.
Warnock Presidential Endowed Chair
“A Presidential Endowed Chair at the University of Utah is one of the highest honors that we can bestow on a faculty member.” —Dean Peter Trapa
Presidential Endowed Chairs are crucial for the recruitment and retainment of the most accomplished faculty members. Through these philanthropic gifts, the faculty are able to further support their cutting-edge research and explore new areas in their field.
John E. Warnock, BS’61, MS’64, PhD’69, and Marva M. Warnock created a Presidential Endowed Chair for Faculty Development in Mathematics in 2001 through a gift of Adobe Systems stock.
For more information on a establishing a Presidential Endowed Chair, or other named gift opportunities, please contact the development team at 801-581-6958, or visit science.utah.edu/giving.
The Future of Space travel
For humanity to push the boundaries of space exploration, we’re going to need plants to come along for the ride. Not just spinach or potatoes, though—plants can do so much more than just feed us.
“There’s a lot of promise, potential and hope that we can use the tools developed in synthetic biology to solve problems.” says Chemistry Professor Ming Hammond, “not just that you would find in space, but where you have extreme limitation of resources.”
Synthetic biology is a field that engineers biological systems. In this case, the team is looking at plants as potential bio-factories. Every organism naturally produces countless proteins as part of its biological function, so why not engineer a plant to produce, say, a needed medication or a polymer that could be useful in future long-term space exploration missions?
“The benefit is that you can take seeds with you,” Hammond said. “They’re very lightweight. They grow and gain biomass using the CO2 that we breathe out. And if those plants can produce proteins on demand—we know that plants are able to produce anti-viral and anti-cancer antibodies on a large scale.”
Synthetic biology is already established on Earth. But translating that same technology to spaceflight requires different considerations. Hammond and her team encountered many of these constraints when adapting their experiment to operate within the small (10cm by 10cm) CubeSat enclosure.
For spaceflight, the team decided to engineer plants to change color as they produced the target protein, and monitor the progress with a camera. It’s an elegant and innovative solution, based on a previously published method, but adapted for the constraints of a cube in space.
“We had to take something that worked beautifully in the most carefully controlled conditions,” Hammond said, “and get it to work under very harsh and challenging conditions inside the plant cube.”
The plant cube was designed with the forward vision of preparing for plant growth studies on the moon, and is a technology development step towards that goal.
The entire experiment took 10 days and appeared to show successful protein production. The results from the team, including collaborators from NASA Ames and International Space University, were published this year.
It takes a lot of time and effort to put equipment in space, and Hammond appreciates the many hours of work that the team has put in. “We are a small but dedicated group of volunteers,” she said. “People worked nonstop to fix last-minute things that came up before launch. I’m just really proud of the effort everyone’s put in.”
Hammond and her family traveled to the NASA Kennedy Space Center to watch the Dec. 5, 2019 launch of her experiment, which was nestled within a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on a resupply mission to the International Space Station.
“At the launch of my experiment, we had a chance to see Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, the two astronauts that flew the first manned SpaceX flight on May 30, 2020,” she said. “It was an amazing opportunity to share the launch with my son, (6 years old at the time), and other family members. Of all the things I’ve done in science this, for them, is the one that probably inspires the most interest and awe.”
By Paul Gabrielsen
The Frontier of Physics
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 as the Standard Model today was formulated nearly half a century ago and remains a focus of study for particle physicists. But by itself, the Standard Model fails to provide an explanation for many important phenomena, such as the existence of the dark matter in the universe.
Today, physicists and researchers are on the frontier in the search for physics beyond the Standard Model, using connections between theoretical particle physics, cosmology, and astrophysics to help us understand the universe.
Pearl Sandick, Associate Professor of Physics and Astronomy and Associate Dean of Faculty Affairs for the College of Science, is on that frontier. As a theoretical particle physicist, she studies some of the largest and smallest things in the universe, including dark matter, which is the mysterious stuff that gravitationally binds galaxies and clusters of galaxies together.
While regular matter makes up about one-sixth of the total matter in the universe, dark matter makes up five-sixths. There are compelling arguments that dark matter might actually be a new type of elementary particle. Electrons are an example of an elementary particle—they are the most fundamental building blocks of their type and are not composed of other particles. Other examples of elementary particles include quarks, neutrinos, and photons.
In August 2019, Sandick and her colleagues hosted a workshop entitled “The Search for New Physics—Leaving No Stone Unturned,” which brought together dozens of particle physicists, astrophysicists, and cosmologists from around the world to discuss recent advances and big ideas. “It was such a vibrant environment; I think it helped us all broaden our perspectives and learn new things. Though there’s a lot going on in the meantime, we’re already excited about the prospect of hosting a second “No Stone Unturned” workshop in the new Science Building.”
Recently, Sandick has turned her attention to another cosmological phenomenon—black holes—tackling the question of how their existence affects our understanding of dark matter and other physics beyond the Standard Model.
“Some of this new research makes use of the cosmic microwave background (CMB), which is leftover radiation from the Big Bang that we can observe today,” said Sandick.
“CMB measurements can help us understand the structure and composition of the universe, including how much is made of dark matter. The CMB also can provide hints about what other particles or objects existed in the early universe.”
Before the CMB was created, the universe was very hot and very dense. In this environment, the densest places would have collapsed to become black holes. The black holes that formed in this way are called primordial black holes (PBHs), to differentiate them from black holes that form much later when stars reach the end of their lives. Heavy enough PBHs would still be around today and could make up some or all of the dark matter, providing an alternative to the idea that dark matter is a new particle. Lighter PBHs probably are not an explanation for dark matter, but they would have had an important interplay with dark matter and other new particles.
Sandick, along with a U of U postdoctoral associate, Barmak Shams Es Haghi, have been looking into the many impacts of a population of light PBHs in the early universe. Recently, they’ve completed the first precision study of some spinning PBHs in the early universe, finding that current CMB measurements from the Planck satellite (an observatory operated by the European Space Agency) and future measurements with the CMB Stage 4 experiment at the South Pole and in the Chilean desert are sensitive to many important PBH scenarios. The Planck data already point to some more and less likely possibilities, while CMB Stage 4 will be an important step forward in understanding the life and death of small black holes.
In addition to her research, Sandick is passionate about teaching, mentoring, and making science accessible and interesting. She has been recognized for her teaching and mentoring work, with a 2016 University of Utah Early Career Teaching Award and a 2020 University of Utah Distinguished Mentor Award. In 2020, she also was named a U Presidential Scholar. Women are still widely underrepresented in physics, and Sandick is actively involved in organizations that support recruitment, retention, and advancement of women physicists. She has served on the American Physical Society (APS) Committee on the Status of Women in Physics and as the Chair of the National Organizing Committee for the APS Conferences for Undergraduate Women in Physics. She is currently chair of the APS Four Corners Section, which serves approximately 1,800 members from the region. In 2011, she founded a group to support women in the Department of Physics and Astronomy and continues to serve as their faculty advisor.
She earned a Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota in 2008 and was a postdoctoral fellow at Nobel Laureate Steven Weinberg’s group (Weinberg Theory Group) at the University of Texas at Austin before moving to the University of Utah in 2011.