Outstanding Graduate Student

2022 Outstanding Graduate Student

Daniel Powell named 2022 College of Science Outstanding Graduate Student.

Having completed his B.S in Chemistry here at the U, I was extremely thrilled when Danny joined my research group in the spring of 2016. This was surprising since I was listed as a Materials Chemistry Professor as opposed to an Organic Chemistry Professor (organic synthesis is Danny’s forte). As a young Assistant Professor, I was in desperate need of a student with strong organic synthesis skills that could push the development of solution-processable and high efficient organic electronics to another level and Danny certainly delivered!. With my laboratories in their infancy, Danny displayed both the initiative and drive to push through all the troubleshooting that is required to take a novel idea and turn it into a full-fledged research project without the luxury of senior students to mentor him.

Daniel Powell

Danny displayed both the initiative and drive to push through the troubleshooting that is required to take a novel idea and turn it into a full-fledged research project.


As Danny’s Ph.D. mentor, I have had the opportunity to experience first-hand how he has grown scientifically throughout the challenges of his research projects and his ability to independently solve scientific problems, while staying enthusiastic and engaged. He has repeatedly demonstrated himself to be eager to face and conquer scientific challenges with high ambition and strong work ethics. Danny’s dissertation work displays effectiveness in managing multiple projects with different reaction mechanisms and materials undergoing optical and structural heterogeneities that are often difficult to elucidate. Driving these complex projects to completion illustrates his organizational skills, self-motivation, and independent nature.

Danny was actively engaged with the Lassonde School of Entrepreneurship during his graduate studies. It is quite rare that graduate students will pursue extracurricular activities during their graduate studies given the difficulty and attention it requires, yet Danny not only participated but excelled in this area as well. I have to say that Danny is a very talented scientific communicator and writer!. Often, his papers were ready to be submitted without much addition from my end. He also helped me write ≈85% of a recently funded NSF proposal. I have to admit that I would dearly miss him when he is gone.

Danny recently defended his PhD work and will be joining Blackrock Neurotech (a company housed in Research Park dealing with the development of implantable neurological devices). At Blackrock Neurotech, he will be responsible for seeking both federal and investor funding for the company. I am very sure he will be very successful in his future endeavors.

by Luisa Whittaker-Brooks, Associate Professor, Department of Chemistry


Research Scholar

2022 Research Scholar

Tyler Ball named 2022 Research Scholar by the University of Utah - College of Science.

Tyler Ball is a first-generation college student who grew up in Salt Lake City. She enrolled at the University of Utah in 2018 and participated in the ACCESS Scholars program as a member of the 2018-2019 cohort. Through the ACCESS program, Tyler was introduced to broad topics related to sustainability which cemented her desire to pursue a degree in chemistry. The program also enabled her to get involved with research during the second semester of her freshman year – she joined Dr. Matt Sigman’s lab in January 2019.

Her first research project was a mechanistic study of the oxidative addition of cobalt complexes into benzyl bromides using electroanalytical techniques, which was published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society in October 2019. She was hoping to expand on this project using different substrates, but the COVID-19 pandemic pushed her to start a fully computational project in the spring of 2020. Tyler began a project using Symmetry-Adapted Perturbation Theory to study trends within and between different types of non-covalent interactions. She is currently working toward publishing this effort in the near term. In an effort to expand the breadth of her research experience, Tyler participated in an NSF-funded REU program at the University of Minnesota during the summer of 2021. Working with Professor Ian Tonks, she evaluated cobalt catalysts for the hydroesterification of small molecules.

Tyler Ball

Tyler’s learning is propelled by her passion for sustainability. During her sophomore year, Tyler became involved with our American Chemical Society Student Chapter’s Green Chemistry Committee (GCC).


During the fall of 2020, Tyler applied for the Goldwater Scholarship and earned the award in March 2021. Alongside the prestigious Goldwater Scholarship, Tyler has earned various awards through the Department of Chemistry and the College of Science, including the College of Science Dean’s Scholarship and the Leon Watters Memorial Award.

Tyler’s learning is propelled by her passion for sustainability. During her sophomore year, Tyler became involved with our American Chemical Society Student Chapter’s Green Chemistry Committee (GCC). The GCC helped to introduce Kimberly Clark’s glove recycling program into teaching and research labs in the chemistry department and recently worked with the College of Science to introduce mask recycling into lab spaces. Tyler’s involvement in the GCC has also helped her to focus on outreach efforts – she has organized multiple outreach events this year, with the hope of earning a Green Chemistry Award for the student chapter through the national ACS organization.

Going forward, Tyler will be pursuing her PhD in chemistry at Cornell University. Her emphasis will likely be in green catalysis with an application to polymer synthesis and her studies will be funded by the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program. She is incredibly grateful for all the opportunities the College of Science has afforded her during her undergraduate studies and the supportive community of scientists she has been able to surround herself with.

Outside of the lab, Tyler enjoys hiking and rock climbing. She is always looking for vegan recipes to cook and loves trying new restaurants around SLC.



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.

Savannah Romney

Savannah Romney

Savannah Romney is a double-major in biology and math at the University of Utah.

Savannah participated in the ACCESS Scholars scholarship program for entering first-year students who are dedicated to expanding science education to all sectors of our society, including to women who traditionally have had a harder time breaking “the glass ceiling.” She appears to have shattered that ceiling (so wear your shoes … there’s glass everywhere!)

A Utah native, Savannah commutes to school every day from Draper where she works in the Parkinson lab studying e-coli.

“During my ACCESS year, I have gained confidence in my abilities as a student, leader and scientist,” she says. Savannah talks about how ACCESS connected her with peers who share her passion for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) and learning in general. The ACCESS network now includes “Some of my best friends!” she says.

She reminds young people who are considering a university education that life at the U is “fast paced, so balancing academics with your personal life is so important.”

Her favorite ACCESS social was the Star Party at the U’s observatory atop the physics building where the night sky is brought into high relief for researchers and students alike.

“While transitioning to college can be intimidating,” she says, it is comforting to know you are not alone. ACCESS Scholars connected me with the very best advisors, mentors, and peers/friends I could ever hope for!”

To conclude, she says that “if you’re passionate about STEM and want to enhance your college experience, ACCESS Scholars is for you!”


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