Wilkes Center Climate Prize Winner

Winner of Wilkes Center Climate Prize


Lumen Bioscience is the inaugural winner of the $1.5 million Wilkes Center Climate Prize at the University of Utah. The Seattle-based biotech company beat 77 international teams with their proposal to drastically reduce methane emissions from dairy and beef cattle using a patented mixture of enzyme proteins.

Wilkes Center Director William Anderegg (left) and Lumen Bioscience Chief Scientific Officer Jim Roberts

Lumen Bioscience is the inaugural winner of the $1.5 million Wilkes Center Climate Prize at the University of Utah. The Seattle-based biotech company beat 77 international teams with their proposal to drastically reduce methane emissions from dairy and beef cattle using a patented mixture of enzyme proteins. William Anderegg, director of the U-based Wilkes Center for Climate Science & Policy, made the announcement at a press conference on Sept. 22, 2023, at the Natural History Museum of Utah. The Wilkes Climate Prize at the University of Utah is one of the largest university-affiliated climate prizes in the world and aims to push through potential breakthroughs with a one-time, unrestricted cash award.

Seven years ago, Lumen scientists discovered how to genetically engineer the edible algae spirulina, a problem that had vexed researchers for decades. Based on the discovery, they built a drug discovery and biomanufacturing platform mainly for developing new, orally delivered biogenic drugs against gastrointestinal (GI) targets that cause human disease. Their winning Wilkes Climate Prize at the University of Utah project extends the approach to target the methane-producing microorganisms in the rumen, a specialized compartment of the cow’s GI tract.

“Our award-winning proposal is a testament to the culture at Lumen, which encourages broad and creative thinking by our highly talented scientists,” said Jim Roberts, Lumen Bioscience chief scientific officer. “CEO Brian Finrow and I founded Lumen on the idea that dramatically improving the cost and scalability of manufacturing protein therapeutics would allow us to address global challenges that are out of the reach of conventional biomanufacturing technologies. The recognition of the Wilkes Climate Prize at the University of Utah is a new and powerful example of this.”

Read the full story by Lisa Potter in @TheU about the September 22, 2023 announcement.

Read more about this story at the Salt Lake Tribune.


Climate-Resilient Western Grid

Gird YOUR Grid


The Western Interconnected Grid, commonly known as “the Western Interconnection,” is one of the two major interconnected power grids in North America.

The "Western Interconnection," as it is called, stretches from the northern edge of British Columbia, Canada to the border of Baja, Mexico, and from the California coast to the Rockies, and serves roughly 80 million people over 1.8 million square miles across two Canadian provinces and fourteen western states in the United States.  It is the backbone of one of the largest regional economic engines in the world.

On September 18th it was announced that  through  $5M funding by the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) and $3.75M funding by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), the University of Utah and University of Calgary will establish and co-lead the U.S.-Canada Center on Climate-Resilient Western Interconnected Grid.

Masood Parvania, associate professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Utah’s John and Marcia Price College of Engineering will co-lead the center along with Hamid Zareipour, professor of Electrical and Software Engineering at the University of Calgary’s Schulich School Engineering.

“Our center is being established at a critical time when the region is experiencing more frequent and severe extreme weather disturbances such as wildfires, heatwaves, drought, and flooding, the impacts of which not only pose threats to human health and the environment but also affect the ability of the western interconnection to continue powering the communities,” says Parvania.

At the University of Utah, the center involves co-principal investigators Valerio Pascucci, professor at the Scientific Computing and Imaging Institute and Kahlert School of Computing, William Andregg, director of the Wilkes Center for Climate Science and Policy, and Divya Chandrasekhar, associate professor in the Department of City and Metropolitan Planning in the College of Architecture and Planning, among multiple other partners and faculty.

Read the full story from the John & Marcia Price College of Engineering website.

More about this story from Brian Maffly in @TheU

Finalists vie for historic $1.5M Wilkes Climate Prize

Finalists vie for historic $1.5M Wilkes Climate Prize


A protein-rich bean that evades agricultural emissions? Pepto for cows? Connect the ocean to the power grid? Smart windows on every building? Trees that reduce poverty and save the rainforest?


We need bold thinkers with audacious ideas to help mitigate the impacts of climate change. Often, the most unconventional projects have the hardest time getting funding. At $1.5 million, the Wilkes Center Climate Prizeat the University of Utah is one of the largest university-affiliate climate awards in the world. The Wilkes Center for Climate Science and Policy in the U’s College of Science will administer the prize, funded by a cross-section of Utah-based organizations and industries. A panel of respected climate leaders reviewed 77 international proposals and identified five projects representing the most innovative ideas to address the impacts of climate change. The winner of the historic prize will be announced on Sept. 22, 2023.

“I applaud the inspiring and innovative ideas of all five finalists,” said Peter Trapa, dean of the College of Science. “This out-of-the-box, entrepreneurial thinking is precisely what the Wilkes Center is designed to foster. I am excited for the winning organization to  use the prize funds to advance meaningful solutions to the problems posed by a changing climate.”

Learn more about the Wilkes Climate Prize finalists! Note that all assertions are from presentations made at the Wilkes Climate Summit in May 2023.

Which project would you vote for? Read summaries of all five.

A Stark Message from Maui

A Stark Message From Maui


Earth’s rapidly changing climate is taking an increasingly heavy toll on landscapes around the world in the form of floods, rising sea levels, extreme weather, drought and wildfire.

^William Anderegg. Banner photo top: The Elkhorn Fire charred more than 20,000 acres in central Idaho’s Payette and Nez Perce-Clearwater national forests on July 30, 2023, burning along 10 miles of the Salmon River and destroying two historic ranch compounds. Credit: Brian Maffly

Also at growing risk are the values of the property where these hazards are projected to worsen, according to a new study by University of Utah scholars. The research team, led by biology professor William Anderegg, attempted, for the first time, to quantify the value of U.S. property at risk in forested areas exposed to increased wildfire and tree mortality associated with climate stresses and beetle infestation.

“As a society, we have this tremendous capacity to deal with and minimize, adapt to and mitigate risk,” said Anderegg, who heads the university’s Wilkes Center for Climate Science & Policy. “We have insurance policies, we have seat belts in cars and airbags. All of these are to mitigate the risk of getting in a car accident or having a fire burn down your house. But fundamentally, all these tools to mitigate risk are predicated on knowing what the risks are and capturing how those risks might change.”

Climate change is a “game changer,” according to Anderegg, because it promises to elevate threats, yet we don’t know exactly where, when or by how much.

“This is a really clear case of where we need cutting-edge science and tools to tell us what are the risks and how are they possibly or likely to change this century due to climate change,” said Anderegg, who studies forest ecology. “Climate change is going to drive wildfire and disturbance risks up and is already driving them up. Insurers leaving states like California really underscores that.”

Most recently is the devastating wildfire in Maui where not only property has been destroyed but scores of human lives have perished.


To read the full article by Brian Maffly visit @TheU.

Study Finds and TIME magazine also picked up this story.

Sister Cities Panel

Wilkes Center hosts climate change panel between Sister City leaders

Addressing climate change on the local level with two international leaders was the focus of a recent panel discussion between Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall and Matsumoto Mayor Yoshinao Gaun.

The discussion, hosted at the S.J. Quinney College of Law on July 23 by the Wilkes Center for Climate Science & Policy at the University of Utah and the Salt Lake City Department of Economic Development, was part of a weekend of events celebrating the 65th anniversary of the Sister City relationship between Matsumoto, Japan, and Salt Lake City.

Founded in the 1950s by President Dwight Eisenhower, Sister Cities International was formed with the goal of fostering global peace and stability by creating connections between people in different parts of the world. The conversation between the two mayors is an example of how Sister City relationships can provide opportunities for communities from different parts of the world to support each other in finding solutions to the problems they share.

“Rather than taking on this work of addressing climate change as individual cities, we can work together as Salt Lake City and Matsumoto city,” said Gaun through a translator during the panel.

As Salt Lake City experienced three consecutive days of temperatures over 100 degrees, Mendenhall noted it was a fitting time to discuss the efforts cities were making to address climate change.

“Perhaps there couldn’t be a better day for us to gather here and discuss what great work Salt Lake City is doing and how we can learn more from our Sister City, Matsumoto,” she said. “Because our nation does not have any national climate strategy with specific goals, unlike Japan, which does, our actions at the local level are mighty.”

Read the entire story by Matilyn Mortensen in @TheU.

Listen to National Science Foundation’s recent podcast with Bill Anderegg here.

William Anderegg Receives Blavatnik Award

William Anderegg RECEIVES Blavatnik Award

On July 26, the Blavatnik Family Foundation and the New York Academy of Sciences announced that Dr. William Anderegg is one of three national laureates to receive the 2023 Blavatnik National Awards for Young Scientists. A video announcing Anderegg’s selection for the Blavatnik Award  is available here.

Dr. Anderegg is an associate professor of Biological Sciences at the U and director of the Wilkes Center for Climate Science & Policy. As the 2023 Laureate in Life Sciences, he is being awarded $250,000 for his work on “revealing how trees absorb and release carbon dioxide amidst a changing climate.” This is the largest unrestricted scientific award for America’s most innovative, faculty-ranked scientists and engineers who are under the age of 42.

Anderegg’s recent publications have examined the interaction of plant ecology and climate change, from the scale of cells to forest ecosystems. Specifically, he addresses how drought and climate change affect Earth’s forests and the manifold benefits they bring to society. His work overturns a 50-year foundational theory on how stomata—pores on leaves that facilitate photosynthesis—behave in order to improve carbon gain and minimize water loss, and in turn, how this affects global forests’ response to climate change.

 As a leading voice in the field of climate change, Anderegg’s discoveries are already informing climate solutions, global policies, and public health. He is the first ever winner of the Blavatnik Regional Awards to be awarded the Blavatnik National Award Laureate. 

 “I am thrilled that our important work continues to be recognized,” said Anderegg. “I hope that our contributions to this field of research can help illuminate the future of Earth’s forests and provide urgently-needed tools to tackle climate change and increase resilience in ecosystems and communities in the US and across the globe.”

 The 2023 Blavatnik National Awards received 267 nominations from 134 institutions in 38 U.S. states. Nominees must be faculty-level scientific researchers, 42 years of age or younger. Three independent juries —one each for life sciences, chemistry, and physical sciences and engineering —were composed of some of America’s most distinguished scientists. The juries selected three winning laureates and 28 finalists.  

The Blavatnik National Awards for Young Scientists will celebrated the 2023 laureates and finalists in a ceremony on September 19 at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. (See banner photo above: William Anderegg with Sir Leonard Valentinovich Blavatnik)

In April, Anderegg was one of three 2023 recipients of the National Science Foundation’s prestigious Alan T. Waterman Award for his contributions to ecosystem and climate change science.



An Unexpected Climate Solution

The Wilkes Center Student Innovation Prize

Nicholas Witham is the first-place winner of the Wilkes Center Student Innovation Prize, awarded earlier this month at the University of Utah. The competition invited students to propose creative solutions for tackling the climate crisis, along with presentations that detail their potential impact, benefits, and practicality. Three other prizes, one for second place and two for third place, were also given during the inaugural Wilkes Climate Summit at the University of Utah, May 17-18.

A graduate student at the U, Witham is currently pursuing his Ph.D. in biomedical engineering, as well as running his company Gaia Technologies which makes prosthetic components. For the Wilkes Center Prize, he designed an innovative renewable electric generator that relies on natural fluctuations in the Earth’s temperature. “The type of generator I’ve designed works with thermo-motive artificial muscles,” he says. “That means that they contract when you heat them. Every day the Earth gets hotter and colder which will make them move, and they can pull on a turbine, generating power. The great thing about this is that cooling also generates power, so you can make energy day and night.” This potential for around-the-clock power generation could help to bridge the energy gap that is common with renewable energy sources. 

One of the first places Witham hopes to put his generators is in Southern Utah where the day-to-night temperature change is ideal for this technology 10 months out of the year. And although natural temperature fluctuations may not always be enough to run the generators, Witham believes that they could be used to complement existing renewables such as solar and geothermal energy: “You can use highly efficient geothermal heat pumps to actuate them without needing to have a temperature change caused by the environment. The excess heat that they are wasting, not spinning a turbine, just cooling down before they pump it back into the Earth–we could use that to increase the energy output of our generators tenfold,” he says. 

In fact, installing these generators at pre-existing geothermal plants or solar farms may be the most ideal option to maximize the efficiency and cost of these sites. “I ran the numbers, and I believe that this could be a solution that could cost less than solar, and you can scale it vertically,” explains Witham. “So you could use existing solar infrastructure, place the solar panels on top, and any time you want to reinvest in the site without having to run new electric lines to it, you could just stack them higher.” 

Not only is the generator a potentially powerful form of renewable energy, but it also incorporates carbon capture into its design. “These are polymer textiles. So they’re made out of a plastic called linear low-density polyethylene (LLDPE), which is a type of plastic that can be bio-derived. That means you can use corn husks to make this plastic as an indirect form of carbon capture. Every kilogram of LLDPE sequesters 3 kilograms of carbon.” 

Witham carefully considered the environmental impact of these generators, ensuring that they contribute to carbon sequestering efforts instead of creating more waste: “In the decommissioning of solar panels, for example, you generate quite a lot of e-waste. This system is designed to be recycled and decommissioned in an environmentally safe practice.” 

Witham plans to house the entire generator inside a shipping container, and he estimates that one of these generators could be expected to last over 25 years with very minimal maintenance. Due to their self-contained nature, the impact and effect of these units on the surrounding environment is very minimal. “It’s essentially a big black box that we plan to put in the middle of the desert. I contacted the local EPA office about this to see if there was anything I was missing, and they had no real concerns. Because we’re putting it in a box, any microplastics that might be generated by the textiles shearing or breaking catastrophically would be contained,” he states.

The capacity for incorporating these devices in urban areas, according to Witham, may be limited to apartment buildings or skyscrapers. “I don’t think anybody really wants to use a shipping-container-sized portion of their yard to make power,” he jokes. The weight of these containers also limits their ability to be placed on top of roofs, or buildings, as each unit weighs roughly 18 metric tons. However, there is potential for them to be incorporated underneath buildings. “You can absolutely put it underground if you have a heat pump HVAC system to regulate it, but that would be a bit less efficient.” Though the generators wouldn’t function as well as in the remote desert environment Witham has planned, there is still a possibility for urban incorporation. 

With a purse of $20,000 from the Wilkes Center Prize, Witham is one step closer to getting his design up and running at full scale. His lab already has the capability to mass-produce the necessary artificial muscle technology, so a prototype will soon follow. “The assumption is that we can make a nine-megawatt-hour generator at scale to test it in the field. From there we could make a generator field just like you would see for a solar field. And then with a 2.4-year doubling period – which is typical for renewables in this area – that would mean that by 2050 we would have sequestered and offset a total of 15 million tons of CO2.” Witham’s consideration of sustainability, feasible scaling, and collaboration with other renewables make his design both practical and effective as a climate solution.  

Textile artificial muscle in thermo-mechanical testing set-up. Photo credit: Nick Witham

Clearly, the judges of the Wilkes Center Prize thought so as well. Witham’s design is a unique and impressive fusion of renewable energy with pre-existing biomedical technologies, showcasing that the nature of climate solutions will likely be interdisciplinary. Witham jokes that a sleepless night at work is to thank for his idea to incorporate his biomedical work into a renewable energy source: “I was having a sleep-deprived night in the lab, as you do as a graduate student,” says Nicholas Witham, “and I crunched the numbers because I thought, ‘hey, the Earth heats up!’ I connected all the dots because we use a type of plastic that is a lot more energy efficient and is not typically used for these artificial muscles. And that energy efficiency really allowed this idea to have merit.” 

Witham’s creative application of biomedical engineering shows that the most powerful climate solutions may come from unexpected places and that no branch of knowledge is too isolated to make an impact. His impressive design stands alongside dozens of other projects from creative and dedicated students that rose to meet this innovation challenge. With prizes such as this, the Wilkes Center for Climate Science and Policy is leading the way toward creating a powerful forum for interdisciplinary climate solutions and collaboration, essential for tackling a multifaceted issue like climate change.  


By Julia St. Andre
Intern Science Writer


William Anderegg Receives NSF Waterman Award

William Anderegg and National Science Foundation Dir. Sethuraman Panchanathan at Waterman Award Ceremonies, May 9, 2023. Photo provided by NSF.

William Anderegg RECEIVES Waterman Award

Associate professor of Biology William Anderegg is a 2023 recipient of the National Science Foundation‘s Alan T. Waterman Award. Anderegg, who is also Director of the Wilkes Center for Climate Science & Policy, is one of three awardees each of whom receive a medal and $1 million over five years for research in their chosen field of science. The nation’s highest honor for early-career scientists and engineers, The Waterman Award was presented to all recipients at a ceremony during the National Science Board meeting, held in Washington, D.C., on May 9. The award, established by Congress in 1975, is named for Alan T. Waterman, NSF’s first director.

“Receiving the Waterman Award is incredibly meaningful. It’s an amazing honor and I’m still stunned,” said Anderegg. “It will allow us to take on some really aspirational, creative and high-risk projects that we’ve thought about for a while but can now actually tackle. I’m immensely grateful to the wonderful mentors I’ve had throughout my career who played a huge role in my path as a scientist. I feel lucky to be surrounded by such generous and brilliant scientists, and this award has really made me reflect on how important these people have been and still are in my career.”

This is the second year the National Science Foundation has chosen to honor three researchers with the award, which recognizes outstanding early-career U.S. science or engineering researchers who demonstrate exceptional individual achievements in NSF-supported fields.


Read the full story by Ross Chambless in @TheU.
Listen to the National Science Foundation’s recent podcast with Bill Anderegg here.


Storm Peak

Storm Peak

Storm Peak is a lab and a classroom.

Over forty years ago what would become the premier, high-elevation atmospheric science laboratory in the Western United States opened at Steamboat Springs Ski Resort in Colorado. Storm Peak, as the facility is called, has been “the perfect place, to have your head in the clouds,” says director Gannet Hallar, professor of atmospheric sciences at the U. The laboratory sits in the clouds about 40 percent of the time in the winter. “That allows us to sample clouds and the particles that make clouds at the same time. And from that, the lab has produced about 150 peer-reviewed publications.”

Named after the peak which stands at 10,500 feet above sea level, the 3,500-square-foot lab is not only the perfect place for established researchers but for budding scientists who are studying what changes a cloud, what makes it snow versus what makes it not snow and what makes more versus less ice in the atmosphere, among other questions.

Storm Peak, Colorado

This year twelve students in the new Science Research Initiative at the College of Science will make the five-hour road trip to Steamboat Springs, then take the chairlift to Storm Peak. Funded by the National Science Foundation and operated under a permit from the U.S. Forest Service, the storied lab has an incredible record of long—term atmospheric measurements, “critical,” according to Hallar, to the success of the site and for the broader understanding we need to improve climate predictions.

Hallar has the advantage of operating out of two locations: Storm Peak where regional air quality through long data records is determined over decades of change, as well as the top floor and roof of the Browning Building at the U’s main Salt Lake campus where she studies urban air quality. One week students and faculty collaborators can be seen using a multifilter showdowband radiometer overlooking the Salt Lake Valley and then the next week literally in the clouds witnessing science in the making. Students “can learn concepts in the classroom and then watch that data appear physically in front of their eyes,” says Hallar. “They can see the concept of photochemistry as it appears, how … the concentration of gases change as the sun comes up.”

As pristine as the air is at Storm Peak, just west of the Continental Divide in the northwest corner of the state, it is also typical of rural areas in the U.S. where coal plant emissions can impact atmospheric composition. Two of those plants are upwind of the facility which makes the measurements Hallar and her team collect even more relevant to other rural locations.

William Anderegg

“What’s amazing about this place is that we have shown over the fifteen plus years that we've run undergraduate programs that it's a place of inspiration.” Students learn how important changes in gases are in terms of public health and climate. “I think it's important for our students to come and see us measuring and calibrating carefully. They can see the care and precision taken to measure greenhouse gases.”

Not all greenhouse gases are human-derived. Wildfires in the West have become a new variable in measuring atmospheric composition, involving forest ecologists like William Anderegg, director of the Wilkes Center for Climate Science and Policy at the U. And there are other measurements being done at Storm Peak that might prove surprising. “We've done studies on how tree emissions change when beetle infestation happens,” says Hallar, which impacts air quality as well.

Storm Peak is just one node in the Global Atmospheric Watch Network, a consortium of labs and observation sites that together address atmospheric composition on all scales, from global and regional to local and urban. Hallar and her team work closely with sites on Mt. Washington and Whiteface, in New Hampshire and New York, respectively, as well Mt. Bachelor in Oregon, among others. Recently, the team submitted a proposal to collaborate with Pico del Este, a field site in Puerto Rico.

It will require collaboration on a global scale to address climate change, and aerosol particle research, says Hallar, “is most definitely the critical measurement that [atmospheric scientists] need to make.” In addition to measuring methane–a critical player because of its warming potential–at Storm Peak, “we can see what we call the Keeling Curve. We can see how carbon dioxide increases every year, but has a seasonal cycle, that is associated with how trees and plants uptake carbon dioxide.

Delivery via snowcat.

Meanwhile, students are preparing for their field trip to Storm Peak in March where the ski resort will not only provide transportation up to the facility via lift but ski passes. A staging facility in west Steamboat Springs houses equipment that includes a snow cat, snowmobiles and other equipment. Up top, bunks are limited to nine, so there is a lot of travel up and down the slopes. But it’s worth it for students to get their collective head in the clouds to work with instrumentation critical to measuring clean air and discovering ramifications more broadly in terms of global warming.

by David Pace, photos by Maria Garcia, Ian McCubbin, and Gannet Hallar.

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Thorn Merrill

Skiing at Alta.

Great Salt Lake is at the lowest point in its recorded history.

Without the lake, skiers and riders of the Wasatch have little hope of continuing to enjoy the mountains surrounding Salt Lake City.

In Downstream, professional skier and atmospheric scientist Thorn Merrill, explains that the health of Great Salt Lake and the enjoyment of the Greatest Snow on Earth are inexorably linked.

Thorn Merrill is a graduate student in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Utah. His research focuses on local air pollution issues, namely dust that impacts Wasatch Front in Utah.

Merrill graduated from Bates College with a B.S. in Geology and a minor in Mathematics. Merrill moved to Salt Lake City in 2020.

To learn more about the issues facing the Great Salt Lake, please visit: https://www.fogsl.org


Downstream is a video by Zach Coury, originally published @ YouTube.

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