SPUR 2022 Projects

School of biological sciences | college of science


William Anderegg, Associate Professor

Climate change, especially in the western United States, is predicted to bring more frequent droughts and higher temperatures which threaten our ecologically and economically important forests. The future of western US forests in a rapidly changing climate hinges around how trees can survive climate stress, like drought. The lab studies the effects of climate change on forests, and our research specifically focuses on the physiological health of individual trees affected by drought and fire. Our goal is to determine how forests are responding to climate change, what areas/ species are most at risk, and how they may be able to recover. Our research will help illuminate when and where forests may be resilient or at risk as the climate continues to change, which matters enormously to society in terms of land management, carbon sequestration, ecosystem services like tourism, and our western landscapes.

Learn more »

college of social work


Tiffany Baffour, Associate Professor

In the United States, higher education systems often fail to meet the needs of today’s diverse students and faculty. Students from historically underrepresented groups seeking higher education are more likely to experience poverty as well as housing and food insecurity (Diamond, & Stebleton, 2017;), potentially making opportunities for academic success more challenging. Furthermore, faculty from historically underrepresented groups commonly experience inequalities in work demands. For example, “the growing number of students of color and the continued underrepresentation of nonwhites as tenure-track faculty in higher education means that nonwhite faculty must respond to much greater student demands for mentoring, role modeling and counseling than their white colleagues do -- particularly around issues of race and racism on campuses " (Rucks-Ahidiana, 2019 p. 1). Although racial equity has finally entered the discourse in higher education, there has been little progress in developing and implementing sustainable anti-racist practices nationally that facilitate improved organizational outcomes for faculty and students of color as well as the preparation of all students to successfully interact in diverse workplaces and social settings. Organizational opportunities to facilitate anti-racism in higher education include inclusive curricula, faculty development protocols (hiring, retention, promotion and tenure, funding, pay equity, pedagogical strategies), and equity-minded student development strategies (recruitment, retention, scholarships/funding).

Learn more »

History | College of Humanities
Gender Studies | School for Cultural & Social Transformation


Matthew Basso, Associate Professor

Prompted by recent federal legislation, the National Park Service (NPS), in collaboration with the National Council for Public History, has launched a major effort to revitalize its presentation of the World War II home front story. The NPS selected me as Principal Investigator for this four year project. There are three major components of this project. 1. )Update the NPS World War II home front theme study written in 2000. 2.) Produce home front histories for all 50 states and 5 territories. 3.) Conduct a reconnaissance of properties on the current NHL property list and produce one or more National Historic Landmark nominations for World War II home front sites from this list or from newly recognized sites.

This research will be of vital importance to the NPS as they continue their effort to provide the over 275 million annual visitors to NPS sites with a history of the U.S. that reflects the diversity of individual experience and the complexity of our national saga. To put it bluntly, this is a truly remarkable opportunity for students to have their research impact what millions of people learn about U.S. history.

SPUR students will work with Dr. Basso and a team of graduate students on the state and territory home front histories. We will teach any SPUR student selected for our project how to conduct primary and secondary source research in digital archives following best practices in the humanities. SPUR students will read and analyze federal and state documents and historical sources that speak to the culture and society of the WWII era. The selected student will also learn about public history and working for the National Park Service.

Learn more »

Internal Medicine | School of Medicine


Owen Chan, Associate Professor

Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) is the most serious acute complication in insulin-treated diabetes and it remains the limiting factor in maintaining proper glycemic control. The brain, and especially the ventromedial hypothalamus (VMH), plays a crucial role in sensing hypoglycemia and initiating the physiological hormone responses to correct it. However, both recurring exposure to hypoglycemia and longstanding diabetes can impair the mechanisms that normally correct the fall in blood glucose levels. Our laboratory utilizes a combination of neuroscience (microdialysis, microinjection, optogenetics), metabolic (glucose clamps), genetic (targeted knockdown or overexpression), molecular biology (qRT-PCR, westerns, immunohistochemistry), and cell culture techniques to identify the neural mechanisms that are involved in the detection of hypoglycemia and understand how these central sensing mechanisms are impaired by recurring exposure to hypoglycemia and in diabetes.

Learn more »

Pediatrics | School of Medicine


Scott Collingwood, Research Assistant Professor

I have been involved in exposure assessment and specifically, environmental influences on the development of health and disease among families for more than a decade. I have ongoing projects where we utilize a variety of air quality monitoring platforms to assess indoor and outdoor air quality at the dwelling unit(home) level of families. Primary pollutants of interest are Particulate Matter of 2.5 micrometers (PM2.5) and Radon. We’re currently adding ozone sensors to the suite of monitoring capabilities we offer. The end goal of my research activities is to relate environmental influences to health and disease—identifying any protective factors that may be present and certainly increasing our understanding of the contributions that pollutants and exposures have on the development of adverse health outcomes. Specifically, the student will contribute to an air quality evaluation of a Healthy Homes intervention program administered by Salt Lake County. This will involve the coordination of activities to obtain outdoor and indoor air quality measurements for a period of at least two weeks prior to the program’s interventions (aimed at improving the air quality in the home) and a post-intervention assessment. The evaluation will capture PM2.5 measures just outside the home, in the most used room of the home, and the primary participant’s bedroom. At the same time, Radon will be measured in the home per standard assessment protocol. Participants in the program are socioeconomically challenged community members with a health malady that may benefit from an improvement in air quality and other home-derived environmental exposures.

This project is funded by a grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (PIs: Sara Grineski and Tim Collins). In addition to being part of SPUR, it is also part of the HAPPIEST program. Applicants must be University of Utah students who identify in one or more of the following ways (defined by the National Institutes of Health): Blacks or African Americans, Hispanics or Latinxs, American Indians or Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians, and other Pacific Islanders. Two students will be selected to work on this project together.

Learn more »

Psychology | College of Social & Behavioral Science
Gender Studies | School for Cultural & Social Transformation


Lisa Diamond, Professor

Over the past several years I have become interested in understanding the biopsychosocial mechanisms through which stigma and marginalization "get under the skin" to shape the health and well-being of individuals who are socially marginalized because of their sexuality or gender (queer people, asexual people, nonbinary people, trans people, etc). Previous research on these topics has focused on "minority stressors" that face these individuals (everyday discrimination, victimization, family rejection, etc). Yet I have become convinced that the absence of social safety (i.e., the absence of clear unambiguous indicators that you are included, valued, and affirmed in your social world) is just as detrimental as the presence of explicit discrimination. Social safety is a difficult construct to assess, and I have been engaged in a number of different projects attempting to capture and understand how social safety, in the lives of sexually-diverse and gender-diverse individuals, influences their mental and physical health, and how best we can INCREASE social safety for marginalized individuals.

Learn more »

Biochemistry | School of Medicine


Gregory Ducker, Assistant Professor

The transformation of a normal cell into a cancerous one necessitates a profound remodeling of cellular metabolism to support the proliferative phenotype. In perhaps no other tumor type is this change as all-encompassing as in hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), wherein a very metabolically complex hepatocyte must transition its function away from supporting whole-body metabolism and towards tumorigenic growth. Changes in lipid metabolism are well documented in the development of steatohepatitis that precedes HCC, but whether and how altered lipid metabolism directly contributes to HCC remains unknown. In this project we are working in a zebrafish model to study changes in lipid metabolism that occur upon the transition from a normal cell to a cancerous one. Studying lipid metabolism in cancer is difficult and to address the important questions of not just what is different but how and why they are different, new tools and methods are needed. To address this challenge, our lab is developing new analytical methods to quantify not just steady-state levels of lipids, but also integrate isotope tracing to understand lipid metabolic fluxes. This project will utilize state-of-the-art mass spectrometry tools and is ideal for a student with a strong chemical and analytical background with a deep interest in cancer biology.

Learn more »

Chemistry | College of Science


Regina Frey, Professor

Students in introductory STEM courses often have concerns about whether they will be academically successful in large university courses, but many have an additional concern that maybe “people like me don’t belong in this course.” This concern is called belonging uncertainty and is related to the insecurity someone feels because of their identities. While the transition to college is challenging for most students, this challenge may be increased for students from under-resourced or underrepresented groups who may feel alienated by the institution’s cultural norms and therefore experience low or uncertain belonging. These belonging concerns may be especially acute in large, primarily lecture-based, introductory STEM courses, where rigorous coursework is combined with an unfamiliar learning environment in that the course size is larger than with what students are accustomed, and there are limited opportunities for individual interaction with the instructor during class. In our group, we are studying the effect that course-level student belonging has on student performance and retention in the course. We have found at two different institutions, course-level belonging affects student performance in large general chemistry courses. Expanding upon these studies, we are interested in understanding the mechanism of how social belonging affects course performance and retention. One step in determining the mechanism is to explore the characteristics of the course that students use when describing their sense of belonging. Our goal is to help instructors create course environments that support and encourage all students to reach their potential and continue to pursue careers in STEM or healthcare.

Learn more »

School of Biological Sciences | College of Science


James Gagnon, Assistant Professor

Uploaded image

Embryos develop from a pool of equivalent “stem cells” into adults composed of thousands of different cell types organized into tissues and organs. What are the mechanisms that choreograph such a complex process, such that that majority of embryos develop correctly into healthy adults? How do these mechanisms go wrong in diseases? Over the past century, developmental geneticists have carefully studied these mechanisms one gene at a time, to understand their role in this larger process. Our lab is taking a different approach adapted from systems biology. We have developed CRISPR tools for large-scale perturbation of gene regulatory networks in embryos, and combined them with single-cell sequencing methods for sensitive and detailed descriptions of the consequences of each perturbation. Now that we have these tools in hand, we are focused on the network of genes that control mesoderm specification and diversification. Mesoderm is formed early in the embryo, and diversifies during development to generate muscles, skeletal tissue, and organs such as the kidney, ovary and testis in adults. While we can appreciate the importance of mesoderm, we have a poor understanding of the gene regulatory networks that underlie its formation and diversification.

Learn more »

City & Metropolitan Planning | College of Architecture + Planning
Global Change and Sustainability Center


Ivis Garcia Zambrana, Assistant Professor

The objective of this study is to gather data that will aid in building resilience in vulnerable populations against contamination risks posed by flooding. The underlying hypothesis is that even in vulnerable older adult communities exposed to natural disasters and resulting contamination, community-based risk reduction efforts can significantly decrease risk and increase the resilience of such populations especially when factors such as psychosocial vulnerabilities and the built environment are taken into consideration. Specifically, as researchers we are interested in determining:
1) What secondary/modifying psychosocial variables affect the vulnerability of older adults to risk posed by contaminant exposure.
2) Learning how to build resilience in vulnerable communities with older adults.

Learn more »

Gender Studies | School for Cultural & Social Transformation


Claudia Geist, Associate Professor

Uploaded image

There is a growing literature that documents the poor health outcomes faced by gender and sexual minority patients. Some of these negative health outcomes can be attributed to societal problems like minority stress caused by homophobia, transphobia within society overall. However, there is also growing evidence about the negative effect of health care providers' homophobia and transphobia on the health care experiences and access to care for minoritized groups

The proposed study has two aims: 1) To identify the prevalence of inclusive practices in future health care providers (in their pre-professional activities like internships, shadowing, etc.), i.e. use of correct names and pronouns. 2) to assess fundamental views about gender and sexuality held by future health care providers (i.e. how do participate define gender?). Understanding these two important components will help us identify interventions aimed at reducing harmful practices and to create a more inclusive health care environment.

Learn more »

Electrical & Computer Engineering | College of Engineering
Neuroscience Program 


Jacob George, Assistant Professor

"Losing a limb is like losing a family member, except you are reminded of it every day." - Anonymous Amputee

Most of us have experienced the grief of losing a loved one, and we can understand how emotionally devastating loss can be. But, it's difficult to fully capture how much more debilitating it is to be constantly reminded of your loss by chronic pain, physical disability, and nonautonomy. For individuals suffering from paralysis, paresis, or limb-loss, life is chronic struggle with depression and endurance of life-long neuropathic pain. This is in addition to practical difficulties associated with activities of daily living and potential loss of employment. These challenges often result in long-term use of antidepressants and narcotics, as well as high medical costs associated with anxiety and other psychological struggles. Current treatments are costly and ineffective, leaving millions of people waiting for a better medical solution...

At the Utah NeuroRobotics Lab, we are working to turn science fiction into reality. Inspired by Luke Skywalker's Bionic Arm, we have developed state-of-the-art bionic arms that can restore dexterous control and provide a natural sense of touch. At a higher-level, our lab seeks to augment biological neural networks with artificial neural networks and bionic devices to treat neurological disorders and to further our understanding of neural processing. Working at the intersection of artificial intelligence, robotics, and neuroscience, we are developing biologically-inspired artificial intelligence and brain-machine interfaces to restore and/or enhance human function.

Learn more »

Pharmaceutics & Pharmaceutical Chemistry | College of Pharmacy


Shreya Goel, Assistant Professor

Uploaded image

Metastases are responsible for a majority of cancer-related deaths. Inter-tumoral heterogeneity; the fact that every tumor has distinct genetic, epigenetic, and biophysical features, poses a challenge for effective cancer therapy. While genetic and epigenetic variants that influence a tumor’s response to targeted therapy have received great attention, comparatively less is known about the physiological heterogeneities in the metastatic TME. Aberrant blood vessels, hypoxia and dysregulated matrix, influence the delivery and hence, efficacy of administered chemo-, and immuno-therapies. Surprisingly, despite their critical roles in cancer progression, treatment response and resistance, our understanding of the vascular and stromal heterogeneities of metastatic TME remains limited.

The overarching goals of this project are to: (1) systematically catalogue the dynamic changes that occur in the vascular and stromal microenvironment of the metastatic tumors as they grow from single cell to micro- and macro-metastases, and (2) to evaluate how these changes correlate with and impact the delivery and therapeutic efficacy of clinical anti-cancer therapies.

We will evaluate these dynamic evolution of metastatic vascular and stromal niche in the context of experimental models of pulmonary metastases of triple negative breast cancer, with the expectation that findings from these studies will lead to multi-organ, multi-tumor investigations in advanced models of metastatic cancers.

Learn more »

Biomedical informatics | school of medicine


Ramkiran Gouripeddi, Assistant Professor

About 50 – 70% of health and well-being is determined by the environment an individual lives in and their behaviors within these environments. The sum total of all the environmental exposures an individual encounters in their life-time is called the exposome. The exposome includes molecular constituents involved in direct biological pathway alterations as well as mutagenic and epigenetic mechanisms of environmental influences on the phenome. Exposures to different chemicals have been shown to play a role in different conditions including asthma, obesity, as well as other respiratory, cardiovascular, endocrine, and metabolic conditions and cancers. Understanding the effects of these chemical exposures requires representing these molecules in research studies that involve generating and utilizing exposomes. The Center for Exposure Health Informatics Ecosystem (CEEHI) is developing systematic informatics methods for generating and utilizing such exposomes for performing translational research.

Learn more »

Education, Culture & Society | College of Education


José Gutiérrez, Assistant Professor

American Indian boarding schools (IBS) have been in the national spotlight as the U.S. continues to reckon with its history of racism, including forced assimilation through education. The U.S. established and operated dozens of off-reservation boarding schools from the late 1800s through the 20th century. According to Capt. Richard H. Pratt, the founder of the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, the goal of these institutions was simple: “kill the Indian, and save the man.”

Previous research has documented how IBS were designed to assimilate children into white American society. Some of the methods used to achieve this goal include separating children from their families and communities, replacing Indigenous languages, religious conversion, and gendered labor/training (Lomawaima, 2004). Previous studies have focused on the boarding school experience and curriculum, policies, and practices that promoted assimilationist goals. Additionally, recent scholarship is exploring the intergenerational impact of IBS on Indigenous communities today.

However, no research has examined the mathematics curriculum in Indian boarding schools and how it was used to enforce U.S. citizenship and values. The main research question guiding this project is: How did the mathematics curriculum in Indian boarding schools during 1879-1932 promote federal assimilationist goals? This period is significant because it covers the beginning of the boarding school program and the Land Allotment and Assimilation era in United States history.

Learn more »

Communication Sciences & Disorders | College of Health
Neuroscience Program


Skyler Jennings, Associate Professor

Uploaded image

The objective of this research is to understand the temporal processing of the human auditory nerve and brainstem, which forms the neural foundation upon which hearing is mediated and declines in older adults with normal hearing and hearing loss. Despite the use of hearing devices (hearing aids, cochlear implants), adults with hearing loss struggle to communicate in noisy backgrounds. A similar difficulty is often reported by older adults with normal hearing. This communication difficulty contrasts with the ease at which younger adults with normal hearing communicate in similarly noisy environments. Currently, our understanding of temporal processing comes primarily from studies of animal hearing. We expect that improved understanding of human temporal processing will lead to the creation of neural-based diagnostic tests of impaired hearing, and the development of signal processing algorithms in hearing devices that successfully address real-world listening difficulties.

Our approach is innovative because we will provide a multi-angled, data-driven perspective on temporal processing by simultaneously recording cochlear and brainstem potentials, and simulating auditory nerve potentials with a computational auditory model. Further, we will evaluate the effects of auditory reflexes and other feedback systems on auditory temporal processing by measuring the time course of cochlear and brainstem potentials in response to background noise. This innovation is significant because real-time adjustments in temporal processing are expected to facilitate listening in noisy backgrounds and such adjustments may be limited in older adults with normal hearing and hearing loss.

Learn more »

Psychiatry| School of Medicine


Joseph Kim, Assistant Professor

Using strategies to control emotions serves as a critical basis for effective social interactions and decision-making. Most of what we know about emotion regulation (ER) come from studies of young adults. However, we cannot assume what we know about younger adults apply to older adults, as there are differences in how the brain functions as we age. Data suggest that these age-related differences become particularly apparent among individuals with a long history of depression. In order to develop effective interventions for older adults, it is critical to study both the brain and behavioral bases of ER in the context of aging. We will study individuals with no history of depression symptoms, in addition to aging adults with lifetime history of depression that present with a range of current depression symptom severity (from mild to moderate). Because intact executive functioning (EF) is a critical component to successful ER, and because EF is known to decline with aging, we will also investigate EF skills and their brain bases as a variable that could impact ER.

Learn more »

Health, Kinesiology, & Recreation | College of Health


Bradley King, Assistant ProfessorUploaded image

Developmental research is often grounded in the notion that young adults are the model of optimal functioning and children are thus conceptualized as developing systems progressing towards this ideal state. Although this framework has its merits, it can also be considered incomplete, as there are instances in which children outperform young adults, and in the learning of novel motor skills in particular. A central premise of this research is that systematic investigations into the behavioral and neural processes underlying these childhood advantages offer a unique opportunity to increase our understanding of the developing brain.

This research adopts the acquisition of novel movement sequences as a model to investigate the behavioral and neural underpinnings of developmental advantages in motor learning behaviors. Specifically, we combine unique manipulations of motor learning paradigms with brain imaging approaches (i.e., functional magnetic resonance imaging) to answer the question: What is unique about the developing brain that allows children to outperform adults in these specific instances?

In addition to addressing a fundamental research question of high importance, this research will serve as a foundation for future examinations into the neural underpinnings of motor learning-related developmental disorders (e.g., dyspraxia).

Learn more »

Pediatrics | School of Medicine


Anne Kirchhoff, Associate Professor

Uploaded image

Over the past several decades, advancements in the treatment of cancer have led to over 18 million cancer survivors in the United States. While these treatments have greatly extended the life of individuals with cancer, certain cancer therapies can cause heart and lung problems during cancer treatment and lead to chronic conditions that can last throughout a survivor’s life. Particulate matter air pollution (PM2.5) also causes heart and lung morbidity and mortality. Several studies have shown that higher community levels of PM2.5 increases the risk of cancer-related mortality. How PM2.5 air pollution affects the health of cancer survivors and leads to higher morbidity and mortality, however, is unknown. The goal of this research is to determine if exposure to PM2.5 increases the risk of heart and lung health events among cancer survivors, particularly those given treatment regimens with known toxicity.

This project is funded by a grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (PIs: Sara Grineski and Tim Collins). In addition to being part of SPUR, it is also part of the HAPPIEST program. Applicants must be University of Utah students who identify in one or more of the following ways (defined by the National Institutes of Health): Blacks or African Americans, Hispanics or Latinxs, American Indians or Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians, and other Pacific Islanders. Two students will be selected to work on this project together.

Learn more »

Bioengineering | College of Engineering


Jan Kubanek, Assistant Professor

This project uses human brain organoids as a tool to study and treat the neural bases of neurological disorders, and epilepsy in particular. This is a cutting-edge project; the engaged student will be one of the few people in the world who will be working with these brains and record and manipulate their electrophysiological activity. The project is developed to the point where the student can begin to record from the organoids immediately.
Learn more »

Orthopaedics | School of Medicine


Amy Lenz, Research Instructor

In vitro biomechanics experiments are often 1D/2D tests at non-physiologic speeds, which does not recreate in vivo loads, and in silico models rely on soft tissue and joint contact assumptions. This severely limits translation of laboratory findings into clinical practice. Robotic systems can recreate 3D human motion using cadavers to test pathology, surgical interventions, and implant designs under physiologically relevant conditions. The objective of this project is to contribute to the development of a high-speed robotic foot and ankle simulator driven with subject-specific in vivo kinematics, integrated muscle actuators, and ground reaction force feedback. Experiments on ankle fusion procedures will be a test case for future exploration of other surgeries and simulators to inform clinical care.

Learn more »

Psychiatry | School of Medicine


Erin McGlade, Research Associate Professor

Uploaded image

The Diagnostic Neuroimaging Lab is focused on improving understanding of the neurobiology of psychiatric symptoms, including aggression, suicide behaviors, depression, and anxiety. We use magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to examine brain volume and connectivity of neural networks in individuals with and without psychiatric disorders. While our lab has numerous studies that the SPUR student would be exposed to, we would focus their efforts on two primary projects looking at aggression and suicide behavior in adolescents and adults. The rationale for these studies is based on data suggesting that rates of females dying by suicide are increasing over time, especially in female veterans. Prior research has identified numerous risk factors for suicide behavior but limited research has focused on females. We therefore examine suicide behavior in females and focus on specific subtypes of aggression (e.g., verbal, physical) as they relate to different brain regions and self-directed violence. Project 1 is a longitudinal study following youth and adolescent participants between the ages of 9 and 19 whereas Project 2 includes female veteran participants. Both projects include data collection and analysis of brain neuroimaging; aggression; suicide and self-directed violence behaviors; neurocognitive constructs such as attention and memory; physical health; mental health; and demographics. Identifying symptom and neurobiological correlates of suicide behavior in females compared to males will enable us to identify early predictors of self-directed violence and co-morbid psychiatric symptoms to improve both earlier intervention and treatment.

Learn more »

Atmospheric Sciences | College of Mines & Earth Sciences
Global Change and Sustainability Center


Daniel Mendoza, Research Assistant Professor

Uploaded image

The electric bus air quality monitoring platform is a novel mobile platform where electric buses operated by the Utah Transit Authority (UTA) have been outfitted with sensors measuring fine particulate matter (PM2.5), ozone, and nitrogen oxides (NOx). This unique project follows in the footsteps of the TRAX air quality monitoring project and is a collaboration between Salt Lake County, UTA, Utah Division of Air Quality (DAQ), and the University of Utah. The focus of this study is to measure pollution at the residential level and particular attention has been placed on making sure the buses travel on routes servicing the underserved West Side of Salt Lake County. The valuable information will help inform policy and health decisions through a lens of equity and environmental justice.

This project is funded by a grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (PIs: Sara Grineski and Tim Collins). In addition to being part of SPUR, it is also part of the HAPPIEST program. Applicants must be University of Utah students who identify in one or more of the following ways (defined by the National Institutes of Health): Blacks or African Americans, Hispanics or Latinxs, American Indians or Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians, and other Pacific Islanders. Two students will be selected to work on this project together.

Learn more »

School of Computing | College of Engineering


Sameer Patil, Associate Professor

Uploaded image

With the pervasiveness of technology in every facet of life, cybersecurity has emerged as one of the most important societal challenges of recent times. Yet, people find it difficult to manage security and privacy when interacting with technology, creating potential risks for their online safety and well-being. To address this issue, this research will focus on understanding people’s preferences and practices pertaining to cybersecurity-related matters and designing user experiences (UX) that help users manage their security and privacy in a more informed way.

To this end, the research project will involve investigating a topic at the intersection of cybersecurity and Human-Computer Interaction (HCI). The specific research question addressed by the project can be chosen from a diversity of topics that hold real-world practical relevance to our daily lives, including but not limited to: social media, phishing, online misinformation (aka "fake news"), smartphone apps, smart home devices, smart cities, algorithmic transparency, ethical and explainable Artificial Intelligence (AI), ransomware, authentication and passwords, public policy and regulatory compliance, cybersecurity education, etc. The student will choose and shape a research project that appeals to the student within this broad space.

Learn more »

Psychology | College of Social & Behavioral Science
Neuroscience Program


Brennan Payne, Assistant Professor

Uploaded image

Sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL) affects nearly 50% of adults over the age of 60 and has a profoundly negative effect on speech comprehension, leading to increased social isolation, reduced quality of life, and increased risk for the development of dementia in older adulthood. This NIH-funded research project will use combined pupillometry and cognitive event-related brain potentials to characterize the effects of listening effort on comprehension and memory functioning in older adults with and without hearing loss. If successful, this project will lead to the identification of objective and reliable neural markers of comprehension and memory processes impaired by SNHL, leading to better future clinical assessment and the improved design of evidence-based interventions to improve speech comprehension and memory in aging.

Learn more »

nutrition & integrative physiology | college of health


Anandh Babu Pon Velayutham, Associate Professor

The research in Velayutham laboratory is focused on identifying the molecular mechanisms by which blueberry/strawberry-derived microbial metabolites improve endothelial dysfunction during metabolic syndrome (MetS). Human studies support the vascular beneficial effects of berry anthocyanins. Anthocyanins are extensively metabolized by the gut microbiota in humans, suggesting their vascular benefits might be mediated by their microbial metabolites. Velayutham lab showed that: blueberry/strawberry supplementation improves vascular inflammation and dysfunction, and increases the beneficial gut bacteria in diabetic mice; key blueberry metabolites attenuate palmitate-induced endothelial inflammation and vascular dysfunction (Mol Nutr Food Res 2018, Int J Cardiol 2018 & 2019, J Nutr Biochem 2019). Current research in Velayutham lab is focused on (1) determining the mechanisms by which anthocyanins-derived metabolites improve endothelial dysfunction in MetS, (2) determining the role of gut microbiota in mediating the vascular effects of blueberry/strawberry, and (3) determining the impact of circulating metabolites on endothelial dysfunction and identifying the most active metabolite(s). Physiologically relevant models and state of the art techniques will be used to evaluate the mechanistic roles of microbial metabolites of blueberries/strawberries at the cellular level, tissue level and organism level. This study will provide strong scientific rationale for recommending dietary intake of berries to improve vascular health in the US population and worldwide.

Learn more »

School of Biological Sciences | college of Science


Joshua Steffen, Assistant Professor (Lecturer)

Uploaded image

Utah is home to an astonishing diversity of native bee species. Recent estimates suggest that over 900 bee species call Utah home including more than 100 at Red Butte Garden alone. Compared with honey bees, relatively little is known about the vast majority of these native bee species. To support native bees, and the plant species they pollinate, we need to gain a better understanding of their basic biology.

Most research describing the foraging behavior of bee species uses approaches that are quite labor intensive or require specialized expertise. We are developing and testing molecular approaches that allow us to more efficiently categorize the pollen, microbes, and fungi collected and distributed by pollinators. Our research group will be employing a molecular approach called DNA metabarcoding to assay foraging behavior. DNA metabarcoding has the potential to reveal all the species in an environmental sample based upon the DNA sequences that are present in that sample. Over the course of the next year undergraduates working with on this project will test molecular protocols, collect native pollinators in the field, and use bioinformatic tools to provide accurate descriptions of the foraging behavior native pollinators. By gaining a nuanced understanding of foraging behavior we will be able to better inform practices used to support the health and diversity of plants and pollinators in native ecosystems.

Learn more »

Family & Preventative Medicine | School of Medicine


James VanDerslice, Professor

Uploaded image

Exposure to ambient and indoor air pollution, particularly PM2.5, has been associated with multiple adverse birth outcomes including pre-term birth (PTB), defined as birth with a gestational age of less than 37 weeks, (Ghosh,et al., 2021; Stieb et al., 2012) and these effects may depend on the timing of exposure during gestation (Chen et al., 2021). Personal, home and community factors may change the relationship between ambient PM2.5 exposure and the risk of pre-term birth (Lu, et al., 2021; do Nascimento et al., 2022). However, it is difficult to disentangle the household and parental factors from intrinsic genetic factors that affect fetal growth. Further, impacting policy often requires arguments based on cost and the cost of pre-tem birth is significant (Waitzman, Jalali, & Grosse, 2021). While better estimates of the associations of exposure specific risks and timing is critical, so is information on the costs resulting from the adverse health effects caused by exposure to air pollution.
The Specific Aims for this project are:

1. Estimate the association between trimester-specific exposure to PM2.5 and near-road exposures and the risk of PTB in Utah.
2. Estimate the healthcare-related costs associated with the excess number of PTB in Utah.

Daily air quality predictions at a 1km2 resolution will be linked to pregnant women throughout pregnancy and used to assess the relationship between trimester specific exposures and the risk of PTB.

This project is funded by a grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (PIs: Sara Grineski and Tim Collins). In addition to being part of SPUR, it is also part of the HAPPIEST program. Applicants must be University of Utah students who identify in one or more of the following ways (defined by the National Institutes of Health): Blacks or African Americans, Hispanics or Latinxs, American Indians or Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians, and other Pacific Islanders. Two students will be selected to work on this project together.

Learn more »

Materials Science & Engineering | college of Mines & Earth Sciences


Xuming Wang, Research Professor

Uploaded image

Phosphogypsum is a waste product from the phosphate industry. Global phosphogypsum (PG) generation is estimated at 200 Mt/a (Parreira, Kobayashi and Silvestre, 2003; Yang et al., 2009), but only about 15 percent is recycled as building materials, agricultural fertilizers, or soil stabilization amendments (Tayibi, Choura and Lopez, 2009). The United States Environmental Protection Agency has banned most applications of phosphogypsum having a 226Ra concentration of greater than 10 picocurie/gram (0.4 Bq/g). As a result, phosphogypsum which exceeds this limit is stored in large stacks. Central Florida has a large quantity of phosphate deposits, particularly in the Bone Valley region. As a result, there are about 1 billion tons of phosphogypsum stacked in 25 stacks in Florida (22 are in central Florida) and about 30 million new tons are generated each year. The transformation of CO2 into a precipitated mineral carbonate is considered a promising option for carbon capture and storage since the captured CO2 can be stored permanently and industrial wastes can be recycled and converted into value-added carbonate materials. Carbon mineralization as a strategy to both sequester CO2 and liberate energy-relevant minerals represents a significant opportunity to address the growing need for these minerals while concurrently contribution to a reduction in greenhouse gases. This proposal will use phosphogypsum (PG) waste for CO2 mineralization to produce high quality CaCO3 and recover the REE and radionuclides from phosphogypsum (PG).

Learn more »

school of dentistry


Melodie Weller, Assistant Professor

Environmental pathogen exposures have been thought to be triggers in the development of chronic diseases. The Weller Lab studies the role of select environmental pathogens in the development of a chronic autoimmune disease called Sjogren's syndrome. This female-predominant autoimmune disease affects 1-4 million people in the United States and is characterized by decreased saliva and tear production, inflammation in the salivary gland tissues and development of autoantibodies. Low-level, chronic viral exposures in connection with genetic susceptibility factors are thought to be the underlying triggers of this chronic autoimmune disease. Our lab has focused on further characterizing these viral signatures, mechanisms of pathology and identifying routes of exposure in patient populations. Projects in the lab utilize viral-genome sequencing, bioinformatics, immunohistochemistry and cell culture to define the underlying mechanism(s) of autoimmunity. Ultimately, our goal is to understand the mechanism(s) of viral-mediated triggers of Sjogren's syndrome to further develop preventative measures and/or targeted therapeutics.

Learn more »

School of Computing | college of Engineering


Jason Wiese, Assistant Professor

Uploaded image

Integrating smart home technology into hospital patient rooms should make hospitals more efficient, improve patient recovery and rehabilitation, and enhance the experience of being in the space for patients, their visitors, and employees. Yet, research on smart homes cannot achieve this vision: it does not investigate how the technology can support patient recovery, nor does it address the complexity of multiple stakeholders in a space that is both a workplace and a living space. Smart hospitals are beginning to be built, and Human-Computer Interaction research does not offer guidance for how their design can support (1) patient autonomy and recovery, or (2) the complex, interacting workflows of hospital employees from physicians to custodial staff. Hospital administrators and designers need guidance on what value this technology can provide in their hospital. The proposed work leverages the disjoint HCI literature on hospitals and smart homes to chart a research agenda for making smart hospitals useful. This timely work will fill the gap in the literature, providing guidance for developing the next generation of smart hospitals.

We are conducting observations, interviews, and log data analysis in a user-centered process to study how the diverse set of stakeholders at the newly-opened, fully-functioning 75-bed Craig H. Nielsen Rehabilitation hospital interact with the technology that is deployed in the smart hospital rooms. The lights, blinds, TV, speakers, thermostat, and door in these rooms can all be controlled through an iPad screen or by voice commands, similar to smart home technology. Many patients in this context have physical impairments that amplify the value of these technologies.

Learn more »

Mechanical Engineering | college of Engineering


Haohan Zhang, Assistant Professor

Uploaded image

Continuum manipulators are uniquely suited for many tasks beyond the capabilities of traditional rigid link manipulators. They can operate in tight spaces where rigid link manipulators may not fit, and they can navigate around obstacles to reach distant objects. For example, continuum manipulators are able to safely navigate the complex environment of the human body; therefore, they have many applications in the medical field for minimally invasive procedures such as sinus surgery and ACL surgery.

We have previously prototyped a continuum manipulator. It consists of multiple segments and these segments are connected via springs and joints. To actuate the manipulator, i.e., changing its shape to adapt to an object, three cables are used, in a coordinated fashion, to pull the segments to the desired shape. Due to the underactuated nature of this manipulator, controlling its shape turns out to be a complex mathematical problem.

In this project, we propose to solve this problem by learning from how humans perform this task manually. This may help us design control algorithms to automatically perform this task by using electric motors. To this end, a manual control transmission is first needed to be carefully designed and tested. This manual transmission, possibly consists of pulleys, gears, and sensors, will allow a human user to interface with the cables of the soft manipulator. Experiments will then be performed to collect observational data from human subjects performing manipulation tasks, e.g., grasping an object or positioning the endpoint of the manipulator in space. Kinematic, kinetic, physiological, and vision data will be collected and analyzed.

Learn more »