VOL. 9 NO. 3 THE MAGAZINE OF THE UNIVERSITY OF UTAH WINTER 1999-2000
by Alan S. Horowitz, Illustration by Royter/Barrowman
From an upstart university located in the middle of the American desert, the University of Utah has in recent years gained a national, even international, reputation. And this reputation is largely a result of the University's research efforts and accomplishments.
Over its 150 years, the U has added a concentration on research to its teaching mission. One can see the effect on the campus. There are major buildings, such as the Eccles Institute of Human Genetics and the Center for High Performance Computing, that while devoted largely to research, provide novel education and training of graduate and undergraduate students. And in such areas as genetics, artificial organs, and, more controversially, cold fusion, the U has become nationally known.
In 1972 the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching issued a report that classified universities and colleges by the amount of federal government support they receive for academic science, with Research Universities I being the highest classification. The U of U was one of 50 institutions earning this classification, and it remains in the category to this day. In 1998 funding for research at the U of U reached almost $200 million.
Mines And Earth Sciences
Given Utah's long history as a state rich in natural resources, with an economy heavily dependent on exploiting those resources (silver in Park City and Alta, uranium in the Moab area, copper in Salt Lake County), it is no surprise that academic work in mining was an early strength of the U of U, as exemplified in the College of Mining and Earth Sciences.
Perhaps the greatest change in explosives technology in this century was the development of slurry explosives. Used in the mining and construction industries worldwide, they were developed by Melvin A. Cook BA'33 MA'34 (1949-67) of the faculty of the College of Mines and Earth Sciences (and the father of Congressman Merrill Cook BA'69). Slurry explosives have several advantages over previous explosive technology: they can be handled relatively safely in large amounts, are low in cost, and can move immense tonnages of rocks economically. Their development made mining and other industries that are dependent on explosives more cost-effective.
Another notable member of the College of Mines and Earth Sciences was Antoine Gaudin. He was the first to develop froth flotation, a method of min-eral separation that uses small bubbles of air to which the ore minerals attach and rise to the surface of a concentrator filled with an aqueous solution. Waste materials are separated from valuable metals, such as copper. The technology is widely used today.
Among those who helped spread the name of the University nationwide was Robert S. Lewis, who joined the University of Utah in 1913 as department chair in what was then known as the School of Mines and Engineering. He wrote a text in 1933, Elements of Mining Engineering, which, in its several editions, helped train several generations of mining engineers in universities throughout the country.
The University of Utah has a rich tradition in earthquake and crustal research, starting with the founding of its seismograph network in 1907 by James E. Talmage. Talmage was president of the U from 1894 to 1897, and then taught geology from 1897 to 1907. With his colleagues, he pioneered the discovery of the source of the world's largest continental volcanic field, Yellowstone, as a deep mantle hotspot, and provided important insights into seismic activity and earthquake faults in Utah.
The University has not only looked deep within the earth but far into cyberspace. The Department of Computer Science's history is among the most illustrious in its field. One could make a strong argument that the look and feel of today's computers, in particular their use of graphics, were largely a result of the University. Every personal computer carries the imprint of the University's computer science department.
Computer Graphics World magazine listed this as one of the landmark events in computer graphics history: "The University of Utah recruits Dave Evans BA'49 PhD'53 to found the first computer graphics department." Evans created the fertile soil at the University that would so influence the computer industry when he returned to the U in 1966 to join its faculty. When Evans died October 3, 1998, The New York Times wrote: "His best students went on to develop seminal ideas that were instrumental in creating some of the most influential companies in various branches of the com-puter industry."
U of U computer science students who have since become some of the guiding
lights of the computer industry are legion. Nolan Bushnell BS'69 is an
example. He learned about the amusement park business during summer stints
at Lagoon Amusement Park, and studied computer graphics at the U. He combined
these two areas of interest into computer games, then unheard of, creating
Atari, the company that produced Pong, the first popular computer game
in the world.
Tom Stockham, who was on the computer science faculty from 1969 to 1981, is the father of digital recording. His work garnered an Emmy Award from the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, the first Technical Grammy Award from the National Academy of Recording Arts, and the Jack S. Kilby Signal Processing Medal "for pioneering the field of digital audio processing," awarded by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.
One of the seminal figures in computer graphics is John Warnock BS'61 MS'64 PhD'69. As Byte Magazine notes, "Two innovations clearly sparked the desktop publishing revolution: The Mac and John Warnock's Postscript PDL (page-description language). Warnock cut his teeth at Xerox PARC, where he developed graphics imaging standards. In 1982, he and his partner, Charles Geschke, founded Adobe System and developed desktop publishing, graphics, and page design software.
Ronald Resch, who was on the computer science faculty throughout the 1970s, built the first physical structure designed entirely with computer-aided geometric modeling software.
Edwin Catmull BS'69 PhD'74 is today known as a co-founder of Pixar Animation Studios, which created for Disney the first completely computer-generated film, Toy Story. But his place in computer history will probably rest on a computer rendering of his left hand that he modeled in a class at the U of U in 1973. A few years later, this piece of art-cum-technology was used in the film Future World, making history by being the first computer-rendered graphic to appear in a feature film. In 1993 Catmull won a special Oscar, the Scientific and Technical Engineering Award.
Ray Noorda BS'49, founder of Novell, Inc., didn't exactly invent computer networking—the connecting together of separate personal computers so they can work together—but he certainly was the one who promoted the concept within the computer industry when few others were believers.
No discussion of the U of U's computer science department would be complete without mentioning one of the most influential figures in the computer industry, Jim Clark PhD'74. He was a co-founder of Silicon Graphics, a manufacturer of workstations for computer graphics. He later founded, and initially funded, Netscape, which produced the first popular Web browser software used to access the Internet, transforming industry by leading society down the Internet superhighway. More recently, he's been chair of Healtheon Corp., an Internet-based health care information company.
Henri Gouraud PhD'71 developed the Gouraud shading method for polygon smoothing, a simple rendering method that dramatically improved the appearance of objects on a computer screen. Bui Tuong-Phong PhD'75 invented the Phong shading method for capturing highlights in graphical images by modeling specular reflection. Phong's lighting model is still a popular method for creating illumination in computer graphics.
When a computer scientist wants to imagine outer space, he or she can express it as images created on a computer monitor. Physicists, however, fuel the imagination by unraveling the mysteries of real-world outer space. The U of U's Physics Department has enjoyed considerable research success during the past 30 years in cosmic ray physics. During the 1970s, Professors Jack Keuffel, Eugene Loh, George Cassiday, and Pierre Sokolsky developed the atmospheric fluorescence technique for observing cosmic ray tracks in the earth's atmosphere and made the first observation of an extended cosmic ray track in the sky.
In 1991 The Fly's Eye group, under Professors Loh and Sokolsky, discovered a world-record high-energy cosmic ray with an energy of 300 billion-billion-billion electron volts. Such energies were hitherto thought to be extremely unlikely.
Laser physics has been another area of important physics research success. In 1954 Professors Grant Fowles BS'41 and William Bennett discovered what was at the time the second known visible light laser, which used sulfur vapor. Until then, only the Bell Laboratory Helium/Neon laser was known. The U of U group went on to develop metal vapor lasers, as well. Almost 30 years later, in 1983, Professor Fritz Luty and Yi-Hong Yang PhD'84 discovered energy transfer between photo-excited electronic defects and molecular defects in ionic crystals. A result of this research was the development of the first successful vibrational solid state laser. Then in 1996 Professor Valy Z. Vardeny, with Sergey Frolov PhD'96 and Werner Gellermann PhD'81, discovered the first organic polymer laser, opening a whole new class of laser materials.
The U of U Physics Department is ranked among the top 10 in the nation for laser physics. Just this year, Professor Orest Symko, with Research Associate De-Juan Zheng and Research Associate Professor Thierry Klein, patented a miniature thermoacoustic refrigerator that promises considerable energy saving benefits. It uses sound as a source of power.
While minuscule compared to the expanse of outer space, the human body likewise affords a wealth of research opportunities. An area in which Utah excels is bioengineering, which creates man-made devices to replace body parts that don't work as they should. Just as David Evans was the catalyst for interdisciplinary applications in computer science, Willem Kolff served a similar role when he came to the U of U in 1967. The Dutch-born Kolff was already renowned as the "father of artificial organs" for his work in developing kidney dialysis before he came to campus. From his efforts came some of the U's best-known research efforts, including the first practical artificial heart, the Jarvik-7, as well as artificial ears, eyes, kidneys, and limbs. Life magazine in 1991 named him one of the 20th century's most influential Americans. A Kolff student who has enjoyed success in the bioengineering field is robot maker Stephen Jacobsen BS'67 MS'70 PhD'73. He has developed such devices as the renowned Utah Artificial Arm.
The department, which began offering an undergraduate major in 1999, is involved in num-erous pursuits. Jindrich Kopecek, professor of bioengineering, is a polymer specialist working on "magic drugs." These are toxin-carrying drugs that target specific sites, such as where cancer cells are located. The cancer cells consume the drugs, then "explode," releasing their cancer-killing toxin.
Richard A. Normann, also a professor of bioengineering, is trying to create artificial vision via a small video camera that will rest on the side of a pair of eyeglasses and which will be connected to a tiny array of microelectrodes implanted directly in the brain. For the profoundly blind, this approach will bypass the visual system consisting of the eye and optic nerve and, it is hoped, will allow the person to "see" rudimentary visual sensations they otherwise could not.
Faculty in the U of U's Biology Department have made important contributions in a variety of research areas, including better understanding of human biology. In the 1980s, the research group of Mario Capecchi invented a technique for targeting mutation of mammalian genes, using the mouse as a model organism. Gene targeting is now used routinely to create mice with defects in any gene of interest, enabling researchers to study the functional consequences of gene disruption. This technology has led to advancements in understanding the genetic control of development and behavior in mammals. Capecchi joined the U in 1974 and is currently Distinguished Professor of Biology and Human Genetics and a senior investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
The research group of Baldomero (Toto) Olivera has discovered many pharmacologically important molecules in the venoms of marine snails. These extremely potent yet relatively simple compounds have become valuable research tools for neurobiologists and promising therapeutic agents for treating epilepsy and other neurological disorders. Olivera joined the U in 1970 and now holds the rank of Distinguished Professor of Biology.
Theoretical ecologist Eric Charnov (1973-1998) made major contributions that have profoundly influenced current thought in the areas of ecology and evolution. He was one of the inventors of optimal foraging theory, which elucidated the principles and cost-benefit trade-offs that govern an animal's food-seeking behavior. He made equally important contributions to life- history theory, particularly to understanding how organisms invest resources in determining the proportion of males and females among their offspring. He held the position of Distinguished Professor of Biology and received a MacArthur Foundation "genius" award.
The Biology Department's research-doctorate programs in biochemistry and molecular biology and in ecology, evolution, and behavior were recently ranked in the top 15 percent of U.S. institutions. The undergraduate educational program was recently ranked 22 out of 630 nationally.
In 1822 Joseph Fourier invented the theory of Fourier series to study heat transfer, with applications in the study of waves of all kinds. A celebrated theorem of Norbert Wiener, proved in 1938, explains when a Fourier series of one variable has a reciprocal. As part of his study of measure algebras, Joseph L. Taylor ex'64, professor of mathematics, found a far-reaching generalization of this result to systems of functions of many variables. It was a milestone result in harmonic analysis.
Research on the geometry of six-dimensional spaces in the late 1960's showed that 2-dimensional shapes that could be made the same by a continuous motion could not be made the same by an algebraically defined motion, even when the shapes were defined algebraically. In a surprising development in 1983, C. Herbert Clemens showed that the difference between algebraic and continuous motions of algebraic objects depended on infinitely many parameters. This is an example of academic contributions made by the University's math department.
Chemical structures, properties, and reactions captured the imagination of one of the University's most renowned academicians: Professor Henry Eyring (1946-81) of the chemistry department. His development and application of the absolute rate theory for chemical reactions was a seminal research achievement. Whenever possible, chemists like to develop unifying theories that make understanding chemical reactions easier. Eyring's absolute rate theory is an essential foundation to understanding all chemical reactions. His work proved so significant that he won numerous awards for it, including the National Medal of Science. In 1998 he was one of only 75 chemists recognized by the American Chemical Society for truly towering contributions to the development of chemistry in the 20th century.
Calvin Giddings PhD'54 (1957-1996), also of chemistry, developed chromatographic techniques for separating complex mixtures. His techniques, collectively called field flow fractionation, can be applied to almost every separation problem confronting chemists, such as determining the type of pollutants in air and water samples, and identifying proteins in a given sample.
David Grant BS'54 PhD'57 (1958-present) made significant contributions to the field of carbon 13 nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, and through his more recent work in developing the techniques to make NMR spectra of solid samples using magic angle spinning. The chemist's NMR spectroscopy is the physician's MRI diagnostic tool. For the chemist, Grant's work opened new methods of determining the structure of large molecules.
A notable technical discovery, as well as commercial success from a U graduate, is Gore-Tex, an all-weather fabric that seems as common on the backs of skiers during the winter as snow. It was developed by Wilbert (Bill) Gore BS'33 MS'35, a Salt Lake City native.
The Big Picture
Lest one think discoveries at Utah are all about abstract scientific principles written in complex terminology, Salt Lake City native Evelyn Wood BA'29 MA'47 puts that to rest. While a graduate student at the U, she developed what is probably the most famous speed-reading course in the world, which was named after her.
One of the University's notable research successes is usually not considered a research project. It's 300-acre Research Park. The land for the Park was acquired under the aegis of University of Utah President James C. Fletcher as a cooperative arrangement with the state to address the needs of the University's many fields of science. A physicist with a doctorate from the California Institute of Technology, teaching experience at Harvard and Princeton, and several years as an aerospace executive, Fletcher understood the value of research relationships and collaborations between universities and private companies. Expanding research programs and the University's role as a major graduate school in the Intermountain Region helped build Fletcher's case. This coincided with growing awareness of the financial troubles at Utah mines and missile plants, and a need for greater economic diversity. In 1966 an advisory committee to Governor Calvin Rampton JD'39 recommended establishment of a research park associated with the U "to serve the people of Utah by promoting economic growth through attracting new research and development activities."
Today, joint University-industry research projects spawned in campus laboratories are carried out adjacent to the U. With 37 private companies employing 6,000 people, Research Park, according to the Baltimore Sun, "is widely considered one of the nation's most successful [university- related research parks]. And thanks in part to its success, the Salt Lake City-Provo area rates as one of the leading regions in the nation for entrepreneurial growth companies."
The University and Research Park community has included many individual researchers of distinction and established research groups whose work is renowned. With diverse projects carried out University-wide, as the sampling in this article indicates, the research achievements first affirmed by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching just over a quarter century ago underscore the importance of investing in faculty ideas.
—Alan S. Horowitz is a Salt Lake City freelance writer.
Copyright 1999 by The University of Utah Alumni Association