Discovery What great minds on campus have been up to lately.


Twenty-nine million Americans with type 2 diabetes are constantly navigating the ever-present mine field of treats, drinks, and meals. Many patients have stepped up to meet the challenge of moderating their diet, but fewer embrace the benefits of physical activity in controlling their blood sugar.

Now, a U of U Health research team has developed an online interactive app to help motivate patients to manage their disease by being more physically active.

Convincing patients to increase their physical activity to maintain their blood sugar levels is, it turns out, easier said than done. There is an emotional component to behavior change. In addition, this disease commonly co-occurs with obesity, which sets o a dangerous cycle. Overweight patients experience joint pain, which can limit their engagement in physical activity and cause them to gain more weight, worsening their disease.

The app is designed to help overcome these hurdles by gauging the patients’ understanding of the effect of physical activity in managing their disease and motivating them to make this important behavioral change. Patients can use the app to explore how time of day and length of physical activity affect blood sugar levels. After noting their expectations on the app, they can actually see the results. Through this process, they can pinpoint the optimal time for their exercise to reap the most benefits. Using the app, study participants increased their plans to exercise by an average of more than 30 minutes each week.

The research team hopes to integrate this personalized approach into the clinical care setting to give providers additional tools to help educate their patients.


Thanks to the discovery of a new material by U engineers, jewelry and your body heat could generate enough electricity to power a biosensor (e.g. a heart monitor), or a cooking pan could charge a cell phone in just a few hours.

The team, led by materials science and engineering professor Ashutosh Tiwari, has found that a combination of the chemical elements calcium, cobalt, and terbium (a silvery-white and malleable rare earth metal) can create an efficient, inexpensive, and bio-friendly material that can generate electricity through a thermoelectric process involving heat and cold air.

Here’s how it works. When one end of the material is hot and the other end is cold, charge carriers from the hot end move through the material to the cold end, generating an electrical voltage. Although materials already exist that can generate power this way, they are toxic to humans. The new material produced by Tiwari’s team is inexpensive, bio-and eco-friendly, and efficient at generating electricity.

Tiwari says the application possibilities are endless. Airplanes could generate extra power by using heat from within the cabin and the cold air outside. The material could be used in developing countries where electricity is scarce and the only source of energy is the fire in stoves. Power plants—which waste up to 60 percent of energy just in generating heat that then escapes—could use the material to produce additional electricity from that heat. Tiwari says the team plans to try the material out first in cars and biosensors.

Icebergs floating in the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon in Iceland with the mountains and Vatnajökull glacier in the distant background.


In 1870, explorer Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld, trekking across the barren and remote ice cap of Greenland, saw something most people wouldn’t expect: haze. His observation was among the first evidence that air pollution around the northern hemisphere can degrade air quality in the Arctic. Now, a study from U atmospheric scientist Tim Garrett and his colleagues finds that clouds in the Arctic are extraordinarily sensitive to air pollution and could further warm an already-changing Arctic.

For 150 years or more, air pollution has been following the dominant circulation pattern from lower latitudes toward the poles. Northeast Asia is a significant contributor to Arctic pollution, as are sources in the far north of Europe. Scientists have been especially interested in understanding the pollution’s effect on Arctic clouds which, according to Garrett and his colleagues, are two to eight times more sensitive to modification by air pollution than those at other latitudes. The clouds are especially affected by air pollution attributable to human activities (such as particulate matter), which may spur formation of new clouds that then act as a blanket, warming the surface more. Garrett notes that once in the Arctic, pollution becomes trapped under a temperature inversion, much like the inversions that Salt Lake City experiences.

The findings give Garrett both hope and concern. Particulate matter is an airborne pollutant that can be controlled relatively easily. However, gains in pollutant reductions could be offset if the Arctic becomes a shipping route and sees increasing development. “The Arctic is changing incredibly rapidly,” says Garrett. “Much more rapidly than the rest of the world, which is changing rapidly enough.”


With an inexpensive micro-thin surgical needle and laser light, U engineers and biologists have discovered a minimally invasive, inexpensive way to take high-resolution pictures of an animal brain, a process that could lead to a much better method for humans.

A team led by U electrical and computer engineering associate professor Rajesh Menon has proven the process works on mice, promising future help in studying neurological disorders such as depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and aggression, the mechanisms for which lie especially deep in our brains.

The new photo method involves taking a tiny surgical needle about a quarter-millimeter in diameter and inserting it into the brain. Laser light shines through the needle and into the brain, illuminating certain cells like a flashlight.“This technique is particularly useful for looking deep inside the brain where other techniques fail,”says Menon.

Menon believes the procedure could potentially replace endoscopes, which can be 10 to 100 times thicker than a needle and very damaging.

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