Christopher R. Johnson MS’84 PhD’90, Distinguished Professor of computer science, was honored at last May’s Commencement with the Rosenblatt Prize for Excellence, the U’s most prestigious award. The $40,000 gift is presented annually to a faculty member who displays excellence in teaching, research, and administrative efforts. As director of the Scientific Computing and Imaging (SCI) Institute, Johnson oversees cutting-edge research in the areas of scientific computing, visualization, and image analysis. He sat down recently with Continuum to share his thoughts on winning the Rosenblatt Prize.
What is the current focus of your research at the SCI Institute?
We focus on solving problems in biomedicine, science, and engineering using computation. Currently, I am working on a project to create more accurate computational techniques for inverse problems, which allows us, for example, to determine the focus for an epileptic seizure from a computer model of the patient’s head and brain, or to determine the characteristics of electrical activity on the surface of the heart from a computer model of the patient’s body and heart. We also integrate computer modeling, simulation, and visualization techniques for important real-time applications, such as wildfire management.
What does receiving the Rosenblatt Prize mean for your research?
It’s very gratifying because the award demonstrates that the University truly supports excellence in interdisciplinary teaching, research, and administrative efforts, which have been my life’s professional passions.
How were you informed about winning the prize?
I received a message from my assistant that President Young wanted to see me. When I walked into his office, he said, “You know, there are some things about this job that I really don’t like.” That’s when my heart picked up a few beats. “But this isn’t one of them.” He went on to tell me I had won the Rosenblatt Prize.
How did you respond?
My first reaction was “Wow!”—and then stunned silence. Fortunately, I am married to Katharine Coles [PhD’90], Utah’s Poet Laureate. She helped me with a more proper response, which was, “I am overwhelmed and deeply honored!” It has been a humbling and gratifying experience. Since I was young, I’ve been interested in understanding how individuals accomplish great things. I’ve learned that the secret is not so much individual talent as persistent hard work and, especially, interdisciplinary teamwork. Over the years, scores of colleagues, staff, students, and visionary administrators from different departments and colleges have contributed to the work of the SCI Institute. This award is a tribute to them all.
Connecting You to the U
Want to know the latest Utah athletics scores? Looking for detailed information on upcoming campus events? Or, just want to see the latest photos and videos from the U, all while on the go? Well, there’s an app for that! The University of Utah has developed an iPhone and iPod Touch application that is now available at the Apple “app store.” Campus news, maps, directories, weather, multimedia, events, helpful links, and sports info can now be found with the flick of a finger. The app even includes an audio track of “Utah Man”—just search the app store for “University of Utah” and share your crimson pride straight from your phone.
Don’t have an iPhone? That’s okay. Visit http://mobile.utah.edu on any mobile device and you’ll find U of U information in a layout that’s compatible with your mobile Web browser, so you can access the U anytime, anywhere.
Several campus entities are celebrating anniversaries in 2010.
During any given year, some department, program, college, or unit at the U will be celebrating an important anniversary. As the U grows and evolves, so do its various components. But 2010 is particularly noteworthy for a handful of campus entities. Here is a sampling:
The Middle East Center (MEC) celebrates its 50th anniversary this fall. Commemorative events include a focus on the images, roles, and accomplishments of women; the West, as seen through the eyes of the Middle East; and artistic expression in the region. Established in 1960, the MEC is one of 17 national resource centers in the United States devoted to the academic study of the Middle East. Distinguished scholars from throughout the world participate in the center’s events, and opportunities for language study, fieldwork, and research in Middle East countries are offered to University students.
Also celebrating half a century is KUER 90.1 FM radio, which signed on the air in June 1960. Originally heard only on campus, its schedule was limited to five hours a day and included a mix of academic programs and music. Today, KUER offers news and information from the British Broadcasting Corporation and National Public Radio, and from its own award-winning news team—with jazz in the evening. It also maintains two high-definition channels offering classical, as well as indie rock. With a weekly audience of approximately 150,000—the largest of any public radio station in the Intermountain West—KUER reaches more than 90 percent of Utah’s population.
The Daily Utah Chronicle, the U’s student-run newspaper, marks its 120th anniversary this year and has kicked off the celebration by publishing a pair of commemorative editions reprinting a selection of old stories and ads, one on April 12 and another on June 7. Two other commemorative issues will be published—on September 12 and November 8, which coincides with a party at the Chronicle offices in the Union Building.
The Ballet Department—celebrating 60 years next spring—has a rich history of excellence dating from 1951, when Willam F. Christensen—noted dancer, teacher, and founder of the San Francisco Ballet Company—returned to his native Utah and founded one of the first ballet programs at an American university. Faculty and graduates of the program eventually formed Ballet West, one of three major professional dance companies in Salt Lake City. The department has produced students who have gone on to international careers as dancers, choreographers, and teachers, and it continues to attract students from all 50 states and abroad.
Maloney to Lead Tanner Center for Nonviolent Human Rights Advocacy
Tom Maloney, associate professor of economics, is the new director of the Barbara L. and Norman Tanner Center for Nonviolent Human Rights Advocacy. Maloney replaces George Cheney, who has accepted a position as an endowed chair in communication studies at the University of Texas at Austin. Maloney is an economic historian whose areas of research include labor and migration in the United States with a particular focus on racial inequality and migration. After receiving his doctorate, he conducted postdoctoral research at the Center for the Study of Urban Inequality at the University of Chicago. The Tanner Center for Nonviolent Human Rights Advocacy seeks to promote the understanding of human rights on all levels of our society and, wherever possible, to encourage nonviolent conflict resolution and peacemaking.
U of U Awards First-Ever Mormon Studies Fellowship
The Tanner Humanities Center at the University of Utah has awarded the first of its new fellowship in Mormon Studies to Kate Holbrook, a doctoral candidate at Boston University. The first of its kind in the nation, the fellowship provides funds for a doctoral student to spend a year researching the history, beliefs, and culture of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) and its members. It was established with a grant from the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Foundation. Holbrook’s research project, “Radical Food: Mormon Foodways and the American Mainstream,” will examine LDS (aka Mormon) food culture throughout the mid-20th century and how it affected the relationship between Mormons and broader society.
U Physician Named to New George S. Eccles Endowed Chair in Orthopaedics
Christopher Peters, a leading clinician and researcher in joint preservation and regeneration, has been named to the Eccles Endowed Chair in Orthopaedics. A $1 million grant from the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Foundation recently created the endowed chair to provide perpetual support for innovation among the U’s top orthopaedics faculty. The chair was established in honor of Arthur J. Swindle BS’67 JD’70, executive director of development and patient relations at the U’s Orthopaedics Center. Peters joined the Department of Orthopaedics in 1994 and is widely respected for his role in the development of bio-regenerative, hip-preserving operations. His research is focused on developing treatment options for patients suffering from severe joint pain.
Mental Illness Tied to Immune Defect
Nobel Prize-winning U of U geneticist Mario Capecchi has discovered that bone marrow transplants cure mutant mice that pull out their fur compulsively. The study provides the first cause-and-effect link between immune system cells and mental illness, and points toward eventual new psychiatric treatments. “We’re showing there is a direct relationship between a psychiatric disorder and the immune system, specifically cells named microglia that are derived from bone marrow” and immigrate from blood to the brain, says Capecchi, a Distinguished Professor of human genetics at the School of Medicine. Capecchi and colleagues showed that pathological grooming and hair-pulling in mice—a disorder similar to trichotillomania in humans—is caused by a mutant Hoxb8 gene that results in defective microglia, which defend the brain and spinal cord, attacking and engulfing infectious agents. Mice with pathological grooming appear to groom normally, but do so too often and for too long, leading to fur removal and self-inflicted skin wounds. In the key experiment, Capecchi and colleagues transplanted bone marrow from normal mice into 10 mice that had a mutant Hoxb8 gene and compulsively pulled out their own chest, stomach, and flank fur. As the transplant took hold during ensuing months, grooming behavior became normal, four mice recovered completely, and the other six showed extensive hair growth and healing of wounds. Although utilizing bone marrow transplants to treat mental illness in humans is impractical, mice with the mutant gene that causes pathological grooming now can be used to study the surprising connections between the immune system’s microglia cells and mental illness—and ultimately to produce new treatments.
Cars and Sprawl: Chicken or the Egg?
A recent study co-authored by Reid Ewing, professor of city and metropolitan planning at the University of Utah, aims to make decisions easier for those charged with designing and building cities that use less carbon in the future. The researchers performed a meta-analysis of some 200 built environment and travel studies conducted since 1996 in order to measure the magnitude of relationships that influence a person’s travel choices. Meta-analysis is a systematic way of combining data from many studies on a given topic to allow common threads to emerge, and also to calculate meaningful averages. The conclusions can then be applied with confidence by planners, policy makers and other professionals working to enhance the physical, social, and mental health of America’s communities. “There has been more research on the effect of community design on the amount people drive, walk, and use transit than any other subject in urban planning,” says Ewing. “We have attempted to make sense out of the varied findings, and arm planners and policy makers with numbers they can use to justify compact development, mixed use, interconnected streets, accessible transit, and other smart-growth measures.” Research consistently shows that location within the metropolitan area is the most important determinant of how much driving people do. Central, highly accessible locations minimize vehicle miles traveled. Street connectivity and block size are important as well, along with land-use diversity—a balance of jobs and housing within a neighborhood.
Ironing Out Inflammation
In a surprising discovery that someday may lead to new treatments for many inflammatory diseases, University of Utah scientists have found that a hormone involved in iron metabolism can save mice from deadly acute inflammation. “It’s well recognized that the hormone hepcidin helps regulate iron balance. This study shows it has an additional, unexpected role in reducing inflammation,” says the study’s principal author, Jerry Kaplan, a pathology professor and assistant vice president for basic sciences at the U’s Health Sciences Center. The study reveals that “hepcidin has an anti-inflammatory effect, reducing the consequences of inflammation,” says the study’s first author, Ivana De Domenico, an assistant professor of internal medicine. Coauthor Diane Ward, an associate professor of pathology, adds: “This could mean that hepcidin might be considered as a therapy for a wide range of acute inflammatory conditions such as bacterial infections; inflammation from surgery, injury, or burns; organ transplantation; and rare cases of inflammation from blood transfusions.” Toxic shock and fever also might be suited to hepcidin treatment, Kaplan says. It has been known for at least a decade that hepcidin is released into the bloodstream in response to inflammation. It also has been known that hepcidin attacks bacteria and kills them. And increased hepcidin reduces iron in the blood, which also has an antibacterial effect, since infectious agents require iron.
Congratulations to the young performers and dedicated staff of the University of Utah’s Youth Theatre, which was selected to represent the United States and will perform at the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland, in August 2011 as part of the American High School Theatre Festival. The Fringe Festival is the largest and most prestigious arts festival in the world. More than a thousand performing companies attend, and the whole city becomes a stage. The U’s Youth Theatre was selected from among top programs based on their most recent bodies of work, awards, community involvement, philosophies, and recommendations. Less than five percent of schools/programs nominated are invited to attend.
Kudos to Short Solutions, a University of Utah startup company composed of four current and former engineering students, which won the Palo Alto Software Challenge Award at the 2010 Global Moot Corp Competition—the “Super Bowl of business plan competitions”—at The University of Texas
in Austin. Only 40 teams from 12 countries qualified to participate. Short Solution’s win earned the team $1,500, which brings its total earnings from grants and competitions to $86,500. Short Solutions seeks to resolve the issue of intermittent faults in automobiles and has successfully identified a method that the company is currently trying to bring to the marketplace. The team’s success comes after a string of other related accomplishments. In addition to winning the Utah Entrepreneur Challenge earlier this year, the team participated in the Opportunity Quest business plan competition and secured a $45,000 Technology Commercialization Grant from the Utah Science Technology and Research initiative (USTAR).
The American College Dance Festival Association (ACDFA) has awarded Department of Modern Dance student Emily Terndrup the ADCFA/Dance Magazine Outstanding Student Performer Award for her performance in Where Your Body Lies, a duet she co-choreographed with fellow student Patrick Barnes. The dance was chosen to represent the U’s Department of Modern Dance at the 2010 ADCFA National Festival.
J. Gerald Byrne, 79, professor emeritus and former chair of the Dept. of Metallurgical Engineering
For more on this and other memoria, click here.