Explore Utah Science - Explore Utah Science - Explore Utah Science Blog http://www.exploreutahscience.org Fri, 19 Jan 2018 02:41:44 -0700 en-gb Top Off Your Christmas List with Apps Made in Utah--Blog http://www.exploreutahscience.org/explore-utah-science-blog/item/154-top-off-your-christmas-list-with-apps-made-in-utah http://www.exploreutahscience.org/explore-utah-science-blog/item/154-top-off-your-christmas-list-with-apps-made-in-utah Top Off Your Christmas List with Apps Made in Utah--Blog

If you are thinking of giving an app to a friend or family member for the holidays this year, there’s no need to look far. Utah is leading the way with some of the hottest app development teams in the nation.

If you are thinking of giving an app to a friend or family member for the holidays this year, there’s no need to look far. Utah is leading the way with some of the hottest app development teams in the nation.

The Bloom Built team created Day One, a journaling app, which took home the prestigious Apple Design Award for "raising the bar in design technology, and innovation." Only 12 apps were given the award out of the over one million apps that are available in the app store.  The Day One app Day was created as a platform to log short notes throughout the day to create a personal timeline of your work and personal thoughts. One of the things that make the app unique is that it is a private, personal history and personal reference. The app has previously won the "Mac App of the Year" award in 2012.

HABITRPG is one of many in the personal growth and self help sectors that promises to “gamify your life” by turning all your tasks (habits, dailies, and to-dos) into little monsters you have to conquer. The better you are at this, the more you progress in the game. The app is widely used by individuals, families, health and wellness groups, employee groups, and more.

For musicians, The Stage Plot Guru for iPad app, developed by local musician Cj. Burton and Active Media Production Group is slated for release on December 25, 2014, and is already in high demand by stage managers, festival planners, and musicians all over the nation. The app is in such high demand and fills an otherwise unsatisfied vacancy in mobile space-planning tools that future versions of the app have already been developed for everything from meeting room and business spaces to venues, clubs, and concert halls.

The Bubble Ball app was created by Utah’s Nay Games CEO, computer prodigy Robert Nay, when he was just 14 years old. Bubble Ball is a physics puzzle game that has surpassed 16 million downloads, at one point displacing Angry Birds from its number one spot on the list of free games in Apple app store.

While not likely to make your loved ones gift list, a handful of state and local governments have also designed mobile-friendly websites and services that might be useful. Utah was the first state to develop an iPhone app, which came out in 2009, to let users check the licensure status of professionals in the state. It was also the first state to create an app for Google Glass that sends users notifications about approaching trains and light rail and other transit-related information. Another app allows users to report the precise location of roadkill, meaning the state wastes less time cleaning it up. Finally, the state is investigating ways to use a new biometric fingerprint scanning feature, which will be available on the next version of Apple’s iPhone operating system. 

The “Silicon Slopes” of Utah is supported by the State’s many investments in the technology sector and by strong trade associations including the Utah Technology Council and Women Tech Council. It's likely to be a force for innovative app development in the future.

carolcurchoe@32atps.com (Carol Lynn George) Explore Utah Science Blog Wed, 17 Dec 2014 22:14:48 -0700
Extracting the Human Story From Our DNA--Blog http://www.exploreutahscience.org/explore-utah-science-blog/item/147-blog-extracting-the-human-story-from-our-dna http://www.exploreutahscience.org/explore-utah-science-blog/item/147-blog-extracting-the-human-story-from-our-dna Extracting the Human Story From Our DNA--Blog

New advances in DNA testing allow us to delve deeper into our ancestry than ever before.

New advances in DNA testing allow us to delve deeper into our ancestry than ever before.

Most of us wonder about those that lived before us. Some people go beyond mere curiosity, recording family stories and tracking down ancestors' documents. Thanks to convenient access to a multitude of records, either in archives or online databases, genealogists today are developing extensive family trees.

After becoming interested in genealogy in 2007, I spent hours examining parish records, determined to follow a line of male ancestors as far in the past as possible. My research took me back nine generations, to anDescendants of Georg Linseder: My great-grandfather Franz, railroad engineer, poses with his sons in Sarajevo, Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, around 1926.Grandchildren of Georg Linseder attended this schoolhouse in Sitzendorf an der Schmida, Austria, in the late 17th century. The building was previously a hospital and dates to the 15th century. ancestor who had migrated to Buda (now Budapest, Hungary) in the 1730s. Genealogists and archivists overseas helped me extend that line by three more generations, terminating with Georg Linseder who lived in Grosshaselbach, Austria, in the 17th century.

Its unlikely, though, that I'll discover any ancestors beyond Georg: oral histories and paper documents can take us only so far. Most people of European descent can't trace ancestors prior to the 16th century, when recording of baptisms, marriages, and interments was first mandated by the Roman Catholic Church. For others, the delicate paper trail ends much sooner−either because documents related to their heritage don't go far into the past, or because the documents perished in wars or unfortunate accidents.

Yet distant ancestors are not lost to us−we're all living repositories of humanity's history. In every cell within our bodies, DNA provides a molecular record that goes back tens of thousands of years into the past. We may not know the names of distant ancestors, but our DNA is showing us something much greater−that all people on Earth belong to a single human family tree.

Nowadays, learning about ancestry is easy: one can select a DNA testing company, collect their DNA sample, and send it out for analysis. Small changes in DNA, called mutations, are key for determining the relatedness and ancestry of individuals. Two people with greater differences in their DNA will have a common ancestor further in the past than two people with similar DNA. Using this new technology it will be possible to find out whether my ancestors lived elsewhere, perhaps Asia or the Middle East, during the two hundred thousand year long interim between paper documentation and the origins of humanity in Africa.

The desire to learn more about one's deep ancestry is spreading across the globe like wildfire. According to Spencer Wells, a Rhodes visiting professor at Cornell University, "consumer genomics has gone mainstream," with 2013 likely to emerge as the year of inflection for anthropological DNA analysis. In the decade preceding 2013, nearly 1 million people submitted their DNA for analysis to various nonmedical institutions. But just within the current year, another million will likely follow.

Several things have contributed to this phenomenon: DNA has become a household word, and many people today are comfortable sharing their private information. There's also the power of word-of-mouth−satisfied participants tend to pique others' interest in ancestry, and the more people who offer their DNA for anthropological analysis, the better, as it becomes easier to find DNA matches among participants.

Scientists rely on two types of DNA to unravel our distant ancestry−the Y chromosome (Ycs) and mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). Most of our genetic material is organized into 23 pairs of chromosomes, made of tightly folded DNA and proteins. Among these chromosomes is a single Ycs, found only in men. The Ycs is passed on directly from father to son, and informs about a person's paternal lineage.

All people, however, have mtDNA. Separate from chromosomes, mtDNA is located in a small cellular compartment called the mitochondrion. But because mtDNA is passed on only from a mother to her children, it reveals a person's maternal lineage. Even though women lack an Ycs they can still learn about their paternal lineages from the analysis of their father's or brother's Ycs.

Genetic information can be used for much more than just a personal analysis of each of our own family trees, uncovering ancient migrations and intermingling between our species, Homo sapiens, and other hominins that occurred tens of thousands of years ago. Since 2005, the Genographic Project, which is led by Wells and overseen by the National Geographic Society, the Genographic Consortium and an international advisory board, has used advanced DNA analysis to understand how humans came to populate the Earth. To date, about 72,000 people from 1,000 indigenous populations contributed their DNA to the Genographic Project for this purpose. Based on variations in their mtDNA and Ycs, these people have been assigned to different groups, called haplotypes.

Study of geographic localities of indigenous peoples and frequencies of different haplotypes across the globe can help unravel many migration mysteries. For example, scientists have long been baffled by fossil records, which suggested that ancestors of indigenous Australians were among the first humans to venture out of Africa. A risky oceanic migration seemed unlikely, but paleontologists were unable to find any fossil remains suggesting a land migration across southern Asia. But when Wells and collaborators studied Ycs of southern Indians, they discovered individuals with an "M130" haplotype, which matched that of indigenous Australiansi. Ancestors of indigenous Australians most likely trekked across the coast of southern Asia, which has long since been submerged. And though fossil evidence of these early migrants is now underwater, their DNA survives in India to this day.

The newest kit offered by the Genographic Project, Gene 2.0, can also uncover other branches of the hominin family tree. Tens of thousands of years ago, we were not the only hominins roaming the Earth. Humans likely encountered Neanderthals after moving into the Middle East and Central Asia no later than 47,000 years agoii. Denisovans and humans met and mated in Asia about 45,000 years agoiii. Neither Neanderthals nor Denisovans bestowed us with much of their DNA−the mtDNA and Ycs haplotypes discovered to date are distinctly human. But a small amount of genetic material from our hominin cousins still lives on today in chromosomal DNA (other than Ycs) of some people, contributing to the wealth of our heritage.

Though my genealogy adventure revealed ancestral hometowns, professions, and families, it did not go beyond 12 generations of ancestors. My next step, submitting DNA for analysis, should eventually uncover migratory paths of thousands of nameless ancestors−human and, possibly, Neanderthal. For anyone interested in genealogy, looking deep into their DNA−and that of relatives'−allows them to go far beyond where the paper trail has gone cold. Yet unless a male Linseder descendant sends in his DNA, my ancestor Georg's Ycs lineage will remain a mystery. Far superior to the paper trail, even DNA analysis has its limitations.

i. Spencer Wells (2006). Deep Ancestry: Inside the Genographic Project. National Geographic, Washington D.C.

ii. Sriram Sankararaman, Nick Patterson, Heng Li, Svante Pääbo and David Reich (2012). "The Date of Interbreeding between Neandertals and Modern Humans." PLoS Genetics 8(10): e1002947. doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1002947

iii. Pontus Skoglund and Mattias Jakobsson (2011). "Archaic Human Ancestry in East Asia." PNAS 108(45): 18301-18306.

smiljka_kitanovic@yahoo.com (Smiljka Kitanovic) Explore Utah Science Blog Mon, 07 Jul 2014 19:39:39 -0600
Challenging Times for Research Funding http://www.exploreutahscience.org/explore-utah-science-blog/item/139-challenging-times-for-research-funding http://www.exploreutahscience.org/explore-utah-science-blog/item/139-challenging-times-for-research-funding Challenging Times for Research Funding

Although a budget deal may finally be in the works to get rid of the mandatory sequester cuts, research funding has not kept up with inflation for over a decade and the impact is being felt by scientists, students, and Universities.

Although a budget deal may finally be in the works to get rid of the mandatory sequester cuts, research funding has not kept up with inflation for over a decade and the impact is being felt by scientists, students, and Universities. Chris Hill and Wes Sundquist, Co-chairs of the Department of Biochemistry, wrote this letter as a response to what they are seeing in their department and throughout the country.

These are difficult financial times for biomedical research. In real terms, federal funding for research and development has shrunk by 20% over the past three years and is now lower than it was a decade ago1. Moreover, of the leading 10 research countries the U.S. is the only one to have reduced its investment in scientific research since 2011. This fundamental problem has been exacerbated by poorly planned growth, sequestration, political gridlock and earmarking for special projects. The result is brutal grant paylines that are causing irreparable damage to individual researchers and to the entire biomedical research enterprise. It is indisputable that America's continued economic success depends upon maintaining our competitive edge in high-tech fields like biomedical research. Instead, our historical advantages are ebbing as we fail to nurture discovery science. These are both the best and the worst of times2. The tools have never been more powerful and the opportunities more exciting, yet it is painful to see our talented colleagues waste their time struggling to obtain research funding rather than uncovering nature's secrets and producing healthcare breakthroughs. It is even worse to watch talented young scientists spend their most creative years in holding patterns that leave them increasingly disillusioned3. History has proven time and again that societies regress when their core institutions are neglected and their young people cannot fulfill their dreams.

All of the stakeholders in the biomedical research enterprise need to make changes. Academic scientists and administrators need to acknowledge that our current systems are unsustainable, and embrace alternative approaches that will reduce lab sizes and training periods while creating more flexible career paths4. These changes are difficult for individual departments to institute unilaterally, and we therefore strongly support the efforts of our national societies to facilitate global solutions. Industrial scientists and corporate leaders need to teach us how best to train young scientists for success in industry as well as academia, fight hard on our behalf, and pursue corporate strategies that emphasize fundamental health care advances over short-term profits. We cannot succeed without them, nor they without us. Most importantly, policy makers and the public need to provide strong, long-term investment in biomedical research programs that fire our imaginations, drive economic growth, and enhance public health. A wonderful system is at risk and we therefore urge you join us in pushing for stronger public funding of biomedical research!

Additional Reading:

1) NIH budget summaries and trends:
NIH FY2013 Operating Plan

ASBMB 2013 Survey

2) The costs of poor funding in a time of great discovery:
For 3 Nobel Winners, a Molecular Mystery Solved

3) Losses in scientific competitiveness and morale:
Nearly 20% of Scientists Contemplate Moving Overseas
Biomedical Burnout

4) Critiques of the sustainability of our current training and funding systems:
A Fair Deal for PhD Students and Postdocs
Toward a Sustainable Biomedical Research Enterprise

exploreutahscience@gmail.com (Explore Utah Science) Explore Utah Science Blog Fri, 13 Dec 2013 07:53:24 -0700
Blog: A Bighorn Sheep and Ranger Meet http://www.exploreutahscience.org/explore-utah-science-blog/item/116-blog-a-bighorn-sheep-and-ranger-meet http://www.exploreutahscience.org/explore-utah-science-blog/item/116-blog-a-bighorn-sheep-and-ranger-meet Blog: A Bighorn Sheep and Ranger Meet

Ranger Kathryn Burke has a close encounter with a bighorn and writes about it in her blog.

Canyonlands Ranger Kathryn Burke writes about her close encounter with a bighorn sheep in her blog Ranger Kathryn's Arches.

exploreutahscience@gmail.com (Explore Utah Science) Explore Utah Science Blog Thu, 02 May 2013 06:06:14 -0600
Blog: Visiting Mars In Southern Utah http://www.exploreutahscience.org/explore-utah-science-blog/item/108-blog-visiting-mars-in-southern-utah http://www.exploreutahscience.org/explore-utah-science-blog/item/108-blog-visiting-mars-in-southern-utah BYU Mars Rover

In the barren lanscape outside Hanksville Utah, the Mars Society has set up a research facility to simulate Mars. Scientists and Mars enthusiasts go on missions and conduct research to develop knowledge they hope will help prepare for an eventual trip to the red planet.

In the barren lanscape outside Hanksville Utah, the Mars Society has set up a research facility to simulate Mars. Scientists and Mars enthusiasts go on missions and conduct research to develop knowledge they hope will help prepare for an eventual trip to the red planet.

Read a blog by the Reuters photographer Jim Urquhart, who joined a mission earlier this year at the Mars Desert Research Station: Mars in the Desert

exploreutahscience@gmail.com (Explore Utah Science) Explore Utah Science Blog Wed, 27 Mar 2013 06:05:33 -0600
Blog: Do You Want to Live Forever? http://www.exploreutahscience.org/explore-utah-science-blog/item/105-blog-do-you-want-to-live-forever http://www.exploreutahscience.org/explore-utah-science-blog/item/105-blog-do-you-want-to-live-forever Blog: Do You Want to Live Forever?

Futurists predict that one day we will upload information from our brains to the cloud, and that the first humans who will live up to 1,000 years old are already among us. Three scienitsts examine these far-out theories, and discuss research in the field of longevity.

The Mummies of the World exhibit, on display at The Leonardo museum in Salt Lake City until May 27, 2013, inspired the program, “Do You Want to Live Forever?” This blog contains excerpts from the presentation, which probes some far-out theories that humans, through advances in technology and biology, will eventually figure out how to live longer…a lot longer.

Leonardo publicist Lisa Davis mediated the discussion with three panelists, neuroscientist Robert Marc, human geneticist Richard Cawthon, and medical ethicist Jeffrey Botkin, all professors at the University of Utah.


Egyptians are a well-known culture for their focus on immortality. The ancient Egyptians believed that when someone died, their soul left their body. It was then returned and reunited with the body after it had been buried.

But there was one condition. The soul needed to be able to find and recognize the body. This is why Egyptians went to such lengths to preserve their dead. They believed they would possess their body forever. In the over 3,000 years they engaged in this practice, Egyptians created at least 17 million mummies.

Throughout history, we find numerous stories of humans seeking after eternal youth and being taken forth into an immortal being through magic, divine intervention, and sometimes trickery.

Rather than waiting until they are dead, today some scientists, technologists and multibillionaires are investing tremendous resources in enhancing lifespan, and are making some pretty crazy predictions that sound like they come straight out of the most fantastic science fiction movies.

One of these prognosticators is Ray Kurzweil. Forbes calls him “The ultimate thinking machine”. He holds multiple patents for multiple inventions. Among other honors, he has received the National Medal of Technology and Innovation, the U.S. highest honor in technology. Earlier this year he joined Google as the company’s director of engineering.

He started predicting the future of technology and innovation 25 years ago, and by some estimates his accuracy rate is at 86%. His predictions have more recently turned towards the realm of technology and life extension. He believes that by the late 2020s we will have millions of nanobots swarming around in our bodies. They will provide us with ideal levels of nutrition and clean out all the bad stuff we put in them. By 2030, he says these nanobots will be able to eradicate all disease. Somewhere around the end of the 21st century, he believes that we’ll evolve into software-based beings who will upload our brains to the cloud, or whatever we’ll call it then.

A futurist who thinks we can extend lifespan by manipulating biology rather than technology, is Aubrey de Grey. In 1999 he published the book, The Mitochondrial Free Radical Theory of Aging. In it he puts forth the theory that the cumulative damage to mitochondrial DNA [mitochondria is an organelle that generates cellular energy] is the likely cause of senescence [the process of deteriorating with age], and that by limiting or reversing the damage, we can extend lifespan significantly. On the basis of the information in that book alone, de Gray was awarded a Ph.D. by Cambridge University in 2000.

de Grey argues that the fundamental knowledge to develop treatments to slow and even stop the aging process already exist. He predicts that the first humans who will live to 1,000 years old are already among us.

LISA DAVIS: What is your take on these predictions?

ROBERT MARC: One of the fundamental errors that’s being made culturally, as well as scientifically, is believing the metaphor that the brain is a computer. Your brain doesn’t work digitally.

Most importantly, these people [futurists Kurzweil, Dmitry Itzkov, and Ian Pearson] have underestimated the amazing complexity that comprises a single brain. If you solve for the complexity of networks the human brain can produce, that number is 10300,000. How big is that? The number of atoms in the observable universe is 108. There is no way that all the matter in the universe can be used to model the complexity of the human brain in terms of its computational abilities.

LISA DAVIS: What is the fundamental difference between the kind of scientists these futurists are and the kind you are?

ROBERT MARC: There are three kinds of neuroscientists: wet, dry, and vaporware. My laboratory is pretty wet, we do biological neuroscience. We work with brains and nervous systems and try to map pathways. Computational neuroscience tries to model some of those pathways, too. But I would argue that there’s no point in modeling stuff until you have the real networks. There’s a lot of vaporware. It seems that anyone who has a brain believes they can comment on brain function.

Ray Kerzweil has made great contributions to society. He is a great electrical engineer, but a bad neuroscientist. The Peter Principle says everybody rises to the level of their incompetence, and most of these guys have gotten there.

LISA DAVIS: Tell us where some of the promising research is happening.

RICHARD CAWTHON: What’s exciting is that laboratories have directly intervened in the mouse and turned on the enzyme that maintains telomeres [structures at the end of chromosomes involved in stabilizing DNA], telomerase. First, they activated telomerase so that it was on at higher levels than normal in all the tissues of the mouse, for the lifetime of the mouse. Some of the mice lived longer, and other mice actually got cancer early and died.

The same lab made additional mice, where they turned on higher than normal levels of telomerase and also tumor suppressor genes that protect against cancer. Those mice live 30-40% longer without the higher cancer mortality rate. That’s the most persuasive evidence that telomeres have a causal effect on how long an animal will live.

There are people taking telomerase activators. The big question is, does it help them stay healthy longer, and live longer? Or are they going to become ill with higher rates of cancer?

LISA DAVIS: This stuff is already on the market?

RICHARD CAWTHON: It’s called TA65. It’s very expensive. It costs $7.30 per pill.

LISA DAVIS: Why is exercise healthy for us?

RICHARD CAWTHON: Exercise has been shown in rodents to increase the average lifespan, and how long the animal stays healthy. It’s also known that what exercise does is boost the number of mitochondria per cell in many tissues. It might help mitochondrial function, and perhaps stimulate the clearing out of damaged mitochondria, replacing them with healthy mitochondria.

LISA DAVIS: Of the futurists presented, all three panelists were most confident in de Gray’s predictions. Why?

ROBERT MARC: We’ve come to this very uncomfortable understanding that as we age, it’s us against our immune system’s inflammatory response. A lot of things that turn on that inflammatory response are things that accumulate over time.

What we’re trying to do is stop the sign posts of inflammation. Stop the glycation events. Stop the oxidative damage that ends up killing cells. Chemically we kind of know how to do that, but strategically we don’t know how to implement those interventions safely.

We got really excited about antioxidants a few years ago, and thought, “Wow, we’ll pump vitamin E into everyone.” Vitamin E increases your risk for cancer, accelerates macular degeneration. Vitamin E did everything wrong.

We don’t know as much about the organic chemistry and molecular biology of these processes as we thought we did. But we can learn more, and might be able to get there.

LISA DAVIS: de Gray supposes it is our responsibility to do the research, offer the potential for enhancing lifespan, and trust that future generations will figure out any gray areas. What do you think?

RICHARD CAWTHON: The goal of medicine is to try to keep people healthy for as long as possible. One of the arguments is that we lose all the wisdom and experience of various people because they get old and die. If they were to live much longer, then perhaps some of the major problems we have failed to solve throughout civilization, like war, poverty, and crime, would be solved. If you have enough smart people staying alive and thinking about it, and working together to solve these things, you would be able to solve them.

And if you could keep people as healthy as they were at age 30, there would be a huge drop in the cost of health care.

JEFFREY BOTKIN: Let’s imagine I can have my life extended for an extra 30 or 40 years. What if that life extension isn’t shared by my family? How would it be for our loved ones to grow old and die, and our kids to age past us?

The other issues are the profound justice issues. If we get this technology, how are we going to decide who is going to get it? It’s likely to be affordable only by the upper economic echelons of society. Think of the potential instability to society if we get that sort of technology that is so wanted by so many people, being controlled by a relative few.

Then let’s imagine I stay in my position another 40 years. The folks behind me who want my job are waiting for me to step off the treadmill. I think the broader social impacts of delaying senescence means there would be a huge transfer of resources from younger people to older people, who would be living that much longer.

FROM THE AUDIENCE: Do you guys want to live forever?

RICHARD CAWTHON: I think it’s a preposterous question because no one will ever live forever. Using the word “immortal” or “living forever” is misleading.

FROM THE AUDIENCE: Have any of you taken steps to increase the level of your life, or the length of your life?

ROBERT MARC: Quality of life is highly dependent on preventing cognitive impairment. Wear a helmet. Second in the game is reducing the risk of heart disease. The things that we talk about in terms of improving quality of life, length of life are the things we talk about epidemiologically: heart disease, cancer, diabetes. I’m taking omega-3 fish oil just like all the cardiologists tell me to, to try and stave off inflammation, which is a big enemy for stroke and heart disease. Sleep is another issue. The quality and duration of sleep is a major contributor to a lot of these processes.

JEFFREY BOTKIN: A baby aspirin and I do wear my seatbelt. Another significant factor is that I’ve got a job and a healthy income. Social class ends up being a significant predictor of longevity. There are so many complicated factors that are part of our lives that have to do with how long we live.

RICHARD CAWTHON: Aspirin has been shown to reduce mortality due to heart disease, stroke and various cancers. It’s likely that taking aspirin will extend your life, but first discuss it with your family physician.

Compiled and edited by Julie Kiefer

Lisadavisslc@att.net (Lisa Davis) Explore Utah Science Blog Thu, 28 Mar 2013 09:40:57 -0600
What To Do About Utah's Physician Shortage? http://www.exploreutahscience.org/explore-utah-science-blog/item/101-what-to-do-about-utah-s-physician-shortage http://www.exploreutahscience.org/explore-utah-science-blog/item/101-what-to-do-about-utah-s-physician-shortage What To Do About Utah's Physician Shortage?

Utah, like many states, is facing a future with too few physicians. In rural communities it is even worse.

Yesterday the Utah legislature passed SB42, which will provide funding to train 40 additional physicians at the University of Utah School of Medicine. A blog at RedThread, suggests the need to get some of these new trainees from Utah's rural communitees.

Read the blog here.


BRAD.LEDBETTER@UTAH.EDU (RedThread) Explore Utah Science Blog Thu, 14 Mar 2013 05:59:52 -0600
The Mercury Around Us http://www.exploreutahscience.org/explore-utah-science-blog/item/92-blog-the-mercury-around-us http://www.exploreutahscience.org/explore-utah-science-blog/item/92-blog-the-mercury-around-us The Mercury Around Us

Mercury is a health hazard in Utah but the form that spills out of a broken thermometer is not the problem. In their blog, Women of Water explain.

There’s something in our water: Mercury. And, it’s not just in the water we drink, it’s in the food we eat and the air we breathe. But don’t freak out just yet. There are people out there working to protect us from this dangerous compound.

Continue reading the Women of Water blog

womenofwater@gmail.com (Emily Bartusek) Explore Utah Science Blog Thu, 21 Feb 2013 00:00:00 -0700
Stormwater Runoff Goes Green http://www.exploreutahscience.org/explore-utah-science-blog/item/87-stormwater-runoff-goes-green http://www.exploreutahscience.org/explore-utah-science-blog/item/87-stormwater-runoff-goes-green Stormwater Runoff Goes Green

With the heavy snowfall this year, Utahns are in for greater springtime snowmelt runoff. Thomas Walsh, with ‘The Flood’ blog, summarizes better ways of dealing with the flow.

With the heavy snowfall this year, Utahns are in for greater springtime snowmelt runoff. A better way to deal with the extra water is green infrastructure, an alternative to traditional stormwater management, which focuses on large, centralized networks to handle nuisance water.

The term nuisance is used since some urbanized areas combine their sewer networks (i.e. both wastewater and stormwater), while others separate them. Unfortunately, combined sewer systems are notorious for overflowing during large precipitation events. In 2008, overflows caused contamination of waterways in over 750 communities, affecting nearly 40 million people nationwide (see map). 

CSS MapStormwater runoff alone carries increased potential for pollution to enter the water system. How many times have you seen trash, leaves, and dirt running down the gutters? Where do you think all of that goes? Therefore, in an effort to lessen the strain upon the nation’s sewer networks, an alternative was proposed – green infrastructure.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), green infrastructure “uses vegetation, soils, and natural processes to manage water and create healthier urban environments…[via a] patchwork of natural areas that provides habitat, flood protection, cleaner air, and cleaner water.” More detailed information on these practices, including fact sheets, benefits, and case studies, can be found here. However, we’ll examine one example within each broad category of green infrastructure: vegetative, subsurface, and surface storage.

Using plants and soils to tame runoff

Vegetative green infrastructure uses plants and soils to slow, delay, and treat stormwater runoff. This is in response to the effect that impervious surfaces have on runoff, including causing faster rates and larger quantities of runoff to be transported to streams. Rain gardens are on-site, vegetated areas that promote filtration and evaporation of detained stormwater runoff. They are a great ultra-urban solution since they can manage high pollutant concentrations and be placed near sensitive receiving bodies. These can be retrofitted into existing projects or integrated into the design of a new site.

Regional characteristics should be considered since they affect design and implementation. For instance, even in arid Utah, it’s possible to choose plants that require little to no irrigation. In the Salt Lake City area, 95% of storm events yield approximately 0.8 inches of precipitation. Stats like this should be taken into consideration when designing rain gardens, so that it doesn’t flood.

Other examples of vegetative methods include planter boxes, bioswales, green alleys and streets, green roofs, urban tree canopy, and land conservation practices.

Capturing stormwater underground

Subsurface storage captures, stores and treats stormwater below the ground. Permeable pavement is a mode of subsurface storage that comes in many different styles, including pervious concrete, porous asphalt, and pavers. Physically, permeable pavement may not appear to be different than a typical street or parking lot, but looks can be deceiving. Within a hard surface that you can stand upon are void spaces (i.e. empty pockets). Think of a fluffy pancake. The fluffier the pancake, the more syrup it can store and the tastier the breakfast, yet I digress. By increasing the “fluffiness” factor of a road surface, water that falls on or runs over the area soaks through to the other side.

Beneath the pavement layer is a vault, like an earthen storage tank, filled with either natural soil or an engineered soil mix. This vault temporarily stores the infiltrated water and allows for it to enter the groundwater. For great examples, check out the west side of the Frederick Albert Sutton building (U of U campus) and the Wasatch Touring (702 East, 100 South) parking spaces.

Subsurface storage can be particularly effective in Utah, where flashy precipitation can overwhelm surface storage methods. Event flashiness is the amount of time in which precipitation falls. Faster storms with larger amounts produce greater magnitudes of runoff and, therefore, are flashier.

Other examples of subsurface storage include rain gardens, green streets and alleys, green parking, and green roofs.

Capturing stormwater aboveground

Surface storage intercepts stormwater runoff and provides storage and potential for treatment. Rainwater harvesting is often the rain barrelfirst example that comes to mind, which directs a household’s rooftop runoff to a barrel for future uses (e.g. watering lawns). This reduces the amount of runoff entering the storm sewer system, reintroduces water into the natural hydrologic cycle (i.e. water soaking into the ground rather than being directed to the sewer), and has the potential to reduce demands on potable water. However, increasing treatment is required with increasing human contact.

Rainwater harvesting legislation in Utah (Senate Bill 32), passed in 2010, allows individuals to use either cisterns (i.e. larger volume) or barrels (i.e. smaller volume) to collect rainwater. The bill limits users of a land parcel, registered with the Utah Division of Water Rights, to either one (1) underground 2,500 gallon cistern or two (2) aboveground 100 gallon barrels.

Other examples of surface storage include rain gardens and bioswales.

Green infrastructure can be useful to communities, neighborhoods, and individuals. It is important, as citizens of watersheds, to be mindful of the opportunities available and to understand one’s connection to the greater hydrologic system.

Further examples and expertise on such practices can be found at the University of Utah, with active research carried out by the Urban Water Group. If you’re keen to Twitter, then follow us @UrbanWaterUtah and @UofUTheFlood


Stormwater Runoff Goes Green is an adaptation of a five part series originally posted on The Flood.

Map photo courtesy of EPA, other photos courtesy of Thomas Walsh


u0655790@utah.edu (Thomas Walsh) Explore Utah Science Blog Thu, 07 Feb 2013 10:21:53 -0700
A Voyage of Discovery on an Ancient Sand Sea http://www.exploreutahscience.org/explore-utah-science-blog/item/79-a-voyage-of-discovery-on-an-ancient-sand-sea http://www.exploreutahscience.org/explore-utah-science-blog/item/79-a-voyage-of-discovery-on-an-ancient-sand-sea A Voyage of Discovery on an Ancient Sand Sea

A paleontologist's work can be incremental and grueling. But once in a while, they're lucky enough to be a part of an incredible discovery.

Utah is an undeniably hot and arid place, but in the Early Jurassic, 190,000,000 years ago, things were much worse. At that time a vast sea of desert sand covered some 850,000 square miles of intermountain west. In northeastern Utah, the sediments of that desert are known to geologists as the Nugget Sandstone.

Despite being an extreme and generally inhospitable environment, over time, plants and animals evolved and adapted to live there. To understand more about how this transition took place , a group of paleontologists and students from Dinosaur National Monument, the University of Nebraska, Brigham Young University, and the University of Utah, has been investigating the area for the past several years. Nugget field work is not for the faint of heart. Patience and perseverance is essential and you must be prepared for many hot and frustrating days when no fossils can be found. But hey, if working in the Nugget was easy someone would have already done the research!

Left to right, Drs. George Engelmann (University of Nebraska), Dan Chure (Dinosaur National Monument), and Brooks Britt (Brigham Young University) at the Saints and Sinners Quarry.

Much of what we know comes from trace fossils, the trails, trackways, and burrows made by animals going about their lives in and around the dune fields. We have found the trackways of various kinds of herbivorous and carnivorous dinosaurs. At one site, hundreds of Brasilichnium footprints record the ancient passage of small mammal-like reptiles as they walked up the steep fronts of large dunes. As in modern deserts, arthropods were common, and we have numerous trails of scorpions and spiders, as well as small burrows made by adult and larval arthropods of various types, and burrows of large scorpions. In most cases, trace fossils are the only evidence we have of those organisms.

A small Brasilichnium footprint in the Nugget Sandstone.

Then there are those moments when the miraculous happens. I will never forget the day we found the Saints and Sinners Quarry --- stepping onto a sandstone surface and spying more than fifty dinosaur bones naturally exposed. In that instant we knew we had made the find of a lifetime. We eventually uncovered a phenomenal deposit of thousands of bones preserved in a small desert lake. Most of these fossils belong to a new, small, predatory dinosaur, but bones of several other kinds of small reptiles have also been recovered. While optimism is essential for paleontologists, never, in our wildest dreams, did we imagine finding such a treasure trove of fossils! This one quarry has produced orders of magnitude more bones than all previous work in the rocks of this ancient desert.

A spectacularly complete foot of a small reptile from the Saints and Sinners Quarry.

Uncovering the abundance at Saints and Sinners Quarry was just the beginning. Our diverse group continues to explore, excavate, prepare, map, and analyze the remarkable fossils of this ancient desert, from SSQ and beyond. Work continues in both the field and in the lab, and the first manuscripts about our SSQ findings are in preparation. But more remains to be done and summer field work is approaching. Who knows what that may bring?

Part of a long scorpion trackway (Paleohelcura) from the Nugget Sandstone.
The upper jaw of a carnivorous dinosaur from the Saints and Sinners Quarry.
Footprint of a large predatory dinosaur in the Nugget Sandstone.
Visit Dan Chure's Blog: Land of the Dead
dan_chure@nps.gov (Dan Chure) Explore Utah Science Blog Mon, 14 Jan 2013 00:15:22 -0700