Page 1


Edge of the Unknown


Making of a Mentor p. 16 From Music to Physics p. 20 Chemistry: A Family Affair p.22 The Dogma Trap p.24


Under the Temple This amazing structure has risen beautifully out of the ashes of the Provo Tabernacle. The developing Provo City Center Temple has kept much of the original structure and design. These details were provided in part by BYU’s Department of Geological Sciences as well as Emily Utt and Benjamin Pykles, historic site curators in the Church History Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Together, they investigated the site to explore possibilities and to predict problems that could arise while building the new temple. In the process, they discovered that there had once been an older tabernacle near the Provo Tabernacle.

Scott D. Sommerfeldt, Dean Thomas W. Sederberg, Associate Dean Bart J. Kowallis, Associate Dean Kurt D. Huntington, Assistant Dean

Department Chairs Gregory F. Burton, Chemistry & Biochemistry Michael A. Goodrich, Computer Science John H. McBride, Geological Sciences Michael J. Dorff, Mathematics Blake E. Peterson, Mathematics Education Richard R. Vanfleet, Physics & Astronomy H. Dennis Tolley, Statistics

Frontiers Production Bart J. Kowallis, Editorial Director D. Lynn Patten, Assistant Editorial Director Aimee Robbins, Managing Editor Danica Baird, Assistant Editor Ye Liang, Graphic Designer Scott Daly Photographer Mackenzie Brown, Writer Jennifer Johnson, Writer Meg Monk, Writer Madison Parks, Writer

Contact Information D. Lynn Patten, Marketing Manager 801.422.4022, Brent C. Hall, LDS Philanthropies 801.422.4501,

PHOTOS: cover, Zach Dischner Copyright Š2013, Some Rights Reserved (Used under Creative Commons-Attribution License); right, courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

BYU College of Physical & Mathematical Sciences


The fields of science and math change rapidly as new discoveries are made and new technology is invented. For example, computers that once filled a room can now be held in the palms of our hands. Revolutionary developments like these come from innovative individuals, including our faculty, students, and alumni.


students for bright futures. Two such students are chemistry graduate students Debolina Chatterjee and Danielle Mansfield (p. 11). They work with Dr. Adam Woolley and recently developed a “lab on a chip” which uses just a drop of urine to test for diseases, a test that can be done at home instead of the doctor’s office. Along with Woolley, Chatterjee and Mansfield co-authored the study for the journal Analytical Methods. We express thanks to all who support us and help the college continue to grow. We are grateful for the efforts of our faculty and staff. We are also appreciative of so many of you who support the college in numerous ways. As we have mentioned before, the financial support many of you have provided to the college has made a real difference in opportunities our students have to develop innovations in math and science. With your continued support, we will move forward and give growing students the opportunity to develop the next revolutionary advance. We hope you will catch the vision of what our students can do and get involved in supporting the future. See how our college endowments are growing on p. 9. Wishing you all the best,

PHOTO: Josh Siebert

For example, Brad Loerscher, a graduate of the chemistry department, recently won an award from the National Institutes of Health. From the computer science department, graduate Arturo A. Mijangos is part of the Technology Strategy and Innovation group at Cummins, a leader in diesel technology. Matthew P. Harper, an alum of the geology department, started Alpine Geosciences, a consulting and development company. From the math department, Brian Rushton is an assistant research professor at Temple University. Aaron R. Hogge, a graduate of the mathematics education department, is the principal of Centennial Junior High School in Kaysville, Utah. Nathan Hilton, an alum of the physics department, works with radiation detection and imaging at Sandia National Laboratories. From the statistics department, Tommy Dossett does clinical trial research at Statistics Collaborative, Inc. You can read more about our alumni on p. 6. In a feature article on p. 20, you can read about how physics alumni Chris Erikson’s future changed when he went from being a music major to a physics major. He now works as a cold atom physicist and recently visited CPMS students to talk about how a major in the hard sciences is a solid base for success and the opportunities that exist for them in the future. Like Erickson, computer science alum David Jackman (p. 8) is working to impact the futures of students. He volunteers to teach computer-programming classes in Utah Valley’s high schools. Computer programming experience is very valuable to these students, as they move on to college and into careers. In the College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences, our faculty members are impacting the future through their teaching as well as their research. Wayne Barrett’s teaching (p. 16) has instilled in his students a love of mathematical discovery. Chemistry professor Joshua Anderson’s research (p. 10) to discover a protein switch that could lower doses of chemotherapy for cancer patients could change future cancer treatment protocols. The hard work of our faculty members helps prepare


PHOTOS: from top to bottom: courtesy of John McBride; Scott Daly; Ye Liang






















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24 SUMMER 2015



AFTER THEIR ALMA MATER Chemistry & Biochemistry 1992 | Sarah Black (BS ’93, MS ’99 Brigham Young University; St. George, Utah) has been working at Dixie State University in St. George, Utah, teaching chemistry for non-majors, organic chemistry classes, organic chemistry labs, and SCI 1001 (a First Year Experience course for incoming science majors). She is also the First Year Experience Coordinator, overseeing 60 sections and 38 instructors of FYE courses across campus. She and her husband, Jim Black, have one child who is in first grade. 1993 | Jon Hathaway (BS ’93, MS ’94 Brigham Young University; MD, PhD ’01 University of Cincinnati; Indianapolis, Indiana) has been an assistant clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Indiana University since 2006. He is also the fellowship directory there for Minimally Invasive Gynecologic Surgery. Jon’s current research is in surgical techniques, teaching, and outcomes. On the side, he is training to compete in a 2015 Ironman triathlon. 2004 | Brian Hom (BS ’04 Brigham Young University; MS ’06 University of California, Berkeley; Folsom, California) works for Agilent Technologies. His work focuses on surface passivation. 2009 | Michelle Crapo (BS ’09 Brigham Young University; MS ’11 University of Washington; Seattle, Washington), after earning her MS, worked for a year co-teaching natural sciences in English at a public high school in Spain. She is now raising two children and tutoring high school and college students in chemistry. 2013 | Brad Loertscher (PhD ’13 Brigham Young University) received the Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award from the National Institutes of Health. His research involves the synthesis of disulfide compounds that are being tested for anticancer activity. Computer Science 1980 | Darwin Perkins (BS ’80 Brigham Young University; MBA ’97 Nova Southeastern University; DBA ’11 Walford University; Phoenix, Arizona) is a consultant for large-scale Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems. He just finished a nine-month contract in Penang, Malasyia as the OCM manager for SAP implementation. 1987 | David Taylor (BS ’87, MS ’93 Brigham Young University; Mapleton, Utah) is heading up a small company that specializes in venture time, which is like venture capital but with developer resources instead of actual cash. His company is also working on a semantic search system that understands meaning as well as key words. 2002 | Arturo A. Mijangos (BS ’02 MBA ’13 Brigham Young University; Columbus, Indiana) is part of the Technology Strategy and Innovation group at Cummins, a leader in diesel technology.


2005 | Perry Ridge (BS ’05, PhD ’13 Brigham Young University; MS ’ 08 University Nebraska-Lincoln; Provo, Utah) doubled majored in computer science and bioinformatics. He is now a faculty member in bioinformatics in the BYU Department of Biology. He researches bioinformatics algorithms and the genetics of human disease. Geological Sciences 2004 | Matthew P. Harper (MS ’04 Brigham Young University; American Fork, Utah) spent the first four years of his career after graduation working on geologic hazards mitigation and minerals exploration/assessment as a consultant. In 2008, he started Alpine Geosciences, a consulting and development company focused primarily on minerals, geothermal resource exploration, and development with projects located throughout western North America, Alaska, and Myanmar. He also owns and operates a construction and land development company. 2005 | Ashley Hansen (BS ’05, MS ’07 Brigham Young University) has been working for Petroleum Systems International (PSI) in Salt Lake City for six years. At PSI, she has had the opportunity to work on geochemical petroleum exploration projects all over the world, learning many aspects of the business including basin modeling, oil classifications, and construction and management of large databases. In addition to being a geologist, she is also the mother of two-year-old toddlers and tries to make it into the mountains to hike as often as possible. Mathematics 1989 | Jan Pfeifer (BS ’89 Brigham Young University; Aspen, Colorado) is the controller and in charge of Human Resources at the Aspen Square Condominium Hotel in Aspen, Colorado. Before that, she taught math and statistics courses at Eastern Montana College in Billings, Montana. Later she taught math and statistics at Colorado Mountain College in Aspen for fifteen years before taking accounting classes that eventually led her to her job today. 2007 | Brian Rushton (BS ’07, MS ’09, PhD ’12 Brigham Young University; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) works at Temple University as a research assistant professor. He studies colorful fractals known as subdivision rules. He and his wife, Lindsey, who has Congenital Muscular Dystrophy (CMD) and is confined to a wheelchair, ran a 5K charity run in September to raise money for those with CMD. 2010 | Tina Burton (BS ’10, MS ’12 Brigham Young University; East Lansing, Michigan) is a customer service representative at Unishippers, a third party logistics company. Mathematics Education 1980 | Michael Struiksma (BA ’80 Brigham Young University; MEd ’82 Wes Chester University; MEd ’85 Lehigh University; EdS ’88 Idaho State University; Draper, Utah) is an adjunct in-

structor at Eagle Gate College in Provo, Utah. He teaches general education on campus and online. Struiksma is also developing online curriculum. His emphasis is college algebra and statistics. 1996 | Aaron R. Hogge (BA ’96 Brigham Young University; Farmington, Utah) received a master’s degree in Educational Leadership and Philosophy from the University of Utah in 2000. He now uses his degree as the principal of Centennial Junior High School in Kaysville, Utah. 2010 | Ashley Jones (BA ’10, MS ’12 Brigham Young University; Orem, Utah) is working for the BYU Department of Mathematics Education teaching MthEd 305 and 306, which are courses for elementary education and early childhood education majors. Physics & Astronomy 1992 | Nathan Hilton (BS ’92 Brigham Young University; PhD ’02 University of Arizona; Livermore, California) works at Sandia National Laboratories. His radiation detection and imaging research areas include arms-control and treaty-verification methods, nuclear-weapon stockpile surveillance, and non-intrusive inspection of cargo passing through US ports of entry. 2009 | Michael Rasmussen (BS ’09, JD ’12 Brigham Young University; Salt Lake City, Utah) is a patent attorney for Kunzler Law Group, which is based in Salt Lake City. 1967 | William Daily, Jr. (BS ’67, PhD ’71 Brigham Young University;) passed away on June 2, 2014, at the age of seventy. He is survived by his wife, Kathy Bosworth, and their six children and seventeen grandchildren. After receiving his PhD, he worked in NASA’s Apollo program and research at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) until his retirement in 2007. He then worked as a visiting researcher at the University of Lancaster and a consultant for companies using his patented technologies and research. Statistics 1989 | Trevar Withers (BS ’89, MS ’90 Brigham Young University; Wadsworth, Ohio) double majored in statistics and computer science while attending BYU. He now serves as an advisory board member for the BYU Actuarial Program. Trevar is also working as a Personal Lines Pricing Actuary at Westfield Insurance. His current topic of interest is telematics and usage-based insurance pricing. 2008 | Tommy Dossett (BS ’08 Brigham Young University; MS ’10 North Carolina State University; Springfield, VA) works at Statistics Collaborative, Inc., which is located in Washington DC, where he does clinical trial research.

MEMORY BYTES In this issue’s Memory Byte, alumna Rebecca Carlson shares an experiment she did.

Up to Our Knees in Physics By Rebecca J. Carlson (Physics and Astronomy, BS’95, Laie, Hawaii)

In the fall of 1992, my Physics 221 teacher assigned each class member to come up with an original project based on some topic in the course. I decided to measure the flow rate of the water jets in the old Talmage building fountain (which is no longer there) so I could calculate the water pressure in the pipes. I collected a three-gallon BYU Creamery bucket and a tape measure. Then I borrowed an orange traffic cone from Campus Security, taped up the small end, and had the cone carefully weighed in the physics department stock room. On a chilly night, one of my classmates and I rolled up our jeans and waded into the Talmage building fountain. Using my HP 48 calculator as a stopwatch, I timed how long it took each of the small side jets to fill my bucket. Then my friend and I splashed into the middle of the fountain, balanced the taped-up traffic cone on the large center jet, and measured how high the water lifted it. Of course we were soaked in the process. We had a long, cold, wet walk back to Heritage Halls, but we got the data I needed.

Have a Memory Byte to Share? Tell us about the toughest class you ever took at BYU. What class was it? Did you overcome and learn the subject? Or does a certain science concept still leave you baffled? What did it take to push through? Please send your anecdotes (of up to 200 words) to with “Memory Bytes” in the subject line. We’ll publish the best one in the next issue of Frontiers. Submissions may be edited for length, grammar, appropriateness, and clarity.




A CS ROCK STAR Text: Mackenzie Brown

Striding proudly among the students playing his trumpet in his daughter’s marching band, David Jackman (BS ’94, MS ’02) does not seem like the typical BYU computer science alumnus. Jackman, who played in the jazz band Synthesis at BYU back in the early ’90s, has volunteered in his daughter’s marching band classes and currently helps out his local junior and high schools’ jazz bands. “My oldest daughter would complain that I was more popular at her school than she was,” Jackman laughed. However, Jackman has a lot more to offer the local schools than just his musical talent. Jackman is a software engineer for Microsoft and is involved in the Microsoft sponsored Technology Education And Literacy in Schools (TEALS) program. He currently teaches the Intro to Computer Science class at Orem and Timpanogos high schools in addition to his day job.


PHOTO: Scott Daly

David Jackman uses his computer science degree to give back by teaching kids how to code.

Jackman and two other local computer scientists, Larry Fluckiger (BS ’88) and Tyler Castaldo (BS ’12 BYU-I), donate their morning hours teaching computer programming classes in Utah Valley’s high schools. This service furthers TEALS’s initiative, which focuses on getting computer science classes in as many high schools as possible. TEALS provides curriculum for computer science professionals from various companies to teach computer science classes at high schools all over the nation. “I want to have a class where at the end of class the students can actually write a program on their own,” Jackman said. “No matter what careers you go into, knowing how to program a computer can be very, very valuable.” The students seem to understand the value of the class as well. Jackman started out in 2012 with a small class of eight students. This year, he had twenty-five students in that same class. The students’ increasing interest is beneficial not only to the students but also to the software industry. It is estimated that 150,000 computer science jobs open up every year all over the nation. In 2010, fewer than 40,000 American students received a degree in computer science. Currently in Utah, only 25 percent of high schools offer a computer programming class of some sort. Unfortunately, those statistics aren’t much better in other states. Clearly, there is a substantial difference between the supply and demand in the job market (Wingfield, 2012). Jackman believes that getting more computer science professionals involved in high schools could help more students graduate with degrees and fill the computer science job openings. “The idea is to help people in the industry realize they really can do this—they can provide this service to the high schools to keep programming going,” Jackman said. Whether he’s teaching kids to play instruments or teaching kids how to code, Jackman hopes to get more people to join the band of coders. After all, as William James Adams (also known as, a popular singer, once said, “Great coders are today’s rock stars.”


BYU President Kevin J. Worthen honored eight members of the College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences community at the opening session of the Annual University Conference (AUC) on August 26, 2014. Adam Woolley (Maeser Research and Creative Arts Award), Steven Graves (Maeser Excellence in Teaching Award), Barry Willardson (Wesley P. Lloyd Award for Distinction in Graduate Education) Brent Adams (Alumni Professorship Award), Jessica Purcell (Young Scholar Award), Blake Peterson (Richard Roskelley Teaching and Learning Fellowship), Steve Turley (Alcuin Fellowship Award), and Lynn Patten (President’s Appreciation Award) received university awards honoring their hard work and accomplishments.

College Awards Banquet

Faculty, staff, and their families gathered on February 6 for the Annual College Awards Banquet in the Hinckley Center. The University Service Awards were presented to Rod Scheetz (10 years), Linda Richards (10 years), and Lonette Stoddard (30 years). College Awards were given to Roger Harrison (Distinguished Citizenship), Natalie Blades (Excellence in Teaching 3–10 years), Tom Morris (Excellence in Teaching 10+ years), Matt Heaton (Young Scholar), and Sue Mortensen (Outstanding Admin/Staff).

Family History Technology Lab

A new family history technology lab opened on campus in room 3365 of the Talmage building. The lab hosted an open house on September 18, where students showcased new technologies that assist in family history work. Online tools can be accessed at

New Leadership

Cindy Snow has been appointed as the new CPMS representative to BYU’s Alumni Board. Representatives on the BYU Alumni Board act as voice for both the dean and alumni of each college on campus. In 1971, Snow became one of the first women to earn her bachelor’s degree in computer science from BYU. She has worked at Intel Corporation and as an adjunct faculty member at BYU.

Our college contines to use donated funds to support undergraduate research and keep our graduate programs competitive. With the help of your donations, we can keep progressing toward our goal of $20 million in endowed funds. Nathan Cordner, an undergraduate student in the Department of Mathematics, is one student who has benefited from donations to the endowment. The donations make it possible for Cordner to participate in a mentorship opportunity with Dr. Tyler Jarvis. Together, they research mirror symmetry, an area of mathematics resulting from the theories of high-energy particle physics. “Being able to work with a professor is good because if I get stuck, I can go to someone else and ask questions, get some advice, and then go back to my problem and keep working on it,” Cordner said. “Having experiences outside of the classroom to continue learning and doing research . . . prepares students to be successful as they go on to their careers.” Cordner’s research experience will give him an edge when he applies to grad school, putting him on the path to accomplishing his goal of a career in academia.







AUC Awards




New Name for Cancer Research Center

The BYU Cancer Research Center has been renamed the Simmons Center for Cancer Research. The new name recognizes Dr. Daniel Simmons who recently ended a 17year tenure as director of the center. Former associate director Merrill J. Christensen will now serve as director with Steven L. Castle serving as the associate director. Established in 1977, the center gives students the opportunity to study potential cancer causes and treatments under the guidance of professors from several different departments.

HELP FUND THE FUTURE There are many other students like Nathan Cordner who also qualify and would benefit from a mentorship. If you would like to contribute or know somebody who would, please visit, or contact Brent Hall by phone at 801.422.4501, or by email at





CHEMISTRY & BIOCHEMISTRY In Remembrance: Edward Paul passed away on August 29, 2014. Paul earned a doctorate degree in organic chemistry from the University of Utah in 1961, and he started teaching at BYU in 1965. He taught organic chemistry to nursing and pre-medical students. Those students remember him for his signature bow tie. In Remembrance: J. Rex Goates, the father and

father-in-law of professors Steven and Julie Boerio-Goates, passed away on November 28, 2014. He received a BS in chemistry at BYU and a PhD from the University of Wisconsin. Goates served as dean of the college from 1978-1985 and taught in the chemistry department for thirty-eight years before he retired in 1985. Research: Matthew Linford and Barry Lunt

of BYU’s College of Engineering went on BYU Radio’s The Morning Show to talk about the M Disk, a new way they developed to store digital information. Working similarly to a DVD, the M Disk can hold digital information for one thousand years without degrading. Research: Adam Woolley and Mike Alder

of the BYU Technology Transfer talked on BYU Radio’s The Morning Show about the lab-on-a-chip system that Woolley and his students created that allows people to test themselves for disease at home. The device detects biomarkers for certain diseases, which will allow users to identify the presence of these diseases early on. Teaching: During the summer of 2014,

Jennifer Nielson traveled to Uganda with a team of specialists and students to partner with Makerere University’s College of Education and External Studies. With other experienced teachers, they conducted a handson learning workshop for third-year chemistry teaching students to prepare them for work after graduation.


Research: Joshua Anderson and his students

have found a protein switch that could affect the treatment of cancer. The switch would keep cancer cells from eating themselves, which would result in them becoming more chemo-sensitive. This new development has the possibility of lowering doses of chemotherapy.

COMPUTER SCIENCE Research: Eric Ringger visited BYU Radio’s Thinking Aloud to discuss his research in natural language processing, also known as computational linguistics. Although there are still several challenges in the way of computers understanding language perfectly, Ringger said that the possibilities for advances in this research are limitless. Possible uses for devlopments range from linking family history relationships to automatic machine translation from one language to another. GEOLOGICAL SCIENCES Research: The BYU Museum of Paleontology now houses the fossils of a Rhinorex condrupus, an ancient dinosaur with a very large nose. The “Nose King” lived in what is now Utah during the Late Cretaceous Period. Museum curator Rodney Sheetz, along with North Carolina State University’s Terry Gates, recently published a study on the discovery in the Journal of Systematic Paleontology. MATHEMATICS

In Remembrance: Donald Robinson passed

away in his home on November 10, 2014. Robinson taught mathematics at BYU from 1956–1998, and his tenure included a period as the Department of Mathematics chair. After he retired, he created an endowment fund that provides scholarships to mathematics students. Robinson also served on the college’s volunteer leadership council (CVLC), and participated in several community activities.

MATHEMATICS EDUCATION Research: Blake Peterson received the AMTE Excellence in Mathematics Teacher Education Award. For this, he will present at the 2015 AMTE Annual Award Conference in Orlando, Florida. The award is given every three years, and Peterson was the fourth recipient. PHYSICS & ASTRONOMY New Faculty: Elizabeth Jeffrey Kraczek, a visiting faculty member, received her bachelor’s degree from BYU in 2003. She then earned her master’s and doctorate degrees in astronomy from the University of Texas at Austin. Kraczek has worked as a postdoctoral scholar at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland, and taught as an adjunct professor at Loyola University and a visiting assistant professor at James Madison University. Research: Denise Stephens was interviewed

on BYU Radio’s The Morning Show to talk about her research efforts in finding another inhabitable planet in space. Stephens discussed the Kepler and TESS missions, which measured star brightness in order to identify planet candidates.

STATISTICS Research: Dennis Tolley and retired historian Mel Bashore published a paper on pioneer mortality in BYU Studies. They discovered that, surprisingly, pioneer mortality rates are quite consistent with general mortality rates during that time period. Death rates were much higher for pioneers traveling by handcart than for those who traveled by wagon. Research: Scott Grimshaw and Scott J.

Burnwell of Fox 13 News created a model that predicts which NFL team matchups would generate the largest TV audience. Their findings show that in addition to watching their favorite team, viewers also watch whoever is winning, making the bandwagon teams the second-favorite team.


OUTSIDE OF THE CLASSROOM Chemistry & Biochemistry Graduate students Debolina Chatterjee and Danielle Mansfield, along with professor Adam Woolley, have developed a “lab on a chip” device that would allow users to test themselves for disease at home. The device is a tiny test tube that is lined with specific DNA sequences. When a drop of urine is placed in the tube, the DNA sequences grab on to any disease markers and slow down the flow in the tube. Results are almost instant, so users can avoid long waits, both in doctor’s offices and after doctors’ visits waiting for lab results. They also won’t have to worry about getting their blood drawn. This diseasedetection method also has the potential to be more accurate than more traditional methods; the DNA sequences will not stop innocent material that is similar to disease markers. So far the device can detect markers for kidney disease and prostate cancer, but the same idea and practice can be used to develop tests for other diseases.

Undergraduate student Allyson Derocher works with professors Blake Peterson and Keith Leatham on a National Science Foundation-funded MOST (Mathematical Opportunities in Student Thinking) project. MOSTs are moments in a classroom where student mathematical thinking could be used productively to develop mathematical concepts. The identification of these moments will assist teachers as they work with students to develop critical thinking skills.

PHOTO: Grad student Debolina Chatterjee (pictured top right)

PHOTO: Undergrad student Allyson Derocher (pictured bottom right)

0101 Computer Science 1010 PHOTOS: top, courtesy of BYU Photo, Brian Wilcox; bottom, Scott Daly

Mathematics Education

Three BYU teams competed against 50 other groups at the Association for Computing Machinery’s International Collegiate Programming Contest in Salt Lake City. Michael Angell, Skyler Forbush, and Thomas Hansen took first place in the Rocky Mountain regional competition and fifth place overall. Two of BYU’s teams won placement in the Rocky Mountain region top ten teams.


Derocher’s research involves analyzing video recordings of mathematics classes to find moments where students express mathematical thinking. She plans to teach junior high mathematics after she graduates, and she believes that this project will help her to capitalize on her own students’ mathematical thinking and help them learn more effectively.

Geological Sciences


Physics & Astronomy

Matt Randall won the award for best undergraduate presentation in his section at the Geological Society of America’s Environmental and Engineering Geology Competition. Randall has been researching nitrate and phosphate levels in Utah Lake. Too much concentration of these substances would be harmful to both the environment and the people in surrounding areas.

PhD candidate Rachel Webb studies mirror symmetry with professor Tyler Jarvis. Webb has published two papers, and her research is funded by a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. Currently she is working with researchers in California and China on a conjecture called the Landau-Ginzburg Mirror Symmetry Conjecture.

Scientists estimate the mass of supermassive black holes by measuring the light radiated as materials collide in space. Graduate student Carla Carroll is developing a method of measurement that uses smaller—and more easily accessible— telescopes. Carroll published in the 2014 Astrophysical Journal, and she is a two-time recipient of the Rocky Mountain NASA Space Grant Consortium Fellowship.

Statistics Professor Dennis Tolley and student Benjamin Peaden have been developing ways to discriminate between virulent and non-virulent species. They use gas chromatography-mass spectrometry to recognize biomarkers in harmful species. The pair analyzed the effectiveness of seven statistical methods in identifying these biomarkers.




John McBride with ground-penetrating radar (GPR) tool.

THE EDGE OF THE UNKNOWN Text: Mackenzie Brown Photo: Courtesy of John McBride



“My [desire to learn about the earth] was more basic. Basic exploration: to see what no person has seen before; to be the first.”


It’s empty. That’s what Dr. John McBride immediately thought as he stepped onto one of the grassy expanses in the midwestern state of Illinois. To onlookers, the miles and miles of flat land with no exposed rock formations would seem like a strange place for a geologist to go. But by using oil industry seismic exploration data, McBride was able to create images of the earth’s crust and mantle tens and tens of miles beneath the surface— into the unknown. Not to be limited to one geophysical technique, McBride has also used ground-penetrating radar (GPR) equipment to map the buried remnants of an early Mormon settlement in Nauvoo. Experiences like this display a basic human sentiment: pursuing the thrill of discovery. This is a philosophy that McBride, chair of the Department of Geological Sciences, ascribes to wholeheartedly. “I think [my interest in geology] started out simple: [I’d ask,] ‘What’s down there?’ McBride said. “My [desire to learn about the earth] was more basic. Basic exploration: to see what no person has seen before; to be the first.” That interest led McBride to thirty-five years of working in geology, both in the petroleum business with Amoco International and Shell Offshore and in academic settings at Cornell University, University of Cambridge, the University of Illinois, and BYU. McBride joined the BYU faculty in 2002. Though he doesn’t get out of the office as much as

PHOTOS: top, courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; bottom, courtesy of John McBride

Jonathan Browning’s gunsmith shop in Nauvoo.

PHOTO: courtesy of Johns McBride

he used to since becoming the department chair, McBride still satisfies his thirst for exploration by working with students and faculty on field geophysics projects as time permits. “I use various types of geophysical techniques to remotely sense what’s in the earth beneath us,” McBride said. “For example, I use echo sounding, or sound waves, to generate an image of what the earth looks like with seismic methods. More recently I have adapted GPR methods to study a variety of problems, including Mormon archaeology and scattering of electromagnetic energy in glacial ice.” The geophysical technology and software that McBride uses was pioneered by petroleum companies, who use the technology to explore for oil deposits. McBride uses this earth-scanning technology to search for things in the earth such as mineral deposits, geologic faults, and targets for CO2 sequestration. McBride has used the technology everywhere from the Bahamas to Italy to the Czech Republic, but one of his favorite experiences of discovery occurred in the Midwest. “For geologists, the Midwest can be the worst place possible to work,” McBride said. “There is often little to see on the ground surface, so you depend on geophysical tools to see beneath the surface. One of my favorite moments of discovery was using deep-penetrating sound waves to detect the geological structure beneath Illinois. I was able to see down several tens of miles and discovered that there is a huge amount of interesting geology deep below the cornfields. One feature I found was evidence of a rift zone like our own Utah Valley on the edge of the Basin and Range, buried under the miles and miles of dirt and rock.” McBride and his team of students have also put their subsurface-rendering skills to use by helping The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints improve their archeological efforts in several areas, such as exploring the site of the Provo City Tabernacle (now the Prove City Center Temple site) in Provo, Utah, looking for evidence of the location of Haun’s Mill in Missouri, and peering beneath the city of Nauvoo, Illinois. “If you look at old photographs, in the nineteenth century Nauvoo was covered with houses and had maybe 12,000 people living there,” McBride said. “We know where [the people] went, but what did they leave behind?” McBride and his team have walked the radar equipment up and down Nauvoo in order to produce images by sending electromagnetic waves (“light”) into the ground. The team has discovered and mapped foundations of homes, walls, and cisterns in three dimensions, all buried underneath the dirt, gravel, and clay that now blanket the Nauvoo of the 1840s. “The efficiency of how light penetrates matter depends on the frequency of the waves,” McBride said. “Analogous to sound, low-frequency or ‘bass’ signals will penetrate deeper than the ‘treble.’ Just like sound, if light waves are a lower frequency, they can penetrate deeper . . . You have an interface between, say, a bunch of soil and a buried foundation made out of some kind of rock. The rock produces a reflection, or echo, of light back to the GPR equipment. You can use this echo effect to map the subsurface.”

McBride is grateful to have the opportunity to serve the Church and the community with these geophysical techniques. “(My team and I] are useful in ways that are not just science-, technology-, or economics-related, but in ways that relate to that which is sacred,” McBride said. McBride also has the opportunity to serve others through teaching. He loves his job and research, but aside from that, the people that truly keep McBride coming back to work every day are the students. “What really motivates me is working with the students,” McBride said. “I really enjoy taking them to these different places, to see how they respond to the new kinds of environments, and to see their sort of ‘aha!’ moments; it’s just kind of a vicarious enjoyment.” When McBride worked in the industry in the early 1980s, he couldn’t help but feel as if he were in a rut. When he left the industry and started teaching, he realized that the students wouldn’t let him get back into the rut—not then, not ever. Every day held a new challenge; every student had a new question. “As a professor, you have the privilege of being part of [the students’ learning] process,” McBride said. “Right here, you are right on the edge of learning—the edge of the unknown. You aren’t out there by yourself; you’re with these students who you see go through this transition from just wanting to learn to now wanting to work with and lead others. That’s a great experience.”

A belt buckle or a clasp found in the excavation of the Theodore Turley Site in Nauvoo, probably 19th century.









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r. Wayne Barrett keeps a list of retirement plans tucked safely in his front pocket so he can continually add to it as he thinks of new ideas. “I realize I won’t be able to do everything on my list, but I can do a lot more than before!” he said. Barrett retired last September from the Department of Mathematics after a thirty-nine year career as a teacher, researcher, and mathematician, but he did not retire as a mentor. At the top of his retirement list are his students, whom he continues to advise, even after formal retirement. Barrett learned to love mathematics at a young age from good teachers who made problem-solving fun. Since then, he has always had a knack for working on puzzles and solving difficult problems. “I like that a lot of the time mathematics problems have unexpected solutions,” he said. By the time Barrett began college, he knew he wanted to study mathematics. The influence of good teachers also instilled in Barrett a desire to use his knowledge to become a mentor for other mathematicians, a theme he has carried throughout his career. Barrett earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from the University of Utah in 1968 and a PhD from the Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences at New York University in 1975. He taught at both the University of Wisconsin– Madison and Texas A&M before applying for a position in the BYU Department of Mathematics in 1981. “As I watched the Holiday Bowl with my family the preceding December, I said, ‘If BYU wins, then we will get the job,’” Barrett joked. “This was the famous Miracle Bowl where BYU barely won when Jim McMahon threw a Hail Mary pass in the final seconds of the game, which was caught by Clay Brown.” Luckily, BYU won and Barrett was hired as an associate professor in the BYU Department of Mathematics. For four decades, Barrett has dedicated his career to helping his students learn to love math as much as he


does. In his thirty-three years at BYU, Barrett has been happy to spend significant time mentoring undergraduate student research. “I always say I do everything for free except grading papers,” Barrett joked. Barrett puts high emphasis on helping his students get involved in research early in their undergraduate careers so they will be as prepared as possible for the demands of graduate school. He has never regretted dedicating much of his time to mentoring his undergraduate students. “I used to think helping an undergraduate do research was just going to be a drain on my own research and that it would be so hard to get them up to speed. But I think I just didn’t know the right kinds of problems for them to work on. I’ve gotten a lot better at that,” he said. “You can do so much more with students. . . . It’s great to work with people who make contributions you weren’t even expecting.” Barrett has found that his students are often especially helpful when it comes to incorporating technology into his research. He also enjoys seeing them become mentors to each other as they collaborate and use each other as resources in their own projects. His passion for helping others does not go unappreciated. Nine of Barrett’s past graduate students attended his retirement dinner last year, where a student secretary presented him with a photo album commemorating his time at BYU. Many of Barrett’s past students have stayed in contact with him over the years, and several have continued to collaborate with him in their own research. As a teacher, Barrett was dedicated to helping struggling students, but he especially enjoyed having the opportunity to work with the gifted students who really had a desire to understand mathematics. “One of the best parts of being a teacher,” Barrett said, “is seeing your students experience the thrill of mathematical discovery.”



PHOTO: Scott Daly


PHOTO: Scott Daly



t’s not often that a music major ends up as a research physicist for the Air Force Research Laboratories, but that is what happened to Christopher Erickson. Growing up, Erickson was involved in a broad range of activities. In high school, his activities extended from athletics to theater productions. He credits an outstanding high school physics teacher with helping him to recognize an interest in science. Erickson entered BYU as a music major for performance on string bass. However, when he returned from serving an LDS mission to Argentina, he declared physics as a major as well. Pursuing a double major in college seems daunting, and Erickson said he wasn’t sure about it at first, either. “Part of that is that I don’t have a really good grasp on reality so I don’t tend to know what my limits are,” he said. Originally, he planned to leverage his physics training in a music career, but as he progressed in the major he realized that he loved science, too. He eventually got involved as a research assistant in Professor Dallin Durfee’s lab studying atom interferometry. As a result of that work, Erickson stayed at BYU to earn master’s and doctoral degrees. In graduate school, he applied for many fellowships before receiving a SMART fellowship with the United States Department of Defense. Through this fellowship, Erickson was offered the position he now holds at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico. His research there is in matter-wave interferometry; that is, using the quantum waves associated with atoms to make measurements. The two lab’s primary focuses are developing atomic clocks for space and navigation devices for GPS-denied environments. Erickson acknowledges both the coincidental experiences and the raw perseverance that led him to where he is today.

“There were three distinct times where I about walked out [of graduate school]. I was going to stop. . . . It wasn’t worth it. It’s worth it now,” he said, laughing. “[I felt that] a doctorate degree [could be] a tool to really keep my options open. . . . The only way to not pigeonhole myself into something was to pursue a degree that I could apply in just about any field that interested me. And physics is one of those things that you can do that with.” Erickson was able to apply his physics degree during a presentation he gave at the TEDx event in Albuquerque, New Mexico in 2013. “That was fun,” he said. “That was surprising, actually. Somebody at work sent around the call for speakers, and I thought, ‘Well, you know, doing this kind of research is very interesting, and a lot of people don’t know about it.’ I figured that would be something of interest. . . . To my surprise, they were much, much, much more excited about that topic than I would have guessed.” He said he is also grateful for the unexpected experience of staying at BYU for all three degrees. “It wasn’t until I was a graduate student that I really learned to appreciate BYU, that I really learned to appreciate what a unique institution it is, and really, what an opportunity it is to go to school here,” Erickson said. That appreciation drew Erickson back to BYU in October 2014 to give back to the College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences. He performed demonstrations and delivered a presentation to students about the options that come from studies in the hard sciences. “[I have] the career that I’ve always wanted,” Erickson said. “And it’s because twelve years ago as an undergraduate I went over to the physics department to bring something back into the world of music.”







ome fathers and sons bond over woodshop projects or fishing trips, but father and son BYU professors Gerald Watt and Richard Watt have always bonded, instead, over chemical reactions. “I remember after my first year in college . . . when I went home at Christmastime, my dad had a reaction going in the lab, so we went into the lab to finish it,” Richard said. “We went into his office to start talking about science and then about three hours later, my mom called and said, ‘Are you guys okay?’ Science has been a real strong bond that we both liked. It’s a hobby that we do together.” Richard has always had the perfect mentor in his father, whose life and career was shaped by his experience at BYU as a student. Gerald’s first impression of his professors was what inspired him to become a teacher himself. “BYU was just this awesome place. It was huge compared to where I was raised,” Gerald said. “I started taking some chemistry classes, and I was really impressed with the faculty. They were so genuine and concerned about people learning, and it was . . . those types of experiences that made me want to do the same thing: to be a professor.” After a twenty-year career at a private research lab in Ohio, Gerald returned to BYU in the winter of 1990 as a professor to teach what he loves, and the experience was “all [he] expected and more.” For about sixteen years, Gerald taught in the chemistry department. Richard never had his father as a professor, but he has still learned from his father’s example, and his decision to become a professor himself was heavily motivated by Gerald’s influence. “A huge influence in my life was seeing his example and seeing what he did, how he did it, and how much he enjoyed

PHOTO: Scott Daly

it,” Richard said. “He’ll say that he’s never gone to work a day in his life because he comes in and he plays every day.” Gerald retired in 2006, but he and Richard still interact regularly at BYU. They love to get together and talk about their shared interest. Even when Richard lived in different parts of the country for school and work, the two constantly collaborated on projects and ideas. At family gatherings, they find themselves getting lost in scientific chatter. One of Richard’s favorite memories of his dad was when Gerald was awarded the American Chemical Society award in Utah for developing a bio-nanobattery. “He talked about all of the different steps that were involved in doing that and taking it to completion and making it work,” Richard said. “That was one moment where I could see the beauty of time mixed in with all the chemistry.” For many years, Gerald has been Richard’s example and inspiration, and now Gerald finds himself learning from his son. “Somehow he got some really good genes. . . . You go through life as a father and you teach, but now I think the tables have been turned. I’m learning a huge amount from him. It’s this progression that has slowly evolved, and now I’m the student,” Gerald said.

Gerald is particularly grateful to have a son who can help him out with the latest technology. “The real advantage is that even though I am from a digitally handicapped generation (I can’t even set my watch), I [can] come to him.” Gerald has loved to see Richard progress over the course of his career and his life. He remembers when Richard was just a child. “When he was a boy, he could do a Rubik’s Cube like you wouldn’t believe,” he said. “In fact, one morning I caught him in bed trying to do his Rubik’s Cube with his feet.” Now one of Richard’s greatest accomplishments, in Gerald’s opinion, has been his ability to synthesize information. “He has put something together scientifically that is a gigantic Rubik’s cube,” Gerald said. “He’s working on a cohesive model now, and it could have a huge impact on treating a number of different diseases. The greatest [accomplishment] is seeing him do things that I couldn’t do.” Currently, Richard and Gerald are working together on a project that turns biomass (lawn clippings, corn, leaves, etc.) into electricity. Though it was never their plan, the project is a new way for them to grow and learn together as father and son.










PHOTO: Scott Daly


et’s begin with a story, shall we? In the middle of the thirteenth century, a Dominican friar named Thomas Aquinas was instrumental in laying the foundation of accepted cosmology for centuries to come. Several of his writings became so widely used in the schools of the so-called scholastics, that for centuries, even until today, they became a standard part of the theological curriculum. Aquinas’s ideas became so entrenched that they took on a special status: dogma. Now, let me clarify up front. For our purposes here, I make a distinction between dogma spelled with a small letter “d”— meaning in a broader and more informed sense—and dogma spelled with a capital “D”—meaning specific points of belief as proclaimed by some churches that followers must adhere to. Dogma is essentially a belief, which in one’s mind is so well established that it may not be questioned even in the light of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Because this can be an impediment to finding truth, I’ve entitled my presentation, “The Dogma Trap.” Anyway, back to our story. Aquinas is given much credit for his efforts to harmonize revealed religious truth and the understanding of truth according to reason. Like many today, myself included, he took the position that faith and reason are both legitimate sources of truth, and that they can and must mutually conform to the same truth. He made the argument that the study of nature and the application of reason were equally valid to revelation in finding the nature of God and his creations. Thirteen centuries earlier, Aristotle had laid out a model of the universe based on observation and reason. The earth was at the center of the universe—the central focus of God’s creations—and the sun and the moon orbited around it in circles. Aquinas adopted this model, with the perfect, unchangeable heavens in concentric spheres, home of the various ranks of angels. And finally we encounter the outermost realm, where God resides. The harmonizing of science and religion in this way was a great strengthener of faith for Christians and remained so for hundreds of years. Of course you recognize that this isn’t the model we use. The switch to a sun-centered solar system was not easy for people of the fifteenth century. Imagine being in their shoes: it would surely be unsettling to you that men such as Copernicus, Kepler, and Galileo were promoting a new sun-centered model with heavenly bodies that are not perfect homes for angels. In their minds, the Aristotelian model of the cosmos had become more than a good idea; thanks in part to Aquinas, it had become entrenched to the point of being unquestionable. In other words, dogma. In the end, scientists, sooner, and religionists, later, both came to accept the transition to a new model of the universe. Yet, we shouldn’t take for granted that this has always been so. For many, it was a long, agonizing slog to make this transition. And dogmatic thinking was the primary slogifying influence, if you’ll permit me to invent that term. This story illustrates how the confluence of science and

religion provides the perfect opportunity for exposing dogmatic views. So, given that the Summerhays lectures focus on the relationship between science and religion, I’ve chosen to address how dogmatism can be an impediment to progress in both areas of pursuit. I’d like to focus my remarks on three theses: first, science and religion are both built on faith; second, belief systems in both arenas embrace specific articles of faith, both formal and information; and third, belief areas in both arenas are susceptible to dogma traps, which impede their pursuit of truth. Of course, the pursuit of truth is central to the missions of both science and religion. Indeed, they share at least one common goal, which may be summarized as follows: to help us understand the world we live in, cope with it, control it, view our proper place in it and achieve the greatest possible personal fulfillment in it. As to thesis number one, there is certainly nothing new about asserting that both science and religion are grounded in faith. In the realm of religion, reference to faith goes almost without saying. But the principle applies equally to science. Let me illustrate. In science class when you studied the structure of the atom or the Krebs cycle in living systems, did you not take it on faith that the instructor wasn’t just making all that stuff up? Yes, of course you did; you took it on faith. The only way science can advance is if every successive generation has faith in the claims of the careful observation and analyses and recordings of its predecessors. Consider this: the high priest of atheism, the biologist Richard Dawkins, may bear his testimony that there is no God because you cannot observe Him scientifically. He may say, “How can you believe in God? Have you seen him?” The religionist might answer, “How can you believe in electrons, have you seen one?” He may say, “No, but I have seen their effects reproducibly in the laboratory.” The religionist may answer, in the same way, “I have seen the effects of God in my life and the lives of others.” In both cases, the proponent has faith that he sees the effects—the one of God, the other of the electron—deduces the existence, and has faith that his conclusion is a correct one. Furthermore, in both cases the proponent relies on faith in the testimony of witnesses, those who have more direct experience than he or she does. The religionist strengthens his faith in the testimony of prophets who have seen or had close experiences of the divine. The scientist has faith in the testimony of predecessor scientists, who have performed and recorded the results of their experiments. One important difference is that in science, reproducibility is the basis for faith, and in religion, faith-promoting events are rare, and not predictable, and therefore, not reproducible in the scientific sense, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t real. Nonetheless, reproducibility is a widely accepted principle in science. It goes without saying, and some might treat it as dogma, insisting that it be applied to test all hypotheses in all arenas.




But first, let’s move onto my second thesis: belief systems in both areas, science and religion, embrace specific articles of faith, both formal and informal. Many religions post formal statements or articles of faith. Mormons have thirteen, the National Baptist Convention has eighteen, and so on. For religious believers, these points follow very close to or on the dogma end of most people’s certainty spectrum. Science also has its articles of faith, or “self-evident truths”, though they are seldom discussed. These include existence, causality, position symmetry, time symmetry, non-contradiction, and finally, Occam’s Razor, among others. As is true with the articles of faith in many religions, most scientists hold these ideas to be near or on the dogma end of the certainty spectrum. More often, troubles arise with some of what we might call the “lesser” articles of faith. Now what do I mean by

PHOTO: Scott Daly

Now, every belief that is held to be dogma is not false or bad. If dogmatism is a problem, the problem is not with the belief itself, but with the holder of the belief. I called reproducibility a fundamental principle of science. Scientists apply it almost religiously to our practice. It’s a good principle. But like any good principle, it becomes problematic when it becomes an unquestionable principle, that is, you are not allowed to question or modify it under any circumstance. At that point, it becomes dogma in your mind. I envision in each person’s mind, a certainty spectrum, ranging from “I really don’t know and I probably don’t care” on one extreme and dogma on the other. It is at the extreme endpoint that we may cross the subtle border between close to unquestionable to completely unquestionable—that is, dogma. That’s where we become trapped. I’ll return to this idea in a few minutes with some examples.

PHOTO: Scott Daly

The religionist strengthens his faith in the testimony of prophets who have seen or had close experiences of the divine. The scientist has faith in the testimony of predecessor scientists, who have performed and recorded the results of their experiments.

these “lesser articles”? Well, people, scientist or religionist, have been taught or have developed in their own minds, a certain set of beliefs or understandings, which perhaps when first encountered, found themselves somewhere in the middle of the certainty spectrum, but which over time have been repeated so often, challenged so seldom, become so comfortable, that they have gradually and inexorably crept along the certainty spectrum toward the dogma end. Without even realizing it, the person has become dogmatic about that particular idea. And this is where we often run into trouble. This leads me to my third thesis. That is, belief systems in both arenas are susceptible to dogma traps that impede the pursuit of truth. Examples abound of instances where dogma has impeded human advancement. I invite you to contemplate the consequences of dogma for yourself. First, the idea that the black race is inferior and those who are part

of that race are natural slaves. Second, that the bible story of the creation took exactly six 24-hour days. Third, that eugenics as practiced by the Nazis is a true science, and its principles demand that the strong remove the weak from the gene pool. And I imagine you can think of a lot more. I hope in this short time I’ve convinced you that keeping an open mind is the best path to seeking truth and making progress. Dogmatic thinking by contrast is a trap. Let’s follow the example of Joseph Smith and be open and creative in our thinking as he expressed in our 13th Article of Faith, amenable to what the Lord has to offer us, and avoiding unyielding dogma.



It is at the extreme endpoint that we may cross the subtle border between close to unquestionable to completely unquestionable—that is, dogma. That’s where we become trapped.




BYU College of Physical & Mathematical Sciences

Brigham Young University, N-181 ESC, Provo, UT 84602

Your Donations Can Help Pioneer New Discoveries When Dr. Dennis Tolley introduced Corinne Saltzman, an undergraduate student studying statistics, to the pioneer mortality rates research group, she was fascinated. What they found surprised her: pioneer mortality rates were not much higher than the average mortality rates of that time. “The purpose of the study is to try and find exact figures for the death rates of pioneers crossing the plains to show a complete picture of how many and which kinds of saints were most likely to die on the trek,” Saltzman said. “[The] findings [the research group] had weren’t the usual takeaways from pioneer stories. Pioneer stories make it seem that the death toll was a lot higher, but we found that the overall pioneer mortality rate was lower than previously thought.” This research opportunity put Saltzman on the path to achieve her goal of working in health care statistics. Because of the

To discuss helping the college with a special gift, contact Brent Hall at 801-422-4501 or

skills she gained in her mentored research experience, Saltzman secured an actuarial internship in Denver with Milliman, an international and independent actuarial and consulting firm. “My work with the pioneer mortality study was my main source of experience,” said Saltzman. “All of my internship interviewers were thrilled that I had experience working with large amounts of data and that I was working on an original project with an actuarial application. My mentorship was a real world, practical way to use the skills I learned in my classes. Having an internship and experience is crucial to finding an actual job in this field.” We invite you to help BYU students participate in similar pioneering opportunities in research. If you are interested in funding a scholarship or mentorship for CPMS students, please donate online at

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Frontiers Summer 2015  

This is the summer edition of Summer.

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