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Accepting the Challenge p. 18 Seeing the Future p. 22 Mastering Your Fate p. 24


BYU College of Physical & Mathematical Sciences 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, Managing Editor Tiana Moe, Assistant Editor Ye Liang, Graphic Designer BYU Photography Scott Daly, Photographer Rob Johnson, Photographer, Back Cover Camilla Stimpson, Writer Jennifer Johnson, Writer Meg Monk, Writer Mackenzie Brown, Writer

Contact Information D. Lynn Patten, Marketing Manager 801.422.4022,

PHOTOS: cover, BYU Photo; right, Scott Daly

Brent C. Hall, LDS Philanthropies 801.422.4501,

This year’s Pi Day on 3.14.15, starting at 9:26 a.m., ranked as the most correct starting dates and times of the century for having the most numbers align with the value of pi—3.1415926. The Department of Mathematics held a two-day extravaganza to celebrate. Events included throwing pie at the rugby team, pieeating contests, and free pie for all who attended.


Science is all about progress, and that’s exactly what we’re working on here in the College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences. From a new website to greater alumni outreach, we’re making a lot of changes to stay up-to-date. One of our biggest changes is the new CPMS website that is set to launch this month. Where the old site was outdated and difficult to navigate, the new site has an updated look and a more professional design.


David Archuleta. Our esteemed speaker at the Honored Alumni Lecture will be Dr. Randall Barnes, MD, from Northwestern University in Chicago. We invite all who are able to attend. Whether they are improvements to our website or a new look for our alumni newsletter, progress is the center of everything we do. Like every great scientist, we’ve discovered what works and we are continuing to make improvements. Progress is not something to be feared or ignored; it’s the aspect that makes our college great. It involves improving on existing qualities and incorporating new qualities into our lives so that we can better serve our community and world. We admire the hard work and service of all those who have come through our college and we encourage you to continue to progress, both professionally and personally. Wishing you all the best,

Scott Sommerfeldt, Dean PHOTO: Courtesy of BYU Photo

The new site also includes additional features and pages that will make finding important information much easier. With these changes, we have made the website more user friendly, and we hope the new look will help students and alumni alike learn more about our college’s programs and successes. Another way we will be spreading the word about our college is through our new-and-improved alumni newsletter. With its new look, the information is more streamlined and easier to access. We are also putting a greater emphasis on BYU Bridge and the opportunities it provides. Our aim is to benefit both alumni looking for jobs and alumni looking for new employees. We want you to be able to better connect with each other and help one another succeed. We are interested in our alumni’s successes and career paths. We are excited to hear about how our alumni are using their BYU education to make important discoveries in their respective fields. We are putting an extra effort into contacting our alumni to highlight their achievements, as well. We have already begun compiling your stories and posting your successes on our website, including them in our newsletters, and publishing them in Frontiers. Not only can we keep in touch with each other and hear your happy news, we are hoping that spotlighting you and your achievements will bring a larger number of incredible students to our college and impressive graduates to our programs. We hope to stay in touch and hear more from you in the coming months. We invite you to share your success stories, visit this beautiful campus, and attend our upcoming Honored Alumni Lecture and Homecoming festivities. Included in the grand spectacle this year is a performance by the musical prodigy


PHOTOS: top, Scott Daly; middle, BYU Photo; bottom, courtesy of Greg Herbertson






















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AFTER THEIR ALMA MATER Chemistry & Biochemistry 1980 | Robert L. Foote (BS ’80 Brigham Young University; MD ’85 University of Utah; Rochester, Minnesota) is a professor of radiation oncology and chair of the Department of Radiation Oncology at the Mayo Clinic, School of Medicine. He is involved in the development of two intensity modulated proton beam therapy cancer treatment centers in Phoenix, Arizona, and Rochester, Minnesota. 1981 | Scott Jolley (PhD ’81 Brigham Young University; Titusville, Florida) worked at Lubrizol for twenty-two years. He then moved on to do research at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, a dream job for him. There, he develops methods for incorporating a “selfhealing” mechanism into thin films used in electrical wire insulation and in corrosion control coatings. 1997 | Ryan L. Marshall (BS ’97, JD ’02 Brigham Young University; Lehi, Utah) is an intellectual property attorney at Brinks Gilson & Lione. He has substantial experience in the chemical, pharmaceutical, biochemical and medical device arts and helps file patent applications. He also serves there on the Lehi Planning Commission. 2013 | Brendan Leach (BS ’13 Brigham Young University; Benicia, California) is a medical student at Touro University California. As this is his first year of medical school, he is not sure what he wants to go into, but he is leaning toward doing primary care in Northern California. 2014 | Andrew Starita (BS ’14 Brigham Young University; Navarre, Florida) received a commission from the Air Force and became a second lieutenant, which took him to Florida. Starita works with a team responsible for acquiring and testing AMRAAM missiles. He is grateful for the skills he learned in chemistry because they help him better comprehend the technical aspects of the missiles he works with. 2014 | William Rankin (BS ’14 Brigham Young University; Herriman, Utah) is working toward earning his PhD at the University of Utah. His research includes studying materials for solar cells and thermoelectrics with Dr. Luisa Whittaker-Brooks. Computer Science 1999| Michael Muir (BS ’99, Brigham Young University; Culver City, California) works as a Computer Graphics Supervisor at Sony Pictures Imageworks. He is currently working on a digital feature called Hotel Transylvania II, which comes out in September. He has previously worked on films such as Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. 2006| Thomas L. Packer (MS ’06, PhD ’14 Brigham Young University; Orem, Utah) works at Blue Coat Systems in Draper, UT as a senior software engineer and data scientist in the field of


computer network security analytics. On the side, he works with his PhD advisor, David Embley, writing software to extract data from family history books for the project. 2008 | Michael Clark (BS ’08 Brigham Young University; Dayton, Ohio) received a PhD in computer science from the Air Force Institute of Technology, Wright-Patterson AFB, OH in March 2015. His dissertation was titled “The Theory and Application of Privacy-Preserving Computation.” 2014 | Ben Williams (BS ’14 Brigham Young University; Farmington, Connecticut) was an intern at Milliman, an actuarial consulting firm over the summer. Now he is attending grad school and studying music technology. 2014 | Kris Alder (BS ’14 Brigham Young University; Provo, Utah) is working on an MS in computer science and does research with Mike Goodrich on the interaction between humans and swarms of robots. 2014| David Boudreau (BS ’14 Brigham Young University; Colorado Springs, Colorado) is a system integration and test engineer associate at Lockheed Martin where he and his team build software for ICBMs. Geological Sciences 1948 | Robert Rowley (MS ’48 Brigham Young University; California) has worked with the Columbia Iron mining company, the Geneva Steel company, and the Utah Department of Highways District 5. The last company he worked for before retirement was UDOT as the preconstruction engineer and assistant district director. Since retirement, he has been taking science courses. 1983 | Willard Harvey (BS ’83 Brigham Young University; Conroe, Texas) ended up in the chemical service industry after working for several years in the oil and gas industry in the Gulf of Mexico. He works at GE Water and Process Technologies as a Hydrocarbon and Chemical Processing Industries Product Manager. On the side, Harvey and his wife are beekeepers. 2008 | Adam McKean (BS ’08, MS ’11 Brigham Young University; Utah) currently works for the Utah Geological Survey, where he creates geological maps of urban areas in Utah with high potential for growth and need of geologic hazard studies. He has been the author of several publications.​ Mathematics 2010 | Brigham Wilson (BS ’10, MS ’12 Brigham Young University; Boston, Massachusetts) is currently pursuing an MBA at MIT. He earned a bachelor’s in mathematics and economics and a master’s in computer science. Along with doing operations research for

the Air Force at the Pentagon, he has done projects for Infosys, Argonne National Lab, and Cummins.​ Mathematics Education 2014 | Bethany Jensen (BA ’14 Brigham Young University; Orem, Utah) recently finished her first year of teaching at Timpanogos High School, where she taught secondary Math 2 and 3. She had the opportunity to help other teachers learn about using tasks in their lessons. She continues working with Scott Hendrickson, BYU Math Ed Professor, and Dawn Barson, BYU Math Ed Adjunct Professor. Physics & Astronomy 1997 | Derek Hullinger (BS ’97 Brigham Young University; Ph.D Physics University of Maryland College Park; Provo, Utah) works as a systems engineer at ImSar. He has experience working at NASA, teaching as a college professor, and developing new techologies in x-ray and radar instrumentation. 2003 | Jacob Fugal (BS ’03 Brigham Young University; Mainz, Germany) currently works in the holography lab at the Institute for Atmospheric Physics at the Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz. He works with 3 PhD students and 2 masters students with an airborne probe that flies on aircraft to measure clouds in situ. Statistics 1989 | Mark Brown (BS ’89 Brigham Young University) is the vice president and chief financial officer at SelectHealth and is responsible for financial operations and reporting, actuarial and underwriting operations and compliance, government programs (excluding Medicare & Medicaid), and commercial product development and maintenance. 1997| Rachelle Curtis Wilkinson (BS ’97 MS ’98 Brigham Young University; Texas) teaches night statistics classes at the local community college in Round Rock, Texas. She is also the mother of seven children, which includes quintuplets. 1998 | Blake P. Murphy (BS ’98 Brigham Young University; Irvine, California), since graduating, has worked as a retirement consultant and actuary for Aon Hewitt (formerly Hewitt Associates), a premier human resource advisory firm. He also participates on the BYU Actuarial Advisory Board where he assists the department chair, Dennis Tolley, with ideas on how to provide actuarial science and statistic students with the skills they need to enter the workforce. 2013 | Aaron Carmack (BS ’13 Brigham Young University; Anchorage, Alaska) is an associate data analyst at the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium (ANTHC) in the Epidemiology Department.

MEMORY BYTES In this issue’s Memory Byte, alumnus Chris Kite remembers jokes from his math professor.

Jokes and Mathematicians By Chris Kite (Mathematics, BS ’78, MBA ’80; Cornelius, North Carolina)

I thought about a joke my BYU Math professor taught me back around 1978. You may have heard it as well, but a new perspective came to me a year or so ago. The story is told of a mathematician and an engineer who line up at one end of the Wilkinson Ballroom with their beloveds at the other end. They are told they can kiss their beloved once they get to the end of the ballroom, but they can only go half the remaining distance each time. The mathematician pauses and considers the task, then declares the task impossible as there would be an infinite number of divisions for the remaining half and they would never reach the end of the ballroom. The engineer says, “That may be true, but I can get close enough!” So the engineer takes off and leaves the mathematician behind. My new perspective is that you do reach the end of the ballroom as long as you decrease the time to pause between each leg of the journey. You can go an infinite number of divisions of the journey in a finite length of time. From what I see, the series for the parts of the journey reduces to the point where the remaining distance and/or time go to the Planck constant. Time and space come together with a kiss!

Have a Memory Byte to Share? Do you remember a time when you spent hours on a homework problem and solved it? Tell us about an “aha!” moment you had as you worked to solve a tough problem during school. Please send your anecdotes (of up to 200 words) to with “Memory Bytes” in the subject line. We’ll publish the best ones in the next issue of Frontiers. Submissions may be edited for length, grammar, appropriateness, and clarity. FALL 2015



REFLECTING ON THE PATH TO SUCCESS Text: Mackenzie Brown Photo: Courtesy of Brent Pulsipher

After three decades of working as a statistician for a national laboratory of the United States government, Brent Pulsipher credits BYU for giving him the education and background needed to succeed. Pulsipher retired this year after a 31-year career at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) in Richland, Washington. He spent the past 15 years managing a variety of projects for the Computational and Statistical Analytics Division. Following his graduation from BYU in 1980 with a bachelor’s degree in statistics, deciding where to get his graduate degree was easy. “I decided to stay at BYU for my graduate work because I liked the environment and the people I worked with,” Pulsipher said. “The master's program was highly rated nationally, and caring professors helped me secure a career related job on campus as a research assistant.” He was not disappointed with his decision. In the statistics graduate program, Pulsipher was able to gain reallife problem-solving experience in the consulting lab and to take elective classes, in addition to his regular coursework, that were suited to his interests. “The faculty were top-notch and very personable,” he said. “I feel like they really helped me through the program, even when I was struggling.” Pulsipher received his master’s degree in statistics in 1981 and after accepting a position at the Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, was surprised to find that he was much more prepared for the demands of a career than some of his colleagues. “[The BYU Master’s of Statistics] was a very applied program,” he said. “I felt like I was an expert in experimental design and data analysis compared to some of the recent graduates of other programs.” After two years in Tennessee, Pulsipher and his family wanted to move back to the West. He paid a visit to some of his former BYU professors and began asking around to see who was hiring. A few days later, he received a call from a former BYU graduate working for the PNNL. Shortly after, Pulsipher’s family moved to Richland, Washington. Mid-career, he managed a group of 30 statisticians for 15 years. The most rewarding part of his career at PNNL, Pulsipher said, was the development of a software program sponsored by several US and international government agencies called “Visual Sample Plan.” The program optimizes sampling strategies in studies for a variety of applications, including environmental, national security, and energy issues.


“At PNNL I had the freedom to take my career where I wanted to, so I focused on this technology, and now we have more than 10,000 users worldwide,” he said. Following his retirement, Pulsipher has been conducting training courses internationally for this technology, keeping in touch with his colleagues at PNNL. He also has more time to spend with his eight grandchildren, serve as a stake president, and prepare to eventually serve a mission with his wife.



New Staff CPMS welcomes Melanie Steimle, the new career advancement manager. Melanie assists all of the students in the CPMS majors with job and internship searches, networking, and salary negotiation strategies. Melanie worked in career services at George Washington University before joining BYU’s University Career Services in 2014.

New Chairs

Michael J. Dorff was recently appointed as chair of the Department of Mathematics with Darrin Doud and Paul Jenkins serving as associate chairs. In the Department of Statistics, Dennis Tolley was reappointed as chair and Gilbert W. Fellingham was reappointed as associate chair. In the Department of Mathematics Education, Keith Leatham was appointed as associate chair.

New Website

The CPMS website is getting a new look, coming this fall. The redesigned website will be easier to use, more visually appealing, and mobile-friendly. Watch for the new website at

PHOTO: Scott Daly

New CVLC members

CPMS welcomes two new members to the College Volunteer Leadership Council: Erik Webb (from Sandia National Laboratories) and Hyrum Wright (from Google).

STILL GROWING Our college continues to use donated endowment funds to support undergraduate research and keep our graduate programs competitive. With the help of your donations, we will continue to progress toward our goal of two $10 million endowments. Most PhD students are faced with an overwhelming amount of classwork, research, and the demand to teach to pay for school. This is not the case for mathematics student Dallas Smith, who has had his load lightened thanks to the grant he received through the college. “It’s opened up the time for me to do the research,” Smith said. “Because I was able to get this funding, I was able to do research and not have to worry about doing a class load and teaching.” Smith conducts his research alongside associate professor Scott Glasgow. Together they study the process of quantum electrodynamics (QED) and what goes on between the beginning and the end of the process. “I’m a firm believer that understanding the intermediate process will give us some information. Just knowing the end result isn’t enough.” Smith said. Smith is in his second year in the program, and he is grateful for the grant he has received. It has made being a PhD student a little easier. There are many students like Smith who could benefit greatly from your contributions. If you would like to donate or know someone who would, please visit, or contact Brent Hall by phone at (801) 422-4501 or by email at

FALL 2015




CHEMISTRY & BIOCHEMISTRY In Remembrance: Larry Dungan passed away on February 1, 2015, at age 59. He joined the staff of the chemistry department in 2011 as manager of the chemistry stockroom. In 2012, he was diagnosed with ALS, which he battled for three years. During that time, he served as a service missionary and was able to spend time with his three adopted children. In Remembrance: J. Bevan Ott passed away Sunday, March 27, 2015 in Orem, Utah. Bevan was a good friend and colleague to the department and the university. He served as chair of the department and as associate academic vice president of the university. Bevan was instrumental in getting approval for the Ezra Taft Benson Building to be built. In Remembrance: Donald Robertson passed away from cancer on August 26, 2014, in Oceanside, California. He was a professor of chemistry at BYU from 1980 to 1993. He received his BS in chemistry in 1972 from BYU and his PhD in 1976 from Washington University. He was a good friend to the college. New Faculty: Ken Christensen received his bachelor’s in chemistry from BYU and then went on to receive his PhD in chemistry at the University of Michigan. He has also been a Postdoctoral Fellow with the University of Michigan Medical School and the Harvard Medical School. COMPUTER SCIENCE Research: Tom Sederberg and Bill Barrett worked with students to create an app called “Relative Finder,” which has been officially certified by FamilySearch. Relative Finder is now connected to FamilySearch’s Family Tree database and is compatible with mobile devices. About 30,000 people use the website each week, of which 18,000 are new users.


New Faculty: David Wingate received a bachelor's and a master's in computer science from Brigham Young University followed by a PhD in computer science from University of Michigan. He was a postdoc and research scientist at MIT with a joint appointment in the Laboratory for Information Decision Systems and the Computational Cognitive Science group. Retirement: Dan Olsen has retired after 31 years of influencing countless students and making significant contributions to the field of computer science. Olsen first joined BYU’s faculty as an associate professor in 1984 and advanced to professor in 1990. Over the course of his career, Olsen obtained three patents, published 72 scholarly articles, wrote three books, and received eight awards

This award was created to recognize universities that help supply physics teachers. BYU graduated 17 physics teachers in 2014, which is more than double the amount of any other university. In Remembrance: Dorian Hatch passed away on August 12, 2015 after battling cancer. He served in various capacities at BYU before retiring in 2006. Previously, he was a professor of physics and also served on the Medical School of Admissions Board at BYU. He also served as chair of the physics and astronomy department for six years.

New Faculty: Brian Anderson was a visiting faculty member at BYU from 2009 to 2011 before becoming a research scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory. He earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in physics at GEOLOGICAL SCIENCES BYU and then earned his PhD in acoustics Research: Jani Radebaugh was invited to from Penn State. He returned to BYU in participate in this year’s TEDxBYU. She spoke 2015 as a permanent faculty member in the on using exploration to increase our knowledge department. of the Solar System. She was the first scientist to be invited to speak at TEDxBYU. She is a Research: Karine Chesnel is investigating planetary scientist who researches the shape the magnetic behavior of nanosystems and and origins of landscapes in our solar system. their potential uses in technology. Chesnel has visited Stanford’s synchrotron to further MATHEMATICS her research and recently published an article Award: Michael A. Dorff was honored for about the orbital and spin moments of specific his work with the Center for Undergraduate nanoparticles. Research in Mathematics (CURM). CURM received the American Mathematical Society’s STATISTICS “Program that Makes a Difference” award. The New Faculty: Brian Hartman received a AMS gives one to two of these honors each year. bachelor's in actuarial science from BYU and CURM was founded in 2007 and seeks to help a PhD from Texas A&M University. He is also students at other universities to have the same an associate of the Society of Actuaries. research experience that is offered at BYU. New Faculty: Garritt Page received his MATHEMATICS EDUCATION bachelor's from Southern Utah University, Award: Blake Peterson receieved the national a master's in statistics from BYU, and then a 2015 Excellence in Teaching in Mathematics PhD in statistics from Iowa State University. Education Award from the Association of Mathematics Teacher Educators (AMTE). This New Faculty: Robert Richardson received prestigious award has only been given three his bachelor's from BYU and his PhD from times previously to highly respected individuals. the University of California-Santa Cruz. Peterson emphasizes helping students explain their reasoning and their perspectives in order Research: Matthew Heaton has been to increase their understanding. researching heat-related illness and analyzing heat-related 911 calls in Houston, Texas. By PHYSICS & ASTRONOMY using spatial data to map when and where Award: Duane Merrell helped physics receive these calls take place, Heaton has been able to recognition through receiving a spot in the Physics advise the city authorities on the best locations Teacher Education Coalition (PhysTEC) 5+ club. for water fountains within the city.




Chemistry & Biochemistry

Jessica Peterson graduated in April 2015 with a degree in applied statistics. She will be continuing her education at BYU in the master’s program in public administration. During her undergraduate studies, Peterson was able to work for two years for the state of Nevada where she did survey and tax analysis. Peterson had the opportunity to research and analyze mental health scores in the counseling department. With the results, they were able to fit those people with the best therapist. The year before graduation, Peterson worked in a statistical analysis program for one of her professors. She added new features to the program and refined aspects of it.

Charlotte Reininger graduated in 2015 with a degree in chemistry. She began her masters in analytical chemistry this fall. Reininger was one of 283 students out of 1,166 applicants chosen to receive the 2014 Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship. Previously, Reininger won the ACS Analytical Chemistry Junior Award, the Outstanding Undergraduate Student in Physical Chemistry, the Harr Undergraduate Research Award, and the National Elks Most Valuable Student Scholarship. She worked as a chemistry intern at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory over the summer. She has worked closely with BYU chemistry professor Dr. Paul Farnsworth throughout her education.

Jessica Peterson, photo courtesy of Jessica Peterson

Charlotte Reininger, photo courtesy of BYU News

0101 Computer Science 1 1010

Geological Sciences


Mathematics Education

Physics & Astronomy

Curtis Wigington created a virtual pedigree software program to help improve the use of viewing pedigree charts on He has presented twice at the Family History Technology Worskhop and DRC and once at DEVCON. Wigington is a coauther on a provisional patent. Wigington plans on pursuing a masters and a PhD.

Isaac Allred is pursuing a master’s in geology and has researched at the China University of Geosciences, Beijing. He studied the quality and distribution of sandstone hydrocarbon reservoirs in the Ordos Basin, China. Allred is the recipient of the National Science Foundation (NSF) East Asia and Pacific Summer Institutes (EAPSI) Fellowship.

Rebecca Paulsen is a masters student in mathematics. She is a mother of four and decided to return to BYU after an absence of approximately 20 years to pursue her master’s degree. Currently, she is one or two semesters awasy from completing her master’s and has been involved in research with Dr. Humphries.

The Mathematics Education Association (MEA) organized and sponsored a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Fair to show sixth, seventh, and eighth graders how much fun STEM fields can be for them now and in college. More than 200 students attended from over five school districts.

Blaine Harker presented in this year’s 3MT competition on sound localization in military jets. Harker’s research drew attention to unique characteristics in some tactical fighter jets, including noise generated from shock and turbulence. Harker finished strong in the college competition. He also was a session winner at the college's Student Research Conference.

FALL 2015




The College 10/1/15, 9:00 a.m.–3:00 p.m. General Career Fair •Wilkinson Student Center Ballroom


Join us this next year


Event Calendar

10/06/15–10/10/15 BYU Homecoming 10/08/15, 11:00 p.m.–12:00 p.m. Honored Alumni Homecoming Lecture • 1170 TMCB • Randall Brim Barnes, Associate Professor Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine 10/08/15, 7:30 p.m. 10/09/15, 7:30 p.m. Homecoming Spectacular Marriott Center • Purchase tickets at 10/09/15, 10:00 a.m. CVLC Meetings, Timp Lodge

Chemistry & Biochemistry



The College 9/22/15, 12:00 p.m. Women's Career Conversations • Third floor Hinckley Center 9/23/15, 10:00 a.m.–2:00 pm BYU Graduate School Fair • Wilkinson Student Center Ballroom 9/25/14, 9:00 a.m.–3:00 p.m. STEM Fair • Wilkinson Student Center Ballroom

Physics & Astronomy 09/25/15, 7:00 p.m. 09/26/15, 2:00 p.m. 09/28/15, 6:00 p.m. Sounds to Astound • Experience the science of sound with fiery explosions and smashing demonstrations. • Visit for more information.


10/09/15 Annual Homecoming Reception and Dinner • Reception and dinner at 6:30 p.m. in room W170 BNSN • Presentation at 7:30 p.m. in room W140 BNSN

Physics & Astronomy 10/09/15 Homecoming Activities • Social and Reception 4:00 p.m.–6:30 p.m. ESC Pendulum Court • Planetarium shows 4:45 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. • Physics demonstrations 4:45 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. • Attend BYU Homecoming Spectacular with the department at 7:30 p.m.

10/24/2015 Hands-on chemistry demos • Provo Library for K–6th graders

Friday Night Planetarium Shows • Schedule at

10/19/15–10/25/15 National Chemistry Week

Mathematics Education

YChem Magic Shows • Benson Building •

10/18/15, 12:00 p.m.–1:30 p.m. Annual Homecoming Alumni Breakfast • 3228 Wilkinson Student Center

Geological Sciences 10/09/15, Alumni Field Trip • Little Cottonwood Canyon • RSVP 10/09/15, 6:00 a.m. Alumni Dinner • RSVP to department required • BYU Conference Center

November Computer Science 11/19/15, 6:00 p.m. Alumni Appreciation Dinner • Hinckley Center • Tickets at



The College 1/28/16, 9:00 a.m.–3:00 p.m. General Career Fair • Wilkinson Student Center Ballroom




February The College

2/5/16, 12:00 p.m. Women's Career Conversations • Third floor Hinckley Center 2/11/15, 9:00 a.m.–3:00 p.m. STEM Fair • Wilkinson Student Center Ballroom



The College

Mathematics Education

3/10/16, 6:00 pm Summerhays Lecture on Science & Religion • Joseph Smith Building Auditorium • Guy J. Consolgmano, S.J., Director of the Vatican Observatory

3/5/16, 9 a.m.–12 p.m. Discover STEM at BYU Wilkinson Student Center Garden Court

3/17/16, 9:00 a.m.–2:00 p.m. Utah Teacher Fair - South • WSC Ballroom 3/18/16 Semi-Annual CVLC Meeting • More information to come 3/19/16, 8:00 a.m. Student Research Conference • Jesse Knight Building

Chemistry & Biochemistry 3/12/16 Rex Lee Run • Run a 5K to support cancer research • More info at

Mathematics 3/14/16, 12:00 p.m.–2:00 p.m. Pi Day • Brigham Square



Chemistry & Biochemistry 5/14/16 5/21/16 Open Lab Day • Benson Building

Physics & Astronomy 5/21/16 Astrofest • For date and times, visit: physics.byu. edu/clubs/astrosoc/astrofest/



Statistics 6/15/16–6/17/16 Summer Institute of Applied Statistics

FALL 2015



Text: Meg Monk Photos: Scott Daly



ach year, more than twice as many people die from cancer than from malaria, AIDS, and tuberculosis combined, but the BYU community is tirelessly racing for a cure. For two decades, the Simmons Center for Cancer Research has fought cancer by hosting the annual Rex Lee Run Against Cancer to raise funds and to promote cancer awareness. To date, more than 27,000 participating runners have raised over $450,000 for cancer research. Money raised from the Rex Lee Run funds student research fellowships at the Simmons Center for Cancer Research. Courtney Banks is a chemistry PhD candidate and a Cancer Research Fellow who has directly benefitted from funds raised by the Rex Lee Run. Through her fellowship, she had the opportunity to conduct full-time breast cancer research with a faculty mentor and to participate in lectures and think tanks with cancer experts. Her research is currently focused on finding ways to make cells more responsive to chemotherapy. “The Cancer Research Fellowship helped me to think outside the box as I learned from many cancer research experts in a variety of areas,” Banks said. “I feel extremely grateful for the opportunity I had to expand my understanding of cancer during the fellowship and to move the field forward.” The first runs to benefit cancer research at BYU were in 1990 and 1991. The Rex Lee Run was officially organized in 1996 to honor former BYU president Rex E. Lee, who passed away from cancer that year. Today, the run is supported with


help from the BYU Cancer Awareness Group, a student club that works to increase public awareness about cancer, to offer support to cancer patients and families, and to raise money for cancer research. Rex Lee’s family feels a run named after him is very appropriate: first, because he loved BYU and dedicated much of his life and career to the University; and second, because he was committed to beating cancer and did so on a personal level for almost a decade. Diana Lee Allred, Rex Lee’s daughter, remembers her father as an avid BYU fan who loved running and was committed to beating cancer. “When his cancer diagnosis came, running was a way for my dad to still feel alive,” Allred said. “He pushed his body to run as long as he could and continued to enjoy running until just a few months before he died. . . . I can think of no better tribute to give Rex Edwin Lee than a run honoring his memory and in his name, [assisting] research at his beloved BYU to cure the disease that took his life.” The 2015 theme in honor of the 20th annual race was “Runners Remember.” In conjunction with this theme, the college created and released a series of videos during the weeks leading up to the race that showed Rex Lee runners sharing the stories of their loved ones who have battled cancer. One of the featured runners, Derek Miller, ran the Rex Lee Run to support his wife, who was recently diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma and Crohn’s disease. “It really gets you thinking as you run . . . you’re pushing through the pain, you’re pushing through something that

is uncomfortable for the body to do, and that’s just what cancer is," Miller said. "Cancer is not something that the body has to do normally. Fighting cancer is pushing through the pain, enduring to the end, and I think that’s what the Rex Lee Run is also about." At the race, runners could donate $10 for the opportunity to wear an Honor a Cancer Fighter certificate bearing the name of their loved one who has battled cancer. The names of many of these cancer fighters were featured on signs throughout the race route, motivating the runners to keep racing toward a cure. The names of hundreds of cancer fighters were also written on a large wall at the end of the race route to remind everyone that nobody battles cancer alone. “Each of these things really helped us remember that the race is much more than just another race: it is a symbol that the fight against cancer is one that we all fight,” said Jared Cowley, the Rex Lee Run race director. “I think Rex Lee would be proud of the fight we've continued against cancer in his honor.” Rex Lee’s children also believe their father would be proud, especially since the 20th anniversary run was one of the most successful to date, raising over $50,000. “For 20 years the community has come together to lock arms against cancer in support of the research effort at BYU,” said Thomas Lee, an associate justice on the Utah Supreme Court and son of Rex Lee. “To have this event named after our dad, Rex Lee, is a distinct honor and privilege.”

FALL 2015



ACCEPTING THE CHALLENGE Text: Jennifer Johnson Photo: Scott Daly

Dr. Ross Spencer, Department of Physics and Astronomy

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oon after Dr. Ross Spencer came to teach at BYU in 1984, members of the student government asked him if he would participate in a dunk tank for a fundraiser. “They said, ‘We’ve asked around campus who the students would like to see go in the water, and you’re one of them,’” Spencer said. That semester, he happened to have a group of chemical engineering students in his physics class who didn’t particularly like the subject, and Spencer said these students made sure he took several trips into the tank. “They kept coming around over and over,” he said. “Oh, they paid a lot of money. There were nine people who got dunked, and I raised a third of the money. It was a popular activity.” Spencer’s participation in the dunk tank is representative of his general approach to life: He doesn’t shy away from challenges. In fact, he really likes them. As a plasma physicist, he has spent his 35-year career using computers to analyze tiny charged particles. “What I’ve done my whole career is take hard problems that you can’t solve with a pencil and paper and figure out how to get a computer to do the job for you,” he said. Spencer has always liked physics, but he wasn’t exactly sure what he wanted to do within that field when he graduated from BYU with a BS in physics in 1974. He attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison for graduate studies and eventually decided on plasma physics. After completing his PhD in 1979, he worked for five years at Los Alamos National Laboratory doing magnetic fusion energy research. When a teaching position in plasma physics opened at BYU in 1984, Spencer was happy for the opportunity to


return to Provo to both do research and to teach. He said he didn’t expect to ever find a teaching position when he graduated from college, but he’s grateful that he did. “I’ve always liked to explain things,” he said. “I like to show students things they’ve never seen before, watch the light go on in their eyes, and then see they can do it, too. Before I taught them, they couldn’t. . . . I just really enjoy interacting with the students.” For the past 10 years, he has done computational and theoretical research in inductively coupled mass spectrometry. Specifically, he partners with the chemistry department’s Dr. Paul Farnsworth to use experiment and theory to understand and improve mass spectrometers. Inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometers are used to identify trace elements contained in substances. Their application spans fields as various as law enforcement, manufacturing, and pharmaceuticals. “Maybe it’s a crime scene, and you want to know the exact composition of the lead in some bullet,” he said. “So you want to chemically analyze it and see what elements are in there.” When a substance is fed into one of these mass spectrometers, it heats up enough to split its molecules into atoms and then rip out the electrons to create ions. The ions and electrons are then sent through a millimeter-sized pinhole. “It’s just like going onto an airplane, shooting a bullet in the side, and letting all the air escape out of the airplane to the high altitude, low pressure gas,” Spencer said. Once through the first pinhole, the ions cool and expand. The cooled ions, now at about one-five hundredth of atmospheric pressure, are sent through one more hole. By this step in the

process, only a tiny fraction of what went into the machine makes it through the second hole, and these particles are sent to a mass analyzer. The mass analyzer compares the masses of these ions with known masses, and the trace elements that made up the original substance can be identified. “You can kind of do detective work,” Spencer said. This kind of mass spectrometer was originally designed using empirical methods, but Spencer and Farnsworth focus on improving the technology by using experimental and theoretical research. While Farnsworth uses lasers to perform measurements on the molecules, Spencer develops computer code that can simulate what’s happening to the flowing gas inside the mass spectrometer. About a year and a half after he started the project, Spencer first saw his code mirror what had been observed experimentally. “That’s always exciting,” he said. “You build these big computer programs, you hope they’re going to work, and then if things go well these amazing pictures come out. Things that people knew were there but they didn’t know exactly what they looked like, we can now see.” He said he measures progress by what he can do with the code that he couldn’t do before. When he first started the project and for most of the past 10 years, he has focused on analyzing only the flow of the neutral gas. Recently, however, he moved on to studying charged particles and attempting to computationally simulate mass selection. “I went off and did this neutral gas thing, which was new for me, and now we’re back to plasma physics,” he said. “That’s what I’ve done my whole career: use a computer to solve hard problems, and it’s just really been fun.”

That’s what I’ve

done my whole c a re e r : u s e a computer to solve hard problems, and it’s just really been fun.

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THE Text: Mackenzie Brown Photo: Courtesy of BYU Photo


ergeant Dorian Gardner was a month away from reenlisting into the marines when a routine patrol in A fghanistan completely turned his world upside down. Gardner, a combat correspondent and section chief, was based at Camp Delaram II in Afghanistan. He was on foot patrol on October 19, 2010, when a mortar hit his patrol. He lost his left eye and about 80 percent of the vision in his right eye. “I had, in my mind, already made a career of [the military], and I loved the Marine Corps. I loved what I did,” he said. Thanks to innovative technology Gar dner has again taken up work with the Marines as a public affairs marine and is stationed in Norfolk, Virginia. In his job as a public affairs marine, Gardner uses many types of assistive technology, including a ZoomText Audio Magnifier (which helps him navigate the web, read his emails, etc.) and the Optiplex CCTV (which helps him to read print text). Both of these programs are speech recognition technologies, which operate by turning human speech into text or vice-versa. “After I lost the majority of my vision, I needed the assistive technology,” Gardner said. “With the CCTV, I [read] my marines’ stories, . . . engage media outlets, stay in communication with the units, . . . and meet with people in my office. . . . As a journalist, as a chief, as an editor, you really can’t do [your job] without this kind of technology.” This is possible due to research in Natural Language Processing. Dr. Eric Ringger, a computer science professor, leads the NLP research group at BYU and helps develop this kind of technology.


“I’m just grateful that there are people out there who are dedicated to developing the technology,” Gardner said. “I’ve learned a lot more about people who do the kind of research it takes to continue to improve the technology that low-vision individuals need in order to stay engaged with the community around us.” Ringger explained that NLP is about working with human language and using computers to process that language. “There are all kinds of problems that fall under that umbrella including using speech recognition as assistive technology,” he said. Speech recognition technology, the technology that Gardner uses every day, has been in the developmental process for over 20 years. Human language is extremely complex and, even now, computers are only starting to scratch the surface. “I think a lot more people have experience using these technologies now than even 10 years ago,” Ringger said. “There have been a lot of good successes, a lot of commercially usable systems that people have had some experience with.” One of the problems involved with speech recognition technology that has slowed progress is that computers see language as ones and zeros. Because computers don’t have ears or eyes to help them understand communication, they have to be taught through code to recognize human speech patterns. Computers are taught to recognize phonemes, the smallest units in language (similar to a vowel or consonant sound), of human speech. This is an immense amount of work, and then the computers have to recognize those speech patterns when spoken quickly or slowly,

Dr. Ringger leads the NLP research group at BYU and helps develop human-computer interaction technology.

in different accents, at different levels of loudness, and so on. This problem would be almost impossible were it not for a principle called active learning, in which the computer slowly teaches itself, with human assistance, to understand language. “The computer says, ‘I’ve got a tough case here, will you please give me the answer for this case? It will give me the example I need to update my models, so I can help make better predictions about the language,’” he said. “The machine becomes an active learner and has an active goal on what needs to be done.” Ringger thinks the future of humanco mputer interaction is in synergism: the ability to work together to accomplish great things. He envisions a day when human-

machine interaction, like Gardner’s work with this technology, can become commonplace. Ringger said that computers currently lack the capability to handle complex tasks like writing up a legal contract, but with humans and computers working together, amazing technology can be created that benefits humans everywhere. “I’ve realized that this complementary nature between human and machine skills can actually be taken advantage of,” Ringger said. “We can take our combined skills and make it so the human-computer interaction is where the power is.” Ringger believes that the work Gardner is able to do using speech recognition technology is just the beginning. As research continues and computers rely more and more on active learning, research dives

deeper and deeper into how computers and humans can work together to achieve great things. “Ultimately you want to develop models and tools that lots of people can use to the point where you can save them not a thousand hours, but millions of hours across humanity,” Ringger said. “If you can automate the right tasks you could potentially improve the lives of millions of people.”

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MASTERING Y UR FATE: A FEW INSIGHTS FROM A CAREER IN SCIENCE Text: Greg Hebertson, 2014 CPMS Honored Alumnus Lecture delivered on October 16, 2014


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really appreciate the opportunity to come back to BYU. Tom Morris mentioned that oil is running through my veins; that is definitely true, but BYU is deep in my veins as well. I’m very proud to be here, and I’m very humbled to receive this award. The title of my remarks comes from the poem “Invictus” by William Henry because so much about our life is about choosing our own destiny. We are given this life to make choices that determine the outcome of our destiny. Life is about, as the poem says, “Be[ing] the captain of your soul and be[ing] the master of your fate.” Let’s start with my background. For most of my life I have had a deep desire to work in the oil and gas industry. My father worked for Mobil Oil Corporation and was an executive with the Amerada Hess Corporation for more than 30 years. I was born in Shreveport, Louisiana and lived in Houston, Texas, and Tulsa, Oklahoma throughout my life, all places with strong oil industry influence. In the early 1980s, I was a teenager living in Tulsa, the oil capital of the world. Then, in 1986, oil prices dropped precipitously. Oil company stocks were not in favor, and a degree in geoscience and a career in the oil industry seemed foolish. In 1988, I returned from my mission in Argentina to find a very different department. Many of my friends had changed majors in the hopes of finding good employment. However, I had oil in my blood and a drive to find a career in the industry. I was encouraged by a handful of people at BYU who had worked in the industry, and I was fortunate to meet a recruiter from ARCO Oil and Gas. While I worked in Alaska as a summer geologist for ARCO, I met influential people who worked for, at the time, a small and relatively unknown oil company called Anadarko Petroleum, which is now one of the


largest independent oil and gas companies in the world. I’d like to share with you four projects that I’ve worked on during my career. Each is a success story in how to master your fate and destiny that, in the end, really comes down to working hard, collaborating with people, and making difficult projects successful. The first project is in east Texas. I was part of an exploration team whose task was trying to find a new core area for Anadarko. As we were exploring for oil and drilling exploration wells, we found sandstone charged with natural gas. Every time we drilled, we’d get a big slug of gas. We could map this sandstone, but the problem was that gas prices were low and well costs were high. Since this could be significant for our company and the community, we worked to improve costs to help make the project economically viable. As costs came down, gas prices eventually rose, and this area became a major producing region for Anadarko. The second area I’ll mention is the Alpine Field on the North Slope of Alaska. The field is one of the largest discovered in the last 25 years. However, because of the environmental sensitivity of the region, the field and producing facilities constructed are completely isolated, serviced only by an airstrip in the summer and a 25-mile ice road that is built every winter (since the road melts each year). The complex was designed to have everything that is needed including producing facilities, living quarters, and recreation areas. The things that made this project work were collaboration, utilization of new technology, and a drive to make it happen. The third area is the Independence Hub, which is a floating productions facility in the eastern Gulf of Mexico. Companies that explored the area found relatively small accumulations of natural gas, though not large enough to support their own facilities. The industry needed to work together to create a consortium to build a single facility to produce and transport the gas to market.

Photos: Courtesy of Greg Herbertson

This collaboration made it possible to develop all the fields together. Independence Hub started production in 2007 and at one point was producing about 10 percent of all the natural gas in the Gulf of Mexico and about two percent of all the natural gas produced in the United States. It was and is a significant development in the history of the Gulf of Mexico—both a major technological and economic achievement.

The last area I’ll touch on is an area that I loved to visit when I was at Talisman Energy: Iraqi Kurdistan. It is an area of both tremendous history, and oil and gas potential. Following the Gulf War, many international oil companies began to acquire acreage concessions in this area. Our company, Talisman, participated in two major successful exploration projects but also took a leading role in helping rebuild schools, playgrounds,

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mosques, and historical sites that had been destroyed. With eventual oil production, there will be a transformational economic impact to the region through the creation of jobs and the generation of royalties and taxes. That’s the kind of thing that I am proud of in my career. My final remarks will focus on some things I’ve learned from working 20 years in this industry that could help you in your careers. I’ll give you 10 pieces of advice to think about as you embark on your careers in science and look to be a master of your fate. The first message is to find something you love and be passionate about it. My passion was the energy industry and geology was my foundation. Your passion may be physics, chemistry, mathematics, astronomy, engineering, or medicine. It really doesn’t matter. If you love it and are passionate about it, people will notice. Second, work hard and don’t feel entitled. A strong work ethic will serve you well. There is somewhat of an unhealthy attitude of entitlement these days. People want everything and they want it now. My advice is to be patient, to work hard, to build the experience, and to put in the time to develop the skills, the knowledge, and the perspective. Number three is to be willing to take risks. Accept opportunities that may stretch you or ask you to step away from your comfort zone. I’ve been very fortunate in my career, on a number of occasions, to step outside of geology for a period of time. Each has developed me in a different way. From all the roles and experiences you have, you will add different tools to your toolbox. Four, prepare for setbacks and challenges, because they will come. Challenges will come in the form of change, difficult working situations, professional failures, and career path disappointments. Don’t let those distract you from your goals.




Number five is to continually reinvent yourself. My experience in the world and in businesses is that it is extremely dynamic and changes rapidly. Manage your career in five to seven year increments. These skills that got you to one point are not going to be the same skills that get you to the next point. You need to learn to adapt and develop new skills. Number six, particularly for the scientists, is to learn to talk commercially. Most of you will be working for an entity that exists to create some sort of value. Learn to communicate in the language of finance and economics and to understand how your work influences the decisions that lead to sound business strategy and the creation of value. I promise that scientists who embrace and learn to develop these skills will find the greatest opportunities in whatever field they go into. Number seven is to be humble and grateful. I like to call humility and gratitude the twin

sisters of greatness. There are many good people in the world, but there are few great people. I suspect those of you in this room will be successful in your careers because you are well educated, honest, hardworking, and focused. These virtues will make you a good person and a good employee, but humility and gratitude will make you a great person. Number eight, look for opportunities to serve others. Service is a fuel for your soul that energizes and gives your life added meaning and joy. We are presented daily with the opportunity to serve each other. I encourage you to take that spirit of service and integrate it into your daily life as a professional. Number nine is to not neglect your family. The single most important thing you can do to advance your career is to create a stable and healthy family life. Instability in family life affects performance at work. Work demands can be very high and stressful; however, do

your best to allocate sufficient time. Every family is different; the key is learning to manage your time effectively and to clearly understand the needs of your family. Finally, number ten—and probably the most important piece of advice—is to have faith and trust in the Lord. I can testify to you that the Lord guides our lives because I’ve seen it in my own life. Even when it appears we’ve made bad or wrong decisions, He’s guiding us. He doesn’t want us to fail; He wants us to make choices so that we can grow. Have faith that He will bless and strengthen you and your family as you pursue righteous endeavors to the best of your ability. Again, I’m standing in front of you today having a wonderful journey thus far, which I hope isn’t over, because of His guidance in my life and His blessings. So rise and shout, Cougars. Go forth and serve, and be the master of your fate.

BYU College of Physical & Mathematical Sciences

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

Your Contributions Can Affect the Rising Generation When Amanda Stewart first came to BYU in 2004, she already knew what career path she wanted to take. “I always wanted to be a teacher. When I came to BYU, I was trying to narrow down what field I wanted to teach.” Stewart said. Stewart often thought of a math teacher she had in high school. Her excellent teaching skills inspired Stewart to follow the same path and work toward a degree in mathematics education. Stewart has not only seen teachers greatly affect her own life, but the life of her oldest son as well. “I saw how his teacher made him excited about learning. He was excited to go to school every day,” Stewart said. “That’s something that I want to have in my teaching career. I want to make kids excited to learn and see all the possibilities that they can do.” Her main goal is to affect her students’ lives and help them see the excitement there is in math. “I really think that I can help make a difference,” Stewart said.

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

“I feel like I can help them appreciate math, see how useful it is, and how it is going to be a part of their lives.” Throughout her schooling, Stewart has been able to have scholarships. As a single mom, these scholarships have greatly helped her family and everyday life. “The extra financial aid helps me so that I don’t have to work. I can just focus on school and time that I can spend with my boys,” Stewart said. “It’s really helped get me through for sure.” Stewart will be graduating with her degree in December and has started her student teaching at Willow Creek Middle School. There are many students like Stewart whose careers are made possible through financial aid and scholarships. We invite you to help these students achieve their goals by aiding in funding a scholarship or mentorship for CPMS students. Please donate online at

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