Utah State University College of Science Discovery Magazine

Page 1




From the Dean MAURA HAGAN

The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, And sorry I could not travel both And be one traveler, long I stood And looked down one as far as I could To where it bent in the undergrowth; Then took the other, as just as fair, And having perhaps the better claim,

Donna Barry

Because it was grassy and wanted wear; Though as for that the passing there Had worn them really about the same, And both that morning equally lay In leaves no step had trodden black. Oh, I kept the first for another day! Yet knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted if I should ever come back. I shall be telling this with a sigh Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.

Dear Alumni and Friends, Robert Frost’s iconic poem, The Road Not Taken, reminds me of how fascinating it is to reflect on times in our lives, when we are confronted by equally enticing and compelling possibilities. We choose one or the other path, life ensues and, with the wisdom of hindsight, we celebrate our good judgement in choosing a path that allowed us to flourish.

In this issue of Discovery magazine, we celebrate the pioneering spirits of several Aggie alums. I can’t help but wonder whether they set out to be pioneers and foresaw their successes as they charted their life’s journeys. Or, like me, did they discover unforeseen opportunities and amazing surprises as they pursued a path that only evolved into a road “less traveled by” with the passage of time? I thank you for your ongoing support of the College of Science at Utah State University, and hope to see you soon. Sincerely,

MAURA E. HAGAN, PhD Dean, USU College of Science



Spring 2019 MAURA E. HAGAN Dean RICHARD J. MUELLER Associate Dean


Courtesy Hercules Aerospace Company

Pioneering Spirit

Ruth Lemon Novak BS‘58, MS’60, HD’04 blazes path in aerospace industry

MICHELLE BAKER Associate Dean SEAN JOHNSON Associate Dean MARY-ANN MUFFOLETTO Editor/Writer/Photographer/ Layout Designer SPENCER PERRY Web and Graphic Design LINDY SCHWENDIMAN Student Photographer


M. Muffoletto


Courtesy Doug Ball


From an Alum

Amanda Otterstrom BS’05 creates enduring (and fun) outreach activity

Doug Ball BS’17 explains how young scholars gain identity as scientists

From the Dean .................................................................................. 2 New Insights into Moab’s Youthful Landscape ............................10 Coming to Life: Life Sciences Building Celebration .................. 20 Development Column .................................................................... 26 Keep in Touch ................................................................................. 27

Discovery, the magazine for alumni and friends of Utah State University’s College of Science, is published twice a year. Please direct inquiries to editor Mary-Ann Muffoletto, at maryann.muffoletto@usu.edu. Graphic design assistance from Spencer Perry and Holly Broome-Hyer. Printed with Forest Stewardship Council certification standards.


Alumna Ruth Lemon Novak (BS’58, MS’60, HD’04) at Hercules Bacchus Works, Utah, in the early 1960s. Photo courtesy of Hercules Aerospace Corporation and Dr. Novak; graphic design by Spencer Perry.



‘Egg’stravaganza Physics alumna Amanda Otterstrom BS’05 creates enduring science outreach activity for USU Physics Day at Lagoon M. Muffoletto



When Utah State University alumna Amanda Otterstrom (BS’05, Physics) was a child, people asked her what she wanted to do, when she grew up.

she says. “But I liked the routine of school and wanted to continue my education.” A helpful teacher advised Otterstrom that, if she “It was always hard for me to answer,” says wanted to go to college, she had to apply. But her first Otterstrom, a native of tiny Stockton, Utah, the state’s attempts at college classes fizzled. “first mining town” at the eastern edge of Tooele “I struggled financially and changed my major a lot,” County’s Stansbury Mountains. “There wasn’t an she says. “I moved back to Stockton and got a full-time answer I knew of that fit me.” job.” Sometimes inquirers would follow with the But Otterstrom was restless. question, “What do you like to do?” “Nothing could hold my attention long enough; I would What Otterstrom liked to do was play. get bored of everything I tried,” she says. “It was around “I wish, as a child, I had heard of Einstein’s quote: this time, I realized I wanted the challenge of studying ‘Play is the highest form of research,’” she says. “I wish physics. I chose to attend USU, when I heard about the I could have said I wanted to be like Einstein.” work their physics students were doing with NASA.” Little did Otterstrom know that, as an In a physics class at USU, Professor J.R. Dennison undergraduate at Utah State, she would develop a challenged Otterstrom and her classmates to come up ‘playful’ activity that with learning activities would engage for the department’s thousands of annual Physics Day at Intermountain teens Lagoon. in science learning. The event, which Its simple premise? celebrated its 30th How do you keep anniversary this year, a raw egg from takes place each May breaking, when you at Farmington, Utah’s drop it from the sky? Lagoon Amusement Park and, these days, As a student at attracts some 10,000 Tooele High School, teens annually, along Otterstrom excelled with their teachers, at math. from Utah, Idaho, “Doing math was Wyoming and Nevada. meditative to me,” USU’s Department of Physics alumna Amanda Otterstrom, right, with husband and fellow Aggie alum Joseph, at USU Physics Day at Lagoon in 2005. Otterstrom created the event’s she says. “When I Physics coordinates popular “Sky Drop” egg drop activity as an undergraduate. learned about physics, the day-long gathering Courtesy Amanda Otterstrom I knew I was with Idaho National interested.” Laboratory, with But her high school counselor discouraged her from support from a host of private and public sponsors. enrolling in the class. “What better physics laboratory to entice teens than “He told me it would be ‘too hard,’ I shouldn’t bother an amusement park?” asks Dennison, a Physics Day myself with it and I should take something ‘fun,’” she founder and long-time coordinator. says. “So, I never took a physics class before college.” “When Dr. Dennison asked if I would be interested in As Otterstrom prepared for high school graduation designing an event for Physics Day, I said, ‘Of course!’” in 1998, she didn’t have a clear direction for her future. Otterstrom recalls. “‘Free tickets to Lagoon; homework to “My parents didn’t encourage me to go to college,” ride roller coasters? Sign me up!’” SPRING 2019 I DISCOVERY MAGAZINE


Teen participants at USU Physics Day at Lagoon drop raw eggs in protective containers the students have crafted themselves, from the amusement park’s Sky Ride. M. Muffoletto

“I had been disappointed in egg drops of my She chose the classic “egg drop,” but as she started childhood, because I would always worked so hard to the project, began to doubt her choice of activity. engineer my creation, only to hand it off to an adult, “I thought it would be too easy,” Otterstrom says. when the big day came to test its function,” Otterstrom But she soon discovered a myriad of details, says. “When I designed the Sky Drop, it was intentional decisions and design effort that would be required to that the student participates at scale a “simple” STEM activity every point.” up to large-event implementation. “I wish, as a child, With safety protocols in place, Plus, Otterstrom envisioned a including the designated “bull’s unique twist or two for USU I had heard Einstein’s eye” landing area, she convinced Physics Day’s “Sky Drop.” officials to allow the usually Today, Sky Drop, which quote: ‘Play is the prohibited releases and her Otterstrom debuted in 2005, is development of specific among Physics Day’s most highest form of procedures, rules and instructions popular activities. Participants for the competition of oval-shaped drop raw eggs, encased in research.’” flight vehicles began in earnest. protective containers of each “The bull’s eye provides an student’s design, from the - Amanda Otterstrom added challenge,” Otterstrom says. gondola-style transport Sky Ride “Not only are students learning to a ground-level Aggie about engineering principles that will allow them to Bull’s Eye target more than 30 feet below. create a container to protect a raw egg, they’re also Over the past 14 years, dozens upon dozens of eggs thinking about perception, acceleration and accuracy.” have plunged to their splattered doom. (Perhaps an The competition gets very challenging when you Aggie physicist can surmise how far those eggs, if lined have to account for dropping an egg from a moving up, would stretch around the Lagoon park? By the vehicle, Dennison adds. way, Physics Day volunteers say only about 25 percent “That means you have to think about more than survive the fall.) protecting the egg as you design your container,” he Though now an event-day staple, Otterstrom had says. “Bouncy things are a bad idea because even if it to convince skeptical Lagoon officials that allowing strikes the target, it will likely rebound far away. If you students to drop something from a high, overhead ride was a good idea.



make something that sticks, like clay, it might hit the target, but you could have a big jerk.” (“Jerk,” Dennison says, is a “real” physics word meaning “change in acceleration” – as in “free fall to a dead stop.”) And then, he says, there’s the bombardier effect. “If a student waits to drop their container when they are directly over the target, the container will continue to move forward as it falls to the ground and will impact well beyond target center,” Dennison explains. “As any good bombardier – or physics student – knows, to get a payload to land accurately on a target depends on how fast you’re going, how high above the target you are, wind speed and atmospheric pressure, among other factors.” The professor calls parachutes “a bad idea, because you can’t control where they’ll cause the container to land.” But Otterstrom disagrees. “I purposely allowed parachutes, because SpaceX reusable rockets were just a crazy idea at the time,” she says. “Who knows? The next Elon Musk may show up

Physics Day volunteers collect falling Sky Drop entries during the event’s popular activity. M. Muffoletto

at Physics Day and figure out how to get a parachute to land on a bull’s eye.” Then there’s the result. Otterstrom designed the activity so each student could retrieve their container, open it and see for themselves how the fragile cargo fared. Another challenge Otterstrom tackled was determining how many volunteers it would take to successfully run the event. “For the first year, we had 15 volunteers and we needed every single one of them to help our 300-student activity run smoothly,” she says. “Nowadays, more than 1,000 teens participate, so it takes a lot more hands on deck at every step. It’s a big undertaking in a short amount of time.” Because Lagoon allows closure of the area around the bull’s-eye target only from 11:30 am-1:30 pm, participants, the number of which grows each year, must be on time and ready to move efficiently through the ride line. Why is the Sky Drop so popular? “Why? Because you’re on a ride, it’s messy and you



get to break things,” and story was so Dennison says. “Application interesting. I would of smart physics greatly unintentionally enhances your chances of memorize his lectures and winning, though there’s still recite them to my friends.” an element of blind luck.” A project she “I think it’s popular completed in Farrell because each student gets Edwards’ class also stands to do every part of the out in her memory. experiment,” Otterstrom “Dr. Edwards gave us a adds. “It’s easy – though choice of making a project doing it well can be to demonstrate a challenging – it’s physics concept or writing A USU student volunteer, left, helps a young Physics Day participant inexpensive and a five-page research check in and add a raw egg to his Sky Drop entry. interesting to participate paper,” Otterstrom says. M. Muffoletto in, whether you’re just “I chose the project and starting to learn about made a telegraph.” science or you’re an advanced physics student.” On the project’s due date, she discovered she was Reminiscing about her undergraduate years, expected to give a research presentation on her project Otterstrom remembers a number of USU Physics faculty and all of her classmates had chosen to write papers. members who also knew how to make physics learning “I was a bit flustered, not prepared to present in front fun. of the class and I think Dr. Edwards could tell,” she says. “I loved taking classes from Dr. David Peak,” she says. “But he reassured me that I had done the assignment “His ability to explain physics, to draw a mental picture correctly. He told me he was impressed I’d made the of the dynamics of the universe through words telegraph with materials I had on hand.”

Anticipation: Physics Day participants and volunteers watch as competitors drop eggs in carefully crafted protective containers from Lagoon’s Sky Ride.


M. Muffoletto


Otterstrom earned Otterstrom entered a an “A” on the project. graduate program in “At first I felt I had physics education at somehow cheated, Weber State University, because it was so much where she’s enjoyed fun to make the project serving as a supplemental and it didn’t seem like instructor, and will hard work,” she says. complete a graduate “But Dr. Edwards’ certificate in teaching this enthusiasm convinced fall. She is seeking a me I’d earned the grade. position teaching physics From that experience, at the high school level for I’m still learning that the 2019-20 academic work can be fun.” year. A Tough Break: Smashed eggs in their protective containers Following graduation This summer, accumulate during the Sky Drop event. Event volunteers say from Utah State, Otterstrom is working only 25 percent survive the drop. M. Muffoletto Otterstrom put pursuit with Science in the Parks, of a career on hold, a free, interactive while she and her husband and fellow USU alum, outreach program for children and their families, Joseph Otterstrom (BS’05, Finance and Economics) coordinated by Weber State University and the Ogden raised their two young daughters. School District, with support from public and private “We moved to the small town of Delta, Utah, which sponsors. This is Otterstrom’s second year as a teacher had limited career opportunities for me,” she says. facilitator with the program. “While I find a lot of joy in my children, I couldn’t “I will be reconnecting with my inner child, while see a path forward. Leaving physics was always a participating in the ‘highest form of research,’” she says. regret.” “We bring science to a different park in Ogden each A serious car accident in 2015 jolted her into action. week, and it doesn’t feel like work. It’s play.” n -MARY-ANN MUFFOLETTO “I suffered a concussion,” says Otterstrom who, with her family, currently resides in South Ogden. “As I was recovering and contemplating my life and future, I decided life was too short not to do what I wanted to do and what I wanted to do was become a physics teacher.” She realized she loved working with youth and loved physics. “My niece asked me to tutor her for her high school math class,” Otterstrom says. “It reminded me how good it feels to learn and how important math is. I felt honored to be able to help her.”

As a graduate student at Weber State, Otterstrom serves as a supplemental instructor. She plans to teach physics at the high school level. Courtesy Amanda Otterstrom



New Insights into Moab’s Youthful Landscape Geology Alum James Mauch MS’18 investigates the age of Utah’s Red Rock Wonders These days, USU Geology alum James Mauch MS’18 is busy in his new position as a geologist with the Wyoming State Geological Survey. Based in Laramie with the Hazards, Mapping and Water Resources Division, Mauch is applying his expertise in tectonic geomorphology, geologic mapping, GIS, Quaternary geochronology and geologic hazards to the Equality State’s diverse landscapes. As a graduate student at Utah State, he focused, with faculty mentor, Professor Joel Pederson, on exploring and understanding the origins of southwest Utah’s unique red rock landscapes. Named the College of Science’s 2018 Master’s Student Researcher of the Year, Mauch’s findings were featured in a recent issue of Moab Happenings, Southwest Utah’s Event Magazine. The article, written by Allyson Mathis, is reprinted with permission. New geologic research into the history of the landscape near Moab has yielded a much better understanding of how it has changed in the recent geologic past and how it continues to evolve. Geologists have long understood that the canyons, cliffs, pinnacles and other geologic features found near Moab are young, but until recently they have struggled to quantify the age of this landscape. The



Masters of Science thesis completed in 2018 by Utah State University student James Mauch has significantly furthered our understanding of the origin and evolution of the canyon country surrounding Moab. One of the principle findings of Mauch’s research was to constrain the age of Moab Valley and the surrounding red rock canyons at less than 1.5 million years old. Mauch and other geomorphologists (geologists who study how landscapes form) pay special attention to stream deposits because running water is one of the most important sculptors of landforms. Streams leave gravel deposits in floodplains when they are in equilibrium with the land and not actively downcutting. When geologists are able to determine when these deposits formed, they can obtain important time markers to constrain the age of a landscape. Unfortunately, stream deposits have been hard to date until recently when geologists developed techniques that measure either how long they have been buried, or conversely, exposed to cosmic radiation on the earth’s surface. When a stream later erodes through its floodplain and into bedrock below, its gravel deposits can be left perched above the channel in terraces. When geologists date terrace deposits and measure their elevation

North and South Windows Arch at Arches National Park near Moab, Utah Neal Herbert, National Park Service

above the current stream channel, they can calculate its of the Moab and Spanish valleys. He examined gravels incision rate, and can reconstruct the history of how the deposited on a ridge above Mill Creek southeast landscape has changed through time. of Johnson’s Up-on-Top and on the flank of South Mauch used these modern dating techniques to Mountain, and determined that they were deposited determine when terrace deposits from Mill and Pack prior to the formation of the Moab-Spanish Valley. These creeks formed, and the gravels formed 1.5 million incision rates of these years ago, indicating that streams as they carved Moab-Spanish Valley and the their canyons northeast of surrounding landscape are Moab-Spanish Valley. less than 1.5 million years old; Moab-Spanish Valley was e.g, very young geologically. formed not by the action He also used some of the of rivers and streams younger terrace deposits along (indeed, the Colorado Mill Creek to constrain how River flows across it at rapidly the Moab-Spanish nearly a right angle), but Valley has been sinking due from the dissolution of to salt dissolution over the underground salt in a salt last 200,000 years. In the center anticline, which is a domed of the valley near the UMTRA Alum James Mauch MS’18, a geologist with the Wyoming structure formed when salt site next to the Colorado River, Geological Survey, was the College of Science’s deposits flow laterally and the valley has dropped 2018 MS Student Researcher of the Year. M. Muffoletto upward beneath overlying approximately 650 feet (200 layers of rock. meters) over that time interval, Mauch used the ages of the oldest gravel deposits moving at a rate of approximately 0.04 inches (1 mm) from Mill and Pack creeks to constrain the overall age per year, which is a surprisingly fast rate for such a SPRING 2019 I DISCOVERY MAGAZINE


USU Geology alum James Mauch maps a site in Spanish Valley near Moab, Utah Courtesy James Mauch



geological process. Near the edges of the Moab Valley, the rate is approximately half as much; still a rapid rate of change. During his research, Mauch spent approximately 50 days doing fieldwork and geologic mapping in Moab and Spanish valleys, concentrating on the Kayenta Heights Fault Zone on the northeast side of the valley, and studying the stream profiles and gravel deposits in six different drainages near Moab. He said, “Mapping was when I really began to get a sense of how the landscape

“The more I study the Colorado Plateau, the more I want to explore its backcountry, and the more time I spend in its backcountry, the more fascinated I am by its geology and geomorphology.” - James Mauch Mauch collects a sample near Moab, Utah for optically stimulated luminescence dating at USU’s OSL Lab. Rob McDermott

had changed through time. It also brought me to some stunningly beautiful and unexpected places. I’m still blown away with the quality of scenery in Moab and Spanish valleys.” Mauch developed his interest in studying geology while growing up on the western slope of Colorado. “From the scrubby bluff behind our house to the nearby red rock canyons, I was drawn to the sparse beauty of the high desert landscape.” Once he began his studies in geology, he found his personal exploration and academic studies were mutually amplifying. “The more I study the Colorado Plateau, the more I want to explore its backcountry, and the more time I spend in its backcountry the more fascinated I am by its geology and geomorphology.” He continued, “It’s hard to emphasize enough to non-geologists what an amazing treasure-trove Moab is geologically. I like to convey to folks that the

scenic resources and quality-of-life that residents and visitors to Moab enjoy are fundamentally linked to its geology. For scientists and nonscientists alike, it’s worth furthering our knowledge of geologic history, as, especially in Moab where the geology is so visible, it leads to an even deeper appreciation for the place.” Many questions remain related to the origin of specific aspects of Moab’s canyon country and the overall timing of the erosion of the Colorado Plateau by the Colorado River, but James’ research has provided much new data and new insights that have increased geologists’ understanding of the geological happenings in and around Moab. n

-ALLYSON MATHIS for Moab Happenings.



College of Science alumna Ruth L. Novak at Salt Lake City’s Little America Hotel in Spring 2019. USU recognized Novak’s accomplishments by presenting her with an Honorary Doctorate in 2004.


Photo M. Muffoletto

Pioneering Spirit

Mathematician and Statistician Ruth Lemon Novak BS’58, MS’60, HD’04 recounts “Hidden Figures”-era path through aerospace industry On October 4, 1957, NBC Radio interrupted a broadcast of the World Series with the announcement: “Listen now for a sound that forevermore separates the old from the new,” followed by a bleating signal from space: “Beep-beep-beep.” The simple, repeating A-flat tone emanated from Sputnik I, the world’s first human-made satellite. Launched into Earth’s orbit by the Soviet Union, its persistent chirp was a clarion call to startled audiences throughout the world, who never dreamed the U.S.S.R. would lead the charge into the final frontier. Yet there it was. The Soviets’ launch not only blasted the beach ball-sized satellite into orbit, but ignited a fiercely competitive space race between global superpowers, laid the groundwork for today’s satellitedependent society and fueled the imaginations of generations of budding scientists. USU alumna Ruth Lemon Novak BS’58, MS’60, HD’04, was among those scholars. She was, at the time, in her senior year of undergraduate study, but she’d soon join the wave of young talent streaming into the U.S. aerospace industry. Novak would make her unique, indelible mark on efforts that, indeed, forevermore changed science and our view of the world.

Home on the Dairy Farm

Novak was born in 1936 in rural Francis, a small farming community at the southern end of Utah’s Kamas Valley, to William and Grace Hortin Lemon. William was a dairy farmer and Grace taught remedial reading at the local elementary school. “‘Gateway to the Uintas’ the Kamas Valley is called,” Novak says. “Francis was the metropolis with 650 people.” With her seven siblings, Novak worked hard, seven days a week, on the farm. Growing up in a large family during the end of the Great Depression and the duration

of World War II, she learned the importance of thrift and cooperation. “I worked in our large garden, put up hay and helped with the cows,” she says. “I was kind of a tomboy.” While her father schooled his children in all the skills needed to run a successful Replica of Sputnik I at the National Museum of the U.S. farm, Novak’s mother, a Air Force’s Missile and Space graduate of the University Gallery in Dayton, Ohio. Launch of the satellite by the of Utah, was a stickler for Soviet Union in 1957 sparked academics and envisioned the space race. Courtesy National Museum a college education for each of the U.S. Air Force of her offspring. Novak attended South Summit High School and earned a $100 4-H scholarship for her entry in the Utah State Fair. “4-H was a big deal to us and we all participated,” she says. “My scholarship-winning entry included cooking and serving a complete meal.”

Becoming an Aggie

Novak followed her older siblings to Utah State University, boarding with her married sister and brother-in-law. “My first major was art, but I soon concluded that I wasn’t much of an artist,” she says. “My brother-in-law, who was majoring in civil engineering, suggested I try a math class.” Novak had liked math in high school, though her rural school offered only algebra and geometry. Heeding her brother-in-law’s advice, she enrolled in a class taught by Professor Vance Tingey, head of the department. She was the only woman in the class; a position in which she’d find herself many times in the future. SPRING 2019 I DISCOVERY MAGAZINE

15 5

“He was a real character and on the Math Department’s an entertaining teacher,” she bulletin board in Old Main, recalls. “He mentored me and Professor Neville Hunsaker told me what a good career I happened by. could have with a degree in “He asked about my plans and mathematics.” I explained my situation,” she Novak excelled in math, while says. “He said, ‘How would you participating in intramural like to stay here? I’ll give you a basketball, volleyball, tennis and fellowship to graduate school.’” softball – just about every Novak gratefully jumped at athletics opportunity offered to the opportunity and spent the women in those days. next two years studying with “This was well before Title IX major professor Joe Elich, while and we had no intercollegiate earning a master’s degree in competitions,” she says. “Our applied mathematics and Ruth Novak at Hercules Bacchus Works in Magna, Utah, games and matches were just statistics. in the early 1960’s. Novak began her career one-day events.” Novak taught lower division as a statistician in Quality Assurance. Courtesy Hercules Aerospace Corporation Her coaches urged her to classes in algebra, trigonometry and Ruth Novak major in physical education, and geometry, usually looking but Novak “didn’t want to be a P.E. teacher.” into a sea of male faces, and helped professors grade “I love sports and I think they’re important to papers. (One of Novak’s undergraduate and graduate women,” she says. “Being involved in sports and physical classmates, incidentally, was USU Mathematics activities builds confidence in women, but I chose to Professor Emeritus Larry Cannon.) pursue math, with a physics minor, as my major.” Two years made a difference. Novak was usually the lone woman in the class and, “By this time, the space race had ramped up and for the most part, “no one made a big deal about it.” opportunities in STEM fields were opening up to men After all, she had worked and played alongside and women,” Novak says. her brothers, as she grew up on the farm. She wasn’t intimidated by the odd glance or off-hand comment, Joining the Space Race though one encounter with a classmate sticks in her In 1960, Hercules Aerospace Corporation came memory. recruiting to Utah State and Novak was ready. “A fellow in one of my classes commented one day, “I didn’t really want to leave Utah and the timing was ‘You know, Ruth, you can’t feed a husband ‘xy to the right, because Hercules, which was based on the East square.’” Coast, was expanding its Bacchus Works, west of Salt “That’s okay,” Novak calmly responded. “I’ll just feed Lake City,” she says. him ‘pi.’” When Novak arrived on the Bacchus campus on the windswept foothills of the Oquirrh Mountains, Toward an Advanced Degree and a she wasn’t sure where to go. Directed to the main Career administration building, a clerk glanced at the young In May 1958, as undergraduate commencement woman, then shuffled through a notebook, searching approached, Novak began to consider her options. unsuccessfully for Novak’s name. “I was looking for a job, but there were still some “Hmm, who are you going to be a secretary for?” the companies that wouldn’t even consider hiring a clerk asked. woman,” she says. “I was in a bit of a quandary.” “I can’t type,” Novak replied. One day, as Novak studied job opportunities posted Her name located and role sorted, Novak was



assigned, as a statistician, to the company’s quality assurance department, and quickly dove into urgent assignments. Headquartered in Delaware, Hercules Powder Company had been producing dynamite, black powder and nitroglycerin for the mining industry from Magna, Utah since 1913. But with the advent of the Space Age, Hercules quickly turned its focus to the development of propellant – packaged, explosive energy – to propel small rockets into, and beyond, the Earth’s atmosphere. “The technology used glass-wound pressure vessels,” Novak says. “The Air Force was developing the Minuteman I, the first generation of intercontinental ballistic missiles, and Hercules got the contract to produce propellant for the upper stage of the three-stage engine.” In the heady, space-race atmosphere, being a woman “wasn’t a hardship,” she says. “Everyone was new and, at the time, there wasn’t a real hierarchy,” Novak remembers. “Not so much attention was paid to gender but, instead, who could do the job. I was recognized for what I did, not who I was.” Within a year, Novak was promoted to a supervisory position and career advancements continued to follow. Heading into a new decade, she became department manager and, eventually, a program manager for the development of motors for the Pershing II missile system. She oversaw a team of scientists and engineers and was ultimately involved in almost every strategic weapons system – Polaris, Trident, Poseidon and more – in production at Hercules. Working with both Army and Navy programs, Novak became manager and, subsequently, vice president of Navy program at Hercules, and was responsible for directing the Navy Fleet Ballistic Missile Programs. In 1987, she was named general manager of the Utah operation of the corporation, heading up all operations,

ranging from strategic and space to science and technology, overseeing nearly 3,800 personnel.

Finding a Soulmate

As her career trajectory rose, Novak met the love-ofher-life, Phillip Novak, a Hercules engineer, Montanaborn and son of a hard rock miner who’d immigrated to the United States from Slovenia. The couple, who shared a love of the outdoors and sports, married in 1966. “Phil was considered an engineer’s engineer, because he could solve most problems and fix anything,” Novak says. The pair enjoyed golf, exploring the great outdoors, camping in national parks, skiing in the Wasatch Mountains, fly-fishing in western rivers and hiking southern Utah’s red rock canyons (nurturing Novak’s keen interest in early civilizations of the American Southwest.) During retirement, they purchased Ruth’s childhood farm and enjoyed working in the open space. Phil succumbed to cancer in 2014.

As the Cold War Thawed

In the early 90s, as Germany reunified, the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Union crumbled, Phillip and Ruth Novak Courtesy Ruth Novak Novak, as vice president and general manager of Hercules Aerospace, was charged with supervising and implementing rules of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaties at the company, which was turning its focus toward space exploration. Novak notes that, during that time, Hercules was acquired by Orbital/ATK, which subsequently acquired Thiokol. Orbital/ATK was recently acquired by Northrup Grumman, she says, which “consolidates the rocket motor industry in Utah into one company.” Novak and her husband Phil chose to retire in 1991, to pursue their many interests – especially in travel and outdoor recreation. But Novak was sought after for a number of boards and continued to serve the aerospace SPRING 2019 I DISCOVERY MAGAZINE


A life-long hiker, Novak has visited all of Utah’s national parks and has a keen interest in early civilizations of the American Southwest. Courtesy Ruth Novak

She subsequently served on USU’s College of Science Advisory Board, where she advised deans and department heads on ways to prepare aspiring scientists for success in academic and professional pursuits.

Mentoring Underrepresented Groups

As a manager, Novak followed guidelines implemented under affirmative action laws passed in the 1970s. “These new laws included sensitivity training to ensure women and other industry as a trusted board member and advisor to The minorities were afforded equal opportunities,” she says. Aerospace Corporation in El Segundo, California, which “I found I had biases, too, and worked to overcome does engineering and technical oversight for the Air them.” Force’s Missile and Space Programs, including the GPS In practice, Novak encouraged employees in lowersystem and reconnaissance satellites, as well as Charles skilled, clerical positions to pursue math classes at a Stark Draper Laboratory, a not-for-profit research and local community college. development organization headquartered near MIT in “A number of these employees did very well in their Cambridge, Massachusetts, which does guidance and studies and were eventually promoted to technical navigation for the nation’s missile and space programs. and supervisory positions,” she says. “We also made an “These board memberships were very interesting effort to hire more women and minority engineers and opportunities, especially with Draper Lab, as I scientists.” witnessed the development of geographic positioning Realizing that fostering advancement among women systems technology, among other begins at an early age, Novak innovations,” Novak says. “I teamed with colleague Ann went from ‘brawn to brains’ – Erickson, dean of Salt Lake that is, from propellants to Community College, and several guidance systems – and had other women, to form the Utah the opportunity to become Math/Science Network in 1980. friends with some truly “Anne had been to a exceptional, visionary people.” conference in California and In 2004, at age 70, Novak learned of the national says she “really retired,” but ‘Expanding Your Horizons stayed on as Advisor Emeritus (EYH)’ program,” Novak says. to Draper Laboratory. “She thought we should organize and annual EYH Phillip and Ruth Novak hit the slopes. Together, the pair enjoyed many outdoor activities. conference for Utah and our Courtesy Ruth Novak network was born.”



The premise of EYH, she says, is to recruit women professionals in the STEM fields to meet with middle and high school girls for an annual, one-day workshop. “We learned the teen years – especially the middle school years – are a critical time for girls in STEM,” Novak says. “Many drift away from math and science. The idea with the EYH gathering is to gather adult role models, who can mentor these young women and spark their interest in continuing their studies in math and science.” EYH conferences have moved around the state’s university and college campuses, but they continue to this day, with the most recent conference, sponsored by Northrup Grumman (formerly Orbital/ATK), held in November 2018 at Salt Lake Community College and North Davis Junior High School in Clearfield, Utah. Keynote speaker was KUTV meteorologist Lindsay Storrs.

Envisioning Utah’s Future

Beyond industry, Novak participated in the Utah Women’s Forum and The Coalition for Utah’s Future; the latter initiated by the late Utah Gov. Scott Matheson. “With the Utah Women’s Forum, I had the opportunity to meet a lot of women I wouldn’t have met otherwise,” she says. “Networks like these are valuable for women. We keep thinking that’s everything’s okay, but women are still only making 70 percent of the money that men do in the same profession. So, there’s still a need for women to organize and support one another.” With The Coalition for Utah’s Future, Novak explored, with other concerned Utahns, long-range solutions for the state’s challenges. “One of the big problems we worked on was transportation and those efforts contributed to the development of the light-rail TRAX system,” she says. “The coalition has evolved into Envision Utah, which is looking at our communities and planning for dealing with population growth and urbanization. It’s one of the most interesting organizations I’ve ever belong to.” For herself and others, Novak espouses the same values and habits she learned growing up in Francis. “Honesty, friendship and taking care of your physical health are extremely important,” Novak says. “And there’s not much better than golf: A healthy diet requires a lot of ‘greens.’” n

Novak indulges her passion for fly-fishing. “Honesty, friendship and taking care of your physical health are extremely important,” she says. “And there’s not much better than golf: A healthy diet requires a lot of ‘greens.’” Courtesy Ruth Novak




Coming to Life New Building Opened for Classes January 7, 2019 Thank you to all who joined the College of Science in person, and in spirit, on April 5, to celebrate the completion of the Life Sciences Building.

for the new building, including Amy Landesberg, Mark Pomilio, Jerry Fuhriman and Woody Shepherd, along with Visual Arts Manager Jim Glenn of the Utah Division Featured speakers included USU alums Ronald Jibson of Arts and Museums, presented a panel discussion, of the Utah State Higher Education Board of Regents, moderated by Katie Lee-Koven, executive director of and Gage Froerer, Weber County Commissioner and USU’s Nora Eccles Harrison Museum of Art. former Utah state legislator, along with USU President We especially thank our student College of Science Noelle Cockett, College of Science Dean Maura Hagan and ambassadors and Science Council members for serving Quinney College of Natural Resources Dean Chris Luecke. as hosts and tour guides for the festive gathering. Following the ceremony, artists who crafted works Learn more about the building and view photos at comingtolife.usu.edu. n

Ronald Jibson, Maura Hagan, Noelle Cockett, Gage Froerer, Neil Abercrombie

Science Council host Tavia Dutson, Diane Alston, Gage Froerer, Gloria Froerer



Chris Luecke

Paul Campbell, Ron Campbell, Ambassador Noah Braeger

Life Sciences Building Celebration Photos by Lindy Schwendiman

Doug Welling, Noelle Cockett, John Fortuna

Helen Simmons, Richard Simmons, Patricia Simmons Crane

The family of Dr. Gene Miller

Ambassador Chaseton Womack, right, gives tour of new building

Pat Bahler, Maura Hagan

Richard Mueller, Harmon Eyre, David Bahler, Randall Stockham



Science Dean Maura Hagan Elected to National Academy of Sciences Space Physicist is First Aggie to Receive Prestigious Recognition

Hagan addresses participants at the 2019 APS Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics. M. Muffoletto

Hagan, left, conducts tour of nearly completed Life Sciences Building. M. Muffoletto

Hagan greets Biology professors Paul Wolf, center, and Bill Brindley at Life Sciences Building celebration. Lindy Schwendiman


Dean Maura Hagan is among 100 U.S. scientists and 25 international associates elected this year to the National Academy of Sciences, one of the world’s premier academic institutions, which provides science advice to the U.S. federal government and other national and international policy-making organizations. “Dean Hagan not only continues her groundbreaking contributions to atmospheric research but, by her leadership and service, is guiding USU’s scientific research and teaching efforts toward a successful future,” says USU

President Noelle Cockett. “We celebrate her well-deserved recognition from the NAS.” Hagan, who was named dean of the College of Science in 2015, joined Utah State after serving as interim director of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colorado for two years. She began her career at NCAR as a scientist in 1992, and was promoted to senior scientist, the NCAR equivalent of a full university professor appointment, in 2003. The New England native’s research interests focus on downward penetration of space weather effects in the Earth’s atmosphere, as well as the impact of meteorological weather on the near-Earth space environment. With fellow Physics professor Mike Taylor and colleagues at USU’s Space Dynamics Laboratory, Hagan is currently pursuing a NASA-funded project to study space weather from the International Space Station. Hagan is among a historic number of women elected to the NAS this year and, as the first woman to matriculate through the scientist ranks at NCAR’s High Altitude Observatory, where she was a strong advocate for efforts to increase inclusion of underrepresented minorities in the scientific community. She was instrumental in bringing the American Physical Society Committee on the Status of Women in Physics to NCAR to assess its workplace environment for women. She also served on the inaugural Significant Opportunities in Atmospheric and Related Sciences steering committee from 1996 to 2001, aimed at engaging an ethnically diverse population in Sun and Earth system science discovery. This past January, Hagan served as a featured speaker at the American Physical Society’s 2019 Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics (CUWiP) at USU, one of 12 campuses in North American selected to host the gathering of undergraduates from schools throughout the American West.

A Fellow of the American Geophysical Union and the American Meteorological Society, Hagan earned a doctorate in physics from Boston College in 1987 and a bachelor’s degree in physics from Emmanuel College in Boston in 1975. n -MARY-ANN MUFFOLETTO



Discovering Identities in Science Courtesy Doug Ball

Spring 2019 Guest Columnist

DOUG BALL BS’17, Physics

S e n i o r H i g h Te a c h e r , S c i e n c e Syracuse High School, Utah PhD candidate, USU “No matter what others may tell you, I consider you physicists the moment you graduate wth a bachelor’s degree in physics.” Those were the words of an out-of-state visiting physics professor spoken to us undergraduates during a colloquium the year I graduated in physics from Utah State. I have since asked myself why she would make the argument to consider oneself a scientist rather early in a profession. Was I qualified to be a scientist at such a time? My career path ventured into secondary education as a physics teacher and eventually back to Utah State, where I am now a PhD student in science education. Questions around learning and doing science as it relates to science identity are my driving dissertation research questions. Understanding science identity is understanding how people, and in my case K-12 students, see themselves as citizen scientists, career scientists, or my hope as everyday scientists. This last category is the often-neglected aspect of

science identity. How we see ourselves and the group cultures we identify with, determine not just how we learn, but how we approach learning. As Lave and Wenger (1991) phrase it, “Learning involves the construction of identities. [It’s] an evolving form of membership”. Our membership of informal cultural groups have developed systematic ways of making sense of the world. These ways of navigating the world influence all of us through large- and small-scale decisions. Many secondary science students across the country see science in the classroom as disparate with their life-worlds and not something they competently do regularly, if at all. I surveyed my high school students earlier this year and asked whether they considered themselves scientists. One student responded, “anybody can become a scientist by studying the world around us, but I don’t consider myself a scientist because I don’t try to answer those questions.” SPRING 2019 I DISCOVERY MAGAZINE


At Utah’s Syracuse High School, physics students in USU alum Doug Ball’s classroom craft coded “e-shirts” to collect data while riding roller coasters, in preparation for 2018 USU Physics Day at Lagoon. Courtesy Doug Ball

This type of answer is not uncommon. Classroom science to them is its own isolated and exclusive experience. My research informs my high school teaching illuminating some of the common threads to why students struggle identifying with science. As part of project STITCH, a research grant in the School of



Teacher Education and Leadership, my high school students created student-led experiments for USU’s physics day at Lagoon last year. The goal was for students to develop a collaborative experiment of their choice given an opportunity to construct science instruments as a STEM maker-project. Students created and coded “e-shirts” out of

wearable electronics that could We know from record and notify in real-time research that the through a vibration motor and ownership and LED’s, the acceleration of a roller individualization aspect coaster ride. They designed their of STEM maker-projects experiments, built the instrument helps students, both girls and its software, carried out and boys, identify more several collaborative with the science. investigations, and analyzed Regardless, there are and interpreted the data (even still other factors keeping the statistics!). kids from adopting a In the end, they concluded science identity. Along at least one statistically with gender and race, age significant finding: the rocket may also play a Physics teacher Doug Ball, right, assists student. ride on that day in Lagoon was significant role in Courtesy Doug Ball almost one g-force less than the adopting a science expected website-reported value. Students joked they’d identity as adults project their perspective on young be getting season passes for life with a finding like that! kids as to when they are considered credible scientists. Although not a deal-breaker to Lagoon or customers, My preparation at Utah State as a scientist, teacher, some Lagoon officials considered the experiment novel, and now researcher has led me to tackle issues in but held reservations about the findings, challenging science education that I hope will break barriers to the data because of instrument validity (despite science identity adoption. USU has shaped how I see calibrations) and the credibility of the young high school myself as a scientist, how I see others as scientists, and students. More significant than leaving the students now I’m helping others see themselves as scientists in questioning their results, students began to ask whether novel ways. n -DOUG BALL they were merely imposter scientists. Wearing their e-shirts, Doug Ball’s students prepare to board a ride at Lagoon durng USU Physics Day. Courtesy Doug Ball



Cultivating a Legacy of Giving Planting a Few Small Seeds Now Can Create Generations of Happiness

As I visit with alumni and friends of the College of Science who have made donations, I like to ask this question: Who taught you to be charitable?

The majority of the time, people tell me their parents

and grandparents taught them by example.

This is significant, because one of the key indicators

of a person’s happiness is correlated with their charitable giving.

In previous issues of this magazine, I’ve shared

research that indicates the more we give, the happier we are. The findings are clear: If you want more meaning

and happiness in your life, give of your time, talents and

treasure. Research also indicates that giving to strangers brings greater satisfaction and happiness than giving to people we know.

What these parents and grandparents are really

doing is teaching one of the greatest secrets of a happy life -- giving is the key to living.

In my career, I have the opportunity to deliver annual

endowment reports to individuals, who established

endowments that create scholarships for our students. It is always a privilege for me to meet with these individuals and personally thank them. Because

these endowments last in perpetuity, I often meet

with the children, grandchildren and even the great

grandchildren of the alumni who originally established the endowments.

Not long ago, I was in Olympia, Washington

delivering an endowment report to a great grandson of an alum, who established an endowment that supports students studying biology. This great grandson was

thrilled to see the impact the scholarship is having on

students and he told me he is going to start contributing more to his great grandfather’s endowment, so the

scholarship fund will have an even greater impact on students.



What is amazing to me is this donor is not a USU

alumnus. He gives to a school he has never attended. I’m guessing, when his great grandfather established this endowment years and years ago, he wanted to make

a difference in the lives of the students at Utah State.

But I’m also guessing he never imagined his example of

giving would be passed down for generations in his own family.

You may be thinking to yourself, “Well, that’s

nice, Patrick, but I’m not rich. I can’t establish an endowment.”

You may be surprised to learn the process of

establishing an endowment is a lot easier than you

think. And the impact on your family and friends makes this option of giving definitely worth exploring.

A number of our donors who have established

endowments have invited their friends, children and grandchildren to give to their endowments in lieu of

birthday and holiday gifts. I’ve seen this legacy of giving repeated many times and, the more I experience it, the

more I’ve come to believe the people who gain the most from giving are the givers -- not the receivers.

If you really want to maximize your happiness, as

well as the happiness of your friends and family, teach

them to give and give freely. Teach them to give openly to people they don’t even know and to give even when

they think they have nothing to give. By planting a few

small seeds and by way of example, you’ll create a legacy of happiness for generations to come. Sincerely,

Patrick Svedin

Let Us Hear from You How can we improve the college’s Discovery magazine? We invite you to participate in a reader survey at: https://goo.gl/rmH36R We also invite you to stay in touch with us: n Via the Web Visit our website at www.usu.edu/science n On Social Media Visit us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

n On Utah Public Radio Hear about our research during “Science by the Slice” mini-casts


Via Email: science@usu.edu



COLLEGE OF SCIENCE 0305 Old Main Hill Logan, UT 84322-0305 USA science.usu.edu


Thank You

for your support!

Issuu converts static files into: digital portfolios, online yearbooks, online catalogs, digital photo albums and more. Sign up and create your flipbook.