Making Utah a trauma-informed state

The Social Research Institute has been working with Utah’s Department of Workforce Services for more than 19 years. This work has included interviewing the department’s customers about their experiences, needs and attitudes.

In 2012, the institute added the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) questionnaire to the interviews. The 10-question ACE form provides a quick tally of experiences of abuse, neglect and household dysfunction a person may have experienced before age 18.

“I will never forget the day that our research assistant came in after running the numbers the first time and said, ‘You’re never going to believe what I just found,’” said Mary Beth Vogel-Ferguson, research associate professor.

While only 10 percent of Utah’s general population has an ACEs score of five or higher, 45.8 percent of DWS customers receiving cash assistance scored five or higher.

“The neurobiology exploring the connection between early childhood trauma and adult functioning—especially in executive skills, employment and relationship development—has just been exploding in the last few years,” Vogel-Ferguson said. “It really opened up a whole other way of thinking about the relationship between people being on cash assistance and some of the struggles they have—possible reasons why people can’t keep jobs or have trouble with relationships. Many times, these issues have never been addressed.”

With these numbers in hand, the Department of Workforce Services (DWS) recognized the need for its employees to better understand trauma, so as to better understand what its customers might have happening behind the scenes. In 2016, Vogel-Ferguson was asked to train all DWS employees across the state. She hired Kara Patin (MSW ’14), a trauma awareness trainer and together they designed a four-hour trauma awareness seminar. The seminars provide basic information in five main areas: trauma, adverse childhood experiences, resilience, secondary traumatic stress and self-care. The trainings were offered to anyone providing services in the community—school maintenance workers, police officers, child care providers…everyone.

In all, over the course of nine months, Vogel-Ferguson and Patin held 64 trauma awareness seminars across Utah, training 2,423 individuals. But Vogel-Ferguson calls that the “initial sweep.” Since then, requests for more trainings have been nonstop.

Utah Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox charged Resilient Utah, a subcommittee of Utah’s Intergenerational Poverty Committee, with making Utah a trauma-informed state. Vogel-Ferguson, subcommittee co-chair, is encouraged by the statewide interest in applying trauma-informed practices across Utah’s institutions and agencies.

“A ‘trauma-informed’ agency includes accountants and security guards and housekeepers —everyone should be trauma-informed,” she said.

An event that might, on the surface, be perceived as ‘crazy’ could be a trauma response rather than aggression, so it’s important for everyone in an agency to have de-escalation skills. “That’s why everybody needs to know this,” she said.

This story initially appeared in Social Work Matters, the College of Social Work’s annual publication.

Staff parental leave benefit

Beginning Jan. 1, 2019, the University of Utah began offering full-time benefited staff paid parental leave for the birth or adoption of a child. The new rule provides 50 percent of the staff member’s salary for a cumulative six-week period that can be used intermittently during the first year after the birth/adoption. This does not apply for staff at the university’s hospitals and clinics.

“This new parental leave rule is an important step in helping show our staff they are valued and appreciated for their service to the university,” said Jeff Herring, chief human resources officer.

Continue reading for answers to frequently asked questions.

How do I qualify for Parental Leave?

If you qualify for FMLA leave, you will also qualify for Parental Leave. However, university policy specifically states that an employee must hold a full-time, benefit-eligible position and have been employed with the university for the preceding 12 consecutive months.

How do I apply for Parental Leave?

Complete the Parental Leave Request Form with appropriate signatures and submit it to The form must be completed by the requesting employee and the employee’s supervisor before the request can be processed.

Employees must also complete the FMLA Request Form for their maternity leave, paternity leave or adoption leave. Parental Leave and FMLA Leave will run concurrently, and FMLA will continue for up to an additional six weeks of unpaid leave after the first six weeks of Parental Leave.

You can also contact the Absence Management Team for additional assistance.

How long can I take Parental Leave? 

An eligible employee may take up to six weeks of partially paid (50 percent) Parental Leave.

If both parents work for the university, they may take a combined six work-weeks for birth or placement of a son or daughter.     

Am I guaranteed the Parental Leave benefit under the FMLA or any other state law?

No. The Parental Leave benefit is a University Policy and is not affiliated with the Family and Medical Leave Act, nor is there any current state law that requires employers to provide Parental Leave.

What if I don’t qualify for FMLA, but am still eligible for Parental Leave?

The Absence Management team will inform you of other potential leave options (such as MLOA) that you can apply for and utilize while on Parental Leave.

How often can I apply/take Parental Leave?

Parental Leave is granted per event to eligible employees. For example, if an employee gives birth to a child, then chooses to adopt a child later in that same year, that employee may receive the Parental Leave benefit for both events.

Does Parental Leave need to be taken all at once or can I take it as needed over a period of time? 

Parental Leave should be taken in a continuous block of time. However, as with FMLA, an employee may take intermittent time off if the employee’s department authorizes the intermittent leave schedule. Employees seeking intermittent leave will need to have their supervisor submit an email to confirm their intermittent schedule has been approved. They will also need to submit the appropriate tracking sheets for each pay period.

If the mother of the child plans to return to work prior to their six-to-eight-week recovery time, they will need to provide a doctor’s note confirming their ability to work.

What notice am I required to give when applying for Parental Leave?

Employees should submit the Parental Leave request form at least 90 days prior to the requested start date.

What happens if my child isn’t born on the expected due date?

That’s OK—we know these things can’t be planned perfectly. If your child is born before or after the expected due date, please let the Absence Management Team know so they can start your leave on the correct date. You should also inform your supervisor or Payroll Reporter to ensure your time in Kronos is entered correctly as well.

What is the university’s policy regarding the use of sick and vacation accruals during Parental Leave? 

Your supervisor will need to enter your Parental Leave time into Kronos so you are paid 50 percent of your salary/wage. You must use your sick and vacation accruals at half your regular work schedule (if you are scheduled to work 40 hours per week and take Parental Leave for the entire week, you will use 20 hours of accruals) to cover the additional time not worked.  However, you may save up to 10 days of vacation by request. You may also choose to use your personal preference leave. Once you use all accruals, the balance of your Parental Leave will only be half paid; the other half will be unpaid/excused.

I elected to save 10 days of vacation when I applied for Parental Leave. Can I use those hours at any time? 

If you are taking your Parental Leave all at once, you may use the vacation hours after all leaves have been completed. If you have been approved to use your Parental Leave intermittently, you may use the vacation hours for non-Parental Leave time off. University Policy states that use of vacation, other than during an approved FMLA/Parental Leave absence, must be arranged in advance with your supervisor to prevent disruption of departmental operations and avoid compromising the efficiency of the organizational unit.

Will I continue to accrue sick and vacation time while I am on Parental Leave?

Yes. You will remain in a paid status while on Parental Leave, which means you will continue to accrue additional sick and vacation time. If you run out of accruals before or when your Parental Leave is over, any additional leave will continue unpaid. At that point, you will stop accruing additional time until you return from leave.

Will I receive pay for holidays and university closure days while I’m out on Parental Leave? 

Yes. University Policy provides that if an employee works or receives payment for time (including the use of accruals) during the week of a holiday, the employee receives pay for the holiday. However, if the employee is on unpaid leave during that week, the holiday is not paid.

Are holidays and university closure days counted as part of my Parental Leave time taken? 

No. Because you will be paid at least 50 percent of your salary/wage, holidays and university closure days will not count as Parental Leave taken. If the university (including just the employee’s department) closes and employees are not expected to report for work for one full week or more, the days the department is closed do not count against the employee’s Parental Leave.

What happens to my university benefits while I’m on an approved Parental Leave? 

While you are using sick and vacation leave, your benefits will continue as if you are actively at work.  Because you will be paid 50 percent of your salary while on Parental Leave, your benefit costs will be deducted from your paycheck as they would normally. If your Parental Leave is over and if your accruals are exhausted, your benefits may be continued by paying a portion or all of the cost of the benefits each month. Contact the HR Solutions Center at 801-581-7447 for information on continuing your benefits during an unpaid leave of absence or dropping coverage.

When do I need to submit tracking forms? 

Tracking forms will need to be submitted each pay period for employees on Parental Leave. Your supervisor will need to indicate any costs associated with your replacement while you are on leave on the form. If you have been approved to take Parental Leave intermittently by your department, you must indicate the Parental Leave taken on the same tracking form that your supervisor completes, even if you don’t take any Parental Leave. You must sign the completed tracking form and confirm that the information is correct. After you sign it and your supervisor has reviewed and approved it, send it to the Absence Management Team. If you do not submit a tracking form, all leave taken during that pay period may be designated as Parental/FMLA leave.

What should I do when my Parental Leave is over?

When your Parental Leave is over, please confirm with your supervisor and the Absence Management team that you are beginning the next portion of your maternity/paternity leave. You will need to enter any sick or vacation time in Kronos or with your department to cover your absences.

If you would like to return to work before or when your Parental Leave is scheduled to end, please contact your supervisor and the Absence Management team at least two days prior to your desired return date. A return to work notice will be required for employee’s returning early from maternity leave.

Make alternative transit time count

In a valley notorious for gunky air, how do you weave transit, biking, carpooling and other air-saving measures into residents’ everyday lives? One approach is a challenge like the Salt Lake Chamber’s Clear the Air Challenge, with some participating teams offering incentives and prizes to encourage trip-saving behavior. But how do you sustain people’s use of alternatives to single-occupancy vehicles once the challenge is over?

It may be that internal motivators, instead of external motivators, create long-lasting behavior change, say University of Utah postdoctoral scholar Robert G. Kent de Grey and psychologist Carol Werner in a paper published in Transportation Research Part A. People who make alternative transit fun, interesting or productive are more likely to continue that transit mode long-term. The results, the authors say, may inform how future challenges are structured.

“Whatever you do, you need to catalyze the creation of intrinsic interest if you want results to last beyond the scope of the challenge itself,” Kent de Grey says.

Kate Lohnes, formerly of the Salt Lake City Department of Sustainability and the Environment, was also a co-author of the study.

Incentivizing environmental change

For four weeks in February 2018, people all over the Salt Lake Valley biked, rode and carpooled as part of the Clear the Air Challenge (previous years’ challenges were held in the summer). Since the annual challenge began in 2009, participants have eliminated nearly a million single-occupancy vehicle car trips and saved nearly 5,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions.

The U’s Sustainability Office offered prizes, including a dinner with campus leaders, to top participants. But if such external, or extrinsic, motivators draw people into the challenge, will participants keep using transit once the challenge is over and the prizes are gone?

That’s the question Kent de Grey and Werner sought to answer. Once extrinsic motivators stop, Kent de Grey says, there’s a high likelihood that the behaviors supported by those extrinsic motivators will stop too. Intrinsic motivations, or those that come from our values, may be more durable.

“There’s a growing idea that intrinsic motivation is what builds durable attitudes that resist persuasion and that can lead to lasting behavior change,” Kent de Grey says. “Unless you find value or interest in something, or have that conviction that it’s the right thing to do, eventually people will get tired of doing it.”

Pondering motivation

To assess the psychological underpinnings of participants’ activity in clean air challenges, Kent de Grey and Werner surveyed 197 participants in the 2012 Clear the Air Challenge and assigned them randomly to receive one of three interventions, experiences designed to influence behavior. The three interventions invited participants to ponder and express, in different ways, their reasons for joining the challenge. “The more you think about it and mull it over and convince yourself that you really want to do this, then you’re more likely to maintain the behavior,” Werner says.

Kent de Grey reports that participants in all three interventions completed the challenge at about the same rates. But they also assessed participants’ continued attitudes about alternative transit two months after the challenge ended—and at that point, people’s attitudes toward transit were correlated to their ability to create their own intrinsic interest in the activity—to make walking, riding, biking, carpooling or telecommuting productive, interesting and fun.

“You can maybe pick just about any intervention you want,” Kent de Grey says. “But the magic that is hiding behind each of these intervention strategies appears to be that harnessing of intrinsic motivation.”

“An aid to walking”

Amy Brunvand, an associate librarian at the U’s J. Willard Marriott Library, wrote a 2016 essay explaining how she finds intrinsic motivation for riding the bus to work. “It’s a mistake to think of a bus as kind of a large inconvenient car that doesn’t go when or where you want,” Brunvand writes. “The best way to think about bus riding is as an aid to walking.”

Brunvand says she has been a bus rider “since I was too young to drive,” and views walking to the bus stop as a way to become more connected to her neighborhood. “I look at that time as an opportunity to not be at work,” she says. “The time is what’s valuable to me—the time when I don’t have something on the schedule. That’s time to think.”

Kent de Grey and Werner view Brunvand as an example of harnessing intrinsic motivation. “She’s going to take the bus for the rest of her life,” Kent de Grey says.

Helping get the ball rolling 

Another result arising from Kent de Grey and Werner’s work was a disincentive to continuing transit use: strong employer pressure to join the Clear the Air Challenge. “Forcing people to do these challenges may be counterproductive,” Kent de Grey says. “Those are really good intentions on the part of the bosses, but good intentions aren’t enough. You have to have good results as well.”

The researchers are next hoping to study the best ways to create intrinsic interest, including the relative effectiveness of hearing pro-environmental and pro-transit messages from either friends or the university sustainability office.

“You get people to a point where they are determined to succeed,” Werner says.

Kent de Grey adds, “There’s magic in what the commuters can do once the ball gets rolling.”

The 2019 Clear the Air Challenge begins Feb. 1, 2019.

Find the full study here.

Catmull to receive Academy Award

University of Utah College of Engineering alum, Ed Catmull, the president of Pixar Animation and Walt Disney Animation whose technological advancements in computer animation revolutionized Hollywood movies, will be awarded his sixth scientific and technical Academy Award this February, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced.

Catmull will receive the Academy’s Scientific and Engineering Award for his original concept behind “subdivision surfaces as a modeling technique in motion picture production. Subdivision surfaces have become a preferred modeling primitive for many types of motion picture computer graphics,” according to a news release. Computer graphics researchers Jos Stam and Tony DeRose will also receive the award for their scientific and practical implementation of the concept.

“Subdivision surfaces” is a method in computer graphics to produce a smooth surface of an object over a digital wire mesh. Catmull discovered the process in 1978 along with fellow U alum, Jim Clark.

This method was an early milestone in the development of computer graphics and animation. Catmull also helped create the computer animation software known as RenderMan, which was the core program used in the development of Pixar’s animated movies such as “Toy Story” and “Monster’s Inc.”

Catmull first attended the University of Utah in 1963 as a physics student but later took computer science classes as graphics were emerging as a new technology. In the late 1960s and 70s, he was paving new ground in computer technology along with other noted U pioneers that included Nolan Bushnell of Atari, interface designer Alan Kay, Silicon Graphics founder Jim Clark and Adobe founder John Warnock.

During his time at the U in 1972, Catmull produced a landmark film, a computer-animated version of his left hand that was the first landmark in computer animation. In 1979, movie mogul George Lucas hired Catmull to head the computer animation division for Lucasfilm, producing special effects for a number of films. In 1986, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs purchased Lucasfilm’s computer animation division and created Pixar with Catmull. In addition to dozens of short films, Pixar has produced 20 feature-length computer animated films that have earned more than $13 billion globally at the box office. In 2006, Pixar merged with Disney and Catmull remained as president of the company while also becoming president of Disney’s Animation Studios.

As the president of Pixar Animation Studios, based in Emeryville, California, Catmull was responsible for the company becoming the most distinguished computer animation studio in the world with other box office hits such as “Finding Nemo,” “Up” and “Coco.” In all, the film studio has garnered 15 Academy Awards, nine Golden Globes and 11 Grammys. Simultaneously, Catmull’s tenure as the president of Walt Disney Animation Studios produced such hits as “Frozen,” “Big Hero 6” and “Moana.”

In addition to the award he will receive in February, Catmull has received four other scientific and technical Academy Awards for both the concept of subdivision surfaces and for the creation of the RenderMan software. He also is the recipient of the Academy’s Gordon E. Sawyer Award, which is given to an individual in the motion picture industry “whose technological contributions have brought credit to the industry.”

Catmull announced in October 2018 that he would retire from both Pixar and the Walt Disney Company at the end of 2018. He will remain on as a consultant until July 2019. Catmull is also a member of the U’s College of Engineering’s Engineering National Advisory Council.

Chemistry in spaaaaace

If humanity is going to push the boundaries of space exploration, we’re going to need plants to come along for the ride. Not just spinach or potatoes, though—plants can do so much more than just feed us.

PHOTO CREDIT: Dave Titensor, University of Utah

Ming Hammond, associate professor of chemistry.

A science experiment aiming to demonstrate plants’ capabilities in space is at the International Space Station and is ready to begin relaying data. The experiment, according to University of Utah chemistry professor and project chief scientist Ming Hammond, assesses in real-time whether plants engineered to bio-manufacture specific proteins, in a process called synthetic biology, can do so in space. The experiment ran from Dec. 18-28, 2018.

“There’s a lot of promise, potential and hope that we can use the tools developed in synthetic biology to solve problems,” Hammond said, “not just that you would find in space, but where you have extreme limitation of resources.”

Hammond’s involvement in this experiment, called Hydra-1, began at the University of California, Berkeley, before her recent move to the U. She and Berkeley graduate student Rebekah Kitto joined with a “very multidisciplinary team”, Hammond said, of scientists and engineers looking to perform synthetic biology experiments in space.

Synthetic biology is a field that engineers biological systems. In this case, the team is looking at plants as potential bio-factories. Every organism naturally produces countless proteins as part of its biological function, so why not engineer a plant to produce, say, a needed medication or a polymer that could be useful in future long-term space exploration missions?

PHOTO CREDIT: Mathew Crawley, University of Utah College of Science

Seed storage units in the Plant Cube.

“The benefit is that you can take seeds with you,” Hammond said. “They’re very lightweight. They grow and gain biomass using the COthat we breathe out. And if those plants can produce proteins on demand—we know that plants are able to produce anti-viral and anti-cancer antibodies on a large scale.”

Synthetic biology is already established on Earth. But translating that same technology to spaceflight requires a different set of considerations. Hammond and her team encountered many of these constraints when adapting their experiment to operate within a small cube-shaped enclosure, and without tending from the space station crew. The enclosure is the same size (10 cm on a side) as the small low-cost CubeSats that are rising in popularity.

For an experiment on Earth, researchers could test samples of plants as they grew to see if they were producing the desired protein. But that’s not an option in space—in the early stages of planning, the team didn’t even know if they’d get the experiment back at the end.

So the team decided to engineer plants to change color as they produced the target protein, and monitor the progress with a camera. It’s an elegant and innovative solution, based on a previously published method, but adapted for the constraints of a cube in space.

PHOTO CREDIT: Ming Hammond

Members of the Hydra-1 team. Left to right, Yadvender Dhillon, Rebekah Kitto, Ming Hammond and James Bevington.

“We had to take something that worked beautifully in the most carefully controlled and nurturing conditions,” Hammond said, “and get it to work under very stringent, harsh and challenging conditions without human intervention in the plant cube.” The plant cube was designed with the forward vision of preparing for plant growth studies on the moon, and the Hydra-1 mission is a technology development step towards that goal.

The team of collaborators spans two continents, with other partners at NASA Ames Research Center, the International Space University and the University of Strasbourg. But as one of the experiment’s lead scientists, Hammond monitored data from the experiment and conducted the matching Earthbound control experiment, here at the University of Utah. The control experiment grew the same plants, engineered to produce the same protein, but lagged behind the experiment on the space station by one day so researchers could match both experiments’ temperature conditions.

The entire experiment took 10 days. Speaking of the experiment beforehand, Hammond said, “By day four or five we should know if the experiment worked. There are so many variables that we can’t know the answers to.” This month, the cube will return to Earth and will be further analyzed in Strasbourg. “I plan for this experience to prepare us for doing more chemistry experiments in space!” Hammond said.

PHOTO CREDIT: Mathew Crawley, University of Utah College of Science

The LED lights used to grow engineered plants in the plant cube, with a camera in the center relaying images of the plants to the Earth-based science team.

On the engineering side, the Hydra-1 experiment should help develop a framework, through a commercial company called ICE-Cubes, to commercialize similar cube-based space science experiments in the future.

It takes a lot of time and effort to put equipment in space, and Hammond appreciates the many hours of work that the team has put in over the past two years. “We are a small but dedicated group of volunteers,” she said. “In the past two weeks, people worked nonstop to fix last-minute things that came up before launch. I’m just really proud of the effort that everyone has undertaken to get us to this point.”

Hammond and her family traveled to the NASA Kennedy Space Center to watch the Dec. 5 launch of her experiment, which was nestled within a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on a resupply mission to the International Space Station. “I think most of us feel the allure and excitement that is stirred by the wonder of looking up and thinking about humans living and working at the space station,” she said. “It was an amazing opportunity to share the launch with my 6-year-old son and other family members. Of all the things I’ve done in science this, for them, is the one that probably inspires the most interest and awe.”

Read the International Space University’s release here.

Be sure to check back for more on this experiment and its results in future issues of @theU.

Bad air effects

Air quality has been associated with numerous adverse health outcomes from asthma to pre-term birth. Researchers at University of Utah Health found women living along the Wasatch Front—the most populous region in the state of Utah—had a higher risk (16 percent) of miscarriage following short-term exposure to elevated air pollution.

“Not being from Salt Lake originally, I noticed a pattern in the relation to air quality and pregnancy loss,” said Matthew Fuller, assistant professor of surgery at U of U Health and senior author on the paper. “I knew this was an understudied question so we decided to dig deeper.”

Fuller joined University of Utah research analyst Claire Leiser on a retrospective study consisting of more than 1,300 women (54 percent Caucasian, 38 percent Hispanic and other/missing 8 percent; average age 28 years). The women in the study sought help at the U of U emergency department following a miscarriage (up to 20-weeks gestation) between 2007 to 2015.

The team examined the risk of miscarriage during a three- or seven-day window following a spike in the concentration of three common air pollutants: small particulate matter (PM 2.5), nitrogen dioxide and ozone. The study excluded women who lived outside of Utah.

“We are really only seeing the most severe cases during a small window of time,” said Leiser, first author on the paper. “These results are not the whole picture.”

Leiser notes the results suggest there could be an increased risk for an individual. Their research only captured women who sought help at an emergency department at one hospital in the region. It does not account for women who may have sought outpatient care through their obstetric or primary care providers.

The team found a slight increased risk in miscarriage for women exposed to elevated levels of nitrogen dioxide (16 percent for 10 ppb increase during the seven-day window). Although small particulate matter does track with nitrogen dioxide, these results did not significantly associate with an increased risk of miscarriage.

“While we live in a pretty unique geographic area, the problems we face when it comes to air pollution are not unique,” said Fuller. “As the planet warms and population booms, air pollution is going to become a bigger problem not only in the developing world but across the United States.”

The Wasatch Front experiences short-periods of poor air quality, primarily during the winter months, when inversions trap pollutants close to the ground (for the seven-day window: PM2.5min= 0.3mg/m3; PM2.5max= 73.0 mg/m3; O3 min= 4 ppb; O3 max= 80 ppb; NO2 min= 0.5ppb; NO2 max= 65ppb). The researchers tracked air quality by zip code, establishing six designated air basins within the Wasatch Front. They compared air quality in each basin to their patients’ outcomes.

The team conducted a case-crossover study that estimated a woman’s risk of miscarriage multiple times in a month where air pollution exposure varied. This approach removed other risk factors, like maternal age, from the study. The scientists were unable to ascertain the age of the fetus at the time of the miscarriage and were unable pinpoint a critical period when the fetus may be most vulnerable to pollutants.

“The results of this study are upsetting, and we need to work together as a society to find constructive solutions,” Fuller said.

Fuller recommends women speak with their doctor about any health concerns. Women can manage the risk by using an N95 particulate respirator face mask to filter out pollutants or avoid outdoor physical activity on poor air quality days. Women can also use filters to lower indoor pollution and, if possible, time conception to avoid seasonal episodes of poor air quality.

Leiser and Fuller were joined by Heidi Hanson, Kara Sawyer, Jacob Steenblik, Troy Madsen, James Hotaling, Yetunde Ibrahim and James VanDerslice at U of U Health; Ragheed Al-Dulaimi at Hurley Medical Center, Flint, Michigan, and Karen Gibbins at Oregon Health and Science University, Portland, Ore. Their article, titled “Acute Effects of Air Pollutants on Spontaneous Pregnancy Loss: A Case-Crossover Study,” appears online in the Dec. 5, 2018, issue of the journal Fertility and Sterility.

The work was funded through grants from the National Institutes of Health and the Consortium for Families & Health Research.

Dust threatens to destroy Utah’s snow

Utah’s Wasatch Mountains are famous for having “The Greatest Snow on Earth.” Snow-seekers in pursuit of world-class skiing and snowboarding contribute over a billion dollars annually to the economy. Snowmelt also provides the majority of water to rapidly growing populations along the Wasatch Front, including Salt Lake City. Understanding what controls snowmelt timing and magnitude is critical for Utah.

It’s more complicated than warming air temperatures; the sun’s energy and longer daylight hours in the spring are the main drivers of snowmelt. Like wearing a black shirt on a hot day, anything that darkens the snow surface—such as dust—will absorb more sunlight and accelerate melting. As humans continue to alter landscapes, dust is more likely to blow onto nearby peaks. Yet scientists are just beginning to understand the impact of dust on snow.

A new University of Utah study analyzed the impacts of dust deposition at an alpine study plot in Alta, Utah in the Wasatch Mountains. For the first time, researchers measured dust in the air and in the snow simultaneously. They found that a single dust storm on April 13, 2017, deposited half of all dust for the season. The additional sunlight absorbed by the dust darkened the snow surface, and led to snow melting a week earlier.

PHOTO CREDIT: McKenzie Skiles via USGS LandSat

The Great Salt Lake has been shrinking as more people use water upstream.

Using computer simulations, the team modeled where the dust originated. They found that first, ahead of the storm, dust came from the south, but then shifted to the west. The westerly winds brought dust from “hot spots” in the Great Salt Lake’s dry lake bed, a relatively new dust source due to historically low lake levels.

“What’s important about the Great Salt Lake is that there are no water rights, no policy to maintain lake levels. As the lake declines, dust events are projected to become more frequent,” said McKenzie Skiles, assistant professor of geography at the U and lead author of the study. “Anything that impacts snowmelt could have economic and hydrologic consequences. And now one of the dust source regions is right next door. Could we could do something about it by enacting policy that maintains a minimum lake level?”

The study published online on Dec. 21, 2018, in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

Snowmelt in the Wasatch

PHOTO CREDIT: Skiles et. al. 2018. Enviro Res Letters

From snow properties and dust concentrations at Atwater Study Plot, researchers estimated the acceleration of melt due to dust. They found that the dusty snowpack melted about a week earlier.

Skiles and her team observed five dust events during the spring of 2017, but focused on a single storm on April 13 because it deposited the largest volume of dust, and because the dust seemed to be coming from the Great Salt Lake dry lake bed. The team collected data at the Atwater Study Plot, near Alta Ski Resort in Alta, Utah. They collected data in three ways. First, they sampled the size and number of airborne particles. Second, they excavated pits to analyze the snow’s properties and sample dust concentrations. Third, they used computer simulations to estimate where the dust came from, and where it would be expected to go. They were confident in the simulations because they captured the patterns in samples from the air and snow.

To measure how the dust impacted the snow, Skiles calculated the difference in energy absorption between snow darkened by dust, and the same snow if it had remained dust free. The equation incorporates snow properties such as snow grain size, snow density, depth and aerosol mixing. The overall impact from dust was to accelerate melt by 25 percent. 

They found that most of the dust was deposited about an hour after the actual storm passed through, in the so-called “post-frontal” winds. Sources such as the Great Salt Lake Desert were the largest dust emitters; dust from the dry lake bed hotspots accounted for about 10 percent of deposited dust. However, the computer simulations suggest that much of the dust blew north of the study plot. Without snow observations in the region, the researchers were unable to verify higher dust deposition but they hypothesize that the impact was likely greater in the northern Wasatch.

PHOTO CREDIT: Skiles et. al. 2018. Enviro Res Letters

Dust from the dry lake bed of the Great Salt Lake did deposit at Atwater Study Plot. The majority of the dust from the April 13-14 dust event, though, blew north of the site, suggesting that the impact of dust on snowmelt was bigger in the northern Wasatch Mountains.

“In most people’s minds, dust is a natural aerosol. But the magnitude and frequency of airborne dust is impacted by human activity, altering landscapes makes dust more likely to get picked up by wind,” Skiles said. “We know that since settlement of the West, the amount of dust in the air has increased. And at the same time, due to upstream water withdrawals, lake levels are also declining, exposing even more dust.”

Dust is a global problem

In October, Skiles co-authored a paper that reviewed literature on the growing global issue of “light-absorbing particles” on snow in the journal Nature. The climate science community has recognized the impact of aerosols that are clearly linked to human activity, like soot but have yet to consider other particles that make snow darker and speed up melting.

“Globally snow is in decline and it’s not just from a warming climate—it’s more complicated than that— snow is also getting darker,” said Skiles. “We know that in some places aerosols are impacting water resources, and it’s having this long-term climactic impact. We also know that deposition levels are unlikely to decrease in the future. While we don’t yet understand the exact magnitude of impact, we know that dust warrants more attention.”

Skiles has studied dust on snow in the Colorado Rockies, but wants to continue to look at other mountainous areas.

“I’m interested in looking in Wyoming, Montana and here in Utah because we need the regional perspective—we know that dust has a dramatic impact on snowmelt in Colorado, but what’s the impact like in other places?  If dust isn’t as important in these regions, then what is controlling changing snowmelt patterns?” she asked.

This study was co-authored by Derek A. Mallia, A. Gannet Hallar, John C. Lin, Andrew Lambert, Ross Peterson in the U Department of Atmospheric Sciences and Steven Clark of the U Department of Geography. Clark also works for the Utah Department of Transportation.

Why patient’s lie to their doctors

When your doctor asks how often you exercise, do you give her an honest answer? How about when she asks what you’ve been eating lately? If you’ve ever stretched the truth, you’re not alone.

According to a new study, 60 to 80 percent of people surveyed have not been forthcoming with their doctors about information that could be relevant to their health. Besides fibbing about diet and exercise, more than one-third of respondents didn’t speak up when they disagreed with their doctor’s recommendation. Another common scenario was failing to admit they didn’t understand their clinician’s instructions.

PHOTO CREDIT: Charlie Ehlert, University of Utah Health

Angie Fagerlin, chair of the Department of Population Health Sciences.

When respondents explained why they weren’t transparent, most said that they wanted to avoid being judged and didn’t want to be lectured about how bad certain behaviors were. More than half were simply too embarrassed to tell the truth.

“Most people want their doctor to think highly of them,” says the study’s senior author Angela Fagerlin, chair of population health sciences at University of Utah Health and a research scientist with the VA Salt Lake City Health System’s Informatics Decision-Enhancement and Analytic Sciences (IDEAS) Center for Innovation.

“They’re worried about being pigeonholed as someone who doesn’t make good decisions,” she adds.

Scientists at U of U Health and Middlesex Community College led the research study in collaboration with colleagues at University of Michigan and University of Iowa. The results were published online in JAMA Network Open on Nov. 30, 2018.

Insights into the doctor-patient relationship came from a national online survey of two populations. One survey captured responses from 2,011 participants who averaged 36 years old. The second was administered to 2,499 participants who were 61 on average.

Survey participants were presented with seven common scenarios where a patient might feel inclined to conceal health behaviors from their clinician and asked to select all that had ever happened to them. Participants were then asked to recall why they made that choice. The survey was developed with input from physicians, psychologists, researchers and patients and refined through pilot testing with the general public.

In both surveys, people who identified themselves as female were younger and self-reported as being in poor health were more likely to report having failed to disclose medically relevant information to their clinician.

“I’m surprised that such a substantial number of people chose to withhold relatively benign information, and that they would admit to it,” says the study’s first author Andrea Gurmankin Levy, an associate professor in social sciences at Middlesex Community College in Middletown, Connecticut. “We also have to consider the interesting limitation that survey participants might have withheld information about what they withheld, which would mean that our study has underestimated how prevalent this phenomenon is.”

The trouble with a patient’s dishonesty is that doctors can’t offer accurate medical advice when they don’t have all the facts.

“If patients are withholding information about what they’re eating, or whether they are taking their medication, it can have significant implications for their health. Especially if they have a chronic illness,” says Levy.

Understanding the issue more in-depth could point toward ways to fix the problem. Levy and Fagerlin hope to repeat the study and talk with patients immediately after clinical appointments, while the experience is still fresh in their minds. Person-to-person interviews could help identify other factors that influence clinician-patient interactions. For instance, are patients more open with doctors they’ve known for years?

The possibility suggests that patients may not be the only ones to blame, says Fagerlin. “How providers are communicating in certain situations may cause patients to be hesitant to open up,” she says. “This raises the question, is there a way to train clinicians to help their patients feel more comfortable?” After all, a healthy conversation is a two-way street.

Campus Events

Friday, Jan. 4, 2019 | 7 p.m.

3200 South Decker Lake Dr, West Valley City

Join us at Staff Appreciation Night with the Utah Grizzlies on Friday, Jan. 4, 2019. Tickets start at $13.

President Ruth V. Watkins to drop the puck!

Bring a pair of new or unused socks to huck onto the ice after the Grizzlies score their first goal to donate to Ford’s “Knock Your Socks Off” event.

Three ways to purchase (tickets are good for Center $20 (regular $30) and Corner $13 (regular $22)) seats:

    1. Online:
    2. By phone: Call Semra at 801-988-8021 and mention University of Utah Staff Appreciation Night
    3. At the box office: Must have a valid UCard.

Now through Jan. 4, 2019

Fort Douglas Military Museum

The Fort Douglas Military Museum presents an exhibit of authentic World War I uniforms, weaponry and equipment. Generously on loan from A. Gustaf Bryngelson, a collector of World War I memorabilia, the display includes uniforms and items from not only the U.S. but also from many of the combatant nations.

The exhibit runs through Jan. 4, 2019.

Fitness Class Free Week
Monday-Sunday, Jan. 7-13, 2019
Eccles Student Life Center

Start strong this semester and join us for some FREE fitness classes at the Eccles Student Life Center.

No registration necessary—first come, first serve.

Check out for a complete list of classes.

Welcome Back Breakfast
Monday, Jan. 7, 2019 | 9-11 a.m.
Campus Store Patio

Ease the pain of coming back to the new 2019 semester, by stopping by the Campus Store patio for a pancake breakfast.

The Campus Store is hosting a Welcome Back Breakfast for all students, staff and faculty. A favorite local business, Kodiak Cakes, will be serving free pancakes while supplies last, and Starbucks will have coffee and hot chocolate aplenty. And don’t forget to enter-to-win some amazing prizes provided by the University Credit Union as well.

Let’s start the new semester off right. See you there.

Monday, Jan. 7, 2018 | 7:30 p.m.
Libby Gardner Concert Hall

The talented cellists of the Utah Symphony will come together for an evening of chamber music performing works by Villa-Lobos, Piazzolla, and Bach. The musicians include Rainer Eudeikis, Matthew Johnson, John Eckstein, Walter Haman, Andrew Larson, Anne Lee, Louis Philippe Robillard, Kevin Shumway and Pegsoon Whang.

Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2018 | 10 a.m.-2 p.m.
Union Ballrooms

Plazafest is the semi-annual tabling event for Recognized Student Organizations at the U. With the presence of UPC, ASUU and about 200 student organizations tabling within the Union Ballrooms, every student can identify an opportunity to get involved.

Thursday, Jan. 10, 2019 | 1-2 p.m.
Utah Museum of Fine Arts

Experience the art of yoga. Join us in the UMFA Great Hall to explore connections between the practice of yoga and themes found in the art on view in the galleries. All levels are welcome and a limited number of mats are available.

Classes are led by Jendar Marie Morales, a Yoga Alliance registered master teacher who focuses on hatha, vinyasa and restorative styles of yoga. She helps run the University of Utah Yoga Teacher Training and teaches yoga across Salt Lake City. Morales has a master’s degree in museum studies from New York University and is the director and curator of Mestizo Gallery.

The series runs every Thursday from Jan. 10-March 7. Yoga will not be held on Jan. 31. Sponsored by University of Utah PEAK Health and Fitness.

Wednesday, Jan. 9-April 23, 2019

PEAK fitness classes are available to all full- and part-time employees of the University of Utah, including:
  • University of Utah Health employees
  • Employees at Primary Children’s Hospital & Clinics
  • University affiliates in Research Park
  • Members of the University of Utah Alumni Association
  • Family members and partners of employees
  • Alumni association members

PEAK Health and Fitness offer a wide variety of classes including boot camp, circuit training, core training, indoor cycling, mat Pilates, stretch and strengthen, total body fitness, weight training and yoga.

Registration is available here.

Saturday, Jan. 12, 2019 | 7:30-9:30 p.m.
Salt Lake City Sports Complex

Join your Skatin’ Utes for this annual skating tradition.

Cost is $5 for faculty/staff and $4 for students. To purchase tickets, go here.

The Last Lecture
Monday, Jan. 14, 2019 | 12 p.m.
Student Union Den 

An opportunity for popular and distinguished professors from the U to give a lecture as if it were their last. What do you have to say to an audience of your students given one last chance

Professor Jack Newell will be giving his lecture titled, “Still the Question: How Shall I Live?”

Exercise Basics to Build a Stronger You
Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019 |12-1 p.m
Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019 | 7:30-8:30 a.m.
L.S. Skaggs Patient Wellness Center

This spring semester, PEAK is offering five session workshops for those who would like to begin exercising at home, or at a gym, and do not know where to start. The workshop instructor will teach proper form and technique on various bodyweight exercises that can be completed in a wide variety of settings.

At the end of the workshop, participants will receive a detailed workout description so they can confidently exercise on their own.

For more information or to register, go here.

Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019 | 6-7 p.m.
Division of Public Health, 375 Chipeta Way, Suite A

Interested in learning about public health abroad?In this Learning Abroad program, students will be able to observe and participate hands on in functioning, effective projects that have been successfully implemented and are positively changing health conditions in West Africa. Students will work in collaboration with local village leaders, working together to address pressing health issues including those associated with malaria, maternal health and child mortality. Students will be able to participate in research projects that evaluate different aspects of health in the villages. Visit this information session to learn more from our program Faculty Director and start your Learning Abroad experience.

Click here for more information.

Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2019 | 12-1 p.m.
Union Building Parlor A

Friday, Jan. 18, 2019 | 12-1 p.m.
Classroom A, School of Medicine

Trinh Mai is an LCSW for Wellness and Integrative Health, the Resiliency Center and an associate professor for the College of Social Work at the University of Utah. She will discuss ancient mindfulness practices that are now embraced in the modern workplace, whether it’s in health care systems, schools, Fortune 500 companies or military boot camps. Learn why and experience some simple practices that can improve your and your team’s engagement, relationships and quality of life at work.

Presented by Wellness and Integrative Health.

Saturday, Jan. 19, 2019
Various locations

The U’s Bennion Community Service Center is sponsoring a day of service in conjunction with a variety of local organizations, including For the Kids, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Crossroads Urban Center, Ronald McDonald House and more.

Volunteers can pre-register and arrive to their sites for check-in, breakfast and explanation of the project by 8:30 a.m.

A list of project options and registration can be found here.


A Healthier U


As the weather gets colder, some people experience nosebleeds. When is a nosebleed serious enough to go the ER and when can you take care of it yourself? Emergency room physician Dr. Troy Madsen talks about why the cold, dry air may cause nosebleeds and how to properly take care of a nosebleed at home.

Listen to the full story here or read the transcript below:

Interviewer: Some people have been noticing that they’re getting more and more nosebleeds as it gets colder and colder along the Wasatch Front. We’re going to talk about nosebleeds. When is it serious and when can you take care of it yourself? That’s coming up next on The Scope.

Announcer: Medical news and research from University of Utah physicians and specialists you can use for a happier and healthier life. You’re listening to The Scope.

Interviewer: We’re with Dr. Troy Madsen, emergency medicine at the University of Utah Hospital. Cold weather, he has told me, has led to a number of patients coming into the E.R. with nosebleeds. Let’s talk about that a little bit.

Dr. Madsen: Yeah.

Interviewer: What’s going on, first of all? I think we all know but maybe there’s something I don’t.

Dr. Madsen: No, it’s been surprising. I’ve seen a lot of people lately in the E.R. with nosebleeds, and these have been really, really serious nosebleeds. I’m talking about patients on blood thinners who come in with like a grocery bag full of tissues that are soaked through with blood. I mean, it’s awful. We see type a lot of things in the E.R. Nosebleeds can be some of the messiest things we see.

Interviewer: Yeah.

Dr. Madsen: But these are very serious nosebleeds and I think probably a lot of people are having nosebleeds that aren’t that serious and aren’t coming into the E.R., all as a result of the cold, dry air.

Interviewer: Yeah. I blew my nose the other day and there was some blood in there, should I be concerned about that?

Dr. Madsen: No, generally not.

Interviewer: That’s going to happen.

Dr. Madsen: Yeah, it’s going to happen and the reason it happens is when the air gets really cold there’s just no humidity in the air. It just basically takes all the water that may be in the air, freezes it and then makes it so there’s just no humidity whatsoever. So that really dries things out in the nose.
So you’ve got this part of your nose that basically has all the little blood vessels on it, it’s on the septum, it’s the middle part of your nose, the cartilage area between your two nostrils. That gets exposed to the dry air, maybe you get a little bit of wind hitting that, it just dries things out, and that’s where most nosebleeds happen. So that’s why we see a lot of nosebleeds this time of year, cold wind, cold air, no humidity, people are just drying out their nose and get nosebleeds.

Interviewer: And for most people, kind of a minor inconvenience, but if you’re on blood thinners, major problem.

Dr. Madsen: Well, the biggest issue, like I said earlier, certainly those that are on blood thinners, like Warfarin, clopidogrel, even aspirin, even if you’re taking an aspirin a day we do see some pretty significant nose bleeds in those patients as well. For most people, it’s not a big issue; you can usually hold some pressure and it’ll go away. But for those people, those are the ones that end up in the E.R.

Interviewer: And we’re talking, it won’t stop.

Dr. Madsen: Yeah. We’re talking it won’t stop, they’ve tried holding pressure for quite a long time at home, and they just can’t stop it. A lot of times they require packing in their nose, we have to actually put something up there and leave it in there. Sometimes we even have to call our ear, nose and throat specialist down to see them to try and stop the bleeding.

Interviewer: How long should you put up with the bleeding and it’s not stopping before you start getting concerned?

Dr. Madsen: Yeah, so that’s a great question because sometimes I do see people in the E.R. who could have avoided an E.R. visit by just trying some things at home and the first thing I would do, is if you do have a nosebleed, hold pressure, squeeze your nostrils down below, where you can feel the bone on your nose, where it’s not the bone but where you’re holding pressure against that septum, that middle cartilage part of your nose, and hold pressure for 5 minutes. Don’t let up. Just leave it there, a lot of people will hold pressure for 15-20 seconds, let up, look again, hold pressure, look again. You don’t need to do that. Just hold pressure for 5 minutes.
Now if that doesn’t work, the next great thing you can try is a nose spray. And the best nose spray you can use is Afrin. That’s what we use in the E.R. and that’s the brand name. Now there are generic forms out there but you can just go to the pharmacy, basically you put two squirts of that up the nostril that’s bleeding, put it up there and then hold pressure for 15 minutes. Just hold pressure, don’t let go.

Look again. If it’s still bleeding, two more squirts, hold pressure. Do it again, two more squirts, hold pressure. If after three times of this you’re still having bleeding then this very well may not be something that’s going to get better at home. You may need to come to the E.R. and get a packing up your nose, something to just put pressure on that bleeding and stop it from bleeding.

So nosebleeds are happening. We are definitely seeing them in the E.R. If you’ve noticed nosebleeds you’re not alone, but if you have a few simple things around the house, a little bottle of Afrin, hold some pressure if it happens, you could potentially avoid a visit to the E.R.

Interviewer: We’re your daily dose of science, conversation and medicine. This is The Scope, University of Utah Health Sciences Radio.


The most common type of leg cramps occur during sleep and can often wake you up due to the terrible pain. But what exactly are leg cramps, who’s likely to get them and why do they happen? Women’s health expert Dr. Kirtly Parker Jones talks about nighttime leg cramps and whether or not they’re normal.

Click here to listen to the full story.

If you’re prone to chronic headaches, it could be a jaw issue. Dr. Gary Lowder is a professor and practicing dentist at the University of Utah School of Dentistry. He talks about how tension in your jaw muscles and grinding your teeth can cause severe headaches and what a dentist can do to treat it.

Click here to listen to the full story.

For more expert health news and information, click here.