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U Rakes in Science Medals

November 4, 2005 — Three University of Utah faculty members, a former vice president for research and a university graduate who works in the state crime laboratory are among 11 winners of the 2005 Utah Governor’s Medal for Science and Technology

“This is wonderful recognition of the University of Utah’s dominant role in contributing to intellectual achievement and economic development in the state of Utah,” says university President Michael K. Young. “I am proud of our university, and that its talented teachers and scientists are getting such recognition from the governor and his administration. I am also proud of all the tremendous contributions our extraordinary faculty members make to the progress of our state.”

Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. handed out the awards Thursday evening during a banquet at The Leonardo at Library Square in Salt Lake City.

The winners included University of Utah professors Richard Grow, electrical and computer engineering; David Hoeppner, mechanical engineering; and Z. Valy Vardeny, physics. All three won in the academic category.

In addition, a medal for special achievement went to Richard Koehn, who served as University of Utah vice president for research during 1992-2000 and who now works as president and chief executive officer of Sentrx Surgical, Inc., a company that is a spin-off of research at the university.

A fifth winner is University of Utah graduate Pilar Shortsleeve, supervising criminalist at the Utah Department of Public Safety Bureau of Forensic Services. She graduated from the University of Utah in 1974 with a degree in medical technology.

Other winners were:

  • Academic category – In addition to Grow, Hoeppner and Vardeny, a fourth winner in this category was Daniel Simmons, a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at Brigham Young University.
  • Government category – In addition to Shortsleeve, the other winner in this category was Loren Morton of the Division of Radiation Control in the Utah Department of Environmental Quality.
  • Industry category – Dean M, Lester of ATK Thiokol, and James LeVoy Sorenson of the Sorenson Companies.
  • Education category – Barbara Gentry, science curriculum consultant for the Jordan School District, and DonnaLee Trease of Oak Hills Elementary School on the Davis School District.

Below are biographical sketches of the five winners with University of Utah affiliations, adapted from information provided by the Governor’s Office of Economic Development. (Contact information and biographical sketches of the other six winners are available upon request from Lee Siegel or Michael Sullivan, whose phone numbers and email addresses are listed above.)

Special Achievement: Richard Koehn, Sentrx Surgical

Koehn’s multifaceted career has spanned several realms including scientist, educator, academic executive, and serial entrepreneur. It is because of his diverse activity here in Utah that Koehn is receiving a special achievement award rather than an award in one the categories of industry, education, academics or government.

Koehn was recruited to the University of Utah in 1992 from a professorship at the University of Stony Brook, where he was also the dean of the Division of Biological Sciences (1978-1988) and the director of the Center for Biotechnology (1983-1992).

Beginning with his tenure as the University’s research vice president (1992-2000), Koehn has driven science and technology in Utah as both a research leader and an entrepreneur.

In 2003, Koehn provided the executive leadership that successfully led Salus Therapeutics in developing an anticancer drug technology that was the basis of a $30 million acquisition by Genta, Inc. Genta Inc.’s expansion of the Salus facility has created a number of new Utah technology jobs at Genta’s new Salt Lake City-based research facility.

In 2004, Koehn co-founded Sentrx Surgical, another new biotech company. Sentrx centers its developments on University of Utah research and is in its early stages of development.

Koehn has lectured on science and technology in more than 20 countries, has authored over 200 articles, papers, books, and presentations; and has sat on over 50 boards and committees ranging form the sciences to the arts. His honors include: a Guggenheim Fellowship; a NATO Senior Science Fellowship; an Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year award, and recognition as a distinguished alumnus of Arizona State University. Through his leadership and vision, Koehn has had a far reaching influence on the science and technology industries of Utah that is difficult to quantify.

Academia: Richard Grow, University of Utah

Professor Grow played a significant leadership role in the creation of one of Utah’s first economic clusters. As chairman of the Department of Electrical Engineering (1965-1977), Grow, in collaboration with Dean L. Dale Harris, recruited David Evans as the director of the Computer Science Division.

This division, housed within the Department of Electrical Engineering, in all measurable terms was the creation point for the computer graphics industry. The foresight of beginning a computer science program and recruiting expert talent generated a period of productivity that borders on lore in the field of computer graphics.

Certainly, being a key player in the leadership that fostered the development of the field of computer graphics is a significant career highlight, but Grow’s career also shows significant impact in his own field of study.

This impact includes the founding of the nationally recognized Microwave Device and Physical Electronics Laboratory, which graduated 55 doctoral students. Looking back over Grow’s still-active career, one also can see his leadership in the beginnings of the Department of Bioengineering (a national top 10 program today).

Grow’s career is an excellent example of the commitment, risk-taking and leadership that has created Utah’s technology-based economy. A graduate of the University of Utah (B.S. 1948, M.S. 1949) and Stanford University (Ph.D. 1955) Grow’s technical output is staggering. He has published more than 300 publications, papers and technical reports and is included on several patents.

Academia: David W. Hoeppner, University of Utah

Professor Hoeppner is known throughout the world as a leading expert in material and structural fatigue, wear and corrosion. A lack of understanding in structural fatigue and the resulting failure of aircraft components are directly linked to the cause of several recent aircraft failures resulting in thousands of deaths.

In this critical field of study, Hoeppner’s international reputation is reflected in the range of companies and agencies that have funded his research. These include Lockheed Martin, Sverdrup, Boeing, Rolls Royce, Garrett Turbine Engineering, Pratt and Whitney, Ltd. in Canada, the U.S. Air Force, Federal Aviation Administration, U.S. Department of Transportation and many others. Hoeppner is the director of the Quality and Integrity Design Engineering Center, a research center he founded.

In addition to his research, Hoeppner is an extremely fruitful and committed educator having personally graduated over 60 students with advanced degrees. His contributions to the field of material and structural fatigue is exemplified by the fact that he has published more than 200 journal articles, papers, books and reports.

Hoeppner’s experience is quite remarkable and includes positions as an endowed professor at the University of Toronto, 1978-1985; a tenured professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia, 1974-1978; group leader in the Fatigue and Fracture Laboratory, Lockheed, 1969-1974; an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin, 1963-1964; and an assistant professor at California State University, Northridge, 1963.

Hoeppner was also chair of the Department of Mechanical Engineering and a finalist in both 1996 and 2004 for the prestigious Crichlow Trust Prize in Aeronautics and Astronautics

Academia: Valy Vardeny, University of Utah

One of the University of Utah’s distinguished professors, Vardeny’s research has led him to the exciting field of nanoelectronics. In this research he is measuring the electronic transport through single molecules and aggregates. This research has enormous potential in microelectronics and may result in a new generation of ultrasmall devices.

Vardeny is widely acknowledged for his work as illustrated by the fact that his letters of support for his distinguished professorship included letters from six Nobel laureates and members of the National Academy of Science.

Vardeny was the chair of the physics department from 1997-2003 and has received numerous awards including the University of Utah Distinguished Scholarly and Creative Research Award (1997) and the Willard Award of the Utah Arts and Sciences (1997).

Vardeny has chaired a variety of conferences in organic electronics that have brought more than 1,500 attendees to Utah, and he has brought in more than $3 million in research funding to Utah. His research contributions are quite remarkable, including more than 400 papers, books, presentations and technical reports.

Vardeny has advised over 30 advanced degree-seeking students and also is named in 17 patents and patent disclosures

Government: Pilar Shortsleeve, Utah Department of Public Safety

DNA analysis has produced revolutionary change in crime scene and evidence analysis. With this revolution, crime laboratories around the world have had to quickly learn highly advanced technologies. Here in Utah, Shortsleeve was instrumental in adopting and establishing DNA technology in the processing of criminal cases throughout the state.

To accomplish this task required several years of training and more time to apply the learned techniques on sample cases. The importance of DNA testing in criminal cases is well known; what is not generally understood is the importance of the quality and reproducibility of the application of these techniques.

In addition to the introduction of early DNA techniques to the crime laboratory, Shortsleeve also is committed to keeping Utah at the cutting edge of criminal investigation. In this effort, she has attended more than 40 workshops, classes and meetings.

An example of Shortsleeve’s work is a case involving a serial rapist who terrorized the northern part of Utah during the mid 1990s. With no eyewitnesses and essentially no physical evidence other than DNA samples, Shortsleeve’s expertise was critical in sentencing the perpetrator to a life term in prison.

There are many examples of the critical role played by the technology that Shortsleeve introduced to Utah’s crime laboratory. She also is the glue of the DNA section of the crime laboratory, and has the ultimate respect and admiration of her staff and colleagues.

In her 15-plus years of service to our state, Shortsleeve has shown an impressive dedication to her profession, and Utah is a better and safer place for it.