GCSC Seminar: Wildfires and Air Quality

By Maria Archibald, Sustainability Office

Salt Lake City is famous for its winter inversions, which often cause residents to hunker down indoors, turn on their air filters, and avoid the dark cloud of smog hanging above the city. As climate change intensifies, residual wildfire smoke often makes summer air unsafe to breathe, too.

On Tuesday, Jan. 18 from 4-5 p.m., Dr. Heather Holmes, Associate Professor in chemical engineering, will give a GCSC seminar called “Wildfire Smoke and Air Quality in the Western U.S.,” which will address fire-related air pollution and her research in atmospheric physics.

“I study the chemistry and the physics of the atmosphere,” says Holmes, whose lab uses ground-based sensors, atmospheric models, and satellite remote sensing to identify and investigate pollution sources. “A lot of the work I do is aimed at trying to better understand the different sources of air pollution in a given area,” she explains. “That helps policy makers put into place programs where you can then…decrease that pollution.”

Holmes comes from a mechanical engineering background and studied fluid mechanics in graduate school. “Air is a fluid,” she says. “And that crosses over then a lot with meteorology.” Holmes began studying weather patterns on the city and state scale, and became passionate about air quality after completing her PhD at the University of Utah and experiencing Salt Lake’s winter inversion. “I was really motivated to understand the pollution problems, and then really wanted to understand how the pollution impacts human health,” says Holmes.

In her talk, Holmes will discuss the consequences of wildfire in the western United States and the interdisciplinary collaboration between climate scientists, hydrologists, atmospheric scientists, air pollution specialists, and other scholars to address these issues. Her talk will give listeners “an understanding of why it’s difficult to simulate fire and smoke pollution in the western US and things we’re doing to try and fix that.”

To learn more from Holmes about some of the most pressing ecological issues facing Salt Lake City and the western US, tune in on Tuesday, Jan. 18 from 4-5 p.m. for the first GCSC seminar of the semester.

Biking in the Winter

Hello to all our bicycle commuters, enthusiasts, recreationalists, and those interested in sustainable transportation! January may not be the time most of us are thinking about bicycling, but members of our community are proving that bicycling in the snow is as fun as building a snowman. Speaking of bicycling in the snow, Winter Bike Day is scheduled for February—follow us on social media for more details!

Why Bike?

If you’ve looked out your window recently, you may have noticed a layer of air pollution filling the valley. Vehicle emissions are a major contributor to poor air quality, so less driving means cleaner air. Bicycling is also a great way to improve your health; it provides exercise, time outside, and is a great de-stressor. It is important to note, however, that bicycling outdoors should be avoided when air quality is determined to be unhealthy. You can find current air-quality conditions here. On bad air days, consider taking public transportation instead of bicycling. Your U Card provides free access to UTA bus and TRAX services and you can bring your bike on board!

Winter bicycling is not just for the hardcore go-getters (you know who you are)! Anyone can enjoy winter biking if you prepare appropriately.

How do I bike in the winter?

First off, here a couple great resources for bicycling:

Outdoor Adventures at the Student Life Center has mountain bikes, bike helmets, and bikepacking gear for rent.

Campus Bike Shop provides bicycle maintenance at affordable prices.

Salt Lake City Bicycle Collective sells refurbished bicycles at affordable prices, bike parts, and teaches hands-on classes for bike repair and maintenance.

For riding in the winter, remember these tips:

  • Wear multiple layers, and pay attention to your hands and feet as they get cold faster
  • Avoid ice or add studded tires to reduce your chance of slipping
  • Always wear a helmet
  • Use reflective gear and lights (front and back)

Bicycle Utilization on Campus

Twice a year the Sustainability Office counts all devices parked at bicycle racks and secure indoor rooms on campus. This study includes the Main Campus, Research Park, and Health Sciences areas, and utilizes volunteers in order to document details about every bike parking space on our large campus.  Thank you to our volunteers!

The study provides the University with data to determine low and high demand parking areas, route utilization, and trends in sustainable commuting over time. A link to an infographic with the most recent study results is here. Some findings of interest include:

  • Electric bike and electric scooter use increased 93% from 2019 to 2021
  • Kahlert Village is a new hot spot for bicycle parking on campus
  • Bike Parking capacity increased 9%, with 371 new parking spots

If you have questions regarding bicycling on campus, need help planning a route, or want to talk about your experience walking or biking on campus, please reach out to Ginger Cannon, active transportation manager, at ginger.cannon@utah.edu.

U named finalist for Racial Equity and Sustainability Collaboration award

By Ayrel Clark-Proffitt, Sustainability Office

The University of Utah is one of five finalists for the Racial Equity and Sustainability Collaboration award from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE).

The U’s project, “Integrating racial equity, social justice, and sustainability through general education learning outcome assessment,” uses learning outcomes for all undergraduates to understand the inseparability of racial equity, social justice and sustainability, said Adrienne Cachelin, professor (lecturer) in the Department of Environmental & Sustainability Studies and the project lead.

“Too often, sustainability education focuses on ecological science, ignoring the systemic link between the devaluation of black and brown bodies and the degradation of the environment,” Cachelin said. “It’s the same system at play—two sides of the same coin.”

The project was developed in response to a letter from students to the university administration that suggested granting a degree to any student that did not understand sustainability was “profoundly irresponsible.” Cachelin notes that many universities include a sustainability general education course requirement. However, the project’s interdisciplinary faculty team chose to focus on learning outcomes to ensure that undergraduates are likely to engage in conversations about the relationship between racism and environmental problems in more than one required course. The U’s General Education Learning Outcomes call for students to build skills in “judging the value of a system according to how it accounts for equity and inequity created by human actions,” and “analyzing a system focusing on the interdependence of people and planet.”

The award winners will be announced in an online ceremony on Dec. 9. AASHE empowers higher education administrators, faculty, staff and students to be effective change agents and drivers of sustainability innovation. The University of Utah is an AASHE member institution providing all students, staff and faculty with access to AASHE’s resources by creating a free account using an @utah.edu email address.

We are grateful

By the Sustainability Office

It is easy to be cynical. It’s hard to escape any day without the weight of the world creeping into our thoughts, our conversations, or even our dreams. It can be overwhelming.

And yet …

We are not alone. We are thankful for the world leaders who committed to important steps to reduce the threats of climate change earlier this month at COP26, the annual climate change summit. We are thankful for the protesters pushing, demanding that countries do more to protect communities. And we are most thankful to those engaging in the everyday work to address climate change, systemic racism, environmental degradation and countless other complex issues where change is desperately needed.

It is easy to be cynical. But it is also easy to be grateful.

Jessica Chaplain, PhD student in Communication at the U, attended COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland at the beginning of November. Below is a highlight of her experience inside and outside the event center.

Jessica Chaplain, PhD student in Communications at the U, poses at the entrance of COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland at the beginning of November 2021.Chaplain poses in front of a welcome display at COP26.

These were posters put up in the Green Zone, which was the area of COP26 anyone could enter and was dedicated to researchers and civil society members. The posters highlight the urgent need for climate-related solutions.These posters hung in the Green Zone, which was the area of COP26 anyone could enter and was dedicated to researchers and civil society members.

This was one of the event spaces within the Blue Zone called the action hub. It had music and side events. It was also a place for people to sit and work. At COP26 in Glasgow, ScotlandThe Action Hub in the Blue Zone was an event space at COP26. It had music and side events. It was also a place for people to work.

Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons protest outside COP26 in November 2021.

Indigenous women gave speeches at a protest outside the COP26 venue to raise awareness for missing and murdered Indigenous women. The rally was right outside the front gate to make sure those those entering the summit would hear about the issue.

This was an event by the international collective Minga Indigena that brings together communities throughout the Americas to discuss shared experiences of colonialsm, extractive industries, and climate injustices. The group centers Indigenous knowledges and experiences to raise awareness for frontline communities facing the legal and illegal destruction of their biodiversty rich ecosystems and communities.

Minga Indigena—an international collective that brings together communities throughout the Americas to discuss shared experiences of colonialism, extractive industries, and climate injustices—hosted a session at COP26. The group centers Indigenous knowledges and experiences.


This discussion centered around migration associated with climate change, specifically within South Asia. The event aimed to think about solutions for addressing loss and damage caused by more extreme weather events.This discussion focused on migration associated with climate change, specifically within South Asia. Speakers described solutions for addressing loss and damage caused by extreme weather events.

This was a protest by Extinction Rebellion right outside the entrance of COP26 to highlight the death and destruction enabled by climate inaction.Extinction Rebellion, an international non-violent environmental movement, hosted a protest outside the entrance of COP26 to highlight the death and destruction enabled by climate inaction.

GCSC Seminar: Climate Change in the Science Classroom

By Maria Archibald, Sustainability Office


Have you ever tried to change someone’s mind about climate change by inundating them in science and data? If you have, you’re not alone—but Dr. Lynne Zummo, assistant professor of Educational Psychology and curator of learning sciences at the Natural History Museum, says that “if somebody is opposed to acting on climate change, sharing more science knowledge with them will probably not do the trick.”

Zummo, who spent several years as a middle and high school science teacher before earning her Ph.D. in science education, studies the learning environments and interventions that influence how people learn about climate change. On Tuesday, Nov. 16 at 4 p.m., Zummo will give a GCSC seminar called “Confronting the politics of a changing climate in the science classroom,” exploring how students do—and don’t—learn about climate change in schools.

Until recently, much of the research on climate change learning in science classrooms focused on knowledge and specific scientific concepts. “What I found in my research is that knowledge isn’t enough,” Zummo says. “It’s obviously very important for people to understand scientific concepts behind climate change, but that’s not going to solve the problems that we have socially.”

Zummo explains that peoples’ identities, social groups, beliefs, and even emotions affect what they take away from a learning experience about climate change. “There’s just so much more than science knowledge that’s involved,” she says.

Zummo discovered her love of education while pursuing a graduate degree in geology. “I went to grad school for geology and realized that the actual research side of it was not something I was interested in,” she says. “But I really enjoyed the teaching opportunities that I had as a TA, so I figured out how to get out of geology grad school and become a teacher.”

As a high school teacher, Zummo experimented with her curriculum and studied how it affected student engagement and learning outcomes. “In a way it was seeing my classroom as a little mini laboratory,” she says. “I could try new things out and see how kids responded and see what they took away from the experience.” These experiences interested Zummo in researching science education, and her findings will be the focus of her GCSC Seminar on Tuesday.

Zummo hopes her talk will remind audience members that young people are “not just little empty vessels to be filled with knowledge.”

“Kids come to the classroom with well-developed ideas, and strong ideas about who they are,” Zummo says. “It’s easy for adults to ignore that or forget about that, but if we really want to improve science education—and improve education generally—I think we have to have to do some work around understanding who kids are.”

Tune in on November 16 at 4 p.m. for a glimpse into Zummo’s research on science education and the complexities of teaching about climate change.

GCSC Seminar: New Energy Materials for a Sustainable Future 

By Maria Archibald, Sustainability Office

When Dr. Taylor Sparks arrived at the University of Utah as an undergraduate, he wanted to study just about everything. “I wanted to do chemistry, and I wanted to do physics, and I wanted to do mechanics, and robotics,” Sparks says. “There was no one department that let you do all those things. At least that’s what I thought.” 

Then Sparks found Materials Science. “I was just elated,” he says. “It is like the broadest department on the planet; it allows you to study all the things.”  

Sparks, who is now an Associate Professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at the U, researches sustainable materials for energy applications, and explores new synthetic techniques and structure-property relationships that balance performance with economic factors. He will give a GCSC Seminar on his research and its implications for sustainability—called “Why does humanity need new energy materials, and where will we find them?”—on Tuesday, Nov. 2 at 4 p.m. 

“There’s been a revolution in all fields, but certainly in Materials Science,” Sparks says. “The whole premise behind data science or materials informatics, which is what I do, is that…we could do a lot less physical experiments, and that’s going to use fewer resources.” 

But Sparks explains that even the computational cost of data science has become significant. “The amount of electricity and power that goes into this is definitely no longer trivial and it can be critical and even limiting in some places,” he says. “We started out saying ‘hey, data science is going to fix the problem with resource usage in high throughput experimentation.’ And you run the risk now of going too far the other way and it being actually resource intensive in terms of energy.”  

Sparks builds custom data science tools that are responsive to these challenges and that identify new materials that can transform the way we generate and store energy. He believes that materials informatics will change materials discovery for the better.  

“Even though we face truly daunting challenges and energy problems, we have a cool new tool that never existed before, which I think can help us solve them,” Sparks says. Tune in on Tuesday, Nov. 2 at 4 p.m. to learn more about the role of Materials Science in alternative energy and sustainability 

GCSC Seminar: Clean Water and Tribal Communities

By Maria Archibald, Sustainability Office

The COVID-19 pandemic, which has disproportionately affected Indigenous people and other people of color, recently directed mainstream media attention to another serious public health issue: many people living on Native American reservations do not have access to clean water.

Dr. Heather Tanana, research assistant professor in the College of Law and enrolled citizen of the Navajo Nation, works to address these access issues with the Water and Tribes Initiative (WTI), an organization that was established to educate Tribal representatives about the Colorado River Guidelines and to ensure that Tribes have a voice at the table during negotiations about water distribution. On Tuesday, Oct. 19 at 4 p.m., Tanana will discuss her work in a Global Change & Sustainability Center (GCSC) Seminar called “Universal Access to Clean Water for Tribal Communities.”

Tanana, who was born in Montezuma Creek on the southern Utah portion of Navajo Nation, says her family is influential in her work for water access and water justice in Native communities. Her father, a physician who spent his career working for the Indian Health Service and clinics across the Navajo reservation, instilled in her a strong sense of responsibility.

“It was an assumption—yes, you’ll go to college, you’ll get educated, but then you should use your skill set to help your community,” Tanana says. “So, I went to law school because … the health services for Native Americans in this country are based on treaty and trust responsibilities that the federal government has.”

The work of the WTI was a perfect match for Tanana’s intersecting interests in environmental law, health policy, and Indian country, and she agreed to lead their research team. “This project fit right squarely in that interest area,” Tanana says. Her work with WTI strives to hold the federal government accountable and remove barriers that Native communities face “in getting something as basic as water.”

Up to 40% of people on Navajo Nation do not have piped water in their home, but water access issues don’t end there. “There were these other areas that our research uncovered beyond just piped service delivery,” Tanana explains. Her research looks at the different federal programs available to address these problems, examines the limitations of each program, and suggests actions that can lead to tangible progress on the ground.

“We say American Indian history is U.S. history, but so few of us are taught anything about that historic relation between tribes and the U.S.,” Tanana says. “These are sovereign nations that continue to exist today. I always just like to educate people so that they’re aware of that history and the current environment on tribal lands.”

Tune in on Tuesday, Oct. 19 at 4 p.m. to learn more from Tanana about Native American history, its implications for water (in)justice on Tribal lands, and her work to address these serious environmental and public health issues through law and policy.

Change the Future of Commuting to Campus

By University of Utah Commuter Services

Your daily commute is more important than you think. It affects several aspects of your life, including your schedule, budget and health. However, everyone’s transportation options depend on their location, time constraints, resources and more. If you’d like to make a change and shape the future of commuting to campus, take this survey, share your thoughts and spread the word amongst your peers.

Every other year Commuter Services, in collaboration with the Sustainability Office, asks university students, faculty and staff to report their commute modes, habits, and satisfaction levels. So whether you drive, bike, walk or ride UTA to campus, here’s is your chance to share your experience and make suggestions based on your point of view.

Your participation is the driving force to change. The data collected from this survey will help us improve current commuter programs and plan for future initiatives. The survey will take approximately 10 minutes. To show our appreciation, all participants will be entered to win a $50 or $100 gift card to the Campus Store!

GCSC Seminar: Connecting the social and scientific study of the Anthropocene

By Maria Archibald, Sustainability Office 

A quick google search tells you that “the Anthropocene” refers to the proposed geological epoch in which we are currently living—one that began when human activity started to significantly alter ecological processes, change the climate, and appear in the geological record.  

In his upcoming Global Change & Sustainability Center (GCSC) seminar, “Whose Anthropocene? A data-driven look at the prospects for collaboration between natural science, social science, and the humanities,” Associate Professor of Philosophy Dr. Carlos Santana argues that understanding the Anthropocene isn’t quite as simple as it may appear. In fact, scientists from across different disciplines don’t even agree—what is the Anthropocene? When did it start? And why does it matter?

“I get to hear the way that people with very different perspectives are talking about environmental change, about the Anthropocene, about our planet,” Santana says. “They’re not talking about the same thing. And I wonder if I can pin down what it is that everyone is talking about.” 

As a child, Santana wanted to become a scientist until he realized that this would likely require him to choose a specific area of expertise. “I wanted to be involved in science, but I didn’t want to have to have a really narrow focus,” he explains. “I wanted to be like one of those old school guys from the 19th century, who got to just study everything—be a biologist, and a geologist, and a psychologist. So, I became a philosopher of science.”  

Santana explains that generalists who can look broadly at issues and find connections between different scientific disciplines are important, especially when studying complex and multifaceted issues like the Anthropocene.  

“There’s been broad acknowledgement that the Anthropocene isn’t an idea that should just be owned by the earth sciences,” says Santana. “If human society is causing geological changes—the kind of changes that will show up in in the geologic record—then you can’t just study that using the traditional tools of geology. You need to have social-scientific perspectives at the very least, because you’ve added human societies to the equation.” 

Interdisciplinary study of the Anthropocene is challenging, however, as it requires collaboration between disciplines that use different methods, tools, and scientific languages.  

“If you have an atmospheric scientist and a hydrologist working together, they have a common set of methods and vocabulary and things like that,” Santana explains. “They can write a scientific paper together, bringing evidence from both of their disciplines. But it becomes a big deal when you get, say, a geologist, and a sociologist, or historian, trying to sit down and do work together.” 

And that’s where Santana’s work comes in—to understand how scientists are discussing the Anthropocene, to find connections between different disciplines, and to synthesize their research toward a common understanding of what it means to live in a human-caused geological epoch.  

Tune in for Santana’s Zoom seminar on Tuesday, Sept. 28 at 4 p.m. to learn more.  

U Bike Week: Let’s build bike unity

By the Sustainability Office

Celebrate bike unity during this year’s fourth Annual U Bike Week. Virtual and outdoor events will provide safety education, bike resources and fun as a way to grow the cycling community.

“U Bike Week is a student-focused event, ensuring those who ride a bike now or are new to riding have the opportunity to connect, celebrate together and learn about what is happening to support their effort to be healthy and improve air quality,” said Ginger Cannon, the U’s active transportation manager.

U Bike Week kicks off Thursday, Sept. 23 with the Bike Utah Spoke Series: All Bodies on Bikes event featuring University of Utah alum Kailey Kornhauser, whose message that cycling is for everyone fits perfectly with the BIKE UNITY theme.

The week’s other events—the Comm-U-nity Slow Roll, Bike Fair, and Bikers’ Breakfast—will provide resources and giveaways to university bike riders. The University of Utah Police will be available at the Bike Fair and Bikers’ Breakfast to hand out free locks to those who register their bikes. Remember to bring your bike and university ID card.

U Bike Week is sponsored by the Sustainability Office, Bike Utah, Campus Store, Commuter Services, University of Utah Health, Point B and the University of Utah Police.


Bike Utah Spoke Series: “All Bodies on Bikes” virtual talk by Kailey Kornhauser

Thursday, Sept. 23 | 7-8 p.m.
Online | Register here.

Four months after starring in Shimano’s film “All Bodies on Bikes,” cyclist Kailey Kornhauser is advancing the cycling space in her message that cycling is for everyone. Kornhauser, a U alum, started cycling because she couldn’t afford a car. “Then, I thought, in the back of my head, ‘If I do this, I’ll lose weight and look like all the other cyclists.’ But that was not my reality.”

Comm-U-nity Slow Roll

Tuesday, Sept. 28 | 1-2 p.m.
Meet at the main (east) entrance of the Marriott Library

Experience the campus on wheels. Bring your helmet, bike and favorite bike shirt. We’ll have goodies for participants.

Bike Fair

Wednesday, Sept. 29 | 11 a.m.-3 p.m.
Campus Bike Shop (across from the Utah Museum of Fine Arts)

All your bike needs in one place. Roll over to the Campus Bike Shop and receive a free U-lock when you register your bike with the University of Utah Police. You must bring your bike and UCard. There will also be bike maintenance, resources and route planning.

Bikers’ Breakfast

Thursday, Sept. 30 | 7:30-10 a.m.
Campus Store—North Plaza

Biking on campus? Come by and grab some free breakfast. Plus, play some bike-related games and win prizes. There will be a supervised area where people can park their bikes.