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James LeVoy Sorenson

An amazing range of achievements marks the 11 Utahns honored last week with the Governor's Medal for Science and Technology.

They include a physicist making measurements at the finest scale, a scientist who pinpointed how aspirin and related medicines work, educators, entrepreneurs, a forensic DNA expert, a computer-science pioneer, a co-developer of a patch for the space shuttle, an analyst discovering how materials fail, and a leader in getting the Moab radioactive tailings moved.

Greg Jones, the state science adviser, said the medals are a symbol of recognition to people who have provided "distinguished service to the state" in science and technology. This year, he added in a press release, the ceremony was scheduled for The Leonardo at Library Square.

The following honorees are listed in the order given by state officials in the release.

In the field of industry:

• Dean M. Lester of ATK Thiokol. Groups like Thiokol and the Space Dynamics Laboratory at Utah State University, Logan, "have placed Utah in a position of leadership in the global space race," says the state's citation.

"Currently the principal scientist on the ATK's efforts toward in-orbit space-shuttle repair, Mr. Lester is the co-originator of the concept for Space Shuttle Leading Edge Repair." This "plug" could save astronauts if a shuttle developed a hole like the one that doomed Space Shuttle Columbia in February 2003.

• James LeVoy Sorenson of the Sorenson Companies. A renowned entrepreneur who invented and produced many ingenious medical devices, Sorenson is credited with devising the first cardiovascular system to monitor the human heart in real time and with inventing the disposable plastic surgical mask and the plastic venous catheter, says the citation.

"Each of Mr. Sorenson's inventions not only solved persistent health-care delivery problems, but also made the practice of medicine safer, more effective and more comfortable for patients."

In the field of education:

• Barbara Gentry, science-curriculum consultant for the Jordan School District. She was the project manager for the first Science CRT tests in Utah. As a participant in the Intel Math and Science Technology Workshop from 2002-04 and author of a life-science textbook, Gentry has had "an impact on science education at a national level."

• Donna Lee Trease of Oak Hills Elementary School, Davis School District. The only NASA-certified teacher in the state, she teamed with industry, education and the Clark Planetarium to create Space Week.

Trease told this newspaper that what excites her is "the time that they (students) go 'ah-ha,' and come alive to science."

Last week she taught about the two new moons of Pluto, which had just been discovered. "The kids were on the edge of their seats," she said.

Academic winners:

• Richard Grow, professor of electrical engineering, University of Utah. He was chairman of the department of electrical engineering from 1965 to 1977 and collaborated with others to establish the university's Computer Science Division. It was "the creation point for the computer graphics industry," says the citation.

"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."

• David W. Hoeppner, professor of mechanical engineering at the U. He is a world 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," says the citation.

Through Hoeppner's research, such failures can be better understood and may be prevented.

• Daniel Simmons, professor of chemistry and biochemistry, Brigham Young University, Provo. His discovery of the COX-2 and COX-3 enzymes and his clarifying the action of COX-2 "form the basis of the majority of treatments for pain and inflammation in common use today," says the citation.

Simmons told this newspaper that the COX-2 enzyme is "the target site of all the aspirin-like drugs." Discovering this allowed scientists to better understand how these drugs work.

Blood-thinning caused by aspirin works through COX-1, while anti-inflammatory action happens through COX-2. Because of these discoveries, pharmaceutical companies could develop improved painkillers. Will new medicines be produced? "Oh yes," he said. "We're just looking at the beginning of this. . . .

"What we would like to have is a drug that keeps the stomach from becoming ulcerated but has a potent anti-inflammatory activity" without cardiovascular problems.

• Valy Vardeny, distinguished professor of physics at the U. His work on nano-electronics led him to measure charges moving through single molecules and collections of material. "My bread and butter is organic semiconductors," he told the Deseret Morning News, "but when you go deeply into it, you see that they're actually a bunch of molecules."

He and his team measure "optical, electrical transport and spin transport" in individual molecules. They grow what is called a "self-assembling nano-layer" of material for their work. Before the material can be measured, a chemist synthesizes molecules and a materials scientist works on the assembly.

"When I was a kid I always wanted to know, what is the electrical resistance of one molecule?" said Vardeny. "Now we know!"

Vardeny's citation notes that the research "has enormous potential in microelectronics and may result in a new generation of ultra-small devices."


• Loren Morton, Utah Department of Environmental Quality, Division of Radiation Control. A geologist and the state's senior hydrologist, he was honored for many achievements, including assembling the "key scientific information" that prompted the recent federal-government decision to move the Moab uranium tailings away from the Colorado River.

• Pilar Shortsleeve, the state's forensic biology supervisor. She has put DNA technology on a solid footing so that it's used in criminal investigations and prosecutions throughout Utah. One of the instances she recalled in an interview was helping to convict a man guilty of multiple rapes in northern Utah.

She has been "working on establishing and keeping abreast of all the new forensic DNA technology."

New technology is always coming out, Shortsleeve added. One promising technique in forensics is called the DNA chip, a format that can quickly produce a DNA profile from a small sample.

Special achievement:

• Richard Koehn, former vice president for research at the U. and co-founder of Sentrx Surgical, a new biotech company. The citation says, "Dr. 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 from the sciences to the arts."

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