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UNC Research

Inside Research

An Internal Newsletter for UNC Research

Vol. 5 No. 4 April 2017

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A message from the Vice Chancellor

Terry Magnuson

The university recognized Oliver Smithies on April 4, with a memorial tribute. Oliver passed away on January 10, 2017. He was a colleague and friend of many of us at UNC. In 2007, Simon John (a former postdoctoral fellow of Oliver's who is now at the Jackson Laboratory) and I wrote (Genetics 175, 459-469) about our reflections of Oliver receiving the 2007 Thomas Hunt Morgan Medal from the Genetics Society of America. To us, there was no person who was more deserving of all the honors he received for his research, which included the 2007 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

Throughout his career, Oliver made major contributions to the advancement of genetics. He was always full of interesting ideas with broad contributions in the form of technical innovations and new tools, new hypotheses, and new knowledge. His work completely changed the way by which researchers studied mammalian genetics. In a 1995 New York Times article, at the age of 70, Oliver was appropriately described as "a scientific phenomenon, a man whose intellectual pace has continued unabated for half a century [...] and who continues to break new scientific ground." This remained true until his death this year.

Oliver had a remarkable scientific memory, which, when coupled with his unusually broad interests and abilities, made him an exceptional scientist, a versatile innovator, and a very valuable colleague and mentor. His deep insight and knowledge of chemistry and physics enhanced his ability to see the merits and pitfalls of biological hypotheses. These interactions and insights were instrumental in making those who trained with Oliver better scientists. Additionally, his unusually broad and deep insights were important characteristics that were key to his personal success. They were major factors driving both his remarkable experimental and conceptual innovations.

Oliver's landmark paper describing homologous recombination in mammalian cells was reported in 1985. To Oliver, it was the favorite of his publications. A selectable neomycin marker was introduced into the exact position of the human β-globin gene as planned via homologous recombination. This site-directed mutagenesis occurred without the addition of DNA into other sites within the genome, and this forever changed mouse genetics as models of human disease. Oliver never lost his boyish enthusiasm for science and cherished the joy of conducting experiments with his own hands.

In addition to his remarkable success in the laboratory, Oliver had a remarkable life. He believed that to be successful three components are needed: good science, a good hobby, and a good family life. Regarding hobbies, Oliver was fond of sailing and flying. He was particularly passionate about flying, especially gliding. Even in this area he excelled and held two world records. We miss his enthusiasm and never-ending positive thinking that kept many of us going when our experiments didn't work.

Terry Magnuson
Vice Chancellor for Research

News & Updates

From around UNC Research

CRC's Gavin Smith to lead post-Matthew disaster recovery efforts

Coastal Resilience Center of Excellence (CRC) researchers and students across several North Carolina universities will be leading three primary efforts in response to Hurricane Matthew. Overseen by CRC Director Gavin Smith, the Hurricane Matthew Disaster Recovery and Resilience Initiative (HMDRRI) has received more than $900,000 in funding from three entities: The N.C. Policy Collaboratory at UNC-Chapel Hill; the State of North Carolina through disaster-recovery legislation; and the Department of Homeland Security's Science and Technology Directorate. "We will be linking what we know about disaster recovery to inform state and federal policies and programs, and assisting communities to develop disaster recovery plans," Smith says.

NRI presents short course on "Nutrigenetics, Nutrigenomics, and Precision Nutrition"

An individual's unique genetic profile can affect the way their body absorbs and uses nutrients. And the relationship is reciprocal: compounds in the foods we eat can influence how our genes are expressed. A workshop-style course, presented by the UNC Nutrition Research Institute (NRI), will provide the fundamental concepts of nutrigenetics, nutrigenomics, and personalized nutrition through cutting-edge presentations and hands-on experiences. Open to graduate students, health professionals, and nutrition scientists from academia and industry, attendees will have the opportunity to participate in a personal DNA test and examine their own nutrigenetic data.

IE Director Lawrence Band to step down

Lawrence E. Band, director of the UNC Institute for the Environment (IE), was named Ernest H. Ern Professor in Environmental Sciences and Professor in Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Virginia. On June 30, he will step down after nine years as IE's director and nearly two decades at UNC. An interim director will take his place July 1. Over the last nine years, Band oversaw IE's transiton from a unit largely focused on undergraduate education into a research and public service powerhouse.


We would like to recognize the following people who have reached service milestones in the university system. We appreciate and applaud your service and dedication.

40 Years

Pete Peterson, Institute of Marine Sciences

35 Years

Rita Williams, Office of Animal Care and Use
Evelyn Shaw, FPG Child Development Institute

30 Years

Ginger Smith, Office of Sponsored Research
Sarah Henderson, FPG Child Development Institute
Phyllis Blackwell, Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research
Jean Justice, Highway Safety Research Center
Rick Luettich, Institute of Marine Sciences

25 Years

Lisa Coates, Division of Laboratory Animal Medicine
Rick O'Hara, Carolina Population Center
Betsy Ayankoya, FPG Child Development Institute
Ellen Peisner-Feinberg, FPG Child Development Institute
Myra Walters Burke, Institute for the Environment
Sonya Watson, Institute for the Environment
Mike Conway, Renaissance Computing Institute

20 Years

Chinita Scarboro, Division of Laboratory Animal Medicine
Gail Cummings-Whitfield, Office of Research Development
Janet Hendrickson-Smith, Carolina Population Center
Guifeng Jin, Carolina Population Center
Peggy Hensley, FPG Child Development Institute
Christina Kasprzak, FPG Child Development Institute
Kathleen Gray, Institute for the Environment
Jay Aikat, Renaissance Computing Institute

Inside Our Offices

ORD's Nathan Blouin shares everything you need to know about NSF Day

The Office of Research Development (ORD) will host an NSF Day on Wednesday, April 19. Interim Director Nathan Blouin answers questions about this inaugural event. For more information about NSF Day, click here.

Why is NSF funding so important to UNC's research mission?

NSF is the primary sponsor of basic or "discovery" research — research that explores the very fundamental aspects of our natural world that, as it becomes properly understood, can lead to amazing discoveries affecting our daily lives. In addition, the NSF fosters America's economic competitiveness by producing the next generation of scientists and researchers, while also looking to engage everyone in thinking about the world through a scientific framework. UNC ranks competitively with respect to its peer institutions, but our researchers are constantly seeking new innovative partnerships and methods to deepen our relationship with the agency.

Tell me about ORD's larger, overarching intiative to help UNC researchers obtain NSF funding.

Starting at the end of 2015, ORD launched the NSF Learning Community — a broad group of scientists and researchers who were looking to increase their competitiveness at the agency through the sharing of best practices and peer mentoring. It first focused on a series of programs to help junior faculty prepare for their first NSF CAREER application and resulted in a UNC record of eight CAREER winners. In late 2016, ORD held a Broader Impacts Symposium, where three NSF deputy directors visited UNC to explore what makes the "broader impacts" sections of proposals particularly compelling to reviewers.

What is NSF Day?

NSF Days provide insight and instruction on how to compete for and secure NSF funding for science, engineering, and education research. During the one-day workshops, program officials provide background on the foundation, its mission, priorities, and budget; and give an overview of proposal writing, the merit review process, and programs that fall within NSF's seven directorates, as well as those that cross disciplinary boundaries. NSF Day is a great opportunity to delve deep into the culture of discovery science and workforce development at NSF, and to meet potential collaborators from around both the state and the nation.

What do you hope attendees will walk away with?

Attendees will be able to network with program officials to discuss their own scientific endeavors and build agency relationships with the foundation. I hope they walk away with a broad understanding of how best to begin writing an NSF research proposal. They are a lot of work and are extremely competitive, but, with practice and fluency, will lead to the next scientific discovery.

Upcoming Events

April 21

Triangle Resilience Student Research Symposium

The event will serve as a way for graduate students from UNC, Duke, and NC State to present their research, connect across the universities, and prepare for careers in disaster resilience. Sponsored by Carolina Hazards and Resilience Planners.

April 22

UNC Science Expo

To showcase the wonders of science, technology, engineering, and math, this free, family-friendly event features more than 100 fascinating exhibits with hands-on experiments, riveting demonstrations, laboratory tours, stage entertainment, and more. Sponsored by Morehead Planetarium and Science Center, UNC, and the Town of Chapel Hill.

May 9

Increase Compliance Behavior through Brain Science-Based Training Design

Participants in this three-course series will learn five time-tested steps to powerful compliance training, how to get the most ROI for your compliance, what cognitive science can do for your training, and more. Sponsored by UNC Research.

May 15-16

Mobile Health Workshop

This workshop will identify and prioritize research challenges in data science cyberinfrastructure to enable mobile health applications to address environmental health and related healthcare challenges in the Southern U.S. Sponsored by South Big Data Hub & National Consortium for Data Science.


Inside View

photo by Mary Lide Parker

Elsemarie deVries, a PhD student in the UNC Coastal Environmental Change Lab, obtains an aerial survey of Edisto Beach in South Carolina by flying a kite with a camera attached to it. The camera takes approximately 200 to 400 photos that are then stitched together with software to create a topographic model of the area. "You can measure changes in dune volume alongshore, not just in one line," she says.

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Research Spotlights

Discover amazing findings from UNC Research

Back from the Dead: The World of Tardigrades

Thomas Boothby, a postdoctoral associate in the UNC Department of Biology, talks with NPR about recent research that looked into how tardigrades, better known as waterbears, survive desiccation — something that's baffled scientists for years.

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A Preeminent Southern Historical Archive at Carolina

Thanks to a challenge grant from the NEH, the Southern Historical Collection has hired an African-American Collections and Outreach Archivist — Chaitra Powell — to help preserve the rich histories and voices of communities of color.

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By The Numbers

1 million men got their testosterone levels tested from 2009 to 2013 — a response to T.V. ads that convinced many to seek, probably, unnecessary treatment. More
2.5 percent of annual hours worked by lawyers could be cut with implementation of artificial intelligence software that automates different types of legal work. More
13 percent of food and 35 percent of beverage purchases from 40,000 U.S. households included items marked as low-fat, low-sodium, low-sugar — labels that aren't as healthy as they seem. More