Foundations

From the inner workings of the universe to the biological system of a fruit fly, these stories uncover the revolutionary nature of basic science and its potential to shape our world.

Gut Instinct

Just 10 years ago, no one knew how to grow intestinal stem cells outside of the body, preventing scientists from uncovering the mysteries of the gut and the problems surrounding it. But in 2010, that all changed — when Scott Magness’s lab became the first in the United States to grow “mini-guts” inside a petri dish, using them to develop better treatments for human gastrointestinal diseases.

Bubble Breakthroughs

Virginie Papadopoulou specializes in using ultrasound technology to study the body in extreme environments, ranging from the physiology of scuba divers to the blood flow in cancerous tumors. Her weapon of choice? Tiny bubbles.

An Origin Story

Most theoretical physicists don’t see their predictions confirmed in their lifetimes, as it can take centuries to discover the physical phenomena that mark them true. But that hasn’t been the case for UNC's Laura Mersini-Houghton, who’s seen six of her predictions about the origins of the universe verified in the last decade — a feat that’s grabbed everyone’s attention, from documentary filmmakers to the late Stephen Hawking.

The Survivors

Heat-resistant. Cold-weather tough. Outer space savvy. If anything, tardigrades are survivors above all else. But what makes them so resilient? Thomas Boothby strives to figure that out and discover how these microscopic animals can be used to preserve biological samples like blood, human tissue, and vaccines.

Speaking Math

Imagine a sentence so long that it would take an entire lifetime to read it — that’s the kind of problem Joaquín Drut faces every day. The UNC physicist works with numbers too large to compute in an effort to better understand the way our universe works.

Generating Power Like Plants

When plants absorb sunlight, they convert carbon dioxide into energy-rich organic compounds. What if humans could do the same thing? What if we could pull CO2 out of the air and use it to build organic molecules? This revolutionary idea is still just that — an idea. But organic chemists at UNC are laying the groundwork for turning it into reality.

Why a Fly?

The genome of a fruit fly is strikingly similar to that of a human — so much so that scientists have been studying these tiny insects for over 100 years, in search of treatments for diseases like spinal muscular atrophy and neurological disorders. UNC geneticist Bob Duronio is one of those scientists.