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.

Disassembling Evolution’s Engine

When a research project centered on evolution within spadefoot toads fell through, Emily Harmon shifted her focus to microscopic swimmers called rotifers. The biology PhD student is studying an animal's ability to adapt in one generation, which could inform conservation efforts in the face of climate change.

The Smorgasbord Scientist

Why do some organisms live in groups? What influences their cooperation with one another? How do they choose their mates? PhD student Brian Lerch has a lot of questions about ecology and evolutionary biology — and he strives to answer them using math.

Building Resilience for Storm-Battered N.C.

The record-breaking 2020 Atlantic hurricane season included 30 storms, and while North Carolina managed to dodge the 12 hurricanes that made landfall, that won’t always be the case in the future. A team of interdisciplinary researchers at UNC is combining their expertise in areas like human health, ecology, and urban planning to create a long-term holistic plan helping vulnerable communities prepare for the next generation of extreme weather events.

READDI, Not Reactive

For decades, scientists warned of the potential for a global coronavirus outbreak. But when SARS-CoV-2 emerged, no therapeutics, drugs, or vaccines were readily available. The Rapidly Emerging Antiviral Drug Development Initiative (READDI) — founded by researchers at UNC and the Structural Genomics Consortium — is not only finding solutions to the COVID-19 pandemic, but also drugs and therapeutics for future viral outbreaks.

The Invisible Chase

Just over 100 years ago, physicists stumbled upon an elementary particle that could answer questions about the origin of the universe. Elusive and nearly massless, neutrinos may be the solution to understanding everything from the Big Bang to the inner workings of the atomic nucleus — and UNC physicist Julieta Gruszko can’t stop chasing them.

Tiny Molecules, Big Potential

North Carolina native and organic chemist Sidney Wilkerson-Hill is investigating ways to recreate the power of plants in the lab — work that could lead to advances in drug development.

Cooperation Over Competition

Flocks of birds. Schools of fish. Colonies of ants. Their strength is in numbers as they can fend off larger predators, move faster, and mate more easily. Daphne Klotsa, an applied physicist, studies how these biological swarms function in hopes to improve how humans and automated technologies navigate the world.

New-Age Nicotine

The number of middle and high school students that use electronic cigarettes rose from 3.6 million to 5 million in a single year, according to the 2019 National Youth Tobacco Study. As a wave of vaping-related deaths were thrust into the spotlight last year, researchers at Carolina have become experts in all areas of the field from pulmonology to marketing.

Unseen Science

RENCI is a hub for supercomputing and data science power at Carolina. The institute is the backbone for a slew of successful projects, from the data management software used by the National Library of France to a storm surge modeling system relied upon by FEMA and now a global platform for researchers to develop and test new internet architectures.