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Inside Research

An Internal Newsletter for the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research

February 2021

a flooded street from Hurricane Matthew

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. An interdisciplinary team of 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.

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Breakthroughs, Passion, and the Way Forward
by Terry Magnuson, Vice Chancellor for Research

I'd like to share how the work of researchers has been so important for the world by reflecting on this year's research breakthroughs, selected by the journal Science, and to highlight how researchers at UNC are already working in those spaces.

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A Message from the OVCR

We join the nation and campus in celebrating the history and achievements of African American and Black people in academia and beyond during this year's Black History Month. The events of this past year have been poignant and sobering reminders of why such reflections and celebrations are important to observe. As Interim Chief Diversity Officer Sibby Anderson Thompkins recently stated: "A half-century after the national recognition of Black History Month, America is still plagued by racism. At the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, even as we strive to advocate and educate for anti-racist behavior, we continue to grapple with it [...] we still have a long way to go towards real understanding."

To that end, in partnership with the OVCR and the Office for Diversity and Inclusion, the Odum Institute for Research in Social Science has created a certificate program to foster a new standard of inclusion, sensitivity, and intentionality in the UNC research community. The pilot for the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Research (DEIR) Certificate Program will run this semester and will soon be open to anyone conducting or administrating research who is interested in participating.

There are also opportunities this month to learn and engage in discussions around racial justice and understanding. The third event in the Race, Racism, and Racial Equity (R3) Series — ARTivism: Using Arts-based Scholarship to Interrogate and Dismantle Racism — will be held on February 24. The panel will focus on how the arts can help us better understand systems of oppression and their impacts, challenge white supremacy, foster dialogue around race and racism, and advance racial equity.

Additionally, the 2021 African American History Month Lecture, an annual tradition that brings leading scholars and activists whose work centers on the lives of African Americans from both historical and contemporary perspectives, will take place Tuesday, February 23. This year's speaker is journalist and activist Charlie Cobb, a founding member of the National Association of Black Journalists. As a field secretary with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, he originated the idea of Freedom Schools as a part of the 1964 Mississippi Freedom Summer Project. The lecture is open to the entire campus as well as the surrounding community and is the university's major programming initiative to recognize the importance of African American histories nationally, statewide, and on campus.

We hope you take advantage of these event offerings and, along with us, continue to learn and reflect on the nature of their importance.

UNC Research News & Updates

CRC announces Spring 2021 speaker series

The Coastal Resilience Center (CRC), in partnership with the Department of City and Regional Planning, is co-sponsoring a graduate certificate program in the study of natural hazards resilience. As part of this course, CRC Program Manager Anna Schwab will host a series of talks during the Spring 2021 semester on various topics related to natural hazards. These talks will be recorded and made available to the public on the speaker series website and the center's YouTube page. To learn more, contact coastalresiliencecenter@unc.edu.

UNC Science Expo seeks presenters for virtual events

Every April, as part of Morehead Planetarium's month-long N.C. Science Festival, the UNC Science Expo draws thousands of visitors to engage with the amazing research that happens on Carolina's campus through a STEM-themed street festival. This year's celebration has morphed into UNC Science Week with a series of unique, pandemic-proof events April 12-17. The festival team is excited to share the work of UNC researchers through virtual science cafes, drive-in movie screenings, an online expo, "Scientist Saturday" at Morehead Planetarium, and more. To participate in UNC Science Week, please contact ncscifest@unc.edu.

BeAM offers makerspace support for researchers

The UNC Be A Maker (BeAM) program continues to enhance the breadth and depth of resources available to researchers and welcomes your guidance to help direct strategies and resources. By filling out this eight-question survey, you can help makerspace staff understand the research needs for access, equipment, and messaging.

Additionally, researchers can attend drop-in virtual open houses for a tour of the space, an overview of tools and equipment, and breakout Q&A sessions with staff specialists, experts, and advanced BeAM research users. Get a closer look at the metal shop, electronics workstations, and upgraded 3D printer capabilities including the FormLabs Form 3B resin printer, the new Ultimaker S3, PRUSA multimaterial printer, and soon-to-be-added flexible filaments. The virtual open houses will take place on Thursday, February 25 and Monday, March 15 at 4 p.m.

Inside UNC Research

a masked young woman holds up a specimen in a small lab space

The Next Generation of Therapeutics
The OVCR is excited to announce the launch of AdvanTx, a centralized resource to support development of therapeutic-related research and commercialization projects.

Alzheimer's disease. Leukemias. COVID-19. UNC researchers are actively engaged in research projects to develop therapeutics for these diseases. While universities are key to the drug discovery pipeline, the scientists employed at them may not know how to move their discoveries from the lab to the marketplace. Enter the UNC Advance Therapeutics Initiative (AdvanTx), a centralized resource for faculty to engage to develop therapeutic-related research and development projects.

AdvanTx's creators — Joyce Tan, OVCR associate vice chancellor for research; Michael Kline, director of outreach and technology development in the Office of Technology Commercialization; and Jon Collins, lead scientist of Pinnacle Hill in OVCR — have spent several years working with faculty to support the advancement of therapeutics research projects across campus.

"We found that a missing element in these activities is a central coordinating resource at the university that provides faculty with scientific drug discovery and development guidance, support with navigating university and external resources, and help with defining a commercialization strategy," Tan says.

Collins, Tan, and Kline aim to fill this gap through a program that pulls together a team of experts with industrial experience in drug discovery and development at UNC and administrative staff to help faculty navigate the scientific and administrative process.

The AdvanTx team wants to find researchers working with proteins and genes — like phospholipase C, the focus of John Sondek's lab. A professor in the UNC School of Medicine's Department of Pharmacology, Sondek believes phospholipase C could be useful in treating patients with leukemia or neurodegenerative diseases.

"In this case, there is a specific protein, the physiological function of the protein is known, and John has ideas on how to target the protein for therapeutics discovery," says Collins, who adds that this is exactly the type of project that AdvanTx seeks.

Research investigators are highly encouraged to contribute their therapeutic target(s) or gene concepts, discoveries, or ongoing programs — independent of the stage of development — by completing a brief one-page questionnaire. Information on the initiative, along with submission instructions, can be found on the OVCR's AdvanTx: UNC Advance Therapeutics Initiative portal.

Research Spotlight

a young woman adjusts her blue BSL3 suit

READDI, Not Reactive

The Rapidly Emerging Antiviral Drug Discovery 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.

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a gray SUV with a smashed-in front-end sits on a tow-truck bed

Pandemic Car Crashes Surge

The number of people dying on North Carolina's roads increased last year, despite far fewer people driving because of the coronavirus pandemic. Arthur Goodwin, a research associate at the UNC Highway Safety Research Center, shares why.

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Upcoming Events


Barbara Hanna Wasik Distinguished Lecture

Hear from Louisiana State University professor Anna C.J. Long, who will present "Towards Empirically-Supported, Responsive Practice: The Emerging Science of Cultural Adaptation," in this annual lecture from the FPG Child Development Institute.

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N.C. Child Hunger Leaders Conference

Learn how to give children sustainable access to healthy food at this 10th annual conference hosted by the Carolina Hunger Initiative, a part of the Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention.

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Folate in Human Health and Diseases

Tune into this edition of Appetite for Life with a Twist, hosted by the Nutrition Research Institute, for a presentation from Jaspreet Sharma, a research scientist in the Sergey Krupenko Lab who studies folate — a vitamin that impacts everything from cancer to mental health.

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People & Environment in the Galápagos Islands of Ecuador

Join UNC scholars to learn more about the social, terrestrial, and marine environments of the Galápagos Islands of Ecuador in this presentation from the Center for Galápagos Studies and the Institute for the Study of the Americas.

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By the Numbers


to -2 degrees Fahrenheit: The temperature range required for snowflakes to form inside clouds. More…


4-year-olds don't have access to public pre-K programs because five states don't have them. More…