Carolina's federal research funding:
UNC, Duke faculty bring $287 million in stimulus research funding to North Carolina
UNC researchers attract 'high impact' stimulus funding NIH Challenge Grants
Solar fuels: Leaving the wood for the trees
Reinvesting in basic research, one scientist at a time
Carolina grad students help to revitalize small N.C. communities
UNC researchers attract ‘high impact’
NIH Challenge Grants
Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have successfully secured backing for several projects funded by a new, highly competitive federal grant program that aims to tackle high impact scientific and health challenges.
The incredible shrinking X-ray machine Otto Zhou displays a model of carbon nanotube technology
invented at Carolina, which helped Zhou and radiation
oncologist Sha Chang secure a $2 million federal stimulus grant. The
researchers are applying the technology to a new cutting-edge treatment of
The National Institutes of Health’s new Challenge Grants initiative was announced earlier this year as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).
Nationally, competition proved fierce for the program, with the NIH receiving more than 20,000 applications.
Thirteen UNC research projects received Challenge Grants totaling about $11.8 million over the next two years.
Under the program, the NIH has defined a number of challenge areas – focused on specific knowledge gaps, scientific opportunities, new technologies, data generation and research methods – where an influx of funds could quickly lead to results. Officials say the research should have a high impact in public health and biomedical or behavioral science.
UNC projects (all for a two-year period) include:
Researchers will use a $1 million grant to evaluate the influence of gene variations and epigenetic expression on risky behaviors such as binge drinking, smoking, illegal drug use and delinquency. The project will use data, including saliva DNA samples, from the UNC-based National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. Researchers will also investigate methods for handling thousands of variables, both genetic and environmental, in similar studies. Principal investigator: Guang Guo, Ph.D., sociology professor, UNC College of Arts and Sciences and fellow of the Carolina Population Center and the Carolina Center for Genome Sciences.
A $954,000 project based at the UNC Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention aims to help low-income and overweight women in rural eastern North Carolina. The project will recruit women to join support groups for weight loss, financial literacy and moving out of poverty. Participants in the HOPE (Health, Opportunity, Partnerships and Empowerment) Account project will open savings accounts known as individual development accounts (IDAs) and will receive matching funds to apply toward furthering their education, buying a home or creating a business. Principal investigator: Marci Campbell, Ph.D., center research fellow, nutrition professor in the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. For more information, go to http://www.hpdp.unc.edu/hpdp/index.cfm?fa=news.newsitem&NewsID=61.
The UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy will receive $873,000 to study proteins involved in regulating the genetic material chromatin, and exploring how chromatin’s control of gene expression and gene silencing is relevant in normal and disease biology. When the proteins that control chromatin are deranged, cancer can develop. Principal investigator: Stephen Frye, Ph.D., professor of medicinal chemistry and natural products, director of the center for integrative chemical biology and drug discovery, and a member of the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.
Tony Waldrop, Ph.D., vice chancellor for research and economic development, said the projects help illustrate the high quality of research being conducted by Carolina scientists, who are leaders in their disciplines.
“This funding should directly benefit our state’s economy and taxpayers by creating jobs and innovations that will make a difference in people’s lives,” Waldrop said.
Including the NIH Challenge Grants, UNC researchers have been awarded ARRA grants or awards worth more than $127.4 million since March.
For more information about this story, contact Patric Lane, (919) 962-8596 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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Solar fuels: Leaving the wood for the trees
If Tom Meyer’s plan works, we won’t need trees.
More precisely, we won’t need to rely on trees for what’s known in scientific circles as “solar fuel production from biomass” — a fancy term describing the age-old method humans have used for their energy supply since pre-historic times: burning wood.
“If you think about it that way, humankind has been harnessing the power of the sun for many, many millennia,” says Meyer, the Arey Distinguished Professor of Chemistry in the College of Arts and Sciences.
“Sunlight helps grow trees. People burn wood, a form of fuel, to generate energy. For eons, firewood has been the only option we’ve had for being able to ‘store’ solar energy until we need to use it. But now it’s time to take the middle man — the plants — out of the solar fuel equation.”
Meyer is referring to a still-budding area of solar energy research called “artificial photosynthesis,” a process that uses sunlight to create potential fuel sources — such as oxygen and hydrogen from wastewater, or even hydrocarbons like methane from water and carbon dioxide. If artificial photosynthesis works, it would help solve the biggest obstacle preventing solar power from playing a major role in meeting the United States’ — and the world’s — energy needs: storing it away for later use.
“The main problem with current solar power technology is that if the sun’s not shining, you’re out of luck,” Meyer says. “Solar fuels give us the ability to collect and stockpile that energy.”
Finding ways to create solar fuels is one of the focuses of the new UNC-based Energy Frontier Research Center, one of 46 such centers recently established by the U.S. Department of Energy with funding that includes American Recovery and Reinvestment Act support. Headed by Meyer, the $17.5 million, five-year initiative includes a multi-campus coalition of researchers who form what he describes as a critical mass of scientists collaborating on energy-related research.
“This is going to solidify North Carolina’s role in the energy sciences,” Meyer says. “As a team, the center’s members will leverage off each other’s strengths. N.C. State brings its chemistry and materials science expertise to the table. Duke has great analytical resources. UNC boasts fantastic basic science capabilities.”
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Students work in John Papanikolas' solar research lab.
And it is advances in basic science — the nuts-and-bolts research at the heart of all discoveries — that will really underpin what takes solar power to the next level and beyond, says John Papanikolas, associate professor of chemistry and co-principal investigator of the new center.
“Basic science is the key,” says Papanikolas. “In terms of the technology currently available, many people think that if we all put solar panels on our roofs, we’ll be fine. But that’s so far from the truth it’s not funny. We really need technology that we haven’t even thought of yet.”
That’s where solar fuels come in, as well as another focus of the center’s work — developing next-generation photovoltaics, a technology and research field related to converting sunlight directly into electricity, using devices such as solar panels and solar cells.
Student working in the solar cell lab of Wei You.
Photovoltaics is an area brimming with potential — a polite way of saying the current technology, processes and materials are still bulky, inefficient and expensive. For example, Papanikolas estimates that generating enough solar power to meet the equivalent of the U.S.’s electricity needs would require a solar panel 10,000 square miles in size (i.e., slightly larger than Vermont) and costing $10 trillion.
So the UNC team and their colleagues are exploring avenues that could result in the creation of inexpensive “solar shingles” on roofs and other such applications.
Either way, energy research is an area that the University and the larger world cannot escape, Meyer says.
“The energy future will be driven by a shift to new energy sources which minimize environmental impacts. Hydrocarbons such as coal and oil currently provide about 85 percent of the country’s energy, but they’re a finite source.”
The center will support a mix of about 30 postdoctoral fellows and graduate students, and provide opportunities for undergraduates to try their hand at cutting-edge research. And Papanikolas notes, it’s the latter who may well play a role in changing the energy landscape of the future.
“The students entering college today are probably going to be the generation of scientists who actually solve these problems.”
Along with UNC, Duke and N.C. State, N.C. Central University and the University of Florida are also partners in the Energy Frontier Research Center.
If you have any questions about this Web site, click here to contact Mike McFarland, director of University Communications.
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