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The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

University Gazette

Four young faculty honored with Hettleman awards

Four highly promising faculty members in diverse fields at Carolina have been awarded the Phillip and  Ruth Hettleman Prizes for Artistic and Scholarly Achievement by Young Faculty.

The recipients are Emily Baragwanath, an associate professor of classics, and Wei You, an associate professor of chemistry, both in the College of Arts and Sciences; as well as Eliana Perrin, an associate professor of pediatrics and director of the Child Health Program at the Sheps Center for Health Services Research, and Mark Zylka, an associate professor in cell biology and physiology and the UNC Neuroscience Center, both in the School of Medicine.

They will be recognized by Chancellor Carol Folt at the  Sept. 13 Faculty Council meeting.

The Hettleman Prize, which carries a $5,000 stipend, recognizes the achievements of outstanding junior tenure-track faculty or recently tenured faculty. Phillip Hettleman, who was born in 1899 and grew up in Goldsboro, established the award in 1986. He earned a scholarship to UNC, went to New York and in 1938 founded Hettleman & Co., a Wall Street investment firm.

Baragwanath

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Baragwanath has focused her academic career on the literary techniques used by ancient Greek historians in their narratives. Her book “Motivation and Narrative in Herodotus” explored the work of Herodotus, known as the “Father of History” in the western tradition. It received Oxford’s prestigious Conington Prize.

During the 2013–14 academic year, she is in Germany on an Alexander von Humboldt Research Fellowship, studying Xenophon, another ancient Greek historian.

“Taken together, Prof. Baragwanath’s work on Herodotus, Xenophon and related figures constitutes a significant contribution to our understanding of the development of historical writing in the European tradition,” James B. Rives, Kenan Eminent Professor and chair of the Department of Classics, wrote in his nomination letter.

Perrin

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Perrin investigates prevention of obesity among young people, seeking ways pediatricians can best help them achieve healthy weights and lifestyles. She has a special interest in how pediatricians communicate the results of body mass index (BMI) screenings to parents. She is interested in the social determinants of obesity and works with disadvantaged and low-literacy populations.

Perrin completed a fellowship in the Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholars Program while earning a master’s degree in public health from the Gillings School of Global Public Health. In summary, “Dr. Perrin is one of UNC’s best – best scientists, best clinicians, best mentors. … one of the truly special people who cares deeply about her family, her colleagues, and her trainees,” said nominator Cynthia M. Bulik, Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry in the School of Medicine and professor of nutrition at the Gillings School.

You

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You’s research focus “is in the interdisciplinary area of polymer solar cells, involving organic and polymer synthesis, discovering new fundamental physical principles, and device fabrication and engineering,” wrote nominator Valerie Ashby, professor and chair of the Department of Chemistry. “He may very well be the best interdisciplinary scientist of his age group.”

One reason for You’s interest in solar cells is the rapid and ongoing depletion of low-cost fossil fuels that also contribute to global warming, Ashby said. Existing photovoltaic cells, composed of inorganic semiconductors, are expensive, and sometimes even harmful. You and his colleagues are dedicated to developing less expensive organic semiconductor-based solar cells that would operate more efficiently and with less harm to the environment.

Zylka

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Zylka is recognized for his innovative work in two research areas: pain and neurodevelopmental disorders. His nomination letter focused on his identification of a protein that inhibits pain responses in animal models. Based on that discovery, Zylka and his colleagues have developed an injectable therapeutic for those who suffer from chronic pain.

In late August, the prestigious journal Nature published Zylka’s paper on a class of enzymes that has a profound effect across dozens of genes linked to autism. These findings could illuminate environmental factors behind autism spectrum disorders and contribute to a unified theory of how the disorder develops (go.unc.edu/o3ACy).

William D. Snider, director of the UNC Neuroscience Center, noted one reason Zylka’s work is, “so powerful is  that he combines biochemical and pharmacological approaches.”