Leveraging private gifts for public dollars
Chancellor Holden Thorp
Our faculty set another research-funding record in
fiscal year 2009, bringing in $716 million.
That total was up 5.6 percent from 2008’s $678 million and
more than double the amount from a decade ago. This is a
remarkable testament to the quality of our faculty. Very few
universities can show these kinds of results for important
research that will help improve people’s lives and advance
knowledge. And in the current economic downturn, it’s great
for North Carolina that our research enterprise is bringing
hundreds of millions of dollars into the state.
The contracts and grants come primarily from the federal
government – especially the National Institutes of Health
(NIH) and the National Science Foundation. The NIH is
traditionally our largest source of research funding.
Particular to last fiscal year was our strong showing in
attracting new federal research funding as part of the
American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), which
President Obama launched to help spur the economy back to
The common theme in all of these examples is that a
privately endowed professor played a critical role in
attracting significant public funds to Carolina.
But while these are public funding sources, we in large part
can thank private giving for the results. That’s because our
very best faculty often are the ones who land our largest
research awards, and our very best faculty often hold endowed
professorships created by private donors.
Take Tom Meyer, Arey Professor of Chemistry in the College of
Arts and Sciences. He’s directing a new research center that
last spring was awarded a U.S. Department of Energy and ARRA
grant expected to be valued at $17.5 million over five years.
The interdisciplinary center will bring together scientists
from across our campus as well as other universities to
develop solar fuels from next-generation photovoltaic
technology. It’s one of 46 Energy Frontier Research Centers
(EFRCs) being funded at U.S. universities and research
institutions to accelerate scientific breakthroughs for
advanced energy technology development, and is the only EFRC
in North Carolina and one of 16 that received ARRA funds for
The center will focus on nothing less than the most critical
issue of our time – creating clean, sustainable energy to
power the future.
This fiscal year, our outstanding faculty again are doing a
great job of bringing in research dollars. One recent example
is that the National Human Genome Research Institute and the
National Institute of Mental Health named UNC a Center of
Excellence in Genomic Science. The distinction came with an
award of $8.6 million over five years to fund a new Center
for Integrated Systems Genetics, or CISGen. About $6 million
will come from the ARRA.
CISGen will use mouse models to examine the genetic and
environmental factors that underlie and contribute to complex
problems such as autism, depression and anxiety, as well as
how genes and the environment interact to shape them. The
CISGen team will be co-directed by Patrick Sullivan, Ray M.
Hayworth and Family Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry in
our School of Medicine’s Department of Genetics.
Another one of our top faculty members also is working on
research that could have far-reaching benefits for human
Just last month, the NIH selected Joseph DeSimone,
Chancellor's Eminent Professor of Chemistry in the College of
Arts and Sciences, for a Pioneer Award, one of only 18 such
honors handed out this year. The Pioneer Award supports
scientists who propose pioneering – and possibly transforming
– approaches to major challenges in biomedical and behavioral
research. Awards are for up to $500,000 per year for five
Joe will use his award to develop new methods for safely
delivering promising biological therapeutics — such as
proteins, antibodies and nucleic acids — to specific
locations in the body. Ultimately, these could treat numerous
diseases, including cancer and cardiovascular conditions, as
well as neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s.
The common theme in all of these examples is that a privately
endowed professor played a critical role in attracting
significant public funds to Carolina. Without their expertise
and reputation, those funds may very well have gone
elsewhere. And without the support of our donors like you who
made those professorships possible, these outstanding faculty
might not be at Carolina.
Hark the Sound.