Selected Research Strengths

UNC Neuroscience CenterNeurosciences

Carolina’s Neuroscience Center, directed by Bill Snider, applies the powerful tools of genetics and interdisciplinary collaboration. The center has recruited scientists from a wide variety of fields who are learning more about how the brain works, how it develops and how its complex biology sometimes goes awry in neurological disorders and disease.

Genetics and genome sciencesGenetics and genome sciences

Carolina has made a 10-year, $245 million commitment to develop strength in the fundamental sciences of life. Already, studies using mouse models and advanced computational and analytical techniques are revealing basic knowledge that will have direct relevance to scientists’ understanding of human biology and disease.

Health-care innovations

Carolina has broad strengths in medicine, pharmacy and pharmacology, and is a leading force for better health care. Here are just a few examples:


Carolina faculty members are engaged in a campuswide ini­tiative to use nanotechnology to improve human health. In 2010, Carolina was awarded a second multimillion-dollar grant from the Carolina Center of Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence to bring Carolina physical scientists and cancer biologists together to implement nanotechnology approaches in cancer research, diagnosis and treatment. Faculty members at the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy’s Center for Nanotechnology in Drug Delivery are creating nano-scale pharmaceutical innovations for therapeutic and diagnostic purposes.

Infectious Diseases

Carolina is an international leader in infectious disease research and was ranked #10 in 2011 by U.S. News and World Report for HIV/AIDS re­search. Carolina researchers are fighting malaria and HIV transmission in Malawi, targeting the resurgence of syphilis in China and Madagascar and leading an in­ternational consortium to develop a new treatment for African sleeping sickness. Carolina’s Center for Infectious Disease provides treatment for patients with HIV and other infectious diseases in N.C. hospitals and county health departments.

Drug Discovery

Researchers in pharmacy and pharmacology are finding new compounds and new drug-delivery systems. For example, pharmacy professor Kuo-Hsiung Lee has developed a drug now in clinical trials that could revolu­tionize AIDS treatment. The drug is based on the discovery that a compound in a Taiwanese herb and in the bark of birch trees in North America has great potential in suppressing HIV/AIDS.

Public Health

Carolina’s Gillings School of Global Public Health is 1st among public universities, according to U.S. News and World Report 2011. This school is a major force in en­suring the safety and health of citizens. Its research strengths include biostatistics, environmental sciences and engineering, epidemiology, health behavior and health education, health policy, maternal and child health and nutrition. The school is also finding ways to help the nation prepare for and recover from bioterrorist attacks and natural disasters such as hurricanes.

The Nutrition Research Institute at the N.C. Research Campus in Kannapolis is devoted to discovering why people differ greatly in metabolism and nutrient requirements. The institute uses genomic and metabolomic biotechnology to develop innovative approaches to understanding the role of diet and activity in normal brain development, in the prevention of cancer and in the prevention and treatment of obesity and eating disorders.


Researchers at Carolina strive to understand the factors that enable learning and overcome barriers to education. Here are just a few examples:

Rural Education

The School of Education used a federal grant to establish the National Research Center on Rural Education Support, which merges a focus on teacher quality with the use of technology in rural schools. Other initiatives targeting rural areas include a $3.4 million grant to support rural K-1 teachers working with struggling readers and targeted intervention programs for at-risk populations.

Child Development

Scientists at the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute study issues facing young children and their families. The institute’s measures of child-care environments have become the most widely used in the world. Institute researchers are investigating autism spectrum disorders and Fragile X syndrome, the most common known cause of mental retardation.

Astrophysics and Astronomy

Carolina faculty and students study the skies from several new vantage points. Caro­lina is a partner in SOAR, a four-meter telescope atop Cerro Pachon in northern Chile, and PROMPT, an array of six 16-inch robotic telescopes atop Cerro Tololo. Carolina also has a 3 percent share in the largest telescope in the southern hemi­sphere, SALT (Southern African Large Telescope), about 300 miles north of Cape Town. SOAR, PROMPT and SALT can be operated remotely by Carolina faculty and students and are used as teaching aids and in public outreach initiatives.

New Materials and Processes

In 2011 Carolina was ranked 7th in research by Small Times, a business trade maga­zine, among the top U.S. universities for its work in nanotechnology and microtech­nology research. Chemists, physicists and computer scientists are developing new materials and processes that will drive innovation and economic growth. Examples:

Fuel Cells and Tiny Particles

Joe DeSimone, Chancellor’s Eminent Professor of Chemistry, creates new materials for use in the membranes of fuel cells. DeSim­one’s group also created the world’s tiniest manufactured particles for delivering drugs or genetic material.

Lab on a Chip

Michael Ramsey, Minnie N. Goldby Distinguished Professor of Chemistry, conducts pioneering research in miniaturizing and automating lab processes. His work has applications for everything from drug discovery to environmental monitoring. Ramsey helped create the concept of a “lab on a chip,” which allows lab tests to be performed in miniature on tiny silicon, glass or plastic chips.


Richard Superfine, Bowman and Gordon Gray Professor, condensed matter physics, biophysics and microscopy, is advancing the science of the very small in big ways. Nanotechnology has great potential to improve applications as diverse as x-ray machines, computer screens and drug delivery.

Social Sciences

Carolina is known for its strength in the social sciences. For example, sociologists play a leading role in the National Longitudinal Study of Adoles­cent Health, which explores the causes of health-related behaviors of adoles­cents and their outcomes in young adulthood.

Population studies

Carolina is a national leader in the studies of human popu­lations around the world. Much of this work is coordinated by the Carolina Population Center, which supports research on issues such as fertility, mortality, migration, marriage and health, and how each is affected by social, economic and cultural forces.

Computer Science

Carolina’s computer science department—one of the oldest in the country—is re­nowned for its simulation, virtual environments and cyber-security research. Caro­lina faculty are working to solve real-world challenges, including military training for modern urban warfare, improved medical treatments through the use of medical image computing and robotics and network security for financial institutions.

Researchers at RENCI, a multi-institutional high-performance computing and technology center headquartered at Carolina, create visualizations that provide new knowledge about large data sets ranging from storm surge models, to urban growth patterns, to a better understanding of how pollutants disperse in the atmosphere and gene therapies are used to treat muscular dystrophy. RENCI has a statewide presence with facilities at North Carolina State University, East Carolina University, UNC-Asheville, UNC-Charlotte and Duke University.

Arts and Humanities

Over the past five years, Carolina has received nearly $1.24 million in National En­dowment for the Humanities research support across multiple disciplines including romance languages, classics, history and English and comparative literature. Two recent examples include the Ancient World Mapping Center, a multilingual online workspace for updating and expanding information about ancient geography, and Main Street Carolina, a free, open-source, web-based tool that enables entities across North Carolina to preserve and share the history of downtowns over the past cen­tury.

Marine Sciences

Carolina marine scientists have discovered hundreds of new species and genera of marine fungi and even discovered the first members of an entirely new order—Ko­ralionastetales. Carolina faculty members’ research protects coastal marine resources from North Carolina to China, and their work shapes the policies of government, businesses and marine industries.

– From “Research Highlights,” January 2012