The University of North Carolina General Administration has awarded six three-year grants totaling nearly $9 million to support game-changing faculty research in areas of strategic importance to the state. Each of the funded projects involves partners from two or more UNC campuses.
Dr. Orlando Coronell, assistant professor of environmental sciences and engineering at UNC-Chapel Hill’s Gillings School of Global Public Health, is co-principal investigator of a team awarded $997,996 to study “Salinity Gradient Energy – An Inexhaustible Clean Energy Resource for North Carolina”. He will co-lead the project with principal investigator Dr. Douglas F. Call, N.C. State University assistant professor of civil, construction and environmental engineering.
Dr. Rachel T. Noble, joint professor of environmental sciences and engineering at the Gillings School, at the UNC Institute for the Environment at UNC-Chapel Hill and of marine sciences at the UNC Institute of Marine Sciences in Morehead City, N.C., was selected for a $684,805 grant for “Revolutionizing and Commercializing Rapid Molecular Diagnostics for Viral and Bacterial Pathogen Quantification in marine Waters and Seafood”.
Faculty teams from N.C. State University, UNC-Chapel Hill, UNC-Charlotte, North Carolina Central University and East Carolina University will use the first UNC Research Opportunities Initiative (ROI) awards to advance collaborative research projects that range from developing new carbon electronics to supporting big-data science analytics to engineering new drug-delivery technologies to speeding the large-scale manufacturing of vaccines against deadly viruses such as Ebola.
UNC ROI is funded by a recurring $3 million annual appropriation from the 2014 General Assembly, representing North Carolina’s first financial investment in the UNC system’s five-year strategic plan. Priority research areas eligible for ROI funding include advanced manufacturing; marine and coastal science; defense, military and security; pharmacoengineering; energy; and data sciences.
“The ROI provides targeted funding for innovative and potentially game-changing projects,” said Dr. Christopher Brown, UNC vice president for research and graduate education. “These awards, which will advance cutting-edge research at UNC institutions, also demonstrate legislators’ growing appreciation of the role university research can play in supporting economic development across our state.”
Following a competitive process that began with 74 pre-proposals seeking $105 million in total funding, the six winning proposals were selected through a rigorous review process led by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Dr. Coronell’s project, on which he partners with N.C. State University, the UNC Coastal Studies Institute and East Carolina University, will advance a cutting-edge technology that can harness natural salinity gradients along the North Carolina coast for electricity generation, energy storage and wastewater treatment.