2011 Research Highlights

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Whether they’re trying to solve some of the world’s most pressing problems or finding the answers to scholarly questions, Carolina faculty often engage in fascinating research. 2011 was no exception. Here are some of the biggest UNC Research stories and trends of the year.

2011 Breakthrough of the Year

The journal Science’s 2011 Breakthrough of the Year is an HIV-prevention study led by UNC’s Myron Cohen. The study showed that early treatment with antiretroviral drugs — that is, drugs that attack retroviruses such as HIV — can effectively prevent the transmission of the virus. The editors at Science said in their announcement that “In combination with other promising clinical trials, the results have galvanized efforts to end the world’s AIDS epidemic in a way that would been inconceivable even a year ago.”

Guskiewicz wins MacArthur Fellowship

Kevin Guskiewicz is an expert on the short- and long-term health effects of concussions on athletes across all levels of play. This year he became one of 22 fellows, each nominated anonymously by leaders in their respective fields, to receive $500,000 in no-strings-attached support from the MacArthur Foundation.

Technology Transfer: 45 inventions licensed. 33 patents issued. 7 start-up companies. 124 patent applications filed. 142 Reports of inventions received. 2,200,000 dollars in license income.

Synthetic Blood

Scientists predict there will be a shortage of as much as four million units of donor blood in the United States by 2030. And although researchers have been trying for years, no one has ever managed to develop and manufacture a substitute for blood, says chemist Joe DeSimone. But he and his research team are getting close.

A Massacre at Sea

As soon as marine scientist John Bruno heard that the Galápagos National Park Service had seized a boat filled with almost 400 illegally caught sharks, he petitioned the park service to let his team aboard. These troubled waters led Bruno and other scientists to question the role of the ocean’s most dangerous predator: humans.

FY 2011 Funding Sources

Federal government: 73%. Educational and Research Institutions: 8%. Foundations: 6%. Business and Industry: 5%. State Government: 3.5%. Nonprofit Organizations: 1.6%. Associations: 1.5%. Local Government, Other Sponsors: each < 1%.

Deathwatch: are Capital Punishment’s Days Numbered?

For the past decade, about two out of three people in the United States have indicated that they are in favor of the death penalty for a person convicted of murder. But at the same time, the death penalty has been on the decline. In 2000, 224 people were sentenced to death in the United States. In 2010, half as many were given death sentences.

On a basic level, the moral conversation about the death penalty hasn’t changed. A majority of people think that death is the only just punishment for the most horrific of crimes. Others think exacting payment for a murder with yet another killing is moral nonsense.

It could be that neither of these two arguments will ever win out over the other. But the ethical stalemate may not matter as much as we think.

The Age of Aerotropolis

Jack Kasarda says our nation’s future is up in the air. A sociologist turned global business guru, Kasarda has helped dozens of cities around the world transform airports into economic juggernauts. They’ve taken his ideas—actual blueprints in some cases—and invested billions of dollars to build new cities for a globally connected age.

Boats used to carry nearly all of our traded goods. But now, according to Kasarda’s research, more than a third of the total economic value of all goods shipped internationally is sent by jet. Companies have lined up next to airports to save time and cut costs. They’ve created millions of jobs, but they’ve also sometimes created immense urban sprawl. Kasarda’s idea is to plan aerotropolises for smart growth instead of letting airport cities unfold willy-nilly.


FY 2011 Federal Funding Breakdown


How Old Are You, Really?

Generally speaking, the younger we are the better we respond to treatments such as chemotherapy, radiation, and organ transplant. But that’s not terribly specific or scientific. Wouldn’t it be best if we could peek inside the human body and measure something that tells us how old we really are, or whether our lifestyles and habits hurt or help us?

That’s what Ned Sharpless did. He devised a blood test to measure a protein that builds up in cells as we age. He can tell you how old you really are and — in some cases — why. He’s already found out how old he really is. And someday he might even be able to tell us whether eating blueberries and tomatoes really does add years to our lives.

Songs as Bullets, Music as Bombs: American Conductors, Composers, and the Sounds of War

During World War II, the U.S. government believed in the power of music. So did musicians. And so did soldiers. Music as therapy. Music as entertainment. For morale. As a weapon. Musicologist Annegret Fauser says, “Never before had classical music received so much financial and ideological support from the U.S. government.”