A major priority of the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research is to stimulate virtual research networks that concentrate talent and resources on bold ideas, while simultaneously freeing the development of those ideas from typical organizational boundaries. Our goal is to move new ideas and discoveries into practice.

To achieve that goal, we set out to change the way research and discovery happens at UNC by establishing a pilot-funding mechanism known as the Creativity Hubs. The program provides initial funding on new ideas and enables investigators to leverage interdisciplinary advances that keep Carolina at the forefront of creativity and innovation.

Two Creativity Hubs winners were announced and funded last year, and both teams have made significant progress:

-The Obesity Hub team, led by Penny Gordon-Larsen, is highly active and has used the pilot funds they were awarded to spur novel science and interactions that would have not been possible without such funding. The hub has published two position papers (find them here and here), has nine grants in progress, three spin-off grants, and a grant from the NIH valued at over $6 million, as well as a planned summer symposium on animal-human translational obesity science.

-The Sustainable Access to Safe Water Hub team, led by Theo Dingemans, has made quick progress on their development of an innovative, affordable membrane-based water purification tool that can safely remove a broad range of water contaminants. The team is hard at work preparing membranes for desalination testing in the Coronell Lab here at UNC and the Freeman Lab at the University of Texas at Austin. Hub team members continue to execute additional tests to address looming questions to engineering challenges.

Riding on the success of last year’s inaugural round, the second call for Creativity Hubs pre-proposals was released in the Fall 2018 semester. We received 23 submissions that included 207 UNC researchers representing 46 departments across 12 schools. Eight finalists were selected to submit full proposals addressing a range of challenges.

Each team presented an oral summary of their proposals on May 2, and next month, at least two of them will be selected as recipients of funding to execute their proposals over the next two years.

Creativity Hubs awardees are guaranteed proposal development assistance from the Office of Research Development to pursue large-scale, follow-on awards that spring from the program’s funding. The office will also work with unselected teams to build their projects and connect them to other funding opportunities.

The program has stimulated new, interdisciplinary groups addressing critical questions impacting our world. We are excited and inspired by the success of the inaugural Creativity Hubs winners and eagerly anticipate more advancements through the sustained progress of subsequent awardees.

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