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AI Accelerated Solar Energy Research Team Selected for Creativity Hubs Award

New award will support a team from the 2020-2021 competitive funding round seeking to revolutionize solar energy research and solar fuel production.

A Creativity Hubs award has been presented to the AI Accelerated Discovery of Solar Energy Materials Hub — an interdisciplinary team that will use artificial intelligence (AI) methods originally developed for pharmaceutical innovations to unlock advances in solar chemistry and solar fuel production. The team was chosen to create synergy between disciplines from the UNC College of Arts & Sciences departments of Chemistry, Physics, Applied Physical Sciences, Computer Science, and the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy.

Led by Principal Investigators James Cahoon and Alexander Tropsha, the AI Accelerated Discovery of Solar Energy Materials Hub will apply recent advances in data science and AI to develop systems for generation of novel solar fuels — matter that can store and release solar energy on demand. With the seed funding from Creativity Hubs, the team will develop a novel pilot platform that reduces the need for human vetting of thousands of complex molecular/material design possibilities and instead utilize AI technology and automated synthesis and characterization that will rapidly arrive at the best combinations for investigation.

AI Accelerated Discovery of Solar Energy Materials

Team: James Cahoon, the College, PI; Alexander Tropsha, UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy, the College; Olexandr Isayev, School of Pharmacy; Jillian Dempsey, Frank Leibfarth, Alexander Miller, Rene Lopez, Ron Alterovitz, Collin McKinney, the College

“Solar fuels ⸺ energy-rich chemicals formed using solar energy ⸺ are widely considered a major sustainable energy source for the future and could be a key to mitigating climate change,” say Cahoon and Tropsha. “We expect that the development of this robotic, AI-driven prototype will advance our project and seed new research areas that directly leverage the technological platform.”

This award is one of two for the third round of Creativity Hubs funding. The VEER Hub was also previously awarded during the 2020 cycle. The funding program was developed by Vice Chancellor for Research Terry Magnuson as a mechanism to assemble teams of researchers from diverse disciplines who join together to tackle major societal challenges and leverage additional support from external sponsors.

“The new hub perfectly exemplifies what the Creativity Hubs initiative seeks to do,” says Magnuson. “By turning science on its head, the team will arrive at solutions much faster that may one day change the world.”

To date, winning Creativity Hubs projects have yielded amazing results and millions in extramural funding. Through this award, the AI Accelerated Discovery of Solar Energy Materials Hub is eligible for $500,000 in continued funding from the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research to execute its project 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 build from the program’s funding. The office also works with finalist teams not selected to further develop their projects and connect them to other funding opportunities.


 

Winning Team Selected for 2020 Creativity Hubs Award

Funding will support interdisciplinary research team tackling vector-borne diseases including tick-borne illness

Now in its fourth round of seed funding, the Creativity Hubs initiative has announced this yearʼs award winner: the Vector-Borne Disease: Epidemiology, Ecology & Response (VEER) Hub. The winning team is comprised of academic investigators and public health practitioners from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and collaborators from partner universities, military installations and health care agencies who are committed to the protection of people, animals, and livelihoods from vector-borne diseases (VBD) — an epidemic affecting the entire state, but particularly those living in rural and underserved communities in North Carolina.

Vector-Borne Disease: Epidemiology, Ecology & Response (VEER)

Team: Ross Boyce, School of Medicine, PI; Natalie Bowman, Kara Moser, School of Medicine; Michael Emch, Paul Delamater, the College, Sachiko Ozawa, School of Pharmacy; Todd BenDor, the College, Odum Institute; Michael Reiskind, Alun Lloyd, North Carolina State University; Carl Williams, Alexis Barbarian, N.C. Department of Health and Human Services; Sammy Choi, CPT Phil George, Womack Army Medical Center; Kim Brownley, Tick-Borne Infections Council of North Carolina, Inc.

The Creativity Hubs initiative was developed by Vice Chancellor for Research Terry Magnuson as a platform on which to assemble teams of researchers from diverse disciplines to tackle major societal challenges and leverage additional support from external sponsors.

“Carolina has deep strengths in many different areas that poise it to tackle this type of threat — such as epidemiology, microbiology and more,” says Magnuson. “By bringing those strengths together and combining them with partners from across the state, the VEER Hub will arrive at solutions to a threat that sickens tens of thousands of North Carolinians each year much faster.”

Led by Principal Investigator Ross Boyce, the VEER Hub will develop and implement evidence-based, cost-effective surveillance and response systems to address VBD. According to Boyce, North Carolina is experiencing some of the highest reported rates of tick- and mosquito-borne disease in the nation, yet the number of reported cases vastly underestimates the true burden of disease. At the same time, new threats including invasive tick species and the southward spread of Lyme disease are rapidly emerging.

Organized into three core working groups focused on environmental, host, and community-oriented approaches to VBD, the VEER Hub seeks to accelerate the generation of fundamental knowledge and the development of innovative tools that have an immediate impact on health and well-being.

“Our first priority, as we used to say in the military, is to define the ‘battlespace.’ In other words, we will integrate clinical, veterinary, and entomological data to identify high-risk areas across the state,” says Boyce. “We can then use this information to establish surveillance programs and target new interventions to these areas.”

Leveraging the diverse skillsets housed within the VEER Hub, the team will explore the rapidly changing epidemiology and ecology of VBD in the state. Their work is expected to generate preliminary data that will lead to significant external funding from sources such as the National Institutes of Health and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention Vector-Borne Disease Regional Centers of Excellence program.

To date, the winning Creativity Hubs team projects have yielded amazing results and millions in extramural funding. By winning this yearʼs round, the VEER Hub is eligible for $500,000 in continued funding from the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research to execute its proposal 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 build from the programʼs funding. The office will also work with the teams not selected to further develop their projects and connect them to other funding opportunities.