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Creativity Hubs Awards Accelerate Solutions to Societal Challenges

What if data on the devastating impacts of extreme storms and floods could inform and predict future problems for people who live along a coast? What if scientists could develop a therapeutic capable of suppressing a wide variety of viral infections, saving lives and billions of dollars in direct medical and economic costs? What if powerful chemical and genetic tools are combined to alter how genes are modified to treat human disease? And what if artificial intelligence could help identify the best way to harness solar fuels?

These are the questions being explored by the winning teams of this year’s Creativity Hubs awards. Managed by the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research (OVCR) in support of Carolina’s Blueprint for Next Strategic Framework, the Creativity Hubs award program encourages and supports diverse, interdisciplinary teams that pursue answers to complex societal problems.

“So multifaceted are these challenges, that the only way to solve them is through the diverse perspectives offered by scientists from diverse fields,” said Vice Chancellor for Research Terry Magnuson. “Supporting these teams through the Creativity Hubs awards yields solutions.”

This year, in partnership with the College of Arts & Sciences’ Institute for Convergent Science, the UNC School of Medicine, and the Eshelman Institute for Innovation, the OVCR was able to award three teams with two years of funding worth up to $500,000. An additional one-year award was given to a team to encourage further development of their proposal.

The 2019 awardees of two-year funding are:

DEEPP Hub: Dynamics of Extreme Events, People, and Places

Team: Elizabeth Frankenberg (PI), Todd BenDor, Paul Delamater, Barbara Entwisle, Miyuki Hino, Rick Luettich, Ted Mouw, Rachel Noble, Tamlin Pavelsky, Mike Piehler, and Conghe Song

The Dynamics of Extreme Events, People, and Places (DEEPP) Hub collects and integrates data that has not previously been compiled on all of the dynamics that extreme storms and flooding create, aiding in the prediction of impacts of future storms on the multiple facets of coastal habitats and inhabitants.

ID3@UNC Hub: The Infectious Disease Drug Discovery Program at UNC

Team: Nathaniel Moorman (PI), Ken Pearce (Co-PI), Ralph Baric, Shawn Gomez, Lee Graves, Mark Heise, Stan Lemon, Xiaodong Wang, and Bill Zuercher

Addressing a critical unmet public health need, the ID3@UNC Hub brings together scientists across the fields of virology, proteomics, bioinformatics, chemical biology, and drug discovery to provide new antiviral therapeutics useful for treating multiple viral diseases.

Chemical Epigenomics Hub: Integrating Scientific Fields to Enable Grand Discoveries

Team: Brian Strahl (PI), Samantha Pattenden (Co-PI), Ian Davis, Ryan Miller, Robert Duronio, Gregory Matera, Daniel McKay, John Sondek, Stephen Frye, Lindsey James, Dmitri Kireev, and Nicolas Young (Baylor College of Medicine)

The Chemical Epigenomics Hub combines chemical biology approaches with epigenetics to identify, develop, and apply chemical tools to better understand epigenetic processes, ultimately improving the treatment of human disease.


the Creativity Hubs program is seeding the AI Accelerated Discovery of Solar Energy Materials project for further development.

AI Accelerated Discovery of Solar Energy Materials

Team: James Cahoon (PI), Jillian Dempsey, Olexandr Isayev, Frank Leibfarth, Rene Lopez, Gerald Meyer, Alexander Miller, Sorin Mitran, and Alexander Tropsha

The project seeks to capitalize on recent advances in data science and artificial intelligence (AI) to analyze existing data and devise completely new ways to enhance current solar fuel technology.

The Creativity Hubs award program was developed by the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research to foster fluid, cross-disciplinary research, to establish campus networks that nurture research innovation and risk-taking, and to promote a pervasive culture that drives discovery and curiosity. This year’s winners of the Creativity Hubs awards were selected from 23 proposals, involving 207 UNC researchers representing 46 departments across 11 schools and the College of Arts & Sciences.