Dr. Holden Thorp
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Dr. Holden Thorp, Kenan Professor and former chair of the chemistry department, is currently dean of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s College of Arts and Sciences. He was the first dean in 40 years to also be a College alumnus when he took office July 1, 2008, following a national search.
A native of Fayetteville, N.C., Thorp, 43, is an award-winning teacher and researcher who has rapidly progressed through several key leadership positions since joining the University faculty 15 years ago.
As dean, Thorp leads the College of Arts and Sciences, which forms the core of the academic experience at Carolina. The College, the University’s largest academic unit, educates more than 14,000 undergraduates and 2,500 graduate students. In the past year, under Thorp’s leadership, the College raised more than $57 million for the Arts and Sciences Foundation and secured 27 endowed professorships, which have led to a dramatic expansion of the Honors Program.
Previously, Thorp was chair of the nationally recognized department of chemistry, where he has been a full professor since 1999. Starting in 2002, he was faculty director of an effort that has produced gifts and pledges totaling about $17 million for the first phase of the Carolina Physical Science Complex, the largest construction project in the University's history, as part of the Carolina First fundraising campaign.
From 2001 to 2005, Thorp was director of the University’s Morehead Planetarium and Science Center, guiding efforts to expand the original emphasis of the planetarium to become a comprehensive science education center for North Carolinians. Thorp, who visited the Morehead Planetarium as a child, established momentum for the Morehead’s first major renovation since its construction in 1947. Under his leadership, public attendance increased by 40 percent. The Morehead Center also created “DNA: The Secret of Life,” a 30-minute film that was installed in science museums across North America, including the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.
Thorp has published more than 130 scholarly publications on the electronic properties of DNA and RNA. He invented technology for electronic DNA chips that is the basis of 19 issued or pending U.S. patents. One of his technologies is being used to provide a less expensive blood test to determine if prospective parents carry the gene for cystic fibrosis.
For his DNA chip technology, Thorp was recognized as one of the Top Innovators of 2001 by Fortune Small Business magazine. He also has been adviser, co-founder or consultant with many small companies, including Novalon Pharmaceuticals, MaxCyte, Osmetech, OhmX and Plextronics. In 2005, Thorp co-founded Viamet Pharmaceuticals Inc., a biotechnology company targeting metalloenzymes in the fields of infectious disease, inflammation and oncology.
Thorp has received many other honors for his research, including the National Science Foundation’s Presidential Young Investigator Award, an Alfred P. Sloan Fellowship, the David and Lucile Packard Fellowship for Science and Engineering, and both the New Faculty Award and Teacher-Scholar Award from the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation.
At Carolina, Thorp has won the Tanner Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, the Ruth and Philip Hettleman Prize for Artistic and Scholarly Achievement, and the General Alumni Association’s Distinguished Young Alumnus Award. In 2002, he was named an honorary member of the Order of the Golden Fleece, the campus' oldest honorary society.
He delivered the December 2006 Commencement address, in which he offered advice for the graduates that included extolling The Beatles’ work ethic and passion for music. An accomplished musician, Thorp plays jazz bass and keyboard. He chaired the University’s Summer Reading Program Book Selection Committee that for 2005 recommended “Blood Done Sign My Name: A True Story,” which explores events, including a race-related murder, in rural North Carolina after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Thorp received his bachelor of science degree with highest honors in chemistry from UNC in 1986. He earned a doctorate in chemistry from the California Institute of Technology in 1989 and was a postdoctoral associate at Yale University. After serving at N.C. State University as an assistant professor of chemistry, he returned to UNC in 1993 as an assistant professor of chemistry and was promoted to professor six years later.
Thorp is married to Patti Worden Thorp, a Hope Mills native and UNC Greensboro graduate. They have two children: John, 13, and Emma, 9.
Links About Holden Thorp
- Past Speeches as Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences
- 2006 UNC December Commencement Remarks
- The Carolina Alumni Review magazine profile, “The Art of the Possible,” January/February 2002