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MARCH 2007

CAROLINA NORTH HOLDS VAST PROMISE

On Tuesday the university will host the first in a series of community meetings to share preliminary conceptual ideas about how we might develop Carolina North so residents, students, faculty and staff can share their reactions and feedback. Those comments will help us come up with a mixed-use plan for this property that is so important to the future of the university and the community.

These public meetings follow the work of the Leadership Advisory Committee, which included community representatives and made recommendations to guide development at Carolina North. The three initial approaches for development that will be presented this week are based in part on the input of the LAC, as well as technical workshops conducted by the university and an ecological assessment.

While this latest dialogue will help shape the direction of the physical development, it is important for the community to know about the connection between the university's academic mission and Carolina North. Our faculty are engaged in excellent work now that could blossom in the collaborative environment that we envision at Carolina North.

Recently, I saw an amazing innovation at the Renaissance Computing Institute, based in leased office space off Fordham Boulevard. The Outpatient Health Monitoring System is no larger than a basketball, but sitting on someone's coffee table it constantly collects and records data about the air quality throughout the home through high-tech sensors and wirelessly relays that information to physicians.

OHMS, still in design stage, extends health care and critical research from the laboratory, hospital and clinic right into someone's home. The invention results from work by Dr. David Henke, a pulmonologist at UNC, and RENCI researchers who specialize in building embedded devices and wireless communications. (RENCI itself is a major collaboration between UNC and N.C. State University, Duke and the State of North Carolina.)

A few months ago Henke gave the device to a patient to take home. During the next several days, the man experienced a serious health problem, the cause of which might have remained a mystery. But Henke and Dan Bedard, a senior researcher at RENCI and a developer of OHMS, reviewed the information OHMS provided and discovered the culprit -- a rise in the home's air contaminants. With the data OHMS provided, changes were made to protect the man's health.

OHMS is a great example of how Carolina North could enhance the university's mission of discovering new ways to improve people's lives. It should be the kind of place where physicians can routinely collaborate with experts in fields like robotics. Henke and Bedard now work in buildings many miles apart, under conditions that are not ideal for the kind of interdisciplinary work the university prides itself on. Carolina North can help bring them together to work side by side.

In our School of Pharmacy, Dean Bob Blouin has led an exciting expansion in research activity. In 2003, the school ranked 22nd in National Institutes of Health research funding; in 2006, it moved up to 8th, with $8.2 million. Overall research funding in pharmacy has grown by more than 400 percent in the last three years because expanded physical space for research -- in Kerr Hall, a renovated Beard Hall and soon in a new genetics building -- has led to the hiring of more research-oriented faculty. But our pharmacy colleagues are not sitting still. They are working diligently to discover drug therapies to benefit everyone.

The university's job is to take the great science occurring in the School of Pharmacy and in other schools and departments and to transfer that knowledge into practical innovations that benefit the people of Orange County, North Carolina and the world.

In our knowledge economy, innovation can move faster if the linkages among the many participants are strengthened. In academe, it is increasingly important for university researchers to collaborate with the private sector. That means partnering with large global corporations as well as bringing faculty research into the commercial marketplace. Extending our campus at Carolina North can enable the corporate and academic worlds to work together in a seamless environment.

This story of basic science leading to practical application and innovation is replicated all across the university, from departments in the College of Arts and Sciences to each of the health sciences schools. Carolina North can provide our faculty with a resource conspicuously absent from a world-class research university of Carolina's caliber. It can provide incubator space to nurture new ideas and bring them to fruition.

By bringing researchers together from a variety of disciplines, Carolina North can also contribute to the university's efforts to improve the conditions of the world around us. It might be a living laboratory for the new Institute on the Environment, where efforts will include helping communities create sustainable growth plans across the state and trying to provide drinking water and sanitary conditions in developing countries.

Carolina North can be more than a research and technology center of excellence. It should be an intellectual neighborhood producing results that makes the entire community proud.

 

 

James Moeser is chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He welcomes readers’ messages at jmoeser@unc.edu





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