Chemist Valerie Ashby is a true Tar Heel — a native of Johnston County, a graduate of Clayton High School and a double degree-holder from UNC-Chapel Hill.
She received a bachelor’s degree in 1988, and her doctorate degree in 1994. She joined the University’s faculty 10 years later. Today, she teaches organic chemistry to sophomores and juniors and introductory chemistry to first-year students.
Ashby also directs the Carolina’s Summer Pre-Graduate Research Experience, the program that helped her launch a career in research and teaching when she participated in it as a student years ago.
The program exposes minority undergraduates across the country to research and encourages them to pursue doctorates in the sciences, technology, engineering, math, economics or other social and behavioral sciences.
The Bowman and Gordon Gray Distinguished Term Professor studies polymers. Polymers are the building blocks of plastics, created by linking many separate units together. If you’ve ever hooked dozens of paper clips to form chains, you’ve created the office-supply version of a polymer.
One part of Ashby’s research increases the benefits that sick people derive from medicines. Her team tailors biomaterials to improve drug delivery in the body. “The polymer materials become nontoxic carriers with targeting agents that either hold or attach to drugs. They prolong the drug’s circulation time in the blood, control its rate of release and only target a specific cell or area of the human body,” she says.
She already has at least 10 patents for her research.
She has received numerous awards for her teaching and research. In 2002, the American Chemical Society named her one of the country’s top 12 young female chemists. In 2008, she received the University’s Sitterson Award for teaching first-year students.
Ashby explains her enjoyment of her career with the motto, “If it’s not fun, I’m not doing it.”