Editor’s note: In honor of the University’s 225th anniversary, we will be sharing profiles throughout the academic year of some of the many Tar Heels who have left their heelprint on the campus, their communities, the state, the nation and the world.
Not everyone can say they get up every morning to save the world, but that might be Joseph DeSimone’s unofficial job description. Whether it’s creating the world’s most sophisticated 3D printer or engineering life-saving medical devices, DeSimone’s work aims to influence people’s lives for the better.
The inventor, entrepreneur and Chancellor’s Eminent Professor of Chemistry in the College of Arts & Sciences and the William R. Kenan Jr. Distinguished Professor of Chemical Engineering at N.C. State University was honored in 2016 with a trip to the White House, where President Barack Obama presented him with the National Medal of Technology and Innovation.
“As president, I’m honored to award each of you for your contributions to our nation,” Obama told the recipients. “As an American, I’m proud of everything you’ve done to contribute to that fearless spirit of innovation that’s made us who we are and doesn’t just benefit our citizens, but benefit the world. We’re very proud of what you’ve done.”
The award is the most prestigious honor for technological achievement in the United States, recognizing outstanding contributions to America’s economic, environmental and social well-being.
DeSimone is quick to share the credit with the whole Carolina community, from faculty colleagues to the students who have worked in his lab, and quick to praise the entrepreneurial spirit at Carolina.
“Carolina is a distinguished institution, and I don’t think this award elevates Carolina, it’s just consistent with Carolina,” he said then. “It’s consistent with who we are.”
DeSimone is one of the few people who has been elected to all three branches of the U.S. National Academies: the National Academy of Medicine in 2014, the National Academy of Sciences in 2012, and the National Academy of Engineering in 2005. He is also a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, elected in 2005.
He has nearly 200 patents issued in his name, with more than 200 pending. DeSimone has trained 80 Ph.D. students, half of whom are women and people from underrepresented minority groups in science and engineering.