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Press Release

CHAPEL HILL, NC – The University of North Carolina General Administration has awarded grants totaling $1.7 million to support faculty research in areas of strategic importance to the state. Each funded project involves faculty partners from two or more UNC institutions.

Faculty teams from UNC Charlotte, Appalachian State University, NC A&T State University, NC State University, and UNC-Chapel Hill will use the awards from the UNC Research Opportunities Initiative (ROI) to advance collaborative projects that aim to develop new metal-based manufacturing methods, apply state-of-the-art technologies to promote economic development across the state, improve electricity distribution, and optimize manufacturing processes through data science.

In addition to spanning multiple UNC campuses, the funded projects will involve several private and public sector partners, including the General Electric Global Research Center, BlueSwarf, New River Light and Power Company, and Tetra Tech Engineering.

This marks the second round of grant awards under UNC ROI, funded by a recurring $3-million annual appropriation from the 2014 General Assembly. First-round awardees have already leveraged the $6 million invested to date to attract $7.5 million in additional external grants.They also have filed 11 patent applications and started two companies.

Priority research areas eligible for UNC ROI funding include advanced manufacturing; coastal and marine science; defense, military, and security; pharmacoengineering; energy; and data sciences.

“The state of North Carolina is already reaping the benefits of the first round of UNC ROI funding,” said UNC President Margaret Spellings. “These new awards will continue to advance our goals of strengthening UNC’s research enterprise, connecting top researchers on multiple campuses, and supporting economic development in our state.”

Following a competitive process that began with 53 pre-proposals seeking nearly $40 million in total funding, one winning research proposal was selected through a rigorous review process led by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

The project summary follows:

  • UNC Charlotte: $1,628,880 (research grant); Advancing the Science and Practice of Metal-Based Additive Manufacturing ; Led by Christopher Evans, professor of mechanical engineering and engineering science and director of the Center for Precision Metrology.

    Partnering institutions: NC State University and NC A&T State University.

    North Carolina has an opportunity to lead the nation in the adoption of additive manufacturing (3D printing-based manufacturing processes) by supporting companies as they transition from traditional manufacturing to 3D printing-based manufacturing. This project will bring together experts across North Carolina to develop new metal-based manufacturing methods with a goal of establishing North Carolina as the pre-eminent U.S. center of expertise for these processes.

In addition, three proposals were selected for smaller planning grants. Summaries of the three funded planning projects follow:

  • UNC-Chapel Hill: $50,000 (planning grant); Towards a North Carolina Smart and Connected Communities Initiative ; Led by Arcot Rajasekar, Frances McColl Term Professor, UNC-Chapel Hill School of Information and Library Science.

    Partnering institutions: UNC Charlotte and NC State University.

    Smart and Connected Communities (S&CC) is a relatively new concept in which state-of-the-art technologies are used to promote social and economic development across rural and urban communities. S&CC solutions aim to produce positive impact across a range of concerns, including food, energy, and water; access to quality jobs; community planning; and social justice.

  • Appalachian State University: $48,307 (planning grant); North Carolina Integrated Electric Utility Research Laboratory ; Led by Jeff Ramsdell, professor of sustainable technology and the built environment and director of the Appalachian Energy Center.

    Partnering institution: UNC Charlotte

    Appalachian State University will use its university-owned electric utility to conduct collaborative energy-related research. The North Carolina Integrated Electric Utility Research Laboratory will provide an unprecedented opportunity to integrate diverse research areas such as high-voltage electricity distribution and smart-grid concepts.

  • UNC Charlotte: $50,000 (planning grant); North Carolina Consortium for Manufacturing Data Science ; Led by Tony Schmitz, professor and associate chair for graduate programs.

    Partnering institutions: UNC Chapel Hill and NC State University

    This project will establish a multi-university/industry consortium for optimizing manufacturing methods using data science tools. This will allow manufacturers to continuously adjust manufacturing parameters to optimize machine performance, maximize productivity, and reduce waste.