Deep within the labyrinth of Caudill Laboratories, a tall man with glasses sits behind a desk in office 257.
He has two kids, married his high school sweetheart and is in the midst of planning a holiday party for his friends and colleagues.
They call him Joe — but he’s not just your average guy.
Joseph DeSimone, who will present this morning to the Board of Trustees on the importance of diversity in the lab, is perhaps the most recognizable of the University’s scientific researchers.
DeSimone, a distinguished professor of chemistry and director of the Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise, is going on his 23rd year at UNC. He has been working to promote conversation and innovation between different disciplines since he was hired at UNC in 1990, he said.
“We end up learning the most from the people we have the least in common with,” he said.
DeSimone said a lot of important ideas come from the crossroads of technology and the liberal arts.
“I think that’s our secret sauce here, in what we do,” he said.
In his most recent research, DeSimone and his researchers are bridging the gap between science and the computer industry to create better vaccines. In the lab, the team is using technology in computer chips to create particles infused with a chemotherapeutic to fight cancer.
When injected into the body, the particles will attack only the cancerous cells and stay away from healthy ones.
“We have mice that are living longer with our treatments than others,” DeSimone said.
Greg Forest, interim director of the Institute for Advanced Materials, said connecting people from varied academic, cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds in projects like these is something DeSimone does without thinking.
“He does it naturally,” Forest said. “It happens by the way you live, not by some edict or measuring card.”
It’s the way DeSimone has always run his lab — something even one of his very first students can attest to.
Valerie Ashby, director of the chemistry department, was in the first class of students DeSimone taught.
“And now she’s my boss,” DeSimone said with a smile.
Ashby, who said she does not call herself anyone’s boss, said DeSimone’s style of teaching promotes creative thinking, which contributes to the lab’s success.
“His way of working with the people he mentors is to see things that they cannot see for themselves and then show them how to get there,” she said.
One thing DeSimone said he can already see is that universities across the country are beginning to join together. In order to stay competitive, UNC has to build relationships and recruit teammates from area schools, he said.
“It’s kind of like ‘Survivor,’ you know?” he said.
“Whose team are you on?”
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