Joseph DeSimone, a chemistry professor at UNC and chemical engineering professor at North Carolina State University, received the 22nd Heinz Award in the category of Technology, the Economy and Employment.
“It’s an amazing statement,” DeSimone said. “Senator Heinz had some amazing values and principles that the awards recognize and for our research and our technology and our team to be recognized in this manner says a lot about what we’re doing and our approach and our values and it’s really gratifying.”
DeSimone leads a research team that works in the intersection between science, engineering and medicine. A team of 15 students, including graduate, PhD and undergraduate students from UNC and NCSU, conducts research to address societal problems including treating and curing diseases and enhancing human performance.
DeSimone said there is nothing more interesting than having students understand complex problems, relate to what is being taught in the classroom and apply it to real world problems.
“When you do new things, like taking your research and trying to apply it to societal problems, that entrepreneurial experience is really good to share with students in the classroom, letting them know that they can do it as well,” he said.
Cameron Bloomquist, a PhD student in the Eshelman School of Pharmacy, works on DeSimone’s 3D printing team. Bloomquist works on applying CLIP technology to drug delivery devices. He collaborates with oncologists in UNC Hospitals to apply his research to cancer therapy as well as creating drug delivery devices using 3D printing.
Bloomquist said DeSimone is one of the reasons he came to UNC as a graduate student. While researching different research programs after undergrad, it was DeSimone’s diverse group that directly applied chemistry principles that piqued his interest.
“He (DeSimone) has really been a constant sort of inspirational and motivational force first and foremost, but his direction on where we need to go with the research for it to have the most impact has been really useful,” Bloomquist said.
Bloomquist said one of the most important things he has learned from collaborating with DeSimone is the importance of working in a diverse environment, both socially and academically.
“Working with diverse teams and finding the best way to communicate amongst interdisciplinary teams has been one of the best lessons I’ve learned from him,” he said.
Junior chemistry major, Jonathan Boucher, took a first-year seminar on nuclear chemistry and distinctly remembers discussing DeSimone’s work with his classmates, as well as watching his TED Talk, “What if 3D printing was 100x faster?”
“His research is very impressive," Boucher said. "He’s also managed to master that tricky step into turning scientific concepts into practical applications and has reinvented the way we utilize technology, especially with the advent of 3D printing."
DeSimone said he enjoys his work because he is able to make a difference in society.
“One has to bring disciplines together and it’s not easy, for example to work at the intersection between hardware engineering, software engineering and molecular science,” he said. “It takes a special culture and special kinds of people and we really thrive on that.”
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.