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Thursday June 1st

Director of Institute for Convergent Science aims to solve real-world problems through research

Gregory Paul Copenhaver poses for a portrait in a lab in the Genome Science Building on Monday, June 20, 2022. Copenhaver was recently named director of UNC's Institute for Convergent Science.
Buy Photos Gregory Paul Copenhaver poses for a portrait in a lab in the Genome Science Building on Monday, June 20, 2022. Copenhaver was recently named director of UNC's Institute for Convergent Science.

Greg Copenhaver, a UNC faculty member since 2001, was named director of the Institute for Convergent Science earlier this month.

The ICS, which focuses on problem-solving in science, will provide resources to people who are seeking to do research and will accelerate the research-to-commercialization process. It was approved by the Board of Trustees to be a University-wide institute in May. As such, ICS will be able to provide resources across the entire University.

Copenhaver, who serves as associate dean for research and innovation at the College of Arts & Sciences, said he is currently working on hiring the leadership team for the institute and getting the initial projects underway. He said the goal of the ICS is to identify societal needs and bring together people on campus who can address them.

“Usually, the way that the institute would do that is with some sort of innovation inflection point at the end of the process, and so sometimes that would be a commercialization event,” Copenhaver said. “So the team working on the problem might create a spin-out company that they would then take outside the University and deploy out in the real world, or it might be some other kind of inflection point.”

Sam Seyedin, associate director of ICS, was hired by Copenhaver. 

He said he's very excited and focused on ICS's translation of research from the lab into the marketplace.

“So really, our hope is that ICS will bridge this gap on bringing resources and support to faculty, staff, students to really get where they need to go and in doing so, positioning them to be in the best space and environment to be the most successful,” Seyedin said.

Many projects are currently in development. Copenhaver said he is particularly excited about one of the institute's first AGILE projects. 

AGILE, which stands for Advance Great Inventions or Leave Early, is a grant program. Copenhaver said that AGILE projects are larger funding packages that allow the institute to provide a couple hundred thousand dollars in funding over a period of 18 to 24 months.

The project brings together Kevin Weeks and Alain Laederach from the chemistry and biology departments, respectively. 

“Together they have a technology that can help them predict RNA structures, and then to find small molecules that will interact with those structures that could potentially be used as therapeutics,” Copenhaver said.

He also said that the institute is able to help people apply for multi-institutional grants with the help of Erin Hopper, the institute's director for programs and grants.

Penny Gordon-Larsen, who serves as interim vice chancellor for research at the Gillings School of Global Public Health, had previously worked with Copenhaver when they were both assistant deans. She said looks forward to continuing to collaborate with him.

She said that Copenhaver has an enormous amount of experience developing and implementing research and innovation strategies at the University, and that she is excited for the work he will do in his new role.

Gordon-Larsen said the institute is looking for ideas that have the opportunity to make
a substantial impact at the state or global level. He said in North Carolina, these issues might be focused on water and water safety due to extreme weather events. 

“I feel lucky that we have an administration and a board of trustees who are visionary enough to support this kind of structure on campus,” Copenhaver said. “But I also feel super lucky to have some really great colleagues to work with in the institute.”

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