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'The spirit of discovery': Research Week highlights climate projects, opportunities at UNC

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UNC research associate and lab manager Lauraine Rivier works in a lab at the Mary Ellen Jones Building on Oct. 6, 2021.

This week is University Research Week, with dozens of events geared toward highlighting research projects and opportunities at UNC occuring across campus. 

The annual celebration, which is sponsored by the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and the Office of Undergraduate Research, is held to “share the impact of our research with our community,” Vice Chancellor for Research Penny Gordon-Larsen said in a video promoting the week.

The theme for this year's Research Week is “A Climate of Change at Carolina.” Many of the events hosted throughout the week highlight UNC research that addresses changing climates. 

Two of the week’s events were titled “Measuring Water from Space” and “Campus Green Roofs: Islands in the Sky.” 

The Campus Green Roofs event was held on Monday at the FedEx Global Education Center. At the event, research technician Peggy Mullin and Sustainable Triangle Field site students spoke about the role of green roofs on campus and how the use of drones helps to manage and monitor them.

“Not many students or even community members are aware of the fact that we have as many green roofs as we do on campus,” Mullin said. 

There are eight green roofs on campus, which provide an additional habitat for flora and fauna, manage stormwater drainage and help with thermal cooling. Some of these roofs can be found at the FedEx Center, the Rams Head Recreation Center and Carrington Hall.

“Green roofs are a really excellent resource for sustainability on campus and a great way to think about the broader effects of addressing climate change directly,” Mullin said.

“Measuring Water from Space,” was also held on Monday at the Morehead Planetarium and Science Center. The event featured a panel discussion led by UNC research communications manager Alyssa LaFaro. 

The panelists were University researchers in the Department of Earth, Marine and Environmental Science who traveled to New Zealand in April to verify data collected by a NASA satellite of the Earth’s freshwater sources. 

“In a nutshell, NASA sent a satellite into space in December, and it can record ocean circulation patterns and the depth, width, input and output of rivers, lakes and streams and it can do it with unprecedented accuracy,” LaFaro said. 

The panelists discussed the challenges of working on a complex river system, data collection methods and the global implications of the data that the satellite will produce, according to the event website.

LaFaro said she hopes that students come away from the event feeling inspired about science and with a better sense of the career options available to them in research. 

“The world can be at their fingertips if they pursue science,” she said. 

At another event held on Monday, “OFF THE MAP: Documenting Research at the Edge of the Earth,” UNC alumna Marley Parker spoke about the work she does as a freelance science photographer, videographer and writer. 

“I didn't know that I would end up working in the middle of the ocean alongside a bunch of different research teams and scientists,” Parker said. “So, the talk that I give is basically the story of my career path and how it's a bit untraditional.”

After graduating from the Hussman School of Journalism and Media in 2010, Parker worked as a communication specialist for UNC Research, where she was able to hone her science writing capabilities. Five years later, she was offered the opportunity to travel to Antarctica on an ocean expedition. 

“I hope that people, especially current UNC students who attend this event, will come away with a different perspective about different career possibilities that are out there,” she said. 

University Research Week will also feature workshops where students and trainees can explore their own research interests. 

Two of these events, “Getting Started in Undergraduate Research” on Monday and “Getting Started in Undergraduate Research in Biology” on Tuesday, taught students how to enter the research community at UNC.

“Research is the spirit of discovery. And that applies to everybody, even if you're not a scientist,” Mullin said. “If you're a curious person, I think you're a person that can appreciate learning more about research.”

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