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41 faculty members recognized for “broad influence” in their research


Plant biologist Jeff Dangl (left) works on plant genomics research in the Genome Sciences Building at UNC.

Photo Courtesy of Dan Sears.

Several UNC faculty members were named on Clarivate's 2023 Highly Cited Researchers list for demonstrating “significant and broad influence” to their respective fields of research.

The publicly traded analytics company created a list recognizing the contributions of 6,849 researchers from 67 different countries. Forty-one UNC faculty members made the list – six more than in 2022.

Vice chancellor for research Penny Gordon-Larsen said metrics like Clarivate's list are helpful for calling attention to the excellence of the University and its researchers. While non-researchers might only see published products, Gordon-Larsen said University infrastructure is essential in supporting research behind the scenes. 

She said the University is currently facilitating Creativity Hubs, an initiative which funds emerging and unique research at UNC. Outside of its infrastructure, Gordon-Larsen said she recognizes UNC’s campus to be highly collaborative. 

“Research fuels our future growth and allows the university to continue on its trajectory of excellence,” Gordon-Larsen said. “It attracts top talent both on the faculty investigator side, but also on the student side. Students want to come here because of the research that they see on campus.”

This year's highly cited researchers authored papers that ranked in the top one percent for their field and publication year. These papers are found in the Web of Science, a platform comprised of multiple scholarly literature databases. One of the major criteria for the preliminary list was citation activity, or the number of times each piece was cited in other scholarly research. The final recipients were chosen for the list following additional analysis and expert judgment.

Last semester, first-year student Blake Seigler joined highly cited researcher recipient Jinsong Huang’s lab. Huang's lab, located in the applied physical sciences and chemistry departments, researches technologies related to perovskite solar cells, photodetectors and X-ray imagers

While he did not have prior research experience before joining Huang’s lab, Seigler said it was a “phenomenal opportunity” to see the forefront of technological research working with other researchers.

“As a freshman working in this lab, I'm not only getting to experience the field, I'm also experiencing the people that could open a few more bridges and make research a lot easier,” Seigler said

Jeff Dangl, a John N. Couch Professor of Biology, was another recipient named on the 2023 list. For over 30 years, his lab has studied the plant immune system, specifically its receptors and the mechanism by which it recognizes pathogens. Dangl said his lab aims to understand enough about the plant immune system to enhance it, similar to how human immunology helps people fight infections. 

"We certainly hope our work has impact in the generation of ways to control plant disease through genetic engineering or through the deployment of naturally-occurring microbes that can inhibit disease-causing microbes,” he said.

Dangl, named a highly cited researcher for multiple years, said the success of his lab is mainly due to the creativity and tenacity of his Ph.D. and postdoctoral students. At UNC, Dangl said his goal is to ultimately recruit motivated and creative people who are willing to collaborate with his group to define a “new edge of science." 

“You discover that it's a complete playground,” he said. “You know you're surrounded by people who are dedicated, passionate and hard-working and are driven by a sense that science has a place in society to help us do better as humans.”

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