Universities are always spoken of as places where students can go to discover who they really are and get educated for their chosen career path. But public universities offer other benefits to their states besides just preparing the youth for adulthood. Universities provide a haven for researchers to find solutions to many global problems while also teaching the next generation how to work on their own research projects.
Courtney Thornton is the research director of the University of North Carolina system. Thornton explained some of the benefits that research brings to the state.
“Our campuses across UNC have brought in over $1 billion in new awards,” Thornton said. “That money brought in does a lot for specific programs, as well as regional, local programs and the state economy.”
You can find out exactly how much research is financed by whom on the UNC system website . For example, UNC-Chapel Hill had $788 million of sponsored research programs in 2011 while Appalachian State received $17.6 million.
Many of these programs have gone on to produce exciting results. Here is a list of just a few of the research projects that university scientists have been working on this year.
Top Research Projects
Myron Cohen at UNC-Chapel Hill won the “Breakthrough of the Year” award from the journal Science thanks to his HIV research. Cohen evaluated whether antiretroviral drugs can prevent the sexual transmission of HIV among couples who do not both have HIV. His research found that with early treatment using the antiretroviral drugs, HIV transmission can be reduced by at least 96 percent in couples.
Troy Case, associate professor of anthropology, recently released a study that will help criminal investigators identify a body based solely on its ankle bones. The study explains that by measuring the tarsal bones, the bones that make up parts of the foot, the sex of the person can be determined. Sheena Harris, a former NCSU master’s student, was the lead author on the paper of the study, which was released in March.
M. Nasseh Tabrizi, with a grant from the National Science Foundation, is investigating the advantages of virtual reality systems in education. These systems, which operate on low bandwidth internet, will be able to provide education to populations who do not have access to regular education systems. Tabrizi’s system would allow students to see a virtual classroom complete with a whiteboard and a teacher. They could also participate in real time so that they can ask their teacher questions during the virtual class.
Drought-busting cyclones – Appalachian State University
Peter Soulé, a professor of geography and planning, researched how pesky tropical storms can actually help us by bringing enough rain to quench a drought. His research is based on tropical cyclones in the southeastern United States. The research team was lead by Justin Maxwell of Indiana University and also included Paul Knapp for UNC-Greensboro and Jason Ortegren from the University of West Florida. They concluded that as much as 15 percent of rainfall in the Carolinas is due to tropical cyclones.
Dan Ksepka, paleontologist at NCSU, discovered one of the largest freshwater turtles ever in a coal mine in Colombia. He shares the discovery with NCSU Ph.D. student Edwin Cadena, who is originally from Colombia. The turtle was as large as a Smart Car with a head the size of a football. See just how big the turtle was. Ksepka was also part of the team which found the world’s largest penguin. The penguin stood over four feet tall and was found in New Zealand.
Many of these projects received vital help from undergraduate research assistants. Experience for students is another way that research at universities helps the state.
“The system has a reputation for undergraduate research, which is a tremendous benefit for students,” Thronton said. ”It gives them a real leg up when preparing for graduate programs or careers.”
All photos in this story are courtesy of Flickr-Creative Commons. Attributions in order are:dave_mcmt(classroom), NASA Goddard Photo(cyclone0 and Video,Artwork by Liz Bradford(turtle). All other photos are without copyrights.