And in just the past three years, Folt says in the accompanying video, UNC Chapel Hill has made extraordinary research advances in fields such as biomedical engineering, cancer and Big Data.
“We’ve become a real innovation center, with students, faculty, staff, the community all interested,” she says. “We’ve seen powerful results.”
The university now ranks 6th among all U.S. universities for receipt of federal research dollars. It attracts close to $1 billion a year for research, generating almost 100,000 jobs in North Carolina and a $7 billion economic impact.
A former professor of biology and environmental science, Folt is particularly pleased with the involvement of students.
“Every lab is going to have an undergraduate – or many undergraduates – working as part of that innovation ecosystem,” she says. “The examples are just deep and powerful.”
Folt recounts how Nobel Prize Winner Aziz Sancar’s discovery of DNA self-repair transformed the way medicine is practiced, and how junior faculty members at the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center are using imaging technology to determine which parts of a tumor can be removed.
She notes how a $100 million gift to the School of Pharmacy from pharmaceutical executive Dr. Fred Eshelman focuses on ideas that might not otherwise get funding.
“It was an investment in the ideas that were risky,” she says. “… It’s often the riskiest idea that is going to be the one that pays off in the end.”
A similar approach is evident at the Gillings School of Public Health, she says, and at the UNC School of Medicine.
“It’s this combination of years of hard work following an idea to its end, and then throwing in those zingers – those exciting ideas that might pay off – and investing in them to see if they can come to completion. That’s where the biggest discoveries are made,” Folt says.