Four highly promising Carolina faculty members in diverse fields have been awarded the Philip and Ruth Hettleman Prizes for Artistic and Scholarly Achievement by Young Faculty.
The recipients, who were recognized at the Sept. 8 Faculty Council meeting, are: Mara Buchbinder, associate professor in the Department of Social Medicine; James Cahoon, associate professor in the Department of Chemistry; Spencer L. Smith, associate professor in the Department of Cell Biology and Physiology; and Stephanie B. Wheeler, associate professor in the Department of Health Policy Management.
Buchbinder, who is also adjunct associate professor of anthropology and a core faculty member in the UNC Center for Bioethics, has published on a range of critical issues that hold significance for medicine, the social sciences and bioethics.
Much of her research explores the sociocultural and ethical dimensions of clinical encounters in the United States, with a particular interest in the role of language in medicine. Her recent work focuses on how patients, families and healthcare providers navigate social and ethical challenges resulting from changes in medical technology, law and health policy.
She is the author of two books, Saving Babies? The Consequences of Newborn Genetic Screening (with UCLA sociology professor Stefan Timmermans, 2013, University of Chicago Press) and All in Your Head: Making Sense of Pediatric Pain (2015, University of California Press).
Buchbinder joined the Carolina faculty in 2010 after receiving her doctorate in anthropology at the University of California, Los Angeles. She was selected for a Greenwall Faculty Scholars Award (2015–18), a career development award that enables junior faculty to carry out innovative bioethics research.
Jonathan Oberlander, professor and chair of social medicine, said Buchbinder’s scholarship is “original, impactful and noteworthy for its remarkable blend of social science theory and ethical inquiry with careful empirical investigation.”
“Dr. Buchbinder has investigated intimate contexts of suffering and care, family dynamics and local clinical cultures,” Oberlander said. “She has chosen to work on problems of vital importance to medical care delivery, illness experiences, health care ethics and policy.”
Cahoon’s research team seeks to understand and control the physical properties of semiconductor nanomaterials through chemical synthesis.
His approach combines material synthesis with physical measurements and in-house computational modeling to explore the fundamental limits of size, composition and morphology that can be chemically encoded in a nanostructure.
The Cahoon group’s unique blend of fundamental and applied research has delivered a wealth of findings that have propelled the field of nanomaterial fabrication. The materials being developed have applications in solar and thermal energy, electronics and photonics.
Cahoon is also Carolina’s co-principal investigator on a $5.5 million grant to establish the Research Triangle Nanotechnology Network Research (RTNN), a collaboration between N.C. State University, Duke University and Carolina. The RTNN leverages the capabilities of the Chapel Hill Analytical and Nanofabrication Lab, an on-campus user facility for nanomaking and measuring.
Jeffrey Johnson, chair of the chemistry department at Carolina, said Cahoon’s research program combines three key areas – synthesis, measurement and modeling – to develop new materials for a range of technologies from solar fuels to solid-state memory.
“By housing these capabilities all under one roof, Jim’s research program can develop complex methods and capabilities, bringing together diverse topics that would normally be outside the scope of a single program,” Johnson said.
Cahoon received his bachelor of science degree in chemistry and philosophy from The College of William & Mary in 2003, and doctorate from the University of California, Berkeley in 2008. He completed a two-year postdoc at Harvard University with Charles Lieber before joining the Carolina faculty in 2011.
Spencer L. Smith
The overarching goal of Smith’s highly interdisciplinary research program is to better understand how parts of the brain work in concert to perceive stimuli, perform computations and drive adaptive behavior.
Smith’s research is currently focused on the visual cortex, the part of the mammalian brain where sophisticated computational problems are solved. The long-term goal of Smith’s lab is to explain principles of brain function in order to identify potential therapeutic strategies for treating complex neurological disorders.
Kathleen Caron, chair of the Department of Cell Biology and Physiology, said Smith is “one of our most creative, innovative and groundbreaking scholars” who possesses dual talents as an inventor and
“As an inventor, Dr. Smith has relied upon his training in mathematics and physics to develop new machines, microscopes and lenses that permit the real-time visualization of actively firing neuronal circuits on a wide scale, and in some cases, even within two different areas of the visual cortex simultaneously,” Caron said.
During the early phase of his independent career, Smith has also published 14 papers in such prestigious journals as Nature, Nature Biotechnology, Nature Neuroscience, Neuron, Nature Neuron and Journal of Neuroscience.
Smith’s creativity and innovation have resulted in several prestigious junior investigator awards and grants from the McKnight, Simons, Whitehall and Klingenstein foundations, two from the Human Frontiers in Science Program and two NSF BRAIN Initiative grants, including one for $9 million to lead a national consortium of researchers to create new technologies to study the mysteries of the brain.
Stephanie B. Wheeler
Wheeler is a decision scientist whose research focuses on understanding and improving cancer care access, equity, quality, value and outcomes, with a focus on vulnerable populations.
She leads the national, multicenter, Centers for Disease Control-funded Cancer Prevention and Control Research Network, which focuses on dissemination and implementation of evidence-based cancer-focused interventions. She also co-directs the National Cancer Institute-funded Cancer Care Quality Training Program and the NCI-funded Geographic Management of Cancer Health Disparities Program.
Her work has resulted in 85 peer-reviewed publications, more than 100 public presentations at national conferences, symposia and other venues, and more than $10 million in grant funding.
“Stephanie’s strong passion for conducting policy-relevant public health research to reduce disparities among patients with cancer is palpable,” said Morris Weinberger, chair of the Department of Health Policy and Management. “Her research has spanned cancer care from screening to treatment and survivorship.”
Wheeler earned a doctorate at the Gillings School of Global Public Health before joining the health policy management faculty in 2010. Earlier this year, Wheeler received the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health Early Career Public Health Research Award.
Jo Anne L. Earp, research professor in the Department of Health Behavior, said Wheeler is becoming a nationally known “behavioral science interventionist” dedicated to closing racial divides in cancer treatment. “On top of her scholarly brilliance, she has superior management skills, budgetary savvy and a deep familiarity with working with large-scale secondary sources of data,” Earp said.