The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s General Alumni Association (GAA) has honored a professor who translates research into real-world innovations and a dean who champions nonpartisan service to the state’s leaders with its 2017 Faculty Service Awards. Joseph DeSimone, the Chancellor’s Eminent Professor of chemistry, and Michael Smith, dean of the School of Government, received the awards from the GAA’s board of directors at its winter meeting on Jan. 13.

The organization has presented the awards since 1990, honoring faculty members who have performed outstanding service for either the University or the association.

Photo by Ray Black III
Photo by Ray Black III

Former director of UNC-Chapel Hill’s Frank Hawkins Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise and William R. Kenan Jr. Distinguished Professor of Chemical Engineering at N.C. State University and of chemistry in Carolina’s College of Arts and Sciences, DeSimone is a polymer chemist and one of only a handful of scientists to have been inducted into all three branches of the U.S. National Academies: Engineering in 2005, Sciences in 2012 and Medicine in 2014.

He has received more than 50 major professional recognitions, including the Lemelson-MIT Prize in 2008, and, from the UNC System Board of Governors, the O. Max Gardner Award in 2000. In 2016, DeSimone received the National Medal of Technology and Innovation from President Barack Obama.

DeSimone has nearly 170 patents in his name, with approximately another 100 pending, and is known as a generous researcher who shares his discoveries in the hope that others can use them to make their own breakthroughs.

Among the companies he has co-founded are: Bioabsorbable Vascular Solutions, which produced a stent absorbed by the body once a blood vessel can stay open on its own; Micell, which pioneered the first carbon dioxide-based dry-cleaning technology; and Liquidia, which uses nanotechnology to deliver drugs via particles mimicking blood cells to the exact spot in the body where they are needed.

DeSimone is on a sabbatical to launch his latest venture, Carbon, which already has a staff of 200. It employs technology he developed for a type of 3-D printer using light as a chisel to fabricate liquid into solid objects up to 100 times faster than traditional 3-D printers. This new 3-D manufacturing sector is expected to launch business models based on inventory on demand.

Photo by Ray Black III
Photo by Ray Black III

Since 1931, the school has been a nonpartisan source for training state and local officials to govern effectively and improve the quality of life for people in their communities. During his tenure, Smith has expanded the school’s traditional focus on public law to include management and leadership, finance and economic development and a formalized master’s degree in public administration.Smith began his time at the School of Government, formerly the Institute for Government, as a faculty law clerk. He joined the faculty immediately after graduating from the UNC School of Law in 1978 and was appointed director in 1992, a title that changed to dean in 2001 when the institute was elevated to a school.

As a faculty member, Smith focused on the civil liability of public officials and the legal aspects of corrections. As dean, he has recruited a diverse faculty and instituted faculty lunches to encourage small groups to share academic and administrative perspectives outside their particular areas of expertise.

Smith has expanded the school’s fundraising to increase its financial sustainability and he secured a legislative appropriation that enabled expanding and renovating the school’s Knapp-Sanders Building in 2004.

In 2015, Smith received the Ned Brooks Award for Public Service from the Carolina Center for Public Service for engaging officials across the state to share the school’s resources; mentoring, inspiring and providing opportunities for others to make a positive impact in the community; and expanding public service outside the University and the school. He has also served the University as chair of search committees for academic leaders, including a provost and two law school deans.

The General Alumni Association is a self-governed, nonprofit association, serving alumni and friends of UNC-Chapel Hill since 1843. More information on the GAA’s Faculty Service Awards is available here.

Published January 23, 2017.

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