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To expand UNC-Chapel Hill’s capacity to pursue team science, the Office of Research Development (ORD) fosters collaboration, accelerates innovation, and supports groundbreaking discoveries. UNC Research caught up with experts in the College of Arts and Sciences and around the University to learn more.

Stylized sketches depicting creativity and innovation, including a lightbulb, rocket ship, gears and books.
“The creative and scholastic talent at UNC-Chapel Hill is boundless,” said Nathan Blouin, director of the Office of Research Development.


The Office of Research Development is a unit within the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research that focuses on growing the research enterprise at Carolina. The team, led by Nathan Blouin, offers one-on-one project consultations, multidisciplinary team formation, proposal development support, grant optimization services, and the University’s limited submissions internal review function to improve success in attracting extramural funding for research and scholarly projects.

“The creative and scholastic talent at UNC-Chapel Hill is boundless, and our team is privileged to be able to help Carolina faculty and scholars compete for and win nationally competitive grants and financial support,” Blouin says. “We play a distinct role within the University’s toolkit of developmental resources while coordinating and complementing the work of other teams.”

ORD identifies, tracks, and disseminates external research funding opportunities and manages limited submission grants and awards to ensure that Carolina advances in these competitions. The team also hosts workshops centered around university and sponsor-specific research themes and supports the planning and submission of large-scale proposals for convergent science projects.

In addition, ORD coordinates several internal funding opportunities sponsored by the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research (OVCR), including the marquee effort called Creativity Hubs — an opportunity for researchers to achieve project-specific funding and support from concept to translation, while accessing a multidisciplinary virtual research “hub.” The office also offers pilot funding for researchers working to solve specific problems in their fields, along with grants for research pursuits in the fine arts and humanities.

“One of our key strategic priorities is to accelerate interdisciplinary, team science that addresses the greatest challenges of the state, the nation, and the world,” Vice Chancellor for Research Penny Gordon-Larsen says. “The Office of Research Development equips and empowers researchers and their teams to do this work while building relationships across the University and with external partners that are crucial to advancing Carolina research and innovation, making new discoveries, and enhancing our competitiveness.”

Here are a few examples of how researchers benefit from working with ORD.

Elizabeth Frankenberg, director of the Carolina Center for Population Aging and Health and the Cary C. Boshamer Distinguished Professor of Sociology within the College of Arts and Sciences

Studies how unexpected events such as natural disasters affect health and well-being.

ORD worked with me to develop a project for a new center on climate change and health that had a very short timeline for submission and many moving parts. These submissions are stressful because the big picture is important, but many small things can go wrong and there is no leeway on the deadline. The ORD staff worked tirelessly to review and edit drafts and write abstracts. Their involvement meant that I could focus on writing the scientific pieces of the submission.

They helped create a proposal that if funded will push research on climate and health forward at UNC-Chapel Hill by involving researchers across many different fields.

Kristy Ainslie, Fred Eshelman Distinguished Professor and chair of the Division of Pharmacoengineering & Molecular Pharmaceutics within the Eshelman School of Pharmacy, and professor in the Joint Biomedical Engineering Department

Researches the development of formulations to promote or change an immune response and to improve the delivery of infectious disease vaccines, autoimmune treatments, and therapies for cancer.

ORD supports my research in two ways. First, it offers and manages limited submission opportunities that provide potential funding for my graduate students, postdoctoral researchers, colleagues, and myself.

It also offers support for the preparation of large grants. For example, I recently submitted an NIH proposal with 24 researchers at more than a dozen universities. ORD’s staff worked with my grants manager to help prepare, edit, and organize the 1,081-page document. The team helped us significantly with writing scientific abstracts, proofreading the scientific proposals, consolidating facilities and equipment pages, and streamlining data collection and proposal preparation.

We would not have been able to submit this funding opportunity without the help of ORD.

Paul Watkins, director of the Institute for Drug Safety Sciences, Howard Q. Ferguson Distinguished Professor of Pharmacy, and professor in the Schools of Medicine and Public Health

Studies why good drugs are sometimes bad for the liver.

Last December, UNC-Chapel Hill and Duke applied for a $50 million Center of Excellence in Regulatory Science and Innovation (CERSI) award supported by the FDA. I was Carolina’s PI for the proposal. This was a very large effort that involved coordination with Duke and establishing plans to collaborate with N.C. State and NCCU. Our application was successful, and this center will be established this fall. We would not have been successful without the great efforts of ORD, especially Nathan Blouin and Nate Warren, who helped  pull everything together and always with a friendly “can do” attitude.

Vanessa Jewell, associate professor in the Department of Health Sciences within the School of Medicine

Leads the Diabetes Research and Wellness Lab, which works with rural families who have a child living with type 1 diabetes to improve child health outcomes, family participation in meaningful activities, and health care access. 

ORD has been instrumental to our interprofessional team of researchers, community partners, and health care professionals in assisting with developing budgets, scheduling core team meetings, serving as a liaison to grant funders, providing connections across Carolina campuses, and aiding in the successful and timely submissions of 10 grants this academic year. They connected us to resources that assisted with productivity and helped us effectively lead a large research team.

Ashok Krishnamurthy, director of the Renaissance Computing Institute (RENCI)

Focuses on how to use artificial intelligence and machine learning methods to improve health.

I have worked with ORD as an individual researcher and on behalf of RENCI on quite a few proposals, and it really is a thing of beauty to watch them bring together skills from across campus. They are aware of all the research calls from funding sources, and they use their knowledge of research units at Carolina to bring together experts for collaboration, which leads to a stronger proposal than one unit may be able to create alone.

ORD allows a researcher to think bigger in the kinds of opportunities they may be able to pursue. Sometimes, you only think of your own studies, or you know the inclusion of other skillsets would make your proposal more competitive, but you don’t know where to look. ORD is the solution to that problem.

Zongchao Han, associate professor in the Department of Ophthalmology within the School of Medicine

Focuses on the use of nanotechnologies and biocompatible materials to develop safe and effective gene and drug therapies for limiting the effects of retinal blinding diseases.

ORD played a crucial role in supporting my work by providing comprehensive proposal review and valuable editorial assistance for my R01 proposals. Their expertise and guidance greatly contributed to the refinement and strengthening of my grant applications. I am grateful for their dedicated support and the positive impact it had on my research endeavors.

I would like to highlight that ORD is an invaluable resource for UNC-Chapel Hill faculty and staff who are preparing to submit grant proposals for funding. The ORD team is highly professional, knowledgeable, and exceptionally kind.

By , UNC Research

Sign up for ORD’s FUNDamentals newsletter for monthly information on limited submissions, intramural and regional funding opportunities, and an “early notice” digest of concept clearances and similar information forecasting future priorities of major funders.

Faculty and postdoctoral researchers can visit the Office of Research Development website to request a consultation or learn more about its services and team.

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