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The 2021 Year in Review

Dear Department,

Photo of Brian Strahl, PhD
Brian Strahl, Ph.D., Interim Chair

As another holiday season is approaching, I wanted to send a special message of thanks for all of the hard work you have been doing and for all we have accomplished this last year.  Despite a pandemic that never seems to end, we have continued to be highly successful and be at our best. In fact, our department has never been stronger: we remain 4th in the nation for most NIH-funded Departments of Biochemistry and several of our faculty are cited as being some of the most funded researchers in the nation. We also had a great year of faculty winning highly prestigious awards, including Pengda Liu receiving the Jefferson-Pilot Award, Ron Swanstrom receiving the Battle Cancer Award, and Greg Wang receiving the ASBMB Young Investigator Award (only one of these are given out per year in the nation). Excitingly, our department published numerous breakthrough papers in top-tier journals that include Nature, Science Advances, Nature Genetics, and Genes & Development (you can check all of these out on our updated NEWS feed!). Without question, this has been a terrific year and we have a lot to be proud of!  Most importantly, these successes could not have been possible without all of the amazing graduate students, postdocs, research technicians that made the work possible along with the hard work and dedication of our great administrative staff. Another accomplishment this year was the significant progress we made in our DEI efforts. Our newly launched DEI committee – led by Silvia Ramos – created a framework for our department’s plans to increase diversity and inclusion and make UNC and NC a better and more inclusive place. We also have a new Well-being Liaison, Jill Dowen, who has created new resources on well-being for everyone in the department.  Also, it is exciting to mention the large number of students that graduated this year and/or passed their oral and written exams (the impressive list of mentions are below).

We also have much to look forward to in 2022, the first of which is the exciting news that our newest faculty member, Rebecca Berlow, will be starting in January. Please welcome her when you see her next month!  We are also expecting to identify a new permanent chair from the outstanding candidates that recently visited.  This will certainly be an exciting event for our department.

Although we have many wonderful things to be proud of, it is important to recognize the challenges we had this year as well. The ongoing pandemic has been relentless and has affected us all in many different ways. I truly thought we would be around the corner by now and would have been able to have our holiday gathering in person. It was not what I had hoped for; I know we all yearn to do things in person again.  Also, it was very sad that one of our esteemed colleagues, Gerhard Meissner, passed away this year. We will miss him greatly.

Finally, as we are preparing to travel again for the holidays, please remain vigilant about your safety and the safety of others.  Get your booster!! This is the single most important thing you can do to protect yourself and your loved ones.

Be safe, and please have a joyful and restful holiday break (and Happy New Year)!  Cheers to an even better 2022!

Brian D. Strahl, Ph.D.
Oliver Smithies Investigator
Professor & Interim Chair      Support our Programs

Congratulations to the large number of students that graduated this year and/or passed their oral and written exams.

Passed written qualifying exam 2021:

Bolhuis, Derek

Cole, Sierra

Davis, Kacey

Emerson, James

Jean-Baptiste, Uriel

Kowalewski, Mark

Vera-Rodriquez, Darex

Passed oral qualifying exam 2021:

Ballard, Abigail

Begley, Matthew

Curtis, Brandy

Fleifel, Dalia

Harris, Sarah

Shelby, Christopher

Weyhmiller, Aubrie

Wheless, Anna


Roberts, Benjamin (spring 2021)

Minh Huynh (fall 2021)

Jibo Zhang (fall 2021)

Aubrie Weyhmiller (fall 2021)

Media Contact: Carolyn Clabo, Director of Communications and Development