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Chancellor, UNC-Chapel Hill

Holden Thorp, MD

Chancellor, UNC-Chapel Hill

H. Holden Thorp, Kenan Professor of Chemistry and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has been elected Chancellor of the institution by the Board of Governors of the multi-campus University of North Carolina. UNC President Erskine Bowles placed Thorp’s name in nomination today (May 8) during a special meeting of the board. Thorp, 43, will assume his new duties July 1. He succeeds James Moeser, who announced last fall that he would retire on June 30 after eight years in the post.

In recommending Thorp to the Board of Governors, Bowles said: “There is not a doubt in my mind that Holden Thorp is the right leader for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is the right leader for today and the right leader for tomorrow. He personifies what Carolina is all about—he is a remarkable teacher, a brilliant scientist, a successful inventor and entrepreneur, and a respected administrator. His passion for the liberal arts, creativity, and joy of discovery are absolutely contagious, and he has shown that he has the knowledge and the skills needed to be a truly great chancellor in the years ahead.”

“Holden Thorp is also as true-blue a Tar Heel as they come,” Bowles told the Board of Governors. “I am thrilled that we will have a chancellor who is a North Carolina native, a proud alumnus, and a proven campus leader who has earned the respect of the faculty and the student body. He fully understands the deep-rooted connection between Carolina and the people of this state, and the selection of one of our own speaks volumes about the quality of leadership within this University.”

Born and raised in Fayetteville, N.C., Thorp is a UNC-Chapel Hill graduate who earned a bachelor of science degree, with highest honors, in chemistry in 1986. After receiving a doctorate in the field (1989) from the California Institute of Technology and conducting postdoctoral work at Yale University (1989-90), he joined the North Carolina State University faculty as an assistant professor of chemistry. Two years later, he returned to the UNC-Chapel Hill Department of Chemistry as an assistant professor, rising to the rank of full professor by 1999.

An award-winning teacher and researcher, Thorp served as director of Carolina’s Morehead Planetarium and Science Center from 2001-2005. In that role, he increased public attendance by 40 percent and expanded the Planetarium’s traditional focus to encompass new areas of science education. Under his leadership, for example, the science center developed “DNA: The Secret of Life,” a film that was installed at science museums throughout North America, including the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Beginning in 2002, he also served as faculty director for an effort that thus far has raised $17 million in private funds towards the completion of the $205-million Carolina Physical Science Complex, the largest construction project in the campus’ history.

In 2005, Thorp was named Kenan Professor and chair of the Department of Chemistry. Last year he was selected through a national search to become Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, which forms the core of UNC-Chapel Hill’s academic programs. The largest academic unit on campus, the College houses 54 academic departments and other units, has more than 4,500 faculty and staff, and teaches more than 14,000 undergraduates and 2,500 graduate students. Over the course of the past year, he has raised more than $57 million for the Arts and Sciences Foundation and secured 27 endowed professorships, making way for a dramatic expansion of the College’s Honors Program.

Thorp holds 19 issued or pending U.S. patents and has published more than 130 scholarly papers on the electrochemical properties of DNA and RNA. Some of the technologies he has invented, including highly miniaturized “DNA chips,” are being used to identify carriers of the gene for cystic fibrosis and to develop new treatments for sickle cell disease and iron overload. His DNA chip technology led to his being named one of the Top Innovators of 2001 by Fortune Small Business magazine. In 2005, he co-founded Viamet Pharmaceuticals, a company dedicated to finding new drugs for metalloenzymes. In addition, he has been an advisor, co-founder, or consultant with many other small companies, including Novalon Pharmaceuticals, MaxCyte, Osmetech, OhmX, and Plextronics.

Thorp’s impact in the classroom and laboratory has been recognized with a litany of honors and awards. They include the National Science Foundation’s Presidential Young Investigator Award (1991), the Lucile Packard Fellowship in Science and Engineering (1991), the Camille Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Award (1995), the Ruth and Philip Hettleman Prize for Artistic and Scholarly Achievement (1996), Carolina’s Tanner Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching (1998), and the Alfred P. Sloan Fellowship (1996). He also received UNC-Chapel Hill’s General Alumni Association’s Distinguished Young Alumnus Award in 2002.

An accomplished musician who plays jazz bass and keyboard, Thorp is married to Patti Worden Thorp, a Hope Mills native and UNC Greensboro graduate. They have two children: John, 13, and Emma, 9.

Information copied from on October 22, 2008.