Dawn Kernagis, Ph.D.
Dr. Dawn Kernagis is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Neurosurgery studying neuroprotective strategies for individuals who will be exposed to high physiological stress. Protecting the brain and nervous system of people working in extreme environments (altitude, undersea, space), athletes and military personnel who are at high concussive risk, and patients undergoing clinical procedures that induce stress on the brain and nervous system is critically important for their resilience to these stressors and their long-term health.
Dawn is coming to UNC from the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition (IHMC), where she worked as a Research Scientist and led a research program focused on human performance and neuroprotection in response to stresses in extreme environments. At IHMC, her team’s research was funded by various Department of Defense agencies, NASA, and the NASA Translational Institute for Space Health.
Dawn completed her Ph.D. and postdoctoral training at Duke University, where she was an American Heart Association Postdoctoral Fellow and funded by the Office of Naval Research (ONR) to identify mechanisms and potential therapeutic targets for acute brain injury. She completed her Ph.D. as ONR Undersea Medicine’s first Predoctoral Award recipient. As a graduate student, Dawn also assisted with numerous DoD and NASA-funded projects focused on extreme environmental physiology.
In 2016, Dawn was selected as a crew member of the NASA NEEMO XXI undersea mission. Based on her background in underwater exploration and diving medicine research, Dawn was inducted as a member of the Women Divers Hall of Fame and as a Fellow of the Explorers Club.
Outside of research, she is a co-host of a science and technology podcast, STEM-Talk. She is also a board member of the Robert E. Mitchell Center for POW Health, and the Duskin & Stephens Foundation, a non-profit focused on health and family support for Special Operations military personnel. She loves traveling, playing piano, and spending as much time outdoors and on the water as possible.
Research Assistant Professor
Undersea and Hyperbaric Medical Society Young Scientist Award – 2018
Fellow National, Explorers Club – 2018
Leadership Florida, Class, XXXV – 2016
Women Divers Hall of Fame Inductee – 2016
American Heart Association Postdoctoral Fellowship Award – 2014
Sigma Xi Undergraduate Research Award – 1998
Dawn’s research interests include neuroprotection, traumatic brain injury, brain lymphatics and glymphatics, physiology of extreme environments.
Education and Training
Postdoctoral Training in Neurology/Neurocritical Care – Duke University
Ph.D. in Pathology – Duke University
B.S in Biochemistry – NC State University
Other Experience & Professional Membership
Operations Manager and Team Diver – Global Underwater Explorers/Woodville Karst Plain Project 1996-2007
Committee Member, Duke University Health System Institutional Review Board 2009-2015
Member, DoD Biotechnologies for Human Performance Advisory Committee 2015-2018
Committee Member, IHMC Institutional Review Board 2015-2020
Robert E. Mitchell Foundation for POW Health, Board of Directors and Secretary 2019-Current
Duskin & Stephens Foundation, Board of Directors 2020-Current