Four Faculty Members Awarded Hettleman Prizes

Four highly promising professors in diverse fields have been awarded the Phillip and Ruth Hettleman Prizes for Artistic and Scholarly Achievement by Young Faculty at the University.

They are Jason D. Lieb ’94, an associate professor of biology; Milada A. Vachudova, an associate professor of political science; Joshua M. Knobe, an associate professor of philosophy; and Blossom A. Damania, an associate professor of microbiology and immunology in the School of Medicine and a member of the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.

The Hettleman Prize, which carries a $5,000 stipend, recognizes the achievements of outstanding junior tenure-track faculty or recently tenured faculty. The winners will present their work later in the academic year.

The award was established by Phillip Hettleman ’21, who grew up in Goldsboro in a family with little money. He earned a scholarship to UNC, went to New York and in 1938 founded Hettleman & Co., a Wall Street investment firm. He established the award in 1986 and died later that year.

Lieb, in his six years at Carolina, has achieved international status for research investigating the accessibility of information encoded in a genomic DNA sequence and how that accessibility affects gene expression, said Terry Magnuson, chair of the genetics department and director of the Carolina Center for Genome Sciences.

From the beginning of his career, Lieb has studied the way DNA packaging, or chromatin, affects how genes are regulated on a genomic scale, Magnuson said. As a member of the UNC faculty whose work is an integral part of the genome sciences center, Lieb has continued to explore the relationship among chromatin, transcription factor targeting and gene expression.

Vachudova, who joined the Carolina faculty in 2001, wrote Europe Undivided, which examines determinants of the quality of emerging democratic institutions in states that are making the transition away from authoritarianism and ethnic conflict. The 2005 work also explores how international actors influence this process.

She conducted more than 150 interviews for the book, in five languages (Czech, Slovak, Polish, French and English) in six eastern European countries.

David Cameron, professor of political science and director of the Yale Program in European Union Studies, said Vachudova’s scholarship is distinguished by her analytical focus on the relationship between the European Union and the domestic politics of central and eastern European countries.

Damania is a premier faculty member and the archetype of the junior faculty the University hopes to nurture and retain at UNC, wrote Dr. H. Shelton Earp ’70 (MD), distinguished professor of medicine and director of the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center; and Ron Swanstrom, acting chair of the department of microbiology and immunology.

“Her study of viral pathogenesis at all levels – the molecular, the cellular and the infectious – are models for future approaches to diseases of worldwide import,” Earp and Swanstrom said in their nominating letter.

Damania’s breadth of training, they added, has served her well as she “launched a successful academic career spanning the juncture between cancer research and infectious diseases.”

Knobe, who joined the faculty in 2006 directly from graduate school, was featured in a recent cover story in the Chronicle of Higher Education in which he was described as having “rocked the philosophical establishment” and earned “a place at the leading edge of the discipline.”

He is credited with being the major force behind – and the most impressive practitioner of – experimental philosophy, which applies experimental techniques to philosophy’s traditional conceptual problems.

“In sum, Joshua Knobe is a remarkable philosopher,” said Geoffrey Sayre-McCord, chair of the philosophy department. “He has produced more, and been cited more, than anyone we have known at his career stage.”

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