Through an interactive campus process that resulted in 82 submissions and included 592 faculty and staff, the Top-Tier Research Commission selected 17 areas of focus and distinction. This includes established areas of excellence and areas of growth and opportunities. More information about the methodology is available in the full report.
Areas of Existing Excellence
Through university-industry collaborative centers, like the Center for Precision Metrology and the Center for Freeform Optics, teams of faculty tackle diverse topics ranging from measuring millimeter-scale cooling channels on turbine blades, to evaluating meter-scale gears for wind turbines, to polishing optics with nanometer form errors, to machining lightweight components for aircraft, to manufacturing and testing novel ceramic materials for biomedical applications.
Emerging threats to human health, such as highly transmissible viruses, and durable problems, including antibiotic resistance and food safety, demand comprehensive and innovative approaches. Particularly through the Bioinformatics Research Center, University researchers apply advanced expertise and knowledge in epidemiology, ecology, bioinformatics, public health, mathematics, computing, geography, engineering and education to study these complex problems, with a focus on building resiliency against threats and guiding practices that increase human and ecosystem health.
In a dangerous era of identity theft and international cybercrime, Charlotte’s cybersecurity research fuels innovation to understand and mitigate threats to our systems, information and lives, especially those related to the confidentiality, integrity and availability of digital information. Research in hardware and infrastructure security, privacy and digital citizenship, and security analytics and automation address the secure, private and trustworthy operation of infrastructure in domains such as data and social sciences, energy and manufacturing.
With a particular focus on African, Caribbean and Latin American diasporas, Charlotte faculty and students strive to understand the shared heritage and experience of these scattered populations and the many legacies of displacement and dispersion.
Central to the research are strategic investments in advanced technologies and equipment and the creation of collaborative centers that spur intensive use-inspired research with industry and government partners, particularly the Center for Freeform Optics, the Center for Metamaterials and the Center for Precision Metrology. Collectively, University researchers capitalize upon historic strengths in optics and microelectronics, while pushing forward into new and potentially revolutionary research directions, such as the development of novel materials.
A pioneer and leader in energy research and education, UNC Charlotte makes significant multidisciplinary contributions to the field through six areas: (1) scientific discovery and technology development, (2) fast-paced applied research, (3) technology integration through multi-institutional projects, (4) technical and laboratory services, (5) workforce development and (6) public/private partnerships.
Led by Charlotte's Energy Production and Infrastructure Center (EPIC), the University’s transformational energy research engages local, regional, state and federal agencies with key business and industry stakeholders to further accelerate the country’s transition to clean energy.
Areas of Emerging Impact
The University’s multidisciplinary teams include engineers, architects, inventors and experts in transportation, public safety, land use, urban design, city management and housing. Existing campus assets include extensive experience in urban data curation, expertise in geoanalytics and collaborative partnerships with local and regional community-based organizations, agencies and industries.
Data-driven expertise partnered with community expertise results in a shared commitment to address problems such as early childcare and education, college and career readiness, child and family stability and inequities. In one targeted approach, the Social Aspects of Health Initiative focuses on social, institutional and environmental contexts to identify and address health inequities in urban regions.
The University’s interdisciplinary teams are generating innovative ways to improve, operate and maintain critical physical infrastructure, while addressing societal needs, optimizing the use of constrained resources, and maintaining safety and privacy.
Existing expertise includes data analytics in transportation, airport/aviation infrastructure and materials research; smart and efficient multimodal transportation systems; connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs); transportation operations; and technology readiness and security. Life-cycle management experts use advanced techniques to assess impacts on economies, regional connectivity, workforce development and land use.
Issues unique to urban communities, such as traffic patterns, school districting, affordable housing, wage policies, pollution and access to healthy food are among the many underlying causes of health inequities. Interdisciplinary teams from public health, data science, biostatistics, psychology, anthropology and social work use a variety of research methods, including action research, community-based participatory research and clinical research, to identify practical health promotion solutions, implement community-based chronic disease prevention and management programs, advance health policy reform, promote racial equity, improve health outcomes and minimize health disparities.
Areas of Unique Distinction
CEME directs novel studies examining the reliability, cultural sensitivity and fairness of ratings given to North Carolina teachers by their principals and evaluators. Extensive development and validation research is conducted on Teaching Strategies GOLD, an annual publication used to assess more than two million children nationally, as well as validation and implementation fidelity research on the N.C. Kindergarten Entry Assessment measure used by more than 5,000 teachers each year to assess all incoming kindergarten children.
Supported by federal agencies and corporations, collaborative teams of faculty seek to help redefine leadership and develop effective human resource management and team development practices and policies. Using science-based solutions, these initiatives address many of the biggest issues facing global and regional organizations, including reducing and eliminating the barriers experienced by women and people of color as they rise to and hold leadership positions.
Using practices that engage a range of community partners in mutually beneficial approaches and match regional and national economic, civic and cultural priorities, University researchers develop innovative programs that translate research into practice and provide students with disabilities access to services that offer opportunities for positive life outcomes after graduation.
Establishing conditions and environments that meet the needs of all learners and foster a culture of inclusivity for students with disabilities is a priority, with a particular emphasis on educating students with extensive support needs and helping students transition effectively into adult life. The success of these efforts is exemplified by the largest grant in UNC Charlotte’s history, an award of more than $20 million from the U.S. Department of Education to support the university-led National Technical Assistance Center on Transition: The Collaborative.
Areas of Future Opportunity
UNC Charlotte faculty expertise touches on a range of emerging AI-focus areas, including machine learning and data mining methods; robotics and autonomous systems; human-assistive AI; high-performance AI; and ethical, explainable and trustworthy AI.
University researchers develop foundational techniques and apply them to address problems across a broad range of interests, including computing infrastructure and cybersecurity, energy, climate change, health care, scientific discovery, smart cities, personalized education and defense. The work is advanced through a network of collaborative national partnerships with private industry and government agencies.
Bridging the natural, social and behavioral sciences, engineering, arts, humanities, and policy studies, these collaborations and research thrusts have gained local and national attention and inform the work of policymakers and practitioners charged with advancing and implementing mitigation and adaptation strategies and solutions.
UNC Charlotte nanoscale researchers work toward the development of novel materials, devices and structures to address these problems and challenges. University researchers are developing RNA nanoparticles for immunotherapies and vaccines that target antibiotic-resistant pathogens and cancers, and developing nanosensors for the clinical diagnosis of COVID-19. They investigate novel organic molecular dyes and polymers for use in solar energy conversion, generate inorganic nanomaterials to build efficient energy storage devices and develop sustainable methods to decontaminate water.
Others on campus are applying a wide variety of interdisciplinary experimental approaches to gain molecular-level insights into biological systems, with significance for cancer research, immune responses, neurodegenerative diseases and other important areas of research.
To restore confidence in the online information environment and promote trusted, fact-based information sources, University faculty use novel tools and design and develop innovative, interactive visual interfaces that enable the automatic detection of misinformation, facilitate the systematic investigation of misinformation sources and prevent the propagation and dissemination of fake news.