Grand Challenges Research Investments

Grand Challenges Research Investments

The University’s Great and Good 2030 Plan identifies five priority focus areas for research: Democracy, Environmental Resilience and Sustainability, Precision Medicine, the Brain and Neuroscience, and Digital Technology and Society. The Grand Challenges Research Investments are intended to make a substantial difference through large strategic investments—to move the needle and not just fund business as usual. We plan to focus on opportunities that will have high impact, such as significant research infrastructure or new faculty (cluster hires or key leaders). We do not plan to support routine research expenses or replace externally sponsored research funding. This transformative new investment is designed to expand and complement our current research portfolio.

Similar to the University’s new differentiating $100 million investment in Democracy, UVA plans to make substantial commitments of up to $50 million each in two other key research areas in the 2021-22 academic year: Environmental Resiliency and Sustainability and the Brain and Neuroscience. We plan to follow with funding in Digital Technology and Society and Precision Medicine in the 2022-23 academic year.


Grand Challenges Brain and Neuroscience Forum

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November 9, 2021 - 12:30PM-6:00PM at the Rotunda Dome Room. Registration required. 

Livestream link:


12:30-12:45 pm    Opening Session/Welcome 

12:45-1:30 pm  Cognitive/Developmental Neuroscience – Early detection of intellectual and physical disabilities

  • Moderator: Howard Goodkin, Professor (SOM)
  • JC Cang, Professor, Biology & Psychology (A&S)
  • Emily Solari, Professor, Reading Education, Director, UVA Reading & Phonological Awareness Literacy Screener (PALS); (SEHD)
  • Sarah Kucenas, Professor, Biology (A&S)
  • Mark Beenhakker,  Associate Professor, Pharmacology (SOM)

1:30-1:50 pm                Discussion


1:50-2:00 pm                Break

2:00-2:45 pm  Autism: Molecules to Minds

  • Moderator: Jaideep Kapur, Professor (SOM)
  • Kevin Pelphrey, Professor, Neurology (A&S, SOM)
  • Micah Mazurek, Professor, Education (SEHD)
  • Adema Ribic, Assistant Professor, Psychology (A&S)
  • Jack Van Horn, Professor, Psychology and Data Science  (SDS and A&S)

2:45-3:05 pm  Discussion

3:05-3:20 pm    Jim Ryan, President


3:20-3:30 pm   Break

3:30-4:15 pm  Conquering Challenges at the Intersection of Neuro-imaging and Neuroimmunology

  • Moderator: Harold Sontheimer, Professor, Neuroscience (SOM)
  • Tajie Harris, Associate Professor, Neuroscience (SOM)
  • Ukpong Eyo, Assistant Professor, Center for Brain Immunology and Glia Neuroscience Department, (SOM)
  • James Stone, Associate Professor, Radiology & Medical Imaging, Department of Neurological Surgery (SOM)
  • Fred Epstein, Professor, Radiology & Biomedical Engineering (SEAS)

4:15-4:35 pm   Discussion


4:35-4:45 pm   Break

4:45-5:30 pm   Neurodegeneration: Causes, Treatments, and Societal Impact

  • Moderator: Carol Manning, Professor, Neurology
  • Ishan Williams, Associate Professor (Nursing)
  • Mimi Riley (Law, ethics, and medicine)
  • John Lukens, Associate Professor, Neuroscience (SOM)
  • Heather Ferris, Assistant Professor, Endocrinologist (SOM)

5:30-5:50 pm    Discussion


5:50-6:00 pm   Closing comments 

6:00 pm       Reception (Multipurpose Room)

Use IdeaNote to share ideas on Brain and Neuroscience topics discussed. Find instructions on how to set up an account and use IdeaNote here.



Grand Challenges Environmental Resilience and Sustainability Forum

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November 16, 2021 - 12:30PM-5:30PM at the Rotunda Dome Room. Registration required.

Livestream link:


12:30 -12:45 pm Opening Session/Welcome

12:45-1:30 pm  Climate Mitigation: Removing Carbon Through Technology, Behavior, and Policy

  • Moderator: Mike Lenox, Professor, Senior Associate Dean & Chief Strategy Officer (Darden)
  • Ellen Bassett, Professor, Urban and Environmental Planning (SARC)
  • Lisa Colosi-Peterson, Associate Professor, Engineering Systems & Environment (SEAS)
  • Scott Doney, Professor, Environmental Sciences (A&S)
  • T. Brent Gunnoe, Professor, Chemistry (A&S)
  • Deborah Lawrence, Professor, Environmental Sciences (A&S)


1:30-1:55 pm    Discussion

1:55-2:10 pm    Break

2:10-2:25 pm    Jim Ryan, President 

2:25-3:10 pm  Climate Adaptation: Resilient Cities

  • Moderator: Karen McGlathery, Professor, Environmental Sciences (A&S); Director, Environmental Resilience Institute
  • Brad Cantrell, Professor and Chair, Landscape Architecture (SARC)
  • Jonathan Goodall, Professor, Engineering Systems and Environment; Associate Director, Link Lab (SEAS)
  • Jenny Roe, Professor and Director, Center for Design and Health (SARC)
  • Jay Shimshack, Professor, Public Policy and Economics; Associate Dean, Academic Affairs (Batten)


3:10-3:35 pm    Discussion

3:35-3:50 pm    Break

3:50-4:35 pm    Climate and Democracy

  • Moderator: Leon Szeptycki, Professor of Law (Law)
  • Willis Jenkins, Hollingsworth Professor of Ethics (A&S)
  • Sallie Ann Keller, Division Director, Biocomplexity and Professor, Public Health Sciences (BI/SDS)
  • Sally Pusede, Assistant Professor, Environmental Sciences (A&S)
  • Barbara Brown Wilson, Associate Professor, Urban and Environmental Planning (SARC)


4:35-5:00 pm    Discussion

5:00-5:05 pm  Closing comments

5:05 pm   Reception (Multipurpose Room)

Use IdeaNote to share ideas on Environmental Resilience and Sustainability topics discussed. Find instructions on how to set up an account and use IdeaNote here.

We need your input

While we identified the thematic research areas, we need your help to develop the specific proposals that will frame and direct our investments.

The Offices of the Provost and the Vice President for Research are engaging faculty and gathering input on the specific areas for investment in several different ways. In each area, there will be virtual events and an online platform to begin gathering ideas and develop more specific areas of focus. In this first phase, the Provost and Vice President for Research are partnering with the Environmental Resilience Institute and the UVA Brain Institute to hold virtual idea generation events starting August 23. To find more information and to register for the below idea generation events, please see the webpages for Environmental Resilience and Sustainability and Brain and Neuroscience

For those that cannot attend in person, we welcome feedback on strategies and opportunities for these potential investments through a web-based platform.

    Seeding Research

    Using this input, the Provost and Vice President for Research, with the support of the President, will co-sponsor a conference in each area later in the fall semester. These conferences, which will be open to the UVA community, will consist of interdisciplinary faculty panels focused on the future and “grand challenges” of the area, as well as the opportunities for UVA to play a leading role in solving these challenges. There will be opportunities for discussion after each panel. The ideas generated by the events will help develop specific topics and proposals for investment. The investments will be announced early in the spring semester.

    One of the key goals of our strategic plan is to enable discoveries that enrich and improve lives. We have made progress on this goalwhich you can see on our new interactive timelinebut there is still much to be done. Our investments in Environmental Resiliency and Sustainability and the Brain and Neuroscience are an important next step. We look forward to working with you on this exciting goal in the coming years.

    Have questions?

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