Chief Scientists

Deepak Kumar is RENCI’s chief domain scientist for health disparities. His role will focus on strategies to address health disparities using informatics and AI/ML tools. Dr. Kumar is a tenured professor of pharmaceutical sciences and director of Julius L. Chambers Biomedical Biotechnology Research Institute (JLC-BBRI), a dedicated institute for health disparities research at North Carolina Central University (NCCU). He is also the PI of NCCU RCMI Center for Health Disparities Research funded by NIMHD and also directs their Advanced Center for COVID-19 Related Disparities (ACCORD) to address COVID-19 testing concerns, vaccine hesitancy and impact on underserved North Carolinians. Kumar also founded the Health Equity, Environment and Population Health (HOPE) program at NCCU that leverages partnerships with local health departments, community free clinics and local community-based organizations; and focuses on examining the causes of widespread health disparities in underserved populations and bringing evidence-based interventions to the community. He is a molecular biologist by training with expertise in cancer biology, health disparities, health services research, genomics, epigenomics and cell signaling. He brings experience in health disparities, training underrepresented minorities, collaborative community programming as well as partnerships and program building.

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Rick Luettich is RENCI’s chief domain scientist for coastal programs. He develops strategies on coastal issues ranging from marine environmental science to coastal hazards. He is a principal developer of the ADCIRC coastal circulation and storm surge modeling system, which has comprised the back bone of multiple US Army Corps of Engineers and FEMA forensic and planning studies in the Gulf Coast following hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005. RENCI uses ADCIRC as its disaster response storm surge model. Luettich is also the director of the UNC Chapel Hill Institute of Marine Sciences, where he leads the Coastal Circulation and Transport (CCATS) Laboratory and conducts observational and modeling studies of coastal and estuarine circulation processes. He holds a joint appointment in UNC-Chapel Hill’s Department of Environmental Sciences and Engineering and an adjunct appointment in North Carolina State University’s Department of Civil Engineering. His research is supported by NSF, ONR, NOAA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

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Arcot Rajasekar is chief scientist for data grid technologies at RENCI and another leader of the DICE team in UNC’s School of Information and Library Science (SILS). He was the director of the Data Grids Technology Group at the San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC) and is the lead designer of the Integrated Rule-Oriented Data System (iRods), a data grid system and open-source approach to managing digital data. Rajasekar leads data grid initiatives that involve both RENCI and SILS. He holds a PhD in computer science from the University of Maryland and has multiple publications in the areas of logic programming, deductive databases, data grids, digital library and persistent archives. He is also a co-author of the book Foundations of Disjunctive Logic Programming.

Alex Tropsha

Alex Tropsha, PhD, is RENCI’s Chief Domain Scientist for Molecular Informatics. He is also K.H. Lee Distinguished Professor and associate dean for pharmacoinformatics and data science at the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy (recently ranked #1 in the country by US News & World Report). His research focuses on computational drug discovery, cheminformatics, computational toxicology, and structural bioinformatics with the emphasis on methodology development and experimentally testable hypothesis generation. In recent years, his research interests have expanded toward materials and nanomaterials informatics and biomedical text mining. He has authored or co-authored more than 200 peer-reviewed research papers, reviews and book chapters, and co-edited two monographs. He is an associate editor of the ACS Journal of Chemical Information and Modeling. He holds joint appointments in UNC’s department of computer science and department of biomedical engineering and is a faculty member at the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center. His research has been supported by multiple grants from the NIH, NSF, EPA, DOD, and private companies.

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Kirk C. Wilhelmsen is RENCI’s chief domain scientist for genomics and medicine. He is also a Professor of Neurology at the Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute and an Adjunct Professor of Genetics in the Department of Genetics at UNC – Chapel Hill. He maintains several collaborations with faculty at UNC. Wilhelmsen’s research interests include epigenetic, the development of statistical genetic approaches, the genetic mapping of susceptibility loci for complex traits and the positional cloning of genes responsible for neurodegenerative disorders. During the last two decades, a major focus was genetics of addiction. Previously, Wilhelmsen worked at the Department of Neurology at the University of California, San Francisco and in the Department of Neurology at Columbia University. He received both his doctoral and medical degrees at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.