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Research

2022 Hettleman Prizes awarded to four exceptional early-career faculty

The annual Phillip and Ruth Hettleman Prizes for Artistic and Scholarly Achievement have been awarded to four promising faculty members who exemplify groundbreaking and innovative research along with future career promise.

Hettleman title image

The late Phillip Hettleman, a member of the Carolina class of 1921, and his wife Ruth established their prestigious named award in 1986 to recognize the achievements of outstanding junior faculty. The recipients of the $5,000 prize will be recognized at an upcoming Faculty Council Meeting and delivered a presentation on their research during University Research Week.

This year’s Hettleman Prize awardees are: Danielle Christmas, associate professor in the Department of English and Comparative Literature within the College of Arts and Sciences; Yuliya Pylayeva-Gupta, associate professor in the Department of Genetics within the School of Medicine; Seth A. Berkowitz, assistant professor in the Department of Medicine within the School of Medicine; and Frank Leibfarth, assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry within the College.


Danielle Christmas

Danielle Christmas studies 20th- and 21st-century American literature and is an author of the forthcoming book, “Plantation Predators & Nazi Monsters in American Fiction and Film,” and a book-in-progress titled, “The Literature of Blood and Soil: White Nationalism and a New American Canon.”

Danielle Christmas

Danielle Christmas

“Danielle’s contributions to these literary studies are innovative and groundbreaking,” says Jeanne Moskal, professor in the Department of English and Comparative Literature. “Her research speaks decisively not only to specialists in her field but also to non-specialists and the general public.”

In her letter of nomination for Christmas, Moskal goes on to say her comparative approach to this subject is groundbreaking. Christmas recovers and analyzes historical Black experiences and texts on their own terms, but also places these experiences and texts in a comparative frame to understand their further ramifications.

In addition to her two books, Christmas has published eight substantive peer-reviewed scholarly articles, an entry for a reference book and an article that appeared in “The New Republic.”

She earned her doctorate in English literature from the University of Illinois at Chicago and her bachelor’s in English literature from Washington University in St. Louis.


Yuliya Pylayeva-Gupta

Yuliya Pylayeva-Gupta’s research is focused on pancreatic cancer, specifically pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma, which is one of the deadliest and most difficult to treat of all cancers. She is a member of the UNC Lineberger Cancer Comprehensive Center and is internationally recognized in her field.

Yuliya Pylayeva-Gupta

Yuliya Pylayeva-Gupta

Pylayeva-Gupta’s research is aimed at reversing the immunosuppressive pancreatic cancer tumor microenvironment. She is making strides in understanding how the immune system is subverted to aid pancreatic cancer growth, metastasis, and insensitivity to immunotherapy.

In a joint nomination letter for Pylayeva-Gupta, Director of the Lineberger Cancer Comprehensive Center Shelton Earp says, “She has done a remarkable job laying the groundwork for success in all aspects of her role as a faculty member. She has distinguished herself scientifically, devising important and timely research directions in a deadly disease, which is increasing in incidence. She has built her laboratory team with talented trainees who she has mentored effectively, paying attention to their personal and professional development. She is an effective educator and a caring mentor.”

Pylayeva-Gupta has published seven peer-reviewed research articles on work done in her lab at UNC-Chapel Hill, as well as two reviews and one invited editorial. She also has two research articles in press at Cell Reports Medicine and at Nature.

She earned her doctorate in cell biology and genetics at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York and her bachelor’s in biological chemistry and Russian language and literature at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.


Seth A. Berkowitz

Seth A. Berkowitz’s research examining and addressing health-related social needs is having an impact in social medicine and is inspiring faculty and students at UNC-Chapel Hill to consider that, in many cases, the most important root causes of health are social and economic.

Seth A. Berkowitz

Seth A. Berkowitz

Throughout over 50 peer-reviewed original research publications, Berkowitz has moved from epidemiologic studies of food insecurity to designing and testing innovative interventions to address it. His work has been published in high-impact journals and has had a real impact on nutrition and health policy.

“At the end of the day, medicine in America is political, and Seth is representing UNC at highly visible venues, and doing it effectively,” says Janet Rubin, professor and vice chair for research in the Department of Medicine. “We are very proud of his work, especially as it goes some way towards improving the health of our citizens.”

Berkowitz earned his MD from the UNC School of Medicine, his bachelor’s in public policy analysis and psychology from UNC-Chapel Hill, and his MPH in clinical effectiveness from Harvard School of Public Health.


Frank Leibfarth

Frank Leibfarth

Frank Leibfarth

Frank Leibfarth studies polymer stereochemistry and functionalization – fields that he has advanced using fundamental principles of reactivity to overturn decades-old beliefs and expand the definition of what is possible in the design of next-generation sustainable and functional materials.

Leibfarth has pioneered three innovative research programs in his group, one of which focuses on the remediation of toxic PFAS chemicals from water in North Carolina, for which he recently received a $10 million allocation in the 2021-2022 state budget.

He is listed as a co-author on over 42 peer-reviewed manuscripts and regularly collaborates with organic chemists, computer scientists, environmental engineers, materials scientists and mechanical engineers.

“Quite simply, Professor Leibfarth is one of the most creative, fearless and talented young scientists of his generation,” says Wei You, professor and chair of the Department of Chemistry. “I strongly contend that he is and will continue to be one of the most important chemists of his generation.”

Leibfarth earned his doctorate in chemistry and biochemistry at the University of California Santa Barbara and his bachelor’s in chemistry and physics from the University of South Dakota.