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Game‐Changing Research Incentive Program for Plant Sciences Initiative (GRIP4PSI)

The Game-Changing Research Incentive Program (GRIP) was originally initiated in 2016 by the Office of Research and Innovation (ORI) to catalyze new, interdisciplinary research programs focused on societal grand challenges. On the heels of this successful program, ORI implemented the GRIP4PSI initiative to encourage the NC State community to collaborate on integrated research/outreach projects that are focused on one or more of the Research Platforms that comprise the N.C. Plant Sciences Initiative (PSI).

About the Program

The N.C. Plant Sciences Initiative (PSI) was conceived by NC State and its partners to address local and global challenges — and is envisioned to be a world-class transdisciplinary research initiative that will facilitate the convergence of research and development of innovative discovery tools across a wide spectrum of disciplines including plant sciences, engineering, economics, modeling and data analytics. It is the vision of the PSI that a productive and effective research and technology agenda will be the result of a portfolio of projects that are complex, highly integrated, driven by data and informatics, and that result in sustainable food and agricultural systems that are predictive and proactive.

Award Process

The GRIP4PSI call for proposals was intended to attract a wide breadth of disciplinary faculty to the field of plant sciences and catalyze the formation of effective and collaborative interdisciplinary teams that will challenge conventions, explore new ideas and open up new avenues for sustainable research funding. ORI envisioned that GRIP4PSI project teams would span multiple colleges at NC State, include external partners, develop from the full range of technical capabilities at NC State and beyond, and boast world‐class junior and senior faculty with clear potential for sustained success.

A three-stage (pre-planning proposal stage, planning proposal stage, full proposal stage) submission and review process was employed for this large-scale seed funding initiative. Pre-planning proposals were reviewed by ORI and senior NC State faculty, with guidance from the Dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the PSI Launch Director to ensure alignment with PSI research platforms. Planning proposals and full proposals were each reviewed via a two-stage process, beginning with ORI and senior NC State faculty and ending with leadership from funders of the GRIP4PSI initiative.

Award Information

Funding for GRIP4PSI was committed by ORI, the Office of the Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost, the Kenan Institute for Engineering, Science and Technology (KIETS), and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS), College of Engineering (COE), College of Natural Resources (CNR), College of Sciences (COS), Wilson College of Textiles (WCOT) and Poole College of Management (PCOM). Teams awarded GRIP4PSI funding will be considered, as a whole or in part, to be occupants of the new Plant Sciences Building to be constructed on Centennial Campus.

GRIP4PSI teams will receive up to $650,000 over three-and-a-half years to complete research and outreach objectives.

GRIP4PSI Winning Projects

On Feb. 14, 2020, ORI announced the teams who were selected as winners of GRIP4PSI awards. The response to the GRIP4PSI call was exceedingly positive: ORI received 20 pre-proposals — which spanned all 10 of NC State’s academic colleges, included more than 187 NC State faculty and involved talented collaborators from key external partners. Following the oral presentations by the five teams selected as finalists, the GRIP4PSI review panel deliberated and debated the merits of each proposal team. It was a difficult decision, but in the end, the four project teams described below were chosen as the winners.

Big Data for Better Sweetpotatoes

North Carolina is a sweetpotato powerhouse. By comparing the shape and quality characteristics of hundreds of thousands of sweetpotatoes to their growth conditions, NC State researchers are working to make the crop even more profitable for growers. 

Plant Aid: A GRIP4PSI Big-Data Project to Detect Plant Diseases Faster

Early detection of crop diseases can make or break a farmer’s growing season. A team of researchers at NC State is working to combine small sensors with big data to detect diseases plaguing tomato fields, before symptoms are visible to the naked eye.

Fertilizer of the Future

Making nitrogen fertilizer requires a substantial amount of energy. NC State researchers are testing different methods of on-farm fertilizer production with the goal of completely rethinking how nitrogen-based fertilizers are produced and used. 


Could fungi that live inside plant leaves be harnessed to create better, more resilient crops? An interdisciplinary team will study the drivers that allow plant fungal symbionts to improve resistance to drought and disease in their hosts. They’ll work to determine the scale at which fungi can be manipulated across the landscape, identify highly beneficial fungi and the genes associated with their benefits, develop methods to identify fungi that are not visible to the naked eye, and explore potential policy implications and stakeholder responses to fungal manipulation in crops.

Game‐Changing Research Incentive Program for Plant Sciences Initiative (GRIP4PSI) Kickoff Event

A virtual kickoff celebration was held on Oct. 28, 2020 to celebrate the awarded teams and hear about their exciting upcoming work. 

GRIP4PSI Reviewers and Resources

ORI would like to offer special thanks to the scientific and administrative review panels for their participation in this program. Without their time and expertise, this effort would not have been possible:

  • Barry Goodwin, Professor, CALS
  • Christine McGahan, Dean, COS
  • Fred Gould, Professor, CALS
  • Gary Peter, Professor, University of Florida
  • Harold Freeman, Professor, WCOT
  • Heather Patisaul, Associate Dean for Research, COS
  • Jason Vogel, Assistant Professor, University of Florida
  • John Gilligan, Associate Dean for Research, COE
  • Jonathan Horowitz, Associate Vice Chancellor for Research Infrastructure and Development
  • J. Steward Witzeman, former Director, Eastman Innovation Center
  • Mandy Tetzlaff, Staff, CNR
  • Margery Overton, Senior Vice Provost for Institutional Strategy and Anlaysis
  • Marian McCord, former Associate Dean for Research, CNR
  • Mary Watzin, Professor, CNR
  • Michael Steer, Professor, COE
  • Owen Duckworth, Professor, CALS
  • Paul Ulanch, Executive Director, North Carolina Biotechnology Center
  • Pradip Pramanik, Director, Proposal Development Unit
  • Raj Narayan, Associate Director, KIETS
  • Richard Warr, Associate Dean for Research, PCOM
  • Ron Sederoff, Professor, CNR
  • Ross Whetten, Professor, CNR
  • Ruben Carbonell, Director, KIETS
  • Stephen Briggs, Launch Director, N.C. PSI
  • Steven Lommel, Associate Dean for Research, CALS
  • Terri Long, Associate Professor, CALS

The GRIP4PSI project team held two informational/town hall meetings to share more information about the GRIP4PSI program as well as take questions from attendees. There were two presentations given at those meetings.

Other key resources include: