In one of the buildings on the North Carolina Research Campus at Kannapolis, there’s a little room — about the size of a small hotel suite — that can measure a person’s exact rate of calorie burn. The NCRC metabolic chamber is engineered to capture every breath you exhale, allowing scientists to measure the impact of diet, exercise, and all sorts of other factors on human health. When I visited NCRC on Monday, the research subjects being tested in Appalachian State’s Human Performance Lab were professional-tier cyclists, pedaling cheerfully while researchers asked questions and took measurements — for two-and-a-half hours.
Dr. Steven Zeisel, director of UNC-Chapel Hill’s Nutrition Research Institute, told me I could come back and give it a try sometime, but I’m not sure I want my calorie count benchmarked against a bunch of guys who could compete in the Tour de France.
Taste-testing some of the superfoods being developed by NC State University sounds more my speed. I got to spend time with PhD students and lab supervisors at the NCSU Plants for Human Health Institute, where they’re working closely with industry partners to breed fruits, vegetables, and grains that yield better health outcomes. (Key takeaway: eat your oatmeal, because it's about to get even healthier.)
Samantha Case, a PhD candidate at NC State, told me that developing foods with increased nutritional value is the next big frontier in crop science. For decades, we’ve been focused on plants with higher yields and disease resistance, but healthiness is a growing concern — and a big opportunity for North Carolina agriculture.
Those are the kind of deep, transformative ideas I heard about all morning during my visit to Kannapolis. And the place itself is a big, transformative idea — a long-term bet that North Carolina can be a world leader when it comes to health and well-being.
We’ve certainly got the talent to do it, given the state’s long history with path-breaking medical research and applied agricultural science. What NCRC offers are the resources and state-of-the-art facilities to bring University expertise together, giving students, scientists, and business partners a place to work together on some of the world’s greatest challenges.
It’s a big dream, and it’s remarkable to see it coming together. I have been told that many North Carolinians remember Kannapolis as a symbol of economic struggle, a place where the decline of the manufacturing economy left a deep hole. It seems fitting that it’s slowly becoming a symbol of resilience, a place where new industries are being developed and new ideas tested.
I left feeling hopeful— and healthier! — and even more proud to be a newly minted citizen of this state.