Request for Proposals: Harnessing Generative AI in Public Health

Funded by the $50 million Gillings gift, Gillings Innovation Labs (GILs) engage in cutting-edge research, translation of interventions to high-impact settings, and development of novel technologies or methodologies for the improvement of public health, both locally and globally. GILs are innovative, interdisciplinary across the School and beyond, and strive to achieve fundamental breakthroughs in urgent, extremely important, public health issues.

Generative artificial intelligence (generative AI) is revolutionizing society and science, including public health. In Round 8, applicants are asked to submit innovative proposals on AI methods and/or applications of AI to public health research and/or practice. Proposals should also address cross-cutting themes related to global/local, policy, and health equity. Applicants should clearly indicate why the proposed project should be a priority, and how the project will equitably benefit all.

Up to 5 projects led by a faculty member with a primary appointment (both tenure- and non-tenure-track) in the Gillings School of Global Public Health will be awarded up to $100,000 per project. Please note budgets will be reviewed relative to the proposed science. The award is intended to support innovative, high-impact research or practice with each project demonstrating a clearly articulated focus on one of the areas listed below:

  • How to apply generative AI in pressing public health problems
  • How to use generative AI to improve research and/or practice in public health
  • How to address safety and ethical policies as well as possible legal considerations in using AI (including explainable AI) in public health research and/or practice

In addition to stand-alone projects, several co-funding opportunities with other campus entities (e.g., SDSS, LCCC, CEHS, TraCS, IEHS, or others) may be possible. Such co-funding opportunities will be discussed with such entities after survey of intent data review and ranking.

Eligibility and Rules

  • Faculty members (both tenure- and non-tenure-track) with primary appointments in the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health are eligible to apply.
  • Applicants may participate in more than one proposal. However, due to the limited number of awards, it is unlikely that a Principal Investigator serving on multiple proposals would be competitive for more than one award.
  • Gillings department chairs and senior SPH leaders may collaborate on projects but are not eligible to be PI.
  • Projects may be proposed for up to 2 years (24-months).

Key Dates

  • August 11, 2023, 5 pm:  Survey of Intent due
  • September 29, 2023, 5 pm:  Proposals due
  • October 2023:  Approximate award notification
  • November 2023: Approximate project start-date

Review Process

Proposals will be evaluated based on the following criteria:

Accelerating Translation of Discoveries

One of the primary goals of Gillings Innovation Labs is to accelerate the translation of public health discoveries and knowledge into practice. To facilitate this process, we encourage use of open-source technologies that permit broadest access to methods and results across geographic, disciplinary and other boundaries. We also encourage GIL participants to share tools and disseminate project findings widely and through a variety of mediums.

Collaborating Across Disciplines

Gillings Innovation Labs engage interdisciplinary teams, train future public health leaders, and encourage connections among academic scholars, communities, governments, and organizations committed to preventing and solving public health threats. Proposals that aim to build linkages between community and clinical settings are especially encouraged.

Delivering Proven Solutions Faster – Emphasis on Implementation

We encourage proposals for cross-department, interdisciplinary implementation projects that will position the Gillings School for national and global leadership.Gillings Innovation Labs should endeavor to expedite solutions to public health challenges through effective implementation and dissemination of interventions in high-impact settings.

Global and Local Focus

Challenges to public health occur at local, state, regional, national and international levels. Solutions to challenges at any of those levels may be proposed, as well as solutions to challenges that cross the barriers of geography, environment, culture, income and education, or solutions that have benefits that extend beyond the populations in which they are initially demonstrated.

Training the Next Generation of Public Health Leaders

We encourage proposals that include participation of Gillings students and trainees.

A Sustainable Approach

Gillings Innovation Labs are well-suited for projects that are early-stage and higher-risk and are consequently less competitive for common funding mechanisms. GIL awards are intended to kick-start initial support for a promising area of public health research or an innovative public health solution and should facilitate awardees’ ability to acquire additional funding after the GIL award period has ended.

Application Process

Teams applying for a GILs-Round 8 must complete this survey to indicate intent by 5pm, August 11, 2023.

Proposals are due no later than 5pm, September 29, 2023, via this Proposal Application form.

Final decisions are expected in late October 2023.

Proposal Requirements

Proposals should be uploaded as a 5-page Word or PDF document. Use at least half-inch margins, single or exactly 12-point line spacing; and no smaller than 11-point Times New Roman font or its equivalent. Please include the Principal Investigator’s name and project title in the header of each page of the proposal.

References, Team, and Budget are accepted in addition to the 5pg page total for the project proposal. Please use the following headings:

1. Project Design

Describe the project design, including aims, methods, assessment & evaluation, and plans for dissemination/translation of results.

2. Proposed innovation

Describe the specific innovation that this project represents in the application, development, or study of generative AI public health breakthroughs to which it could lead. Discuss how this innovation is novel, including a brief summary of existing research/literature and how this project is different from others in the field.

3. Potential public health impact

Describe the public health challenge underlying the proposed project, and the impact the project will have on this public health challenge if project aims are successfully met. Additionally, applicants must clearly articulate how the project focuses on the research area identified.

4. Ethics and society review statement

Describe the ethical challenges and possible negative societal impacts of the proposed research. What are the possible long-term consequences of this research and what general principles will be used to eliminate or mitigate these issues? Then, translate those principles into the specific design decisions you are making in your proposed research. [For reference: AI Risk Management Framework | NIST]

5. Outcomes, Milestones and Deliverables

Describe how success will be defined for this project and outline key milestones and deliverables. List any next steps that will follow successful completion of your project.  Discuss the plans for sustainability and the plan and timeline for return on investment of these funds.

6. References Cited [Not included in 5pg limit]

7. Team [Not included in 5pg limit]

List all project personnel, students, collaborators, and partners that will participate in the project. Participation of students and cross-disciplinary collaborations are highly encouraged. Partnerships with other schools, institutions, communities, organizations, and businesses are also highly encouraged.

8. Budget [Not included in 5pg limit]

Approximate the budget required to carry out the project, broken down by budget category.

Budgets may include salary support (including fringe benefits) for investigators and study staff, costs of project materials, procurement or conduct of crucial assessments, or study-specific travel or transportation. In general, costs directly related to conducting the proposed work are allowed. In general, costs for infrastructure or other activities that are spread beyond the efforts of the GIL (e.g., buildings, general lab equipment and computers) are not allowed. Provide in the budget section a statement of approval of the budget from the departmental business manager/grants manager.

Budget Categories:

  • Salaries of UNC personnel (provide an estimated salary for each team member; include fringe benefits and % effort)
  • Consultants
  • Sub-awards
  • Supplies & Materials
  • Travel
  • Other

NOTE:  Some expenditures will require preapproval from UNC. If your proposal will require any of the following, please consult with Tiffany Farina,, for guidance:

  • A purchase over $50,000
  • Contracts where the University would be required to advance or spend more than $50,000 over the life of the contract
  • Consulting agreements
  • Cash advances greater than, or cumulatively exceeding $5,000


Please direct any questions to


135 Dauer Drive
104 Rosenau Hall, CB #7415
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-7415
(919) 843-3945