Dawn Kernagis, PhD is an Assistant Professor of Neurosurgery at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill. Her research focuses on developing ways to protect the brain and nervous system when exposed to extreme physiological conditions, such as clinical exposures (anesthesia, radiation), extreme environments (altitude, space, undersea), and settings where there is a high risk of concussive injury (military, athletics).

Dawn came to UNC from the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition, where she still maintains an adjunct affiliation. During her time at IHMC, she developed and led a program focused on human performance and resilience in extreme environments. Dawn completed her PhD and Postdoctoral training at Duke University as an ONR Pre-Doctoral awardee and an American Heart Association Postdoctoral Fellow, where she studied how the body responds to extreme environmental conditions, and how to protect the brain and nervous system from acute injury.

Dawn has also been a diver with numerous underwater exploration, research, and conservation projects since 1993, including the mapping and record-setting exploration of some of the deepest underwater caves in the world. In 2016, she was also selected as one of six crew members to join NASA’s undersea mission, NEEMO. Based on her exploration, mentorship, and research contributions to the diving community, Dawn was selected as an inductee into the Women Divers Hall of Fame, and she received the Undersea and Hyperbaric Medical Society Young Researcher Award in 2018. Dawn is also a Board Member of the Robert E. Mitchell Center Foundation for POW Health and the Duskin & Stephens Foundation.

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