Transdisciplinary awards fund projects targeting grand challenges

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When great minds from different fields come together in one place, they find new and unexpected ways to solve large problems.

This concept, setting the stage for serendipity, sits at the heart of the MnDRIVE Transdisciplinary Research Program, a set of nearly $6 million in awards recently announced by the University of Minnesota’s Office of the Vice President for Research. MnDRIVE (Minnesota’s Discovery, Research and InnoVation Economy) is an $18 million annual investment  by the state of Minnesota aiming to align research and industry strengths to solve grand challenges in four key areas: robotics, sensors and advanced manufacturing; global food ventures; advancing industry, conserving our environment; and discoveries and treatments for brain conditions. The transdisciplinary award supports projects that cover at least three of these four areas and bring together faculty and resources from multiple disciplines.

“This award creates opportunities for our researchers to collaborate in exciting new ways and work beyond the bounds of their departments,” said Dr. Brian Herman, the U’s vice president for research. “Together, they will seek solutions to the greatest societal challenges of our time.”

Reaching beyond the basic and applied sciences, these 12 projects also include researchers from the arts, humanities, business, education and policy to have a positive and lasting impact on Minnesota’s economy, environment and residents. In total, the awards will benefit 87 researchers in 16 colleges and 50 departments across three U of M campuses. More than 30 external partners will also take part, including state agencies and industry leaders like Cargill, 3M and Great River Energy.

The projects chosen include:

  • Transplanting microbial communities into the human gut in patients with pre-diabetes and obesity to figure out the microbiota’s effect on insulin sensitivity and metabolism.
  • Developing a method of using renewable energy, water and air to produce nitrogen fertilizer near the farm that can replace greenhouse gas-contributing conventional fertilizers.
  • Designing wearable, flexible electronics that allow noninvasive treatments for neurological disorders.

Apart from fueling the research needed to tackle society’s grand challenges, the awards will also help educate students, provide growth opportunities for graduates and create jobs. Half of the funds provided are slated for hiring nearly 60 students, post docs, technicians and staff members to work on the two-year projects.

Learn more about the Transdisciplinary Research projects.