Does Africa need a new Green Revolution?

Tanzanian farm

By Ronald Aminzade

“Green Revolution” is the label for concerted initiatives to increase agricultural production and prevent hunger and starvation in major regions of the world. Earlier efforts, largely credited to biologist Norman Borlaug (1914 – 2009), University of Minnesota alum and Nobel laureate, transformed agriculture in Mexico, India and the Philippines – by facilitating the use of new technologies and commercial seeds, fertilizers and pesticides to produce high-yield cereal grains.

In 2006, two of the world’s largest foundations, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation, joined forces to launch the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa. With the Gates Foundation alone contributing around one billion dollars by 2012, the stated goals were to reduce poverty by helping smallholder farmers, including women, gain greater access to markets, credit and productivity-enhancing technologies to generate higher yields of staple food crops. In collaboration with African governments, multinational corporations, research institutes and farmers’ organizations, the Gates Foundation is pushing market integration and the use of chemical fertilizers and commercial seeds (including hybrid and genetically modified seeds). Continue reading

Drilling expedition to pioneer research through deepest Antarctic ice

Antarctic Plateau

When it comes to polar research, the University of Minnesota is striving to reach new heights — or rather, new depths.

In June, construction began on a first-of-its-kind drilling platform that U researchers will use to penetrate almost 11,000 feet below the surface of the main polar ice cap in East Antarctica. The Rapid Access Ice Drill (RAID) system, funded by a $9 million grant from the National Science Foundation’s Office of Polar Programs, will give researchers their first look at the point where the ice meets the bedrock below at this depth. The grant is the largest ever awarded to a project based on the U’s Duluth campus and could give researchers access to ice more than 1 million years old.

John Goodge, professor with the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Minnesota Duluth, is leading the project’s research team along with Jeff Severinghaus, geosciences professor at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego. Continue reading

Extending our global reach

Earth relief

Recent events, such as the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, remind us of our global interconnectedness and illustrate how our shared problems must be addressed with shared solutions from multiple perspectives and diverse areas of expertise.

As our world’s challenges become more complex and their impact felt on a broader scale, international research becomes increasingly important for universities across the U.S. A recent New York Times article underscores its importance and highlights what’s at stake for American universities if we don’t invest in the programs and structural changes that support global research.

Global challenges, such as healthcare, food security and the environment, transcend our state’s and nation’s borders. The University of Minnesota, which maintains strong research programs in many areas with global reach, has been working to advance transdisciplinary partnerships to address these grand challenges and to accelerate the expansion of knowledge in these areas. Continue reading

DELTAS: Catalyzing action towards sustainability of deltaic systems

Delta marsh

By Efi Foufoula-Georgiou

Deltas are dynamic landforms at the land-ocean boundary, involving intricate mazes of river channels, estuarine waterways and vast, often flooded landscapes. They cover one percent of Earth, yet are home to over half a billion people. Deltas sustain biodiverse and rich ecosystems, such as mangroves, reedlands and marshes. They are also economic hotspots that support major fisheries, forest production and agriculture, as well as major urban centers, ports and harbors.

Yet, worldwide delta systems, including the people, economies, infrastructure and ecology they support, are under threat from a range of natural and human activities. Dammed rivers upstream deprive deltas of critical water and sediment for continued viability. Local oil and gas exploration contributes to the sinking of deltas, loss of wetlands and accelerated erosion. Furthermore, all of these existing threats are being compounded by the effects of climate change.

These human dimensions and ecological implications of deteriorating or disappearing deltas cannot be overstated. There is an urgent need to rally the international community for a focused effort toward a holistic physical-socioeconomic understanding of deltas as vulnerable systems undergoing change. Such understanding is a basic requirement for their long-term management, protection and restoration. Continue reading

Research around the world

The U of M is dedicated to broadening our understanding of the world as well as discovering solutions to its greatest challenges. The U is the ninth most active public research university in the United States, with $849 million in annual research expenditures, and our renowned researchers are not only conducting their work in the U.S. but across the globe as well. The map below shows just how much of the world they covered in 2013—84 nations (not including the U.S.) on all seven continents.

UMN Research Locations 2013

[Click the map to enlarge]

Source: International Travel for Research Purpose as registered with the Global Programs and Strategy Alliance, January – December 2013.

Discovery Capital bringing U discoveries to market

Lights

For startup companies strapped for funds, making it to product launch can take a long time. Most get there in three to five years, but for others it can take longer, even a decade.

The University of Minnesota’s new Discovery Capital Investment Program will help accelerate the process of turning breakthrough research into a commercially available product by providing startups the seed funding needed in the highly critical early stages. The program, part of the Office for Technology Commercialization, will invest up to $350,000 in qualifying startup companies formed from university technology that are currently developing their product or service. The amount must be matched by an equal or greater investment from an outside investor and approved by the U’s Discovery Capital board of advisers.

“We’re excited to launch this first-of-its-kind program in response to a shifting startup environment where seed-stage funding plays a growing role,” said Brian Herman, the U’s vice president for research. “The Discovery Capital Investment Program shows the U is committed not only to advancing knowledge and transforming the resulting breakthroughs into real-world improvements, but also to supporting entrepreneurship for the benefit of our community and Minnesota as a whole.” Continue reading

Faculty guide: Preparing for international research

Plane window

Groundbreaking research often leads faculty beyond campus and out into the world.

Whether it’s studying penguin populations in Antarctica or collecting rock samples in Turkey, international travel plays a prominent role in the pursuit of knowledge and discovery at the University of Minnesota. In 2013, U of M faculty took about 450 research expeditions to 85 different countries.

Are you a faculty member planning a research expedition outside the U.S.? The U’s Global Programs and Strategy Alliance has the information university faculty and staff need to prepare. Here are some key points to consider before you go. Continue reading

New device may be key to improving hearing for thousands

Brain connections

Implanted devices have helped people with hearing loss for many years. Most of these devices stimulate the auditory nerve associated with the cochlea, a bony inner ear structure. But these kinds of implants aren’t perfect. Their performance can degrade in noisy environments, and due to conditions that damage the auditory nerve or the cochlea, many people are unable to use them. These people require a different kind of device, one that uses electrical impulses, or neurostimulation, to stimulate responses in the brain itself rather than the cochlea.

Hubert Lim, Ph.D., assistant professor in the University of Minnesota’s Department of Biomedical Engineering has been working with two colleagues, James Patrick, D.E., senior vice president and chief scientist at Cochlear Limited in Australia and Thomas Lenarz, M.D., professor and chair of the Otolaryngology Department at Hannover Medical School in Germany, to develop such a device.

Improving upon a device originally designed by Cochlear Limited, the new device enables implanting teams to more accurately control or modulate the brain’s electrical impulses that affect hearing quality. The team is also targeting a new location in the brain – the inferior colliculus (IC), a part of the midbrain that serves as a principal auditory center for the body. The IC is structured in a way that Lim believes will improve hearing better than the previous device’s location in the brainstem, the rear part of the brain contiguous with the spinal cord. Lim hopes that not only will the hearing performance gained from this device be better than the previous one but that it will be nearing that of a cochlear implant.

Continue reading

Faculty research fuels record 15 startups in FY14

Hi-tech screens

University discoveries often hold a lot of potential for improving people’s lives, but they aren’t ready to sell when they leave the lab. The University of Minnesota’s Office for Technology Commercialization helps bridge that gap.

OTC forms startup companies around U inventions, partnering faculty with industry professionals who have the expertise needed to turn a breakthrough into a commercially available product. In fiscal 2014, OTC’s Venture Center launched a record 15 startup companies, topping the previous record of 14 companies in 2013. Since forming OTC in 2006, the university has launched a total of 67 startup companies. (See this infographic for more information on U of M startups and their impact.)

Dr. Brian Herman, the U’s vice president for research, said the university’s talented faculty make discoveries that let people lead safer, happier, healthier lives. Continue reading

Fall 2014 Grant-in-Aid competition

Apply now for the fall competition of the University of Minnesota’s Grant-in-Aid of Research, Artistry and Scholarship Program, administered by the Office of the Vice President for Research. The program promotes the research, scholarly and artistic activities of faculty and supports academic excellence throughout the university.

To apply for the fall competition, applications must be routed to approvers no later than Sept.15 and approvers must submit applications to the OVPR by Sept. 18. All proposals must be submitted electronically; compliance approvals are processed electronically as well.

Visit Grant-in-Aid to learn more about the funding categories, eligibility requirements, how to apply and see samples of some exemplary proposals.

Questions? Contact the Research Advancement office: facgrant@umn.edu or 612-625-2356.

How to create a successful startup – a university’s perspective

Idea concept

Since 2006, the University of Minnesota has created 67 startup companies and of those, only 18 percent are no longer in business. Compared to the national average, that’s pretty low. (Research out of the Harvard Business School says about 75 percent of all startups will fail.) And yet, universities provide a unique environment that may contribute to a greater likelihood of startup success. Here are three key ingredients that help to create startup companies with long-term viability.

World class technology

Research universities are knowledge-generating institutions that provide the ideal platform to pursue discoveries. The University of Minnesota has a long history of producing cutting-edge research and innovation in energy, life sciences, medical devices software, agriculture, food science, engineering and other industries. The U is home to such groundbreaking inventions as the pacemaker, the AIDS drug Ziagen and the flight data recorder.

Inventions that originate in a university lab continue to benefit from ongoing research and can be continually refined. Since university-developed technology is typically in a very early stage of development, it needs significant market-based input and improvements before it can be commercialized via a startup. Information gained from the lab and the marketplace is shared and leads to a better product in the long run. Continue reading