A workforce to counteract the spread of diseases

African Nurse

The 2014 Ebola epidemic in West Africa was the largest outbreak of the disease in history. It had a devastating impact, infecting more than 28,000 people and killing more than 11,000, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Researchers at the University of Minnesota are now leading an international effort to ensure nations have the skilled health care workers they need to battle the spread of infectious diseases, like Ebola, as soon as these threats emerge. The One Health Workforce project, funded by a five-year award of up to $50 million from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), is working to build a stronger workforce of health professionals in 11 countries that currently lack the professional resources needed to respond to a pandemic threat. The project comes in part as a response to the Global Health Security Agenda, a White House initiative that emphasizes the need to prevent, detect and respond to future infectious disease outbreaks.

One Health Workforce brings together an international partnership of universities that includes the U of M; Tufts University in Massachusetts; 14 public health and veterinary medicine institutions from Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda; and 10 universities located in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam. Experts from across academic disciplines at these institutions are coming together to face the challenge of infectious diseases. Continue reading

Fossil teeth point to early exodus from Africa

Dragon's Gate

What are unequivocally modern human teeth, 80,000-120,000 years old, doing in a cave in southeastern China?

They’re turning back the clock on modern humans’ exodus from the African cradle by at least 20,000 years, that’s what. They’re also bolstering the idea that some took a southern migration route to Asia.

The 47 fossil teeth turned up in an excavation of Fuyan Cave in China’s Hunan Province. University of Minnesota researcher R. Lawrence Edwards, along with Yan-jun Cai of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Hai Cheng of Xi’an Jiaotong University, dated the teeth, using methods Edwards and colleagues had developed.

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New opportunities in international research

world map

At the University of Minnesota, research knows no boundaries. University researchers currently collaborate in 152 countries across the globe, with over 30% percent of their publications including international co-authors, according to a recent review of Scopus data.

A new strategy of the U’s Office of the Vice President for Research (OVPR) aims to further enhance international research collaborations by cultivating and expanding research efforts in countries with high growth potential and a diverse set of existing research collaborations. The strategy targets three key regions as high-potential areas where new research collaborations could make the greatest impact: Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda in Sub-Saharan Africa; Argentina, Peru and Chile in South America; and Indonesia, Hong Kong and Singapore in Southeast Asia.

The international research strategy comes in response to a goal of the U of M’s research strategic plan, Five Years Forward: to increase the prominence of international research. Continue reading

Patent roll call, fall 2015

Lightbulb drawing

A good invention can set a new standard in its field, redefine what’s possible and even change lives across the world. But before any of that can happen, most inventions require patenting. Patents protect innovations and help their creators bring them beyond the walls of the laboratory to benefit society at large.

Congratulations to these University of Minnesota researchers who were recently awarded patents for their discoveries. To learn more about reporting an invention, contact the Office for Technology Commercialization at 612-624-0550 or umotc@umn.edu. Continue reading

Seminar series: Launching startups around U research

Interested in expanding the impact of your research, but unsure how to make it happen?

An upcoming event series hosted by the University of Minnesota’s Venture Center will help researchers demystify the process of launching a startup company to bring their discoveries beyond the lab and into the marketplace. The Venture Center, part of the Office for Technology Commercialization, invites University faculty, staff, postdocs and grad students who are involved in research to attend these free events.

“Startups are a great way for University researchers to bring their inventions to life,” said Russ Straate, associate director of the Venture Center. “These seminars allow them to understand what their role is in launching a new company around their technology and give them the knowledge they need to help the whole process go smoothly.” Continue reading

Expansion to advance global cancer research partnerships

Live Learning Center

Next year, when Dr. Zigang Dong assembles his team for their usual Monday meetings to discuss progress in cancer research, he will be able to invite a few research partners to join from anywhere in the world.

Dong, executive director of The Hormel Institute in Austin, Minn., and leader of its Cellular and Molecular Biology research section, is one of many researchers who will benefit from the institute’s upcoming collaborative research center. The Live Learning Center, a $4.5 million space that will improve the internal learning environment and enhance international research collaborations, will include a 250-seat lecture hall with theater-style seating and state-of-the-art video conferencing technology for global communications, as well as an adjacent multipurpose room for various uses, including research conferences.

The Hormel Institute is part of the University of Minnesota’s world-class cancer research effort. The Live Learning Center will accelerate the institute’s research into the basic molecular mechanisms behind cancer development and new anti-cancer agents. Recently, the University’s Office of the Vice President for Research announced it has contributed $1.5 million to support the project. Continue reading

MnDRIVE research expands through external funding

MnDRIVE slider

Over the past two years, MnDRIVE — Minnesota’s Discovery, Research and Innovation Economy — has allowed the University of Minnesota to advance further in areas of research strength. The $18 million annual investment by the state of Minnesota targets four key research areas that aim to address grand societal challenges.

But the state isn’t the only driver of research in these areas. Outside organizations have provided funding to all four research areas related to MnDRIVE: Robotics, Sensors and Advanced Manufacturing; Global Food Ventures; Advancing Industry, Conserving our Environment; and Discoveries and Treatments for Brain Conditions. When combined with transdisciplinary funding and other MnDRIVE efforts, these research areas have garnered a total of $57 million in external funding since MnDRIVE launched. Continue reading

Liana vines: A damper on carbon storage


The liana vines that wind their way to the top of tropical forest canopies have the potential to significantly reduce those forests’ ability to remove and store carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, according to a study by University of Minnesota researcher Jennifer Powers and two colleagues.

Based on data from the lowland semi-deciduous forest of Panama’s Gigante Peninsula, the researchers estimate that over the next 50 years, lianas could potentially slash long-term storage of carbon in New World lowland tropical forests by 35 percent. These forests include most of the Amazon basin, as well as similar forests in Central America. Such a slowdown in this carbon “sink” would weaken the planet’s ability to dampen rises in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels.

The study is the first to show the effects of lianas on carbon storage experimentally. It appears online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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Supercomputer fuels research to limit carbon emissions

Molecular Structure

Take a moment to picture a chemist’s research tools, and you might imagine microscopes, beakers and Bunsen burners. But when it comes to theoretical and computational chemistry, researchers prefer a different instrument: the supercomputer.

The University of Minnesota’s most powerful supercomputer is giving researchers new ways to simulate the way molecules move and interact — and in doing so, advance research around how matter behaves at the atomic scale. Mesabi, which arrived at the Minnesota Supercomputing Institute in April, opens up new possibilities for compute-intensive research. At a speed 3,864 times faster than a typical personal computer and with 8,700 times the memory, Mesabi is ideal for a wide variety of large, computationally intensive research projects.

These computing resources have allowed U chemistry researchers like Laura Gagliardi, Ph.D., a professor with the College of Science and Engineering, to conduct compute-intensive research using complex computer modeling programs. To simulate the behavior of molecules, researchers have developed software that can follow both the laws of classical mechanics — the normal laws of physics that explain how objects move — and quantum mechanics — the science that explains how matter behaves at the most microscopic levels. These programs require a fast system with large amounts of memory to compute, and even on a supercomputer like Mesabi can take several days to complete.

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STARTUP guides medical entrepreneur in path to market

Blue Pills

Paul Hines knew his design for a high-tech pillbox could help caregivers better manage their loved ones’ medications.

So when Hines heard about the University of Minnesota’s STARTUP course in fall 2014, the then-U of M Medical School student saw an opportunity to find out how to bring his invention from prototype to market. The 14-week experiential learning course, offered through the MIN-Corps program, encourages undergraduate, graduate and Ph.D. students to test the commercial potential of their ideas by working with instructors and mentors to connect with potential customers, test their hypotheses and refine their business models.

“It’s one thing to have a feeling on your commercialization strategy, but it’s another to spell it out and be challenged on it,” said Hines, CEO and founder of DOSE Health, the company based around his high-tech pillbox. “Through STARTUP, we were able to go out to talk to potential customers and be face-to-face with those who were going to be affected by our invention.”

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U of M named finalist for innovation award

Driven to discover - Patrick O'Leary

Today, the University of Minnesota was named a finalist in the “Innovation” category of the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities’ 2015 Innovation and Economic Prosperity Universities Awards. The awards recognize leading universities’ exemplary, innovative and sustainable efforts to advance the engagement and economic well-being of their regions.

“As the state’s research university, the U of M is uniquely positioned to bring innovative ideas into practice,” said Maura Donovan, Ph.D., executive director of U’s Office of University Economic Development. “This ‘finalist’ designation shows the University’s ongoing dedication to putting its research to work in the form of new public- and private-sector partnerships that can help grow and diversity Minnesota’s economy.”

To apply for the award, an institution must first have been previously designated an Innovation and Economic Prosperity university. The U of M, which received the designation in 2013, is one of the 30 institutions across the nation that holds this title. Continue reading

A better future through “smart cities” research

Traffic light in the city

Across the world, cities are working to accommodate their residents’ growing needs in transportation, energy, housing and more. Their efforts will become even more crucial in the years to come; estimates predict 2.5 billion more people will live in urban areas by 2050, according to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

At the University of Minnesota researchers are teaming up with city planners, nonprofit leaders and industry professionals to form solutions that tackle these emerging challenges and prepare communities for the future. These partnerships take advantage of the prevalence of data and technology in society to open new doors for smarter decision making that can lead to more livable, sustainable and resilient cities. The U’s efforts to implement advanced smart cities concepts are part of a growing trend among research universities and technology companies across the U.S. that’s already taken root among global cities, especially in Europe and Asia.

This “smart cities” focus channels the U’s capacity for innovative research. Many faculty at the U have expertise in key smart cities topics, such as urban planning, alternative energy sources, improved water quality, food security, transportation infrastructure and the inclusion of nature and green spaces. There are also many centers and institutes within the U that conduct research in and contribute new knowledge to this emerging field. Examples include the Center for Transportation Studies, Institute on the Environment, Social Media and Business Analytics Collaborative, U-Spatial, Accessibility Observatory, Informatics Institute, Sustainable Infrastructure and Cities Initiative, and Wearable Technology Lab. These efforts also engage a wide range of partners outside the University, from community development groups to policymakers to transit authorities. Continue reading