Mechanical Computing Game Teaches Coding Fundamentals

Child playing with Turing Tumble game

Years ago, when Paul Boswell, Ph.D., was teaching at the University of Minnesota, he noticed many students from across the sciences ran up against a common barrier: they didn’t know how to program. Without computer programming skills, some types of research is more difficult to do, while other types are off the table entirely, highlighted in recent articles in Nature and Wired.

Boswell knew it was important for students to understand more about computers at an earlier age, but to him, the multitude of programs, devices, and courses already available to teach coding fundamentals often overlooked a very important component.

Two children playing with Turing Tumble game“The problem is that all of these websites, robots, and other educational materials require a computer or a computer chip,” he said, adding that the actual “thinking” the computer does—its logic—remains hidden to the user. “Kids really don’t understand what’s going on underneath the surface.” Continue reading

U-Spatial Prize Highlights Thought-Provoking Data Maps

Digital world map

Crop species diversity map courtesy of Peder Engstrom

Maps bring information to life, adding dimension to numbers and statistics to draw out the stories contained within them.

A University of Minnesota research center recently recognized undergraduate and graduate students from across disciplines for their inventive, thought-provoking maps. U-Spatial, which supports spatial research as part of the Office of the Vice President for Research’s Research Computing unit, selected nine submissions out of 50 as winners of its 2017 Mapping Prize.

“Maps don’t just show us where to go—they have the potential to transform our ways of seeing and understanding our world,” said Len Kne, associate director of U-Spatial. “The annual Mapping Prize encourages students at the University to make provocative and innovative maps about subjects that interest them.” Continue reading

Innovation Fellows Medical Device First to Reach Market

Modern surgery room

In 2012, Dr. Alan Johnson sketched out a number of new and promising concepts for medical devices. At the time, he was only a few days into the Medical Devices Center’s Innovation Fellows Program, based in the University of Minnesota’s Medical Devices Center.

But as Johnson learned more about what it takes to turn a lab invention into a commercial product, he started to see technological, financial, and regulatory hurdles looming. One by one, he crossed ideas off the list. At the end, one promising invention remained: a new, noninvasive method for safely and securely closing the jaw to help it heal after a fracture.

Now, five years later, Johnson’s invention has become the first technology born in the Innovation Fellows Program to finish navigating the complex path from lab to marketplace. Following a licensing deal with St. Paul-based Summit Medical, Inc. and the recent receipt of U.S. Food and Drug Administration clearance, the device can now be marketed for use in surgeon’s offices, hospitals, and clinics across the country.

Continue reading

Study of Distant Galaxies Marks 100th Zooniverse Project

Andromeda galaxy

Ever look up into the sky and wonder what distant worlds are like? Galaxy Nurseries, a new project at the University of Minnesota, invites you to help researchers discover thousands of young galaxies across the universe and, in doing so, learn more about our own.

The project is a sign of just how far research methods have come in the field of citizen science—where volunteers across the world contribute to scientific data collection and analysis. Galaxy Nurseries, which went live on Wednesday, was the 100th project to launch on the Zooniverse, the largest and most widely-used online citizen science platform, which has connected hundreds of thousands of volunteers to active research projects since it formed in 2009.

Lucy Fortson, Ph.D., one of the cofounders of the Zooniverse and the associate head of physics and astronomy in the U’s College of Science and Engineering, said including the public in scientific research opens new opportunities in research across a wide range of disciplines. Continue reading

2017 Minnesota Futures Awards Focus on Science of Prevention

Bees nesting inside hollow wooden tubes

The dwindling population of bees, spread of cancer inside the body, and sexual assault on campus—these typically unrelated subjects have something in common: University of Minnesota researchers are working to find new ways to prevent them.

The Minnesota Futures Grant Program recently awarded a total of $495,281 to support three research proposals focused on improving human and environmental health through prevention. Minnesota Futures is an internal funding opportunity offered by the U’s Office of the Vice President for Research that promotes novel research to advance new ideas that cross disciplinary boundaries.

The three projects, highlighted below and selected from a group of 15 submitted proposals, will bring experts together to explore new ways to tackle challenges in health and the environment. Continue reading

U Tech Transfer Ranks Sixth Among Public Universities

A blue light bulb on a black background

The University of Minnesota has one of the leading technology commercialization enterprises among US universities, according to a recent research report.

The Milken Institute, a nonprofit think tank based in California, ranked the U’s Office for Technology Commercialization sixth among US public research institutions and second in the Big Ten in its “Best Universities for Technology Transfer” report, released last month. When including private institutions, the U places 14th, outpacing schools such as the University of Michigan and the University of California, Los Angeles.

The report focuses on four key indicators of tech transfer success for each institution: how many patents it was granted, how many technology licenses it issued, how much income its licenses brought in, and the number of startup companies it formed. These measurements were averaged over four years, from 2012–2015. Continue reading

F&A funding crucial to success of U research

laboratory with sun shining in through the window

Indirect research costs do more than keep the lights on in labs. These necessary parts of federally funded research projects help maintain high-tech equipment, provide data storage, support administrative staff, and even cover the disposal of hazardous waste.

As noted in a New York Times article, US Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price recently called into question the value of funding indirect costs on grants awarded by the National Institutes of Health, the world’s largest public funder of biomedical research. Price said paring back such funding could bring significant financial savings to the federal government next year.

Federal grants’ support of indirect research costs, often called “F&A” (facilities and administrative), plays an important role in helping universities recover a portion of the administrative and infrastructure expenses that come along with research across all academic fields. F&A helps make research spaces safe, keeps lab equipment running properly, and ensures projects comply with laws and regulations. Continue reading

U startup CEO recognized among “Titans of Technology”

Terri Soutor holding her Titans of Technology award

Photo courtesy of Jen Kelly, KeliComm

Terri Soutor, CEO of University of Minnesota startup FastBridge Learning, received an award last week recognizing her prowess in building a business around emerging technology.

At the 2017 Titans of Technology award ceremony, hosted by the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal, Soutor received an award for her leadership of FastBridge Learning, which was based on discoveries and innovations by Theodore Christ, Ph.D., educational psychology professor with the College of Education and Human Development. The company was launched with help from the U’s Office for Technology Commercialization in 2015 to provide assessment tools and training for teachers of preschool through 12th-grade students to track and improve their students’ learning. Continue reading

Two U startups named among Best University Startups 2017

U of M flag on a lamppost, surrounded by flowering trees

Two startup companies based on University of Minnesota research discoveries received national recognition today for their potential to create jobs, advance technology and meet societal challenges in human health and the environment.

Photonic Pharma and ThermChem, both launched by the Office for Technology Commercialization’s Venture Center, were named among the 40 “Best University Startups 2017” by the National Council of Entrepreneurial Tech Transfer (NCET2), an association of university startup officers.

The U of M startups were chosen by representatives of leading technology-oriented businesses from a group of 200 startups launched by universities across the U.S. They are among the more than 110 companies launched by the Venture Center since 2006. The two companies will present as part of NCET2’s University Startups Conference and Demo Day in Washington, DC, on April 18-20. Continue reading

Improving nutrition apps with high-quality research data

A young couple looks at an app on a tablet while preparing food

Suppose a team of software developers wants to make a smartphone app that helps people with high blood pressure track the sodium in their meals. Their expertise in coding and design will guide them in making an app that is reliable and easy-to-use.

But when it comes to understanding how to tap research-grade nutrition data for a wide range of foods and ingredients, the developers may lack crucial knowledge in nutrition sciences.

The University of Minnesota’s Lisa Harnack, DrPH, director of the School of Public Health’s Nutrition Coordinating Center (NCC), has an idea that could knock down that barrier. Harnack aims to give app developers packages of code that will help them draw from the NCC’s Food and Nutrient Database, a treasure trove of comprehensive nutrition data, without needing a researcher’s expertise. This resource would bring developers better information to fuel their software—and, in turn, help patients living with nutrition-related chronic diseases. Continue reading

Federal cuts would devastate research, innovation

U.S. flag in front of a federal building

When the Trump administration released its federal budget proposal last month, the plan’s significant cuts to research funding jolted the research community.

In a recently published op-ed, the University of Minnesota’s Interim Vice President for Research Allen Levine, Ph.D., warned of the devastating affect such cuts could have—not just for public research universities, but for US discovery and innovation across the board. Levine wrote in MinnPost that following the path laid out in the Presidential Budget Request would cut short potential discoveries, economic growth opportunities, and improvements to our quality of life.

The budget proposal includes cuts in medical, humanities, arts, energy, and environmental research. U of M researchers rely on resources distributed by nearly every federal agency that supports research—their funding made up 60 percent of the $788 million the U received last year. Continue reading

CTS celebrates 30 years of transportation research, innovation

Overhead view of cars passing through an intersection

In 1987, a new research center opened at the University of Minnesota that would begin a decades-long mission to catalyze innovation in all facets of transportation, from traffic flow and safety to pavements and bridges.

This year, the Center for Transportation Studies (CTS) celebrates its 30th anniversary, capping three decades of developing new tools to help agencies across the US improve transportation systems and provide objective data to inform elected officials on matters of transportation policy.

Over that time, many transportation research projects at the University have served as prime examples of how U of M research meets the practical needs of Minnesotans, in the Twin Cities area and throughout Minnesota, said Laurie McGinnis, CTS director. Continue reading