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

Top 10 Inquiry stories of 2016

Block numbers 2016

For the University of Minnesota, the completion of 2016 marks another year of advancing knowledge, forming new partnerships and making groundbreaking discoveries.

The Inquiry blog, led by the Office of the Vice President for Research, set out to explore such strides in research and innovation when it launched more than two years ago. Its path has since woven across departments and disciplines, delving into everything from varieties of wine grapes that withstand the cold to the microscopic communities of bacteria that live inside of us.

Before we bid farewell to 2016, here’s a look back at the year’s 10 most-read Inquiry stories. Continue reading

The future of research universities: Q&A with departing VP Brian Herman

Vice President Brian Herman

In 2013, Brian Herman, Ph.D., joined the University of Minnesota as its vice president for research.

During his tenure, Herman helped the U’s research enterprise continue to grow by diversifying funding sources, increasing public-private partnership and enhancing protections for human research participants. His recent report to the Board of Regents highlighted, among other accomplishments, research funding at record levels and thriving technology commercialization and economic development efforts.

Now, four years later, Herman is preparing to transition out of the Office of the Vice President for Research and join the College of Science and Engineering faculty in the Department of Biomedical Engineering. In the Q&A below, Herman discusses the progress of the U’s research enterprise and the future of public research universities. Continue reading

University research enterprise continues to grow

Glass windows on the side of a building

The University of Minnesota’s research enterprise continues to grow, driven by greater diversification of funding sources and enhanced public-private partnership.

At today’s Board of Regents meeting, Vice President for Research Brian Herman delivered this message as part of his annual Status of University Research and Commercialization of Intellectual Property report. The report summarized the U’s research metrics for the 2016 fiscal year, documenting trends in research productivity, scholarship and technology commercialization. It also noted the progress of strategic priorities that build the University’s research strength and work to eliminate barriers to research success. Continue reading

Applying for federal funding to help commercialize discoveries

Image of a woman signing forms

Each year, the federal government offers about $2.5 billion in funding to help small businesses bring new innovations to market — including those originating from public research institutions like the University of Minnesota. The complex applications for such funding, however, can be challenging to understand and to navigate.

The MN-SBIR program aims to shed light on the process. The program assists seed, early stage, emerging and existing firms of up to 500 employees in accessing federal funding through the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs. The office provides confidential, one-on-one guidance and advice in business development and technology commercialization to help those applying for SBIR or STTR grants or contract.  For University researchers, these funding sources can provide much needed funds to help bring cutting-edge discoveries beyond the lab and toward commercialization.

“SBIR and STTR funding supports research and development in science and technology across the spectrum of disciplines,” said Pat Dillon, director of MN-SBIR. “These federal funding sources, often in addition to angel investment or venture capital, but not necessarily, will help startups and small businesses continue to develop the technology and move it towards commercialization.” Continue reading

Building a culture of health across the U.S.

Children running in field with father

A new, national initiative based at the University of Minnesota will bring experts together from across disciplines to address complex health issues at the community level.

Earlier this fall, the U of M was selected as the national center for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Interdisciplinary Research Leaders program. As the program lead, the U of M will work to bring together a wide variety of research experts to conduct action-oriented public health studies in communities across the country, while also cultivating these experts’ roles as future leaders in interdisciplinary research. The innovative, two-year research projects in IRL aim to drive change in communities and advance policies that share a central goal — building a culture of health.

“A culture of health is about helping people live healthier, more vibrant lives now so they don’t need as much medical care down the road,” said Michael Oakes, Ph.D., professor of epidemiology and community health with the School of Public Health. “These projects make good use of translational, applied research to help create new social norms that benefit our society’s well-being, such as regular exercise, work-life balance and healthy social environments.” Continue reading

Research partnerships work to bring knowledge beyond U

Light rail in downtown Minneapolis

Public universities play a well-known role in creating new knowledge, but they must also bring that knowledge beyond the ivory tower and into the community.

A new pilot program at the University of Minnesota focuses on working with partners outside the U to create new knowledge and put it into play benefiting the community. External Stakeholder Engagement, launched earlier this year by the University’s Office of the Vice President for Research, combines University research talent with one or more partners from community organizations, government agencies, industry and nonprofits to promote innovation across a range of disciplines.

Claudia Neuhauser, Ph.D., associate vice president for research and program leader, said the partnerships are designed to catalyze and sustain research between the University and external partners to accelerate the transfer of new knowledge for the public good — a cornerstone of the  research strategic plan, Five Years Forward. Continue reading

Minnesotans drive research forward at D2D building

There aren’t many places where you can ride a Ferris wheel, feed a farm animal, catch a rock concert, and then mosey up the road to contribute to world-class research. The Minnesota State Fair, however, is one such place.

Now in its third year at the State Fair, the University of Minnesota’s Driven to Discover (D2D) building connects the nearly 2 million annual fairgoers with opportunities to learn about and participate in research from across a wide range of University departments and colleges. Visitors to the D2D building can learn about and volunteer for one or more of research projects conducted on the spot, that change every day, ranging from how people regulate their own eating habits to how multitasking affects their ability to safely drive a car. Fairgoers can also sign up to be involved in studies requiring specialized laboratory facilities, which are conducted on the U’s campus after the Fair.

This year, 32 studies were held in the D2D building, and more than 13,000 fairgoers volunteered to participate in a research project.

Continue reading

Lab tests structural strength against earthquakes, other natural forces

Building destroyed by earthquake

In late August, a magnitude 6.2 earthquake devastated Central Italy, killing hundreds and injuring hundreds more. The quake also demolished many structures, destroying homes and buildings of historic and cultural importance.

When it comes to earthquakes and other natural disasters, designing structures to be resilient against environmental forces can help limit the resulting damage. Researchers at the University of Minnesota’s Multi-Axial Subassemblage Testing (MAST) Lab can test how structures and building components hold up against the strain of enormous natural forces, from simulated earthquakes to tornadoes to soil pressure. The lab, originally supported for 15 years by grants through the National Science Foundation, is part of the College of Science and Engineering’s Department of Civil, Environmental and Geo-Engineering.

Mounted at the top of the MAST Lab’s testing area is a steel crosshead that precisely twists, compresses and stretches large structures through six components of movement or forces. The equipment, driven by specialized software, allows researchers to simulate the many forms of stress that building materials and components might experience not only from natural forces, but from the weight of the structure itself. The lab can test structural components nearly 30 feet tall and 20 feet wide, and exert up to 1.3 million pounds of vertical force — enough to lift an Airbus A380 jet airliner, plus its passengers and cargo, off the ground.

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Venture Center launches record 17 startups in FY16

The University of Minnesota announced today that it launched a record 17 startup companies over the past year based on discoveries and inventions by its researchers.

Launching new companies is one of the primary ways the University turns cutting-edge research discoveries into commercial products that fuel the economy and contribute to the public good. The 17 startups include 14 in Minnesota, with 13 of them in the Twin Cities metropolitan area and one in Duluth.

The FY16 record follows a milestone accomplishment in early June, when the University’s Venture Center announced it had launched its 100th startup since its founding 10 years ago, with 82 percent of those companies still active. A part of the Office for Technology Commercialization, the Venture Center matches intellectual property resulting from university research with experienced CEOs to provide a platform for that research to reach the public.

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Research explores autism prevalence among children

How common is autism spectrum disorder among children? Recent studies show that’s a complex question, and the answer can vary significantly by variables such as geographic location, race and cultural group.

Now, University of Minnesota researchers are working on a large-scale effort to better understand how autism prevalence varies across communities in the Twin Cities. The Minnesota Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network (MN-ADDM), led by the U’s Institute on Community Integration, will study up to 3,500 records from across a group of 20,000 8-year-olds across Hennepin and Ramsey counties to track the rate of those with autism as well as those with intellectual disabilities, which researchers suspect may correlate with autism among certain demographics.

The Minnesota project, which started in early 2015, is the latest addition to a national network of ADDM sites established and funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to monitor autism prevalence in regions across the country. Continue reading

Industry experts, public invited to tour U research labs

Interested in exploring a few of the University of Minnesota’s world-class research facilities?

Next week, the U’s College of Science and Engineering and Office of University Economic Development will hold an open house of 10 research facilities specializing in materials analysis, molecular analysis and device fabrication. Register now to tour research facilities, speak with subject matter experts, discover ways to connect with collaborators, and learn about access to services and research equipment.

All are welcome to attend, from industry R&D experts to those who just want to learn more about research at the U. After checking in at the Physics and Nanotechnology Building at 115 Union St. SE. on the East Bank Minneapolis campus, visitors are welcome to come and go as they please. Continue reading