By Ashwini Natarajan, For The Daily
Published October 17, 2012
Faculty researchers across campus have begun to take advantage of MCubed, a new funding program, which seeks to aid projects at the University.
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The program, which initiated its pilot interaction phase on Oct. 8, allows faculty researchers from 23 departments to collaborate on projects while allocating $15 million in University funds to 250 research projects.
Projects require a minimum of three researchers from different disciplines, and each researcher is allotted $20,000. When they join together, they form a “cube” and use their cumulative $60,000 to hire a postdoctoral researcher, graduate student or undergraduate student to assist them with work on the project.
The program is led by Mark Burns, the chair of the department of chemical engineering, and Alec Gallimore and Thomas Zurbuchen, associate deans in the College of Engineering.
During the interaction phase, researchers will post their project ideas on the MCubed website, browse the listed projects and find collaborators.
Burns said the response thus far has been overwhelmingly positive, with more than 1,600 investigators registered on the website and 60 projects posted so far.
Zurbuchen said he is excited at the prospect of new research possibilities at the University.
“Researchers all over campus are meeting new and different researchers to create new and different projects,” Zurbuchen said. “What we’re really trying to do is learn how our faculty interacts with others and create that innovative scourge.”
Initially, funding was to be allocated on a first-come, first-serve basis, but the abundance of researchers and projects intensified the competition. In response to the overwhelming response, MCubed will now make funding requests for specific projects in the pilot cubing phase.
To ensure equal opportunity, Burns and his team are temporarily using a semi-random process to choose 50 projects for the first phase. Each project will be given a number and officials will randomly pick from each unit to determine which group will receive funding.
“We got a very enthusiastic response across campus, so the result is we have to be careful (and) hopefully everyone who wants to cube can cube,” Burns said. “I want to make sure the process is fair.”
He added that MCubed eventually hopes to return to a first-come, first-serve system, but if the number of proposals continues to outweigh the available funding, random cubing will remain in effect.
Burns said he estimates the pilot phase will be completed in about two months, at which point MCubed will officially open its website for interaction and cubing phases to fill the 200 available project slots.
Sile O’Modhrain, an associate professor of performing arts technology at the University’s School of Music, Theatre & Dance, is in the process of submitting a project to MCubed with Brent Gillespie, an associate professor of mechanical engineering.
O’Modhrain said her project aims to improve the current braille system by placing dots more compactly resulting in a more comprehensive, full-page display that allows users to read more than one line at a time.
She added that she believes the random cubing process will work more effectively than the first-come, first-serve approach.
“(Random cubing) allows time for cubes to develop,” O’Modhrain said. “If it were first-come, first-served, everyone would be under pressure to cube at the beginning of the process ... whereas this way, because you know the process is random, then it may allow for more time for people to look and see if they’re interested in participating in projects.”