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MCubed research program awards first 50 grants

By Michelle Gillingham, For the Daily
Published November 28, 2012

At 10 a.m. Wednesday, the Twitter account of the University’s Office of the Vice President for Research started lighting up with new tweets.

“Emergence of locally-owned food business in Detroit #mcubed,” read one tweet, accompanied by a link.

“Adaptive health communications over mobile devices #mcubed,” read another.

The tweets, totaling 50 over the course of 51 minutes, were announcements of choices for the MCubed program, a $15-million initiative started in May as part of the University’s Third Century initiative to encourage interdisciplinary research.

Wednesday’s announcements represented the first set of 50 research projects to receive seed grants and each selected project will receive $60,000 in grants. Among chosen research topics include the genetics of tooth defects, an examination of post-industrial cities, carbon capture and hydraulic fracturing. The research approved in this round of projects is expected to be completed by June 2014.

The contest for grants was competitive, as faculty rushed to apply for funding after hearing of the program. Mark Burns, the chair of the department of chemical engineering — along with Alec Gallimore and Thomas Zurbuchen, the founders of MCubed and associate deans in the College of Engineering — selected applicants through a semi-randomly pick in order to make the process fair, Zurbuchen told the Daily in October.

Faculty applicants had to partner with at least two other researchers to form a “cube,” and at least two members of a prospective cube had to be from different departments.

Susan Murphy, a professor of statistics, explained that she had to compose a research and mentoring plan, as well as determine a budget.

Ben Allen, an assistant professor of cell and developmental biology, had his cube approved by MCubed. Allen will study the effects of cancer drugs that inhibit Hedgehog signaling, a nuanced type of signaling dealing with taste and smell. He said he is looking forward to having the opportunity to be part of the program.

“Fortunately, at UM, there are experts in Hedgehog signaling (both basic scientists and clinicians), taste and smell,” Allen said. “MCubed provided a perfect opportunity for these scientists to collaborate in the pursuit of answers to this question.”