MCubed Symposium celebrates interdisciplinary research

Wednesday, November 1, 2017 - 5:29pm

Rackham student Vincent Longo speaks at the M Cubed Symposium "Hail to the Cube" at Rackham  Wednesday.

Rackham student Vincent Longo speaks at the M Cubed Symposium "Hail to the Cube" at Rackham Wednesday. Buy this photo
John Yaeger/Daily


The University already offers countless research opportunities in its 19 schools and colleges. But on Wednesday, over 250 of the University's interdisciplinary research teams, were able to showcase this work. 

The MCubed Symposium consisted of teams referred to as “cubes” as they are headed by three faculty members from at least two different disciplines. Launched in 2012, MCubed has an online system that streamlines the process of professors securing funding. This platform, and its multidisciplinary approach, allows for groundbreaking, innovative research.

During the symposium’s opening remarks, University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel discussed the importance of using different fields in crafting solutions to problems.

“The biggest problems we face in society don’t conveniently set themselves up to be knocked down by one-source solutions,” Schlissel said. “Problems don’t know what disciplines they’re supposed to fall under. They’re just problems.”

The keynote speaker was Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health. He discussed new NIH programs, including one called “All of Us” that aims to engage diverse participants in making discoveries in medical research. Collins applauded MCubed for incentivizing researchers from different fields to work together.

“One of the challenges we all have in medical research is that it often feels like herding cats,” he said. “The MCubed program can get the cats moving.”

The symposium featured several “cubes,” with members of each team describing their research. One of these cubes was “Digitizing Orson Welles’ Heart of Darkness.” Orson Welles proposed a movie to production company RKO Pictures to be based on Joseph Conrad’s novel “Heart of Darkness.” This project was ultimately shelved and adapted into “Citizen Kane,” one of Welles’s most famous movies. This cube’s purpose was to make the historical materials behind the unmade “Heart of Darkness” movie available to the public by digitizing them. Rackham student Vincent Longo, a member of the “cube,” discussed the goals of the team’s research.

“We envision it working to invite nonspecialists to dig deeper into this historical record than they might otherwise,” Longo said.

The symposium also highlighted a cube that worked to shed light on mysteries of pregnancy and placental health. Professors of environmental health sciences, epidemiology, and obstetrics and gynecology, including Kelly Bakulski, worked together to study the risks that complicate pregnancies, and ultimately find ways to prevent them.

“Ultimately, the goal of our work is to improve every pregnant woman’s opportunity to have a healthy pregnancy,” Bakulski said.

Taylor Mann, a recent graduate of the School of Public Health, is on the staff of a “cube” studying atmospheric deposition of phosphorus across the Great Lakes region. This “cube” involves the disciplines of environmental health sciences, climate and space sciences, and engineering. She talked about the benefits of the format of MCubed research.

“I really enjoy that sort of collaboration,” Mann said. “I think it’s nice when people have concrete roles. When you have different disciplines, it’s very obvious what people are doing. It’s very clear to me what my role is in the project, because the modelers can’t do the more analytical end, and I can’t do anything without atmospheric modeling. It helps delineate roles.”