As one of Michigan’s three major research universities, the University of Michigan is known for its excellence in research. And the new 30-building North Campus Research Complex is the newest addition to the University’s research efforts. As the University administration has acknowledged, test tubes and pipettes alone can’t offer an institution international recognition. Last week, administration officials unveiled their vision for future research at the NCRC, which will focus on combining a variety of fields like medicine, engineering and pharmaceuticals to promote growth and innovation. University researchers should work together, but they should also take advantage of the original ideas that students can provide.
Purchased from Pfizer for $108 million last June, the more than 2 million-square-foot NCRC will house administrative staff and a diverse community of researchers. According to a mass e-mail from Executive Vice President for Medical Affairs and Health System CEO Dr. Ora Pescovitz, the NCRC will be the testing ground of a new research model that will emphasize interdisciplinary research. The heart of the new approach will be two technology “anchors.” One will focus on biointerfaces and the other on medical imaging. These anchors will be joined at the NCRC by other, smaller interdisciplinary research teams as well as currently separate groups of health service researchers seeking to make health care delivery more efficient and accessible.
As recognized by the University, interdisciplinary studies are the future of research. Medical innovation, for instance, increasingly requires a diverse team of medical professionals and engineers to create technologies specifically designed to address patients’ needs. Such cross-discipline coordination uses developments in nanotechnology and tissue engineering to complement the work done by pharmacists and the treatments being explored by clinicians. This supportive research atmosphere recognizes that the best way to combat modern challenges is to combine knowledge from a variety of backgrounds.
The research explored under this model will have important implications for the poor economic condition of the state. A recent study by the Anderson Economic Group showed that the University Research Corridor — a collaboration of Wayne State University, Michigan State University and the University of Michigan — contributed to over $14 billion in economic benefit in Michigan last year alone. Better methods and more space will result in more funding that has an even greater impact on the community and more importantly, the state. Under the University’s new research model, this funding will be put to good use.
Yet as important as research is, the University shouldn’t fail to take advantage of the educational opportunities that the NCRC affords. Student involvement in research, from undergraduates to doctoral candidates, is an integral component of an educational experience at the University. And students bring a fresh perspective and innovative suggestions to research projects. This mutually beneficial relationship gives the University an edge in research, and University researchers should tap into students’ knowledge and ideas.
The University’s vision for research at the NCRC is encouraging — cooperation between researchers will lead to exciting new developments. But to take advantage of all its resources, University researchers must use students’ innovative spirit.