More than 200 “cubes” presented research at the MCubed Symposium Friday in Rackham Auditorium and the Michigan League.

Launched in the fall of 2012, MCubed is the first part of the University’s Third Century Initiative, a five-year $50 million plan that aims to promote innovation and collaboration within the University. MCubed’s goal is to empower faculty members in different departments and colleges to work collaboratively to produce research that will have a large societal impact.

A “cube” is made up of three University faculty members from different disciplines who engage in humanities-related projects. Each cube received at least $60,000 of the $15 million in funds available from the program to hire one undergraduate student, graduate student or postdoctoral researcher to help them with their research. At the symposium, the cubes presented their research findings from the past year.

The program was originally scheduled to end in August 2014. However, during the event, MCubed announced the launch of the External Funding Program, which will allow outside investors to get involved with the projects on the MCubed website.

The MCubed Symposium was the first gathering of all 222 cubes. More than 1,200 people attended the event, including University faculty, staff and students.

“Only at Michigan would we see political scientists and a computer engineer using satellite data to study how variations in energy access lead to political unrest,” wrote University President Mary Sue Coleman in the symposium’s brochure. “MCubed powerfully reflects the spirit of innovation that drives this institution, whether in the laboratory, studio, clinic, classroom or library.”

Tony Fadell, CEO and founder of the technology company Nest and inventor of the iPod, delivered the keynote address.

“Don’t do something just because it is the way it is has always been done; think of new ways to innovate and improve,” Fadell said.

The symposium highlighted specific cubes, including the Holy Braille, which sought to create technologies that would allow blind people to use devices like smart phones. The project brought together professors from the School of Engineering and the School of Music, Theatre & Dance.

Sara Soderstrom, an assistant professor of Organizational Studies and the Program in the Environment, said the program offered a lot of flexibility in research. She said the money provided by MCubed was very generous, especially for research in the social sciences.

“All you had to have was an idea, and they would give you the money,” Soderstrom said.

Soderstrom’s cube included professors from the Business and Kinesiology Schools. Their research focused on food sustainability, in partnership with FoodLab in Detroit. Soderstrom’s cube employed four University undergraduates and one graduate student over the summer to conduct research.

Rackham student Nayiri Kaissarian said she attended the event because as a student researcher, she usually goes to research talks, but she was excited to hear presentations on social science research.

Public Policy senior Kelsey Rhodes assisted in planning for the MCubed Symposium as a speaker liaison and coach because of her previous experience with TEDxUofM. She said members of the MCubed board admired TEDxUofM and wanted to bring some of the spirit of TED Talks to the Symposium.

“When you go to research conferences they can often be cut and dry; this was supposed to tell the actual human story and recruit new donors,” Rhodes said.

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