Why the University of Michigan? Why now?

These were the questions posed by Stephen Forrest, the University’s vice president for research, at yesterday’s Institute of Social Research event called “Leveraging Federal Stimulus Dollars at the University of Michigan and the State of Michigan.”

At the event, University administrators and U.S. Rep. John Dingell (D–Mich.) spoke about how the University is using grants from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act to further research at the University and growth in the state.

Much of the talk — held at the Institute for Social Research with about 30 people in attendance — centered on investments for furthering innovation and education at the forefront of Michigan’s economic revival, and how the University can contribute to that process.

“We know how to innovate and teach the next generation of innovators,” Forrest said. “We know how to partner with industry and government to ensure that our innovations are used by others. We certainly know how to start companies based on inventions.”

The University plans to allocate $277 million in federal grants across three major branches of research: social science, medical science and engineering, Forrest said.

The College of Engineering has already received $50 to $60 million in grants, the ISR about $50 million in grants and the Medical School $80 million in grants, according to Forrest.

Dingell agreed with Forrest that the University is finding ways to make the most out of the federal stimulus dollars.

As Dingell spoke, he pointed to his head and said, “This is where human greatness is preserved.”

In addition to discussing the University’s role in furthering research and education, the speakers, including James Jackson, director of the ISR, spoke about how the grants will also boost employment in Michigan.

“The University of Michigan is the largest employer in Ann Arbor, and a pillar of the local economy,” Jackson said. “Grants awarded to the University result in direct and indirect benefits for the southeastern Michigan region.”

The ISR will use a portion of the funds — a majority of which comes from the National Institutes of Health — to expand their facilities through the addition of a four-story wing to their current building on Thompson Street.

The new facilities will enhance both research capacity and productivity, help train future generations of researchers and make possible the integration of research across programs, Jackson explained. For example, social science and biomedical theory may be combined to incorporate genetic testing in research.

The new addition is expected to create 100 new construction jobs and 92 new jobs for researchers, programmers, interviewers and administrative staff, Jackson said.

Fernando Martinez, director of Pulmonary Diagnostic Services and professor of internal medicine at the Medical School, said that part of the Medical School’s grant will be used to study pulmonary fibrosis, a fatal lung condition for which the cause is unknown.

The funds will be used to carry out a longitudinal study of the disease components of pulmonary fibrosis and to build a network across eight other U.S. medical and research institutions, Martinez said. Not only will this create jobs, but it will also act as a model for future research for other diseases, he said.

The College of Engineering plans to utilize the grants by offering four additional graduate and six additional undergraduate classes throughout the University’s three campuses in addition to new laboratories, said Huei Peng, professor of mechanical engineering at the University.

Many of the grants will be invested in the development of electric vehicles, including hybrid technology, green energy manufacturing and the use of renewable energy in vehicle infrastructures, he said.

Officials from the College of Engineering will also use the stimulus funds to create summer camp programs that aim to attract high school students to the field of engineering so they can continue to carry Michigan’s auto industry forward, Peng said.

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