Bold Challenges awards planning grants to three research teams


The Bold Challenges Initiative has awarded large-scale planning grants to three interdisciplinary teams from across the University of Michigan so they can pursue research projects involving microelectronics, maternal health and marine energy.

Launched in 2021 by the Office of the Vice President for Research, the initiative implemented a new phase in February to support researchers across disciplines in their pursuit of large-scale awards from government, industry and foundations.

The new phase is a primary component of the Presidential Strategy to Amplify Research and Scholarship, which emphasizes support of faculty pursuing transformational research development, rooted in a commitment to equity and access.

“The research these teams are working on are just a few of the examples of what our faculty can do when given resources and opportunities to collaborate in new and interesting ways,” said Arthur Lupia, executive director of Bold Challenges and the Gerald R. Ford Distinguished University Professor of Political Science. He also is a professor of political science in LSA, and research professor in the Institute for Social Research’s Center for Political Studies.

“Bold Challenges was created to support projects like these, tackling the wide-reaching problems our society faces. We are looking forward to collaborating with these teams, and many more, from as many schools and colleges throughout U-M as possible.”

Each of the three teams will receive $50,000 or more in funding, as well as customized proposal development services from Bold Challenges, including team facilitation and strategic design support.

John Heron, associate professor of materials science and engineering in the College of Engineering, will lead a network of U-M faculty that spans multiple sectors of microelectronics technology — from materials and devices to circuits and systems — with the goal of creating more energy-efficient electronics. The team will use a co-design approach to address the rise in demand for microelectronics innovation and global energy consumption.

The project will empower a unique collaboration of researchers to tackle these challenges in innovative ways, furthering U-M’s leadership in microelectronics development. The multidisciplinary team will use the Bold Challenges grant to competitively position itself for funding from the federal CHIPS and Science Act.

Molly Stout, the Morton R. Lazar Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology Innovation and associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology in the Medical School, is leading a team that will bring together a first-of-its-kind maternal care-engineering collaborative to expand the network of collaborators and generate a strong preliminary database.

The team aims to capitalize on and expand the existing expertise and collaborations between Michigan Medicine and the College of Engineering to tackle three main challenges: preterm birth and mechanobiology, models of prenatal care that tailor visit schedules to patients’ medical needs, and postpartum hypertension and cardiovascular disease.

Stout and her colleagues will utilize the Bold Challenges grant to seek large-scale funding from several organizations, including the National Institutes of Health and MacArthur Foundation.

Lei Zuo, professor of naval architecture and marine engineering, and of mechanical engineering in CoE, plans to pursue an Engineering Research Center grant from the National Science Foundation so he and his team can establish a marine engineering and blue-economy center at U-M.

The team will use the Bold Challenges grant to connect with collaborators and develop a multidisciplinary community of stakeholders and networks, including industry leaders and international research centers.

Zuo and his team also will use resources provided by the initiative to refine research convergence ideas and outline plans for future interdisciplinary workforce training.

The research catalyzed within the proposed blue-economy center will interweave marine energy technologies into three main themes designed to create a carbon-neutral society, including providing power at sea, empowering coastal remote communities and decarbonizing marine transport.

“The landscape around academic research funding is incredibly competitive and so we designed this new phase of Bold Challenges to strategically support faculty like John, Molly and Lei, who are leading groundbreaking, multidisciplinary research projects that aim to address some of society’s most pressing challenges,” said Rebecca Cunningham, vice president for research.


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