MCubed opens public funding phase with projects in two areas


With more than $1 million in gifts, a new phase of the MCubed research-funding program will open this month, broadening the scope of U-M’s unique initiative to advance bold work that crosses traditional academic boundaries.

In this MCubed Diamond program, named after the shape of the tokens qualifying researchers will receive, individuals or organizations pay for a project that a faculty member will steer.

Register for MCubed Symposium

Those who appreciate revolutionary ideas are encouraged to register for the 2014 MCubed Symposium Oct. 9 at Rackham Auditorium and the Michigan League.

President Mark Schlissel will share his vision for research and scholarship at U-M, and there will be talks from faculty and students on autism, the health impacts of global trade, Facebook, environmental justice in Detroit, and more.

Direct questions about the event to and register at the MCubed website.

The program will launch on the MCubed website in mid-October with seven projects in data science and maternal and children’s health. Unlike the pilot phase of MCubed, no matching funding from researchers or departments is required. The cubes are fully financed by individuals, foundations or corporations.

“We’re ecstatic about opening this phase of the program,” said Mark Burns, the T.C. Chang Professor of Engineering, and MCubed director. “It gives our faculty another opportunity to push forward high risk-high reward research that might not otherwise get funded. And it gives anyone in the world the chance to have U-M researchers work on their projects.”

Two projects on maternal and children’s issues in developing countries are supported by a gift of $750,000 from the Trehan Foundation. Additional cubes will be funded each year for the next four years.

U-M alumni Ranvir and Adarsh Trehan grew up in India and saw firsthand the needs of women and children in a developing nation. They are convinced that true innovation is essential to radically improve health and education outcomes, and they say that’s why they chose to work through MCubed.

“The program is a fantastic idea, which is why we latched onto it,” said Ranvir Trehan, who received a master’s degree in industrial and operations engineering from U-M in 1965. “This is a first-rate university that excels at working in an interdisciplinary manner and that gives me a sense of hope. We’ll have to wait and see what comes of it, but we feel bullish about it.”

Ardash Trehan received a master’s degree in political science from LSA in 1965. The couple is funding cubes that aim to improve health, education or economic outcomes for women and children in developing areas; or, more broadly, alleviate poverty, hunger or disease. They have a preference for research focusing on India, but that’s not required.

In addition to the Trehan Foundation cubes, two foundations are funding five data science projects. The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation jointly provided $300,000.

In this case, the projects themselves will be subjects in a School of Information study on how interdisciplinary research teams work to overcome their differences in process, language and knowledge formation itself. 

“MCubed gives us a unique laboratory and infrastructure for forming and studying interdisciplinary scholarly activities right here at Michigan,” said Carl Lagoze, associate professor of information, and project leader.

Lagoze and his research team will study the cross-disciplinary, data-intensive projects as they form, investigate their barriers to success, and identify services and tools that could help overcome them.

MCubed is U-M’s unique interdisciplinary research funding experiment designed to encourage new collaborations and innovative projects. Since it started in 2012, the program has given more than $13 million in early-stage grants to more than 200 trios of researchers.

To receive funding, teams simply had to agree to work on a brand new project together, and at least two of three collaborators had to come from different disciplines. Rather than use a traditional application and review process, which can take months or years, MCubed relies on the researchers themselves selecting projects they see as worthwhile.

While the goals of the two MCubed programs are the same, the funding in the Diamond program is different: Donors fund MCubed projects on topics that are important to them.

The funders of these projects can be anyone — alumni, foundations, or companies, for example. And they can be directly engaged with the researchers through the MCubed website, MCubed organizers say.

Faculty members can be funders as well. They can post projects they already have funds for but don’t have a collaborative team in mind. The website then allows them to find and form a multi-disciplinary team.

Just as in the previous incarnation of the program, the money the researchers receive — $60,000 for each cube — pays for a student’s or postdoctoral researcher’s salary to conduct the research.

“Ideally, the funding we have received to date is just the beginning,” Burns said. “We hope to work with faculty and staff to raise much more in the future. MCubed is a great vehicle for connecting donors with researchers to solve the world’s most pressing problems.”

All faculty who are currently collaborators in the MCubed system will receive a Diamond token. Those who aren’t in the system and would like to be added can contact their MCubed unit liaison or the MCubed office at More details will be available soon on the MCubed website.

Funding for the initial (as opposed to Diamond) MCubed program was provided by the Provost’s Office, the individual schools, colleges and units, participating investigators, and Rackham. MCubed is the first program of U-M’s Third Century Initiative, a $50 million, five-year plan to develop innovative, multidisciplinary teaching and scholarship.


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