Unique Mcubed research funding program begins third cycle


Millions of dollars in seed grants for bold, boundary-crossing work is available to faculty members as U-M launches the third round of Mcubed, a unique funding program that has more than tripled its investment since it launched in 2012.

In this cycle, for the first time, faculty members at the UM-Flint can partner with their colleagues at the Ann Arbor and Dearborn campuses.

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“Mcubed has helped transform the way that the University of Michigan sparks innovative research, and I am very excited that faculty from all three campuses can now collaborate as part of this one-of-a-kind program,” said Mark Burns, executive director of Mcubed and Research Innovation. Burns is also the T. C. Chang Professor of Engineering, and professor of chemical engineering and biomedical engineering.

Mcubed stimulates innovative research and scholarship by distributing real-time seed funding to multi-unit, faculty-led teams.

Through the program, a six-year, $27 million investment from U-M and its faculty members has yielded more than $120 million in external funding, more than 320 publications, roughly 50 artistic and scholarly products and 20 invention disclosure reports or patents.

“The hallmark of our research enterprise is excellence across the breadth of schools and colleges, coupled with a strong culture of collaboration among academic disciplines,” said S. Jack Hu, vice president for research. “Mcubed builds on these core strengths, allowing researchers to address emerging challenges and opportunities in areas of broad potential impact.”

Mcubed was launched as a grassroots effort by a team of faculty members to help catalyze innovative research projects without traditional peer review. The conventional grant review process often takes months and can prove too big a hurdle for a new team with a novel idea to clear.

“Mcubed capitalizes on our history of interdisciplinary research and our commitment to innovation by jump-starting collaborations among faculty members,” said Provost Martin Philbert.

As part of Mcubed, faculty from at least two different units can form a collaborative trio, or cube, and request either $15,000 or $60,000 to advance their idea right away.

The Office of the Provost contributes $4.5 million each cycle, which stimulates investments by colleges, schools, departments and participating faculty members that has historically totaled an additional $9 million. The grants are cost-shares.

Mcubed encourages innovative and sometimes unlikely collaborations.

Two engineers and an environmental scientist used Mcubed funding to explore 3-D concrete printing technology and its impact on building construction. This team has since filed a patent application and published its findings.

Professors in public health, psychology and education have sought to reduce economic, educational and health disparities in higher education by researching food insecurity and the role of food pantries on college campuses. Through Mcubed, this team has achieved publications, delivered presentations, and secured an internal grant to continue its work.

An infectious disease doctor, a data science engineer and an immunologist teamed up to study the gut microbiome to change treatment protocols for millions of patients. By using the Mcubed system to secure early results, they were awarded $9.12 million from the National Institutes of Health to expand their work.

Beginning Oct. 10, faculty from the Ann Arbor, Dearborn and Flint campuses can visit mcubed.umich.edu to post project ideas, reach out to potential collaborators and form multi-unit teams of three. The project creator can then ask for a cube, which triggers a request for seed funding.

The deadline for these initial funding requests is Nov. 14.

Fully funded cubes available in health sciences

Mcubed offers another platform for funding faculty projects. The Mcubed Diamond Program provides an unprecedented opportunity for donors and companies to invest in research projects that align exactly with their interests. Deans can also use this mechanism to advance research in priority areas for their schools and colleges.

“Our hope with the innovative Mcubed Diamond Program was that deans and other funders on campus would also use the mechanism to help shape the research that is conducted in their units. The health science deans are leading the way and doing just that,” Burns said.

“The Health Sciences Council members embrace Mcubed’s dedication to rich idea development among interdisciplinary investigators,” said Lynn Videka, dean of the School of Social Work and current HSC chair. “We’re delighted to partner with Mcubed in implementing the second round of IP-X research stimulus pilot grants.”

Interprofessional education has become vital in the health fields as the increasing complexities of health care delivery require a team approach, rather than siloed individual experts.

Accordingly, a year ago the first IP-X research stimulus grants were awarded with funding from the Health Sciences Council, a consortium of seven health schools and colleges — dentistry, kinesiology, medicine, nursing, pharmacy, public health and social work — and the provost.

Teams that received funding included researchers from medicine, pharmacy, social work and nursing who joined forces to improve care for underserved patients. Another team from social work, nursing and medicine explored computer-assisted behavioral therapy for depressed dialysis patients.

Up to eight cubes will be funded this year focusing on interprofessional health practice and health educational outcomes. The three token holders in these cubes must come from:

• Ann Arbor — HSC schools

• Ann Arbor — College of Engineering

• Dearborn — College of Education, Health and Human Services

• Flint — College of Health Sciences, School of Nursing

All other faculty in the Mcubed system are eligible and encouraged to participate in these projects as additional collaborators.

To ensure faculty are prepared to capitalize on this unique funding opportunity, all faculty and staff are welcome at Mcubed information sessions and mixers, hosted throughout the fall.

This fall’s events are:

• Ann Arbor Mcubed Info Session — Oct. 10, 10-11:30 a.m., Forum Hall, Palmer Commons

• Flint Mcubed Info Session — Oct. 19, 11:30-1 p.m., 134 Thompson Library, Center for Learning & Teaching, Seminar Room

• Ann Arbor Mcubed Info Session — Oct. 22, 2-3:30 p.m., Pierpont Commons, Boulevard Room

• Ann Arbor Mcubed Info Session — Oct. 24, 1:30-3 p.m., Palmer Commons, Great Lakes South

• Dearborn Mcubed Info Session — Oct. 26, location and time to be determined

• IP-X Research Stimulus Faculty Mixer — Nov. 1, 1:30-4 p.m., Palmer Commons, Great Lakes South

• Fast Forward Medical Innovation Biomedical Brainstorming — Nov. 1, 9-10:30 a.m., North Campus Research Complex Building 10, Research Auditorium

• Fast Forward Medical Innovation Biomedical Brainstorming — Nov. 8, 3-4:30 p.m., Biomedical Science Research Building, Kahn Auditorium

Mcubed is part of the Third Century Initiative, launched by the offices of the president and provost, and is located in the Office of Research.


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