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On Twitter: A Research Funding Lottery for Bold, Collaborative Ideas

Fifty teams will win a lottery for research funding on Wednesday through the University of Michigan's new innovative seed grant program MCubed.

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ANN ARBOR—Fifty teams will win a lottery for research funding on Wednesday through the University of Michigan's new innovative seed grant program MCubed.

In real time on Twitter beginning at 10 a.m. EST, MCubed officials will announce the faculty recipients one-by-one. Each winning team will receive $60,000 to hire a student or postdoctoral researcher to begin work on its project.

MCubed is a $15 million pilot program designed to jumpstart innovative, interdisciplinary work. To qualify for funding, three researchers from at least two disciplines must simply agree to team up to pursue a new project. A formal review isn't part of the process. The grassroots venture will launch 250 projects over the next two years.

In this first round of funding, the MCubed executive committee will semi-randomly pick 50 of the 127 teams that submitted ideas so far. The process is semi-random, rather than completely random, because the committee will ensure that each school, college and unit is represented in a project. (They'll use a random method to choose among projects when schools, colleges or units have multiple projects.)

"To see the breadth of the collaborations – physics and music, architecture and ophthalmology, engineering and nursing, for example – is truly rewarding. The program is facilitating cross-disciplinary interactions in a way we could have never imagined," said Mark Burns, professor and chair of chemical engineering and chair of the MCubed executive committee.

Researchers representing all 19 schools and colleges and several other university units are participating in the program, which aims to break down barriers to innovation. Here are a few examples of proposals:

  • Drone technology applied to children's health: A pediatrician and radiology professor want to work with an aerospace engineer to use machine learning techniques from drones to identify the age of bones in children with growth disorders.
  • Detecting dark matter with DNA: Physicists and a materials scientist have a plan to detect dark matter with a detector made of DNA.
  • An exercise pill? Doctors and a biologist envision the first steps toward a pill that mimics certain benefits of exercise.
  • Are schools in uncontaminated places? A law professor, environmental scientist and public health researcher want to study whether the nation's schools are sited in healthy uncontaminated environments.
  • Gas stovetops and lung health: A pediatrician, pathologist and mechanical engineer want to investigate the potential health effects of soot nanoparticles from indoor gas stovetops.

"The ideas we're seeing reflect the power in interdisciplinary thinking," said Thomas Zurbuchen, one of MCubed founders and the associate dean for entrepreneurial programs in the College of Engineering. "Some of the most important ideas are at the interfaces of traditional fields. These are places where often not much work has occurred and which are ripe for innovation and discovery."

Follow @UmichResearch #mcubed to find out which projects receive funding. Tweets will include links with detailed information about each project. A public website will unfold one project at a time during the lottery.

MCubed was spearheaded by Burns, Zurbuchen and Alec Gallimore, associate dean for research and graduate education in the College of Engineering. Funding is provided by the Provost's Office, the individual schools, colleges and units, and investigators who participate in the program. 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.