Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Thursday, May 9, 2013

MCubed marks one year, 194 cubes, $11M in interdisciplinary, innovative research

Today marks the first anniversary of the launch of MCubed, U-M's one-of-a-kind research funding program that gives $60,000 with no questions asked to interdisciplinary teams that agree to work together on new pilot projects.

Across the university, 194 teams of qualifying faculty members have received funding. All they had to do to get it was find two collaborators — at least one from a different university unit — and register the project at the MCubed website. No formal application is required.

Researchers all over campus say the program has been a springboard for networking and for embarking on innovative investigations. On one team, for example, researchers from psychology, psychiatry and linguistics are studying language processing in autistic children.

"All three of us are interested in the neurobasis of atypical and typical language acquisition," said Ioulia Kovelman, assistant professor of psychology. "I'm interested in the temporal processes of language acquisition from a psychological perspective, Jonathan (Brennan) is a psycholinguist and brings a strong theoretical linguistics background, and Renee (Lajiness-O'Neill) is a psychiatrist with clinical training in identifying and treating children with autism.

"In all likelihood, this project wouldn't be happening today without MCubed — maybe 20 years from now. It would have been a long-term goal to work together, but MCubed helped us find each other more quickly."

All 19 university schools and colleges are participating, in addition to other units. The first teams received funding in November.

"In five months, $11 million has gone out. We're enabling real-time breakthroughs and keeping pace with the speed at which research is happening," said Valerie Johnson, MCubed managing director. 

Researchers can still receive grants. MCubed can fund up to 225 projects. Earlier rounds were determined by lottery, but at this point, funding is first-come, first-served. Interested faculty can register at mcubed.umich.edu. (Some units at this point are out of funding tokens, however.)

"Looking over the past year, the nearly 200 formed projects only begin to capture the impact of MCubed on campus," said Mark Burns, the T.C. Chang Professor of Engineering, professor of chemical engineering and biomedical engineering, and chair of the MCubed executive committee. "Faculty tell us that MCubed has stimulated the formation of other collaborations beyond the cubes themselves."

Project teams will present status updates at a symposium Nov. 15.

"I'm so looking forward to seeing what these cubes accomplish over the next year. It will be amazing to sit in the audience at the MCubed symposium this fall and to know that many of these projects could not have gone forward without MCubed," Burns said.