The University of Michigan today announced the first 50 research projects to receive seed funding as part of the new MCubed program. MCubed is a first-of-its-kind, two-year, $15 million initiative that puts university professors in charge of divvying up immediate startup funds for “novel, high-risk, and transformative research projects.” The MCubed grants come just days after the U.S. National Science Foundation announced U-M had spent more money on research funding than any other public university—$1.28 billion during the 2011 fiscal year.
The idea with MCubed is to circumvent the traditional bureaucratic grant-review maze by empowering an interdisciplinary team of professors to review proposed research projects from their peers in “real time.” Departments, schools, and colleges within the university allot a $20,000 token to each participating faculty member. Once three researchers decide to “cube,” they register the project online on a first-come, first served basis. Projects are then granted $60,000 to hire a student or postdoctoral researcher through a lottery process—which was live-tweeted yesterday from the @umichresearch account under the hashtag #mcubed—and work on the project begins.
The 50 projects granted MCubed funding cover the innovation spectrum, from a pill that mimics exercise to algal biofuels, stem cell therapies, an online “micropress” for publishing scholarly work, and cultivating locally owned food businesses in Detroit. “Many of the greatest advances in recent decades, ranging from biotechnology to robotics, have arisen from the intersection of disciplines,” Stephen Forrest, U-M vice president for research, said in a press release. “MCubed explicitly fosters the cooperation among disciplines that is a key driver of innovation.”
MCubed is the first program under U-M’s Third Century Initiative, a five-year, $50 million plan administered by the Office of the Provost to develop innovative, multidisciplinary approaches to learning and teaching, and to spur creative thinking among students and faculty.