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Updated 2:00 PM January 19, 2004



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U-M to build on research strengths in five key areas

The identification of faculty leadership, promoting greater collaboration on campus and working to remove organizational barriers contribute to U-M's research success, Vice President for Research Fawwaz Ulaby told the Board of Regents Jan. 15.

The Office of the Vice President for Research (OVPR) has identified five areas in recent years in which the University has potential to develop its research strengths. In his presentation, Ulaby outlined the areas and explained how OVPR collaborated with campus leaders to plan for increased success and visibility.

The major new research emphases are:

• Spatial Analysis and Geographic Information Systems (SA-GIS). Faculty and staff developed a proposal to stimulate growth in the use of new computer tools known broadly as SA-GIS, including training faculty in the latest analytical tools, and establishing assistance for developing proposals for new projects. The proposal also called for seed funding for specific pilot projects. With the participation of the provost and several deans, U-M competitively awarded $1.1 million over a two-year period. Since the start of SA-GIS, several new projects have received funding from external sponsors, totaling about $5.6 million;

• Nanoscience and Engineering. A faculty group is meeting to develop a specific proposal for this initiative, focusing on science at the atomic and molecular levels, and expects to report on recommendations by the end of the winter 2004 semester. OVPR anticipates the investment needed to launch the initiative will be $3-5 million, with the payoff for that investment coming in the form of improved competitiveness for research grants and greater recognition for U-M expertise in nanoscience and engineering;

• Hydrogen Research Initiative. The College of Engineering has been developing its Hydrogen Energy University Research Initiative, a plan calling for the creation of research centers of excellence. OVPR got involved by arranging a meeting of representatives of the auto industry, DTE Energy and the State of Michigan Next Energy initiative, and by assembling a U-M-led team of energy experts to prepare a plan for low-cost, clean hydrogen as a viable energy source;

• Science, Technology and Public Policy Program. A task team chaired by President emeritus James Duderstadt submitted a report in spring 2003 recommending the University begin a phased approach to launching instructional and research activities in two key areas—application of scientific knowledge to improve public sector decision making, and shaping government policies to ensure continuing progress in science and technology. The committee also proposed that U-M develop programs to provide scientists with a better understanding of the intersection of policy with science and technology. An implementation committee is expected to issue recommendations by the end of the winter 2004 semester;

• National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON). The National Science Foundation has asked Congress to appropriate funds, starting in fiscal year 2005, for NEON, a continent-wide research network of observatories linked with state-of-the-art communications. A U-M team is preparing a proposal to establish one of the first NEON sites at the U-M Biological Station in Pellston, Mich. The Biological Station is an ideal site for detection of changes in biological systems because many species reach their southern or northern limit in the vicinity of the station.

During a period when so much attention has focused on tightening budgets, the 'U-M research portfolio continues to grow at a strong pace. Research expenditures for FY 2003 rose 14.3 percent over the previous year, to nearly $750 million.

Expenditures from external sources rose at a slightly higher rate, climbing 15.3 percent from fiscal 2002 to 2003. U-M spending growth from federal sources rose faster than the overall growth in federal research and development, suggesting that U-M research remains highly competitive nationally.

For more information on OVPR, visit

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