STORIES FROM THE CORRIDOR
RECENT JOB CREATION ANNOUNCEMENTS
Over a recent one month period ending in mid-January 2009, Michigan’s University Research Corridor and its partners announced five projects that could generate more than 17,900 jobs. The projects include:
- IBM’s decision to locate a global computing center at Michigan State University, which could create 1,500 jobs over the next five years.
- General Motors Corp.’s announcement a day earlier that it would invest $5 million, working with University of Michigan researchers to develop batteries for future electric cars, adding to a series of collaborative efforts already underway between GM and U-M.
- Massachusetts-based A123 Systems, a battery designer that partners with U-M and MSU, announced plans to build a manufacturing plant in southeast Michigan to supply batteries for Detroit automakers. The company said it could eventually create 14,000 jobs supplying batteries for hybrid and plug-in hybrid vehicles.
- U-M announced plans to buy Pfizer's 174-acre Ann Arbor research complex to create a new research campus that could generate 2,000 new jobs.
- The U.S. Department of Energy selected MSU as the site of a new $550 million rare isotope beam facility that would create 400 permanent jobs.
universities key to economic turnaround
Michigan’s three research universities are economic investments producing a more than 20-fold return at a time when Michigan needs economic stimulus.
“We prepare the people who solve the problems of Michigan and the world,” U-M President Mary Sue Coleman told state lawmakers. “We excel at creating solutions for our state's future, and I believe that by drawing upon our vast and unique strengths, our universities will continue to be innovation leaders.”
Coleman and the presidents of Wayne State University and Michigan State University sat side-by-side and delivered joint testimony before the state House Appropriations Subcommittee on Higher Education at a hearing at WSU. They were joined by economic development experts who described the University Research Corridor (URC), an alliance between the three institutions, as a magnet for new jobs and industries.
“The era of a one-industry economy in Michigan is over forever,” said Wayne State University President Irvin Reid. “The three state research universities are responding to the state’s economic crisis. If Michigan is going to return to prosperity, it must act now.”
MSU President Lou Anna Simon noted the three URC institutions bring in more than $1.3 billion in research dollars every year, 95 percent of all academic research and development grants. She said for every research dollar brought in, there is a “multiplier effect” of another $26 pumped into the state’s economy.
With the state facing continuing deficits, Gov. Jennifer Granholm has proposed what she called “an inflationary 2.5 percent budget increase” for higher education, saying, “Economists and experts across the country agree that education is the single most effective strategy for stoking a state’s economic growth. That means we all must create a culture of learning that is unprecedented in Michigan’s history.”
MICHIGAN RESEARCH U’S ENGINES FOR IMMIGRANT INVESTMENT
Skilled immigrants are major job and wealth creators: more than 33 percent of Michigan high tech startup companies were started by foreign-born founders between 1995 and 2005, according to a Duke University study.
The study “America’s New Immigrant Entrepreneurs,” found that more than a fourth of America’s high-tech startups from 1995 to 2005 were founded by immigrants with those companies producing $52 billion in sales and employing 450,000 workers in 2005.
California, New Jersey and Michigan were the top three states for percentage of high-tech startups founded by immigrants, each with more than 30 percent. The states with the lowest percentage were Washington, North Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Why was Michigan’s rate more than double that of neighboring Ohio?
Thomas Gutteridge, dean of the University of Toledo College of Business, told the Toldeo Blade Michigan has two advantages over Ohio in attracting immigrant job creators:
- Michigan’s major research centers: the University of Michigan, Michigan State University, and Wayne State University do much more research than Ohio’s main research engine, Ohio State University.
- Ohio’s universities barred professors from starting companies until 2000 while Michigan has had no such restrictions.
The University Research Corridor schools, U-M, MSU and Wayne State, host about 69 percent of Michigan’s 15,500 international students enrolled at Michigan universities. University surveys show that about 15 percent of international students, the best and brightest from around the world, settle in Michigan permanently, bringing their ingenuity and job creating ideas with them.
The Duke study found immigrant entrepreneurs founded 25.3 percent of the U.S. engineering and technology companies established in the past decade. The study also found foreign nationals—those living in the United States who are not citizens—contributed to an estimated 24.2 percent of international patent applications in 2006.
Read the full report» (PDF)
Read the Toledo Blade report on the study»
Brownfields may turn green with help from Michigan State research
EAST LANSING, Mich.—Growing crops for biofuels summons images of fuel alternatives springing from the rural heartland. But a Michigan State University partnership with DaimlerChrysler is looking at turning industrial brownfields green.
Kurt Thelen, MSU professor of crop and soil sciences, is leading the investigation to examine the possibility that some oilseed crops like soybeans, sunflower and canola, and other crops such as corn and switchgrass, can be grown on abandoned industrial sites for use in ethanol or biodiesel fuel production.
Another partner is NextEnergy, a nonprofit organization that supports energy technology development. NextEnergy is based in Tech-Town, the Wayne State Research and Technology Park.
“Right now, brownfields don’t grow anything,” Thelen said. “This may seem like a drop in the bucket, but we’re looking at the possibilities of taking land that isn’t productive and using it to both learn and produce.”
The project now is a two-acre parcel that is part of a former industrial dump site in Oakland County’s Rose Township.
A secondary objective is to examine whether the growing plants actually contribute to bioremediation, meaning they take up contaminants from the soils, without affecting their quality for use in biofuels. This might make them especially useful to grow on contaminated brownfields.
The three-year study is supported by DaimlerChrysler, NextEnergy and Project GREEEN (Generating Research and Extension to meet Economic and Environmental Needs), the state’s plant industry initiative at MSU. The study also is supported by the MSU Michigan Agricultural Experiment Station.
Biodiversity has roots in global health
EAST LANSING, Mich. -- A crucial part in the battle to prevent outbreaks of deadly disease across the world lies with ecology meshing with social sciences, since the needs of nature and of humankind cannot be separated. Preserving biodiversity and wildlife habitats are at the foundation of global health, says Jianguo “Jack” Liu, MSU Rachel Carson Chair in Ecological Sustainability.
“As we look at outbreaks of diseases such as SARS and AIDS, there are indications that many diseases may cross over from animals,” Liu said. “If the ecosystem isn't healthy, then human health is in jeopardy.”
Liu has participated extensively in policy formation in China, and last spring authored a policy forum in Science magazine. In January, Liu was invited to write an opinion piece in PBS (Public Broadcasting Service) evaluating the prospects of China’s environmental future—and making a case for why it’s cause for attention and concern no matter where one lives.
Liu’s group at MSU, partnering with researchers in China, has worked to understand not only the biology of habitat in China and other parts of the world, but also the social and economic pressures that affect habitat.
The meshing of ecological and social sciences is the key to success since the needs of nature and of humankind cannot be separated. The push and pull is evidence in much of China. For example, tourism both provides needed funding for maintenance of reserves, yet at the same time degrades habitat; villagers’ need for fuel wood to cook food and heat homes conflicts with forest preservation.
Because of this intricate interdependence, Liu and colleagues note that simple conservation education historically has not been enough to always sway people to jump on the ecology bandwagon.
“We need to address the bottom line when we’re talking about conservation: How to help people,” Liu said. “If people’s basic necessities aren’t being met, they’ll do what they have to do to survive.”
Professors to develop hand-held pathogen testing device
EAST LANSING, Mich. — Testing for deadly food, air and water pathogens may get a lot easier and cheaper thanks to the work of a Michigan State University-led research team.
MSU’s Syed Hashsham and James Tiedje, along with University of Michigan professor Erdogan Gulari are developing a portable, hand-held device capable of detecting up to 50 microbial threat agents in air, water and food.
“This device will give us the ability to measure pathogens in a manner and at a price that really matters for human health,” Hashsham said. “If we can screen for all pathogens together, we can minimize the threat significantly.”
The portable, hand-held device will be an all-in-one pathogen testing center where DNA amplification and pathogen identification will happen on the same DNA biochip. A DNA biochip has signature pieces of DNA attached to a silica surface, similar to a computer chip, and is about the size of a thumbnail.
Today, testing air, water or food for pathogens like cholera and dysentery must be done one pathogen at a time. Testing for each pathogen on an individual basis is dangerous, more expensive and time consuming. Simultaneous testing simplifies the process, making it safer and more cost effective.
“This technology is rugged and highly parallel; it can analyze lots of marker genes in a lot of samples, together with significantly lower false positives,” Hashsham said.
Hashsham said the hand-held testing device could be used anywhere that cost-effective testing of food, water or air is needed for a number of pathogens.
“Because of the lower cost, there also will be applications in countries where fewer resources are available for drinking water safety,” Hashsham said.
Looking toward the future, Hashsham has been in touch with several organizations that might be interested in the device.
WAYNE STATE RESEARCH TO MAKE BIOPSIES “VIRTUALLY” PAINLESS
Imagine going for an annual check-up and, along with non-invasive tests checking cholesterol and blood pressure, being screened for deadly cancers of the colon, pancreas, ovaries, liver, lungs or breast — all without a single incision. Welcome to the world of virtual biopsies, which may ultimately prevent millions of cancer-related deaths each year through early detection and prevention.
Wayne State University is perfecting a technology that may soon make virtual biopsies a reality and enable doctors to identify cancerous tissue in real time during surgery, preventing the unnecessary removal of tissue and reducing the likelihood of recurrence. Doctors at Children’s Hospital of Michigan are now testing the virtual biopsy equipment alongside standard biopsy methods and plan to begin clinical trials in operating rooms this year.
According to Wayne State College of Engineering researcher Dr. Greg Auner, the technology is based upon Raman spectroscopy, which involves the study of how materials, such as body tissue, reflect light. Through smart sensors and nanotechnology, Dr. Auner’s Smart Sensors and Integrated Microsystems (SSIM) labs have identified ways to translate that complicated information to doctors in real time that, with nearly perfect accuracy, identifies tissue as either cancerous, normal or benign. Dr. Michael Klein, surgeon-in-chief at Children’s Hospital, works in close collaboration with Dr. Auner in conducting the research and perfecting the technology.
“It’s the close collaboration between the Wayne State College of Engineering and School of Medicine that makes it possible for us to achieve medical research breakthroughs of this magnitude,” noted Auner.
Energy research experts assemble at U-M
Top energy experts from the University Research Corridor, U.S. auto makers and U.S. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman gathered recently at the University of Michigan for a major two day symposium on the challenges of developing new energy sources.
The alternative energy efforts of the three URC partners, Michigan State University, Wayne State University and U-M, when combined, make the state of Michigan national leaders in developing alternative energy, notes MSU President Lou Anna Simon.
Bodman, a former director of M.I.T.’s School of Engineering Practice who had a long career as a venture capitalist for Fidelity Investments, said he’s seeing more interest in investing in clean energy technology development businesses and ideas “than I have ever seen in my lifetime.”
Bodman likened the current national focus on energy to the fear and anxiety that swept the nation in 1957, when the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the first satellite. He recalled it as an era when Soviet Premier Nikita Krushchev told a group of Western ambassadors: “We will bury you.”
That anxiety fueled an American resolve to enter and win the space race, and massively invest in research and education, he noted, saying the surge in oil prices over the past six years has created a similar anxiety, fueling a new national resolve to develop alternative energy technologies.
An opportunity to shake things up
When Pfizer Inc. decided to cut 2,410 Michigan jobs, the recently announced University Research Corridor faced its first major challenge.
The bulk of the jobs are in Ann Arbor, near the University of Michigan. Pfizer researchers have worked closely with U-M as well as URC partners Michigan State University and Wayne State University.
University officials immediately began organizing an effort to keep as many of the talented workers in the state as possible, encouraging them to start new businesses while finding ways to attract new businesses to Pfizer’s facilities, slated for closure in late 2008.
“This just accelerates a number of things we had already started,” said U-M President Mary Sue Coleman. “Now it takes on a new sense of urgency. This creates an opportunity to shake things up.”
The Pfizer announcement came less than two months after URC was announced and just 19 months after Coleman spearheaded the founding of Ann Arbor SPARK, an economic development and marketing organization for greater Ann Arbor.
U-M and SPARK quickly organized action teams that brought together university leaders, state and community officials and business leaders and creative thinkers. Wayne and MSU both joined the effort.
Within the first three weeks after Pfizer’s Jan. 22 announcement, SPARK president and CEO Mike Finney had already received 40 inquiries about the Pfizer site.
For more on the efforts visit
University research corridor boosts R&D
University Research Corridor partners all ranked high in the National Science Foundation’s latest annual Survey of Research and Development Expenditures at Universities and Colleges.
The survey showed the three partners bringing in $831.5 million in fiscal 2005, a 6.6 percent increase over the $779.5 million brought in the year earlier. That’s nearly 2 percent of the $45.8 billion spent in R&D spending by all colleges and universities nationwide.
The URC partners were the only Michigan universities to make the top 100. Of the 640 institutions surveyed, the top 20 in terms of total R&D expenditures accounted for 30 percent of total academic R&D spending. The top 100 research performers accounted for 80 percent of all R&D dollars in FY 2005.
The University of Michigan was fourth on the national list of federal research and development expenditures by universities, bringing in $554.5 million in fiscal 2005, a 6.4 increase over 2004. U-M finished behind only three universities: Johns Hopkins University, the University of Washington and Stanford University.
When engineering and basic science research dollars were broken out from the total and ranked, U-M was second only to Johns Hopkins.
Michigan State University was 59th on the national list, bringing $156.4 million in federal R&D dollars in 2005, a 9.1 percent increase over 2004. Wayne State University was 78th on the list, bringing in $120.5 million, a 5.1 percent increase over 2004.
For the full report, visit:
Delphi finds answers through urc partnership
When Delphi Corp., the world’s largest auto supplier, wanted to develop more non-automotive revenue, it found answers from the University Research Corridor.
More than 70 percent of new jobs each year are created by small business. Delphi subsidiary Delphi Technologies Inc. is charged with reviewing Delphi’s 6,000 patents to find which can be licensed to companies in new non-competing businesses. As of 2005, Delphi now earns 10 percent of its revenue from non-automotive endeavors.
DTI has worked with the three URC partners to help create a number of those new businesses.
Delphi Technologies is partnering with Michigan State University to begin a new company, Smart Antenna Inc., while planning a second new company to be launched with researchers from Wayne State University’s Smart Sensors and Integrated Microsystems Laboratory.
They’ve also spun off another company, SpaceForm Inc., and based it in Wayne’s TechTown, home to a number of new businesses near the Wayne campus in Detroit.
How did they know there’s a market for some of these new businesses? DTI turned to the third URC partner, the University of Michigan. David Brophy, an associate professor in U-M’s Ross School of Business and director of the school’s Office for the Study of Private Equity, conducted a marketing feasibility study.
For more on Delphi Technologies, visit:
GO-GIRL: Growing girls’ science and math proficiency
Seventh-grade girls can get a step closer to their dreams through the GO-GIRL program or Gaining Options: Girls Investigate Real Life. The free 10-week program is designed exclusively to help seventh-grade girls develop skills that lead to science and math proficiency. GO-GIRL was collaboratively developed by faculty and staff from the University of Michigan Institute for Research on Women and Gender and the Wayne State University College of Education, with funding from the National Science Foundation. Now four other universities in the Midwest and East use the GO-GIRL curriculum.
Learn More at http://www.gogirls.wayne.edu/.
Flying Without Fear: Sonic IR Identifies Cracks in Airplanes
Electrical and computer engineering professor Xiaoyan Han doesn’t spend a lot of time worrying about little cracks in airplanes as she flies across the country at 30,000 feet. But the thought of what would happen if an engine fell off or the fuselage peeled open in mid-flight has crossed her mind. That’s why Han’s research gives her some comfort.
Han and fellow Wayne State University faculty members Skip Favro and Robert Thomas have developed an ultrasound technology called Sonic IR that can detect cracks as small as one-thousandth of an inch. The professors began working on the effort about five years ago and received their first patent in 2002. Now, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and aircraft manufacturers are studying the ultrasound technology. “I hope this will be applied to airplanes soon,” Han says. “It could make them safer.” She says the technology is especially good at discovering cracks in layered structures. “If they are below the surface, it's hard to find them. But with Sonic IR, we can locate delaminations and disbonds quite easily.”
Sonic IR—for which Wayne State has six patents—is being adapted for uses with pipelines, power plants, transmission towers and in the automotive industry. “Who wouldn’t be interested in this technology?” Favro asks. “Cracks are everywhere and they can cause a multitude of problems.”
Siemens Power Generation Inc. is using Sonic IR to test the power turbine parts it makes for utilities and their electricity generation plants. Another company that has licensed the technique is Indigo Systems Inc., which has introduced it under the trade name Thermosonix.
Favro says the best thing about this technology—and what makes it superior to existing techniques—is that it can detect cracks from any angle. “Using flash lamps, we could see the disbonds and delaminations that were parallel to the surface, but we couldn’t see the cracks that were perpendicular to the surface,” he says. “Now we can. This is much better.”
Written by Brian E. Clark. Courtesy of the Association of University Technology Managers.
Student talent becomes world-beater
Xoran Technologies of Ann Arbor was launched in 2001 by a PhD candidate and his thesis advisor. Its award-winning business plan was written by MBA students. And a former student intern is now the company president. In just five years, with brilliant young energy and seed money from the Zell-Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies at U-M, Xoran has become an innovative leader in medical-imaging. The firm, which makes small, point-of-care CT scanners, announced in June 2006 that it will be making a $3.7 million expansion in Ann Arbor and adding 171 jobs to the local economy.
Startup sensound is ‘company to watch’
SenSound, LLC, has been recognized as one of the “Michigan 50 Companies to Watch,” an awards program sponsored by the Edward Lowe Foundation. SenSound, a Wayne State University technology spin-off, received the honor at the awards ceremony during the second annual Michigan Celebrates Small Business event on April 19, 2006, in East Lansing. SenSound received the bid after having successfully launched unique patented acoustical engineering technologies developed by Dr. Sean F. Wu, Charles DeVlieg Professor of Engineering at WSU, into commercial operations. SenSound software, services and integrated systems help engineers identify, understand and visualize three dimensional sound sources and their transmission paths in true 3D space and time, with greater speed, precision and resolution than any alternative acoustics diagnostic tool available.
Studying congenital abnormality in children
Tej Mattoo, MD, professor and chief of Pediatric Nephrology at Wayne State University, was awarded more than $2.2 million from the National Institute of Diabetes & Digestive & Kidney Diseases of the National Institutes of Health to examine if long-term antibiotics are necessary in children with vesicoureteral reflux. VUR is a common congenital abnormality that is associated with recurrent urinary tract infections in children. With normal urination, the bladder contracts and deposits the urine through the urethra. In children with VUR, some urine goes back up into the ureters and sometimes up to the kidneys. This reflux exposes the kidneys to infection, which can cause serious kidney damage in younger children. The injury to the kidney may result in renal scarring, which may cause high blood pressure later in life, or even kidney failure. The current treatment method may not be necessary and may cause some harm, including resistance to antibiotics, requiring children to have expensive and painful radiology tests and surgical procedures, and causing parental anxiety. This study will determine if long-term antibiotics are necessary.
Global television via the Internet
While most soccer fans were glued to their televisions during the 2006 World Cup, fans in Switzerland were tuning in the games almost anytime and anywhere from their laptop computers, thanks to a U-M innovation.
This real-time, mobile viewing technology with minimal skipping or broken streams is currently being offered in Europe through a University of Michigan start-up called Zattoo, the brainchild of U-M Associate Professor of Computer Science Sugih Jamin, his research assistant Wenjie Wang and several U-M undergraduate students.
“The Zattoo technology actually began seven or eight years ago as a research project,” Jamin explains. “Our immediate goal is to create a global virtual cable company.”
Physics lab spawns a teaching revolution
When MSU’s National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory and the university’s Department of Physics and Astronomy built a computer-assisted tool to give a class of 92 physics students personalized problem sets, quizzes and exams, the World Wide Web hadn’t been invented.
Since its humble beginnings in 1992 however, the Learning Online Network With Computer-Assisted Personalized Approach, or LON-CAPA, has grown into a global, Web-based service that allows educators everywhere to create and share course material across a wide variety of subjects.
The service has led to a technology startup company in Haslett and now has an online library of more than 250,000 shareable teaching resources. It serves more than 23,000 students per semester at 30 institutions, ranging from middle school to graduate level courses, including astronomy, biology, chemistry, civil engineering, computer science, family and child ecology, food service and nutrition, geology, human environment and design, human medicine, mathematics, medical technology, physics and psychology. At MSU alone, LON-CAPA currently serves an average of 11,000 course-students per semester.
Gerd Kortemeyer, a cyclotron lab research associate in the mid-1990s and LON-CAPA leader, says nearly 100 secondary schools, colleges and universities use the service and share their lesson plans, problem sets, videos and computer animations to improve education everywhere.
Learn more at www.lon-capa.org.
Probing driver distraction to increase safety
Li Hsieh, Wayne State University assistant professor of audiology and speech pathology, is trying the measure the association between brain activities and driving distraction. This understanding will facilitate better automotive and telecommunication designs that will improve driver performance. Hsieh is working with the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute to compare her virtual-driving test results with actual, on-road driving results. The studies may lead to improved driver training programs that make drivers aware of their performance limits. The research may also help to develop crash-warning systems that alert drivers to danger so they can apply the brakes or control the steering to avoid an accident.
Learn more on the U-M Transportation Research Institute’s website at http://www.umtri.umich.edu/news.php.
A life-saving, life-giving robot
When Carrie Lintner’s Hodgkin’s lymphoma returned, she thought her chances of having a child were over. The radiation treatments that would be aimed at her pelvis would likely damage her ovaries and put her fertility at great risk.
But then the Climax, Mich., resident learned about a treatment she could receive at the University of Michigan Health System: A gynecological surgeon could perform a highly specialized procedure in which the ovaries are relocated, out of harm’s way, to preserve a patient’s fertility.
Dr. Arnold Advincula, a world-renowned expert at using the da Vinci surgical robot, used only small incisions in Carrie’s abdomen to relocate her ovaries behind the uterus, which became a makeshift shield against the radiation. The care she received at the U-M Health System soon had the best outcome Carrie Lintner could have dreamed of: a little girl named Maia.
Exploring deep space from East Lansing
Over the last five decades, atoms usually found only in the far reaches of space have been created and studied on the MSU campus.
The MSU National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory is the country’s leading rare isotope research facility, attracting top nuclear physicists from around the globe.
Scientists at the NSCL study rare forms of matter to understand some fundamental questions of physics, such as how matter is formed and what holds the nucleus of an atom together. Along the way, NSCL technology has led to numerous practical applications, including new ways to treat cancers, assess health risks and teach high school physics.
MSU’s Ph.D. program in nuclear physics is ranked second in the nation by US News & World Report, largely because of the cyclotron facility.
Learn more at http://www.nscl.msu.edu.
Bioeconomy in bloom at MSU
If the United States is to switch to renewable energy sources to break its petroleum habit, one key is to find a way to break down the cellulose in waste plant materials efficiently.
MSU’s Bruce Dale and Mariam Sticklen have been pursing this problem for a combined 50 years. This year, Sticklen patented a genetically modified corn that naturally produces high levels of enzymes to break down its cellulose into the sugars and starches needed to produce ethanol. An economical system of breaking down plant cellulose—found in most plant structures, from leaves to stems—would turn today’s plant waste into cheap, clean, renewable fuels.
To help coordinate the university’s widespread expertise in biosciences, MSU has established an Office of Bio-based Technologies. “Michigan has an abundance of raw materials—wood and crops that could be used as biomass. We have natural resources that could support the growth of dedicated biomass crops,” says Steven Pueppke, director of the MSU Office of Bio-based Technologies.
Learn more at http://www.msu.edu/bioeconomy/.
NATIONAL CENTER FOR HEALTH RESEARCH
The National Institutes of Health awarded the Wayne State University School of Medicine a 10-year, multi-million dollar contract to house and support an intramural branch of NIH to conduct studies into maternal and infant health and disease. The Perinatology Research Branch, part of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, is one of only a few NIH intramural branches located outside of its main campus in Maryland. This represents a unique partnership between the NIH and an academic medical center. The contract, with a potential estimated value of $125 million over its duration, is expected to have profound and far-reaching social and economic impact in Detroit and the surrounding community. Dr. Roberto Romero has been chief of the PRB since 1992 and will continue to direct the branch’s activities. Romero is an obstetrician and gynecologist with a sub-specialty in maternal-fetal medicine and is widely regarded as one of the most prominent intellectual leaders in modern obstetrics.
Two-pronged attack on smoking cessation
Researchers Naomi Breslau at MSU and Ovide Pomerleau at U-M recently contributed to an international study of the genes that may underlie nicotine dependence. They helped narrow down a massive search of the human genome to just about two dozen locations in the genes where a higher risk for nicotine dependence may be determined. In addition to pointing to new directions for possible smoking cessation treatments, the novel approach taken by the study is itself a landmark in the field of multi-gene human diseases.
Learn more on the U-M Tobacco Research Network website at http://www.umtrn.sph.umich.edu/index.php.
Growing hope in Rwanda
MSU-led coffee project strengthens communities in war-ravaged nation
In 1994, Dan Clay and his family fled the African nation of Rwanda as a civil war escalated into one of the worst genocides in modern history. In the course of 100 days, 800,000 Rwandans were killed. More than 2 million refugees poured into neighboring countries. Farms were deserted.
Clay — director of MSU’s Institute for International Agri — culture returned to Rwanda in 2001, determined to help the survivors rebuild their lives. Enlisting the help of colleagues at the National University of Rwanda and Texas A&M University, Clay established PEARL — the Partnership to Enhance Agriculture in Rwanda through Linkages.
Located near the equator, Rwanda offers an ideal climate for growing crops like bananas and coffee. Traditionally, Rwandans had produced only mid-grade coffee. Clay recognized that by upgrading harvesting and processing methods to the standards for specialty coffee, Rwandans could increase the value of their product dramatically. Through PEARL, members of ten coffee cooperatives have learned new farming and harvesting practices, as well as techniques for washing and sorting coffee beans by quality. PEARL has built community washing stations and labs where trained “cuppers” taste-test the coffee to determine its value. The project connected the cooperatives with businesses that market and distribute the specialty coffee around Europe and the United States. In three years, the price of coffee from PEARL cooperatives nearly tripled, and strong communities began to form around the projects.
The largest of the cooperatives, in Maraba, has 1,600 members, many of whom are widows of the genocide. In 2004, the cooperative sold 60 tons of coffee at more than $1.30 a pound.
Lighting the way to cures
With the students on his research team at Wayne State University, chemistry professor A. Paul Schaap developed a luminescent compound called Lumigen PPD, that glows on command when lab tests find evidence of certain diseases in patients.
Today, the compound is used worldwide as a key ingredient in laboratory tests to diagnose AIDS, cancer, hepatitis and other diseases. Schaap founded a company called Lumigen in Southfield that has grown to 44 full-time employees, including several people who were in his Wayne State lab when the discovery was made in 1986. The glowing compound is now distributed to more than two dozen businesses around the globe.
Even before the company was acquired for $185 million cash by Beckman Coulter, a maker of biomedical testing systems, Schaap and his wife Carol endowed a chemistry faculty position and graduate student scholarships Wayne State. “The two are tied together,” Paul Schaap explains, “because if you attract great faculty, you attract great students, and the converse holds true as well.”
An Eye and an Ear for Innovation
Tony Fadell’s grandfather unwittingly unleashed a cultural phenomenon when he taught Tony how to replace an electrical plug at age four.
The curious lad landed at the University of Michigan where professor Elliot Soloway taught him electrical engineering and invention and listened to his ideas. “It was more than just mentoring,” says Fadell. “He and I would just talk about ideas, more as peers.”
By his own admission, Fadell was a good student but not a great one. “With Elliot, you learn by doing. He has a passion and enthusiasm that’s infectious. I had the opportunity to take a lot of project-based classes and work on University projects outside of classes, and that learning allowed me to explore what I wanted to explore.”
In February 2001 the young inventor joined Apple Computer to “develop the best portable product in the world to take your music where you want to go.” By October 2001, Fadell’s team launched an amazing new music player called the iPod that had no moving parts and fit in a pocket. The rest is history.
On any given day, Tony Fadell (BSE CompE ’91) sees his innovation tucked in teenagers’ pockets, attached to joggers’ arms and plugged into vehicles everywhere. Now the senior vice president of the iPod Division at Apple Computer, Fadell has watched the portable digital music player he helped create become a household word and an omnipresent entry on wish lists around the world.
Herbicides that get the weeds, not the farmer
For years, herbicides would kill weeds but also harm human beings.
Then in 1975, George Levitt, a scientist at DuPont who obtained his Ph. D. in chemistry from MSU in 1957, made a discovery that would revolutionize this field.
“I found that there was an area of chemistry that had been completely overlooked,” Levitt says. “I began to synthesize compounds. One led to another. Soon, we had biological activity of the type that we had never seen before.”
Levitt invented a class of environmentally safer, more effective herbicide known as sulfonylureas. It works by attacking enzymes found in plants, but not in humans or other animals. It harms only the weeds. Moreover, the chemical does not build up in the soil or leach into groundwater.
“Before sulfonylurea, the farmer would use considerably more chemicals, and this of course had an impact on the environment,” he notes. “The farmer had more to worry about in the way of side effects on the environment when using traditional, higher-use-rate chemicals, whereas with sulfonylureas, which lack adverse activity on animals and don’t affect fish, fowl or other forms of wildlife, the farmer had less to worry about environmentally.”
DuPont patented Levitt’s invention in 1978 and four years later introduced its Glean® herbicide to wheat farmers. DuPont soon developed sulfonylurea herbicides for every major food crop in the world. Until his retirement in 1986, Levitt continued synthesizing sulfonylureas. He received 90 patents for them as inventor or co-inventor.
In recognition of his achievements, in 1993 Levitt received the National Medal of Technology from President Bill Clinton, the highest honor a scientist can receive from the U.S. government.
Reprinted with permission from the MSU Alumni Magazine.
From the desktop to nanotech
After earning a B.S. in computer science from MSU, Jim Von Ehr (’72) built the Altsys Corporation from a small programming project in his dining room. At the time, the desktop publishing industry was just beginning and Altsys became a major player, developing FreeHand and Fontographer, the first commercially available PostScript drawing programs. While running Altsys, he earned five patents for software products. He sold the business to Macromedia in 1984 for a hefty sum and decided to get out of software.
“After I sold Altsys, I realized I could never hope to capture that level of success again,” he says. “I made more than 10,000 times return on my money. That struck me as a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing. Secondly, I realized that the Internet had changed everything about software. I knew a lot about shrink-wrap software — but I thought that actually might be a handicap in the Internet Age. Also, I wasn’t having any fun anymore in software.”
He had heard of the promise of nanotechnology, and without much knowledge of what he was getting into founded Zyvex in a suburb just outside Dallas, intending to get in on the ground floor of another revolution.
To date, Zyvex has two major products. The first is a nano-manipulator, a device the size of an outstretched hand that fits into an electron microscope. “It allows you to reach into the nano world and manipulate things,” Von Ehr notes.
The second major product has been super-strong materials. “At the nano scale, things can be made atomically perfect — every atom in its perfect place. That perfection gives incredible strength,” he explains.
“I’m a tinkerer by nature, so MSU was the perfect school for me,” he says. “They didn’t discourage my tinkering. A lot of educational institutions, it seems the professors try to turn off students’ creativity or inventiveness if it doesn’t fit in the with syllabus or the teaching plan. But at MSU, I had access to the engineering buildings, and I would go over there and tinker whenever I wanted. Also, I could use the computers to do some programming beyond my class assignments. Allowing students to ‘play’ like that is very important in the learning process, and MSU realized that.”
Reprinted with permission from the MSU Alumni Magazine.
The long path to a better vaccine
Hunein “John” Maassab, a native of Damascus, Syria, came to the University of Michigan for graduate school so that he could study under Dr. Thomas Francis, developer of the first effective influenza vaccine and leader of the Salk Polio Vaccine trials.
Shortly after finishing his PhD in 1956, Maassab joined the U-M faculty and began to work on a challenge laid down by Dr. Francis: Make an improved influenza vaccine.
The effort became Maassab’s life work, consuming more than 40 years of laboratory work, replete with false starts, dead ends and frustrating disappointments. Had Maassab worked in a pharmaceutical company or other for-profit venture, his project would have been abandoned after only a few years because it was such a long shot.
But at the University of Michigan, with bright students, collaborative colleagues and excellent resources, Maassab was able to see his vision through to fruition.
His improvement on influenza vaccine is now sold as FluMist, and it’s the first live-attenuated influenza vaccine, delivered by a nasal spray. FluMist has become an important new weapon against seasonal flu, and is expected to reach $500 million in annual sales. It couldn’t have happened anywhere else.
Making “whoopee” with fiber optics
One of the artifacts on display at the Corning company museum is Donald Keck’s (MS ’64, PhD ’67, MSU) data book, opened to a page from 1970. On that page, he signified the discovery of what would turn into the fiber-optic wire by penciling in “whoopee!”
You’ll have to cut him some slack for the unscientific exclamation. After all, he was only just fresh from earning his Ph.D. at Michigan State and he was still a young man—a young man who had just made a discovery that would enable the Information Age. The fiber-optic wire could carry 65,000 times more information than conventional copper wire, allowed for transmission of massive amounts of data across great distances.
“The laser had been invented in the early ’60s and a number of people thought that using beams of light to carry telephone messages would be a marvelous idea. The only thing they lacked was a way to get the laser beam from one point to another,” says Keck, who retired from Corning in 2000. “We started working on using Corning glass fibers to transmit the beams. The problem was the best optical glass anybody could create could only transmit the beams a few feet before the glass would absorb or scatter the light. My original goal when I started the research at Corning was just 1 percent transmission over a kilometer, which to many seemed like an impossible task due to the fundamental laws of absorption. But when you’re young you don’t worry about something being impossible.”
Keck says MSU helped him succeed by providing him an excellent education through a super teaching staff.
“The particular thesis work I did revolved around infrared spectroscopy. I learned I like optics. I learned about materials and their different spectral responses. I was ready to hit the ground running at Corning.’
Reprinted with permission from the MSU Alumni Magazine.
A failed experiment that saves lives
When Wayne State University medical professor Dr. Jerome Horwitz discovered the drug AZT in the early 1960s, he was looking for anti-cancer drugs. AZT (short for azidothymidine) was a failure in inhibiting the spread of cancer cells, so it was shelved without patents for 20 years. With the emergence of a terrible new disease called AIDS, the Burroughs Wellcome Co. began testing chemicals that might be effective against retroviruses like HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
AZT was among those tested, and it became the first effective drug in the fight against AIDS. The drug has been a key reason that AIDS is largely treated as a chronic, rather than an acute illness.
In 1986, Horwitz was listed as one of the “25 Most Intriguing People” by People magazine, and in 2000, the Detroit News named him Michiganian of the Year. He retired from the Wayne State University School of Medicine in 2005, at the age of 86, on the last day of his last grant.
Always on the move
Michigan engineering and urban planning graduate Gloria Jeff (BSE 1974, MSE 1976, MUP 1976) has fallen short of her childhood dream of being an astronaut, but she’s well on her way to another lifelong goal: influencing people’s lives in a meaningful way.
Growing up in Detroit with sci-fi novels in hand and astronaut Alan Shepard on television, Jeff couldn’t help but be a little different. “I knew that if I wanted to be an astronaut I would have to design my own rocket ship that only I could fly, because no one in the space program looked like me. That’s what ignited my interest in engineering.”
After a bachelor’s degree and two master’s degrees from U-M, Jeff spent five years with metropolitan Detroit’s public transit system, then 13 more with the Michigan Department of Transportation in several roles, including the head of transportation planning. She served six years on the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) as deputy administrator and acting head of the agency before returning to Michigan in 2003 as Director of MDOT.
Under her leadership, MDOT doubled the state’s investment in the maintenance and repair of local bridges and provided vital support to the state’s job creation and economic activity. She recently accepted a new challenge as director of the Los Angeles Department of Transportation.
Jeff isn’t sure she’ll ever make it into space, but she has touched hundreds of lives as a teacher at U-M and Michigan State University and a mentor in the workplace. She hopes promising young people come away from the experience thinking “if she can make it, I can make it.”
Ever make a phone call via the Internet? Thinking of buying a new generation computer? Do you watch the Weather Channel?
Many everyday activities you take for granted were made possible by inventions of Dr. Xian-He Sun, professor of computer science at the Illinois Institute of Technology and director of IIT’s Scalable Computing Software Lab.
Among his more than 10 U.S. and international patents is his development of a software protocol that breaks down the barriers between data networks and voice networks. The Chicago Sun-Times credits Sun and his colleagues with turning POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service) into PANS (Pretty Amazing New Stuff).
A native of Beijing, China, Dr. Sun was not much of an inventor when he graduated from Beijing Normal University in 1982. But he enjoyed research, and during his seven years at MSU, where he received three degrees—M.S. ’85, mathematics, and M.S. ’87 and Ph. D. ’90, computer science—he began seeing “how research can make an impact not only in lifting the wisdom of mankind but also in improving the quality of human life.”
Sun’s dissertation was a research breakthrough and led to what textbooks now call the Sun-Ni Law of parallel processing. One of three major laws in parallel computing, it dramatically affects current computer design. The power of parallel processing, by the way, has allowed many, many applications, including generating more accurate weather forecasts in a timely fashion.
“I am, first and foremost, a scientist,” explains Sun, who currently has a number of patents pending, dealing with his novel idea of memory data access server. “In the process of research, you get a breakthrough, and then you see a cluster of inventions.”
Reprinted with permission from the MSU Alumni Magazine.
New tools against heart disease
Richard Stack, MD, ’76, a Wayne State University School of Medicine alumnus, is a world-renowned authority on cardiovascular disease. He invented several devices designed to improve and further the technology of angioplasty, the surgical repair of blood vessels. Stack, professor emeritus of cardiology at Duke University, also is president of Synecor, a company that develops new medical technology, including the bioabsorbable stent. This type of stent, or tube, props open arteries and can release drugs. Once the artery is healed, the stent is engulfed by the arterial wall and dissolves, returning the artery to its natural state.