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The Center for Structural Biology, pictured above, is one of the many resources featured on the Michigan Research Cores website.
By Alex Piazza
Inside a 10,000 square-foot lab on North Campus, researchers are working to produce batteries that could power the next fleet of electric vehicles.
A couple miles away, researchers are using complex tools and technologies to search for a new category of stem cells that could heal an array of painful bone injuries.
And in a lab that looks more like a furnished apartment, researchers are studying how people with joint diseases adapt everyday activities to their surroundings.
Lurie Nanofabrication Facility
Every day across the University of Michigan, researchers apply their expertise to address emerging challenges and opportunities in areas of broad potential impact. And a key catalyst behind many of those breakthroughs is research cores — centralized facilities or labs that offer researchers important services, equipment, resources and expertise.
“As the nation’s largest public research university, the University of Michigan is home to dozens of core resources that help researchers address serious problems, accelerate knowledge, and develop new products and services,” said Steven Kunkel, interim executive vice dean for research at the U-M Medical School. “The problem, however, is that many people across campus do not know where these cores are located and how these cores can help them advance their research.”
Cue Michigan Research Cores. In February, with support from the U-M Biosciences Initiative and the Medical School Office of Research, the university launched a searchable database that features information about the variety of research cores across campus.
Michigan Research Cores can save U-M researchers time and money by eliminating redundancies and providing efficient access to high-end instrumentation and expertise.
“From genome sequencing and high-performance computing to behavioral coding and exercise optimization, the University of Michigan offers so many great resources that help our researchers make an impact on society,” said Roger Cone, vice provost and director of the Biosciences Initiative. “Michigan Research Cores enables the campus community to quickly explore what U-M has to offer, providing faculty, staff and students agility in identifying needed research resources.”
Below are examples of two U-M research cores featured on the Michigan Research Cores website. Learn more at cores.research.umich.edu.
They power electric vehicles so drivers can bypass gas stations on their way up north.
They power pacemakers so patients can overcome abnormal heart rhythms and live comfortably.
And they power cell phones so people can stay connected during lengthy conference calls.
They are batteries and they power many of the devices people use on a daily basis. But as technology in vehicles, medical implants and cell phones continues to evolve, battery technology also must follow suit.
Therein lies the importance of the Battery Fabrication and Characterization User Facility, a space developed by U-M in cooperation with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation and Ford Motor Company. The Battery Lab, managed by the U-M Energy Institute, provides space and tools so that researchers and industry partners can prototype, test and analyze batteries to make them lighter, safer and less costly.
Ford, for example, cites the Battery Lab as an integral partner in its ongoing efforts to advance battery technology.
“It is a unique facility with state-of-the-art pilot scale equipment and staff with the expertise required to successfully conduct larger-scale electrode and process experimentation,” said Ted Miller, Ford’s senior manager of energy storage and materials strategy and research. “The ability to control key variables during coating and cell fabrication provides our Energy Storage Research Team with high confidence in results and allows us to accurately identify critical correlations.”
Learn more about the Battery Lab.
The front door opens to a living area with a TV, video game console, chairs and a coffee table.
There is a nearby kitchen sink with plenty of countertop space to prepare meals.
And down the hall is a bedroom, bathroom and laundry room.
This may seem like an ordinary apartment, but the ceiling is lined with microphones to record conversations. Disguised cameras capture interactions, and the lenses are so powerful they can even read text on a box of cake mix. And the video game console allows researchers to analyze walking speed.
There is an observation deck outside the lab so that researchers can view people inside through a two-way mirror in the bathroom and windows in the kitchen, dining room and bedroom. The windows are tinted and wrapped with a decal to mimic an outdoorsy view.
“The unique attributes of the HomeLab allow us to compare people’s self reports regarding activities of daily living with real-time observations of their actual behaviors in an ecologically-valid, standardized setting,” said Jacqui Smith, co-director of the BioSocial Methods Collaborative.
Various pieces of technology are embedded within the HomeLab so that researchers can collect multiple types of data simultaneously, including muscle activity, eye tracking, heart rate, blood pressure and respiration rate. They also can collect, analyze and store blood and saliva.
“The technology in the HomeLab allows researchers and technicians to unobtrusively observe and collect synchronized, multi-channel data for every point of interaction,” said Richard Gonzalez, co-director of the BioSocial Methods Collaborative.
Learn more about the HomeLab.