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July 1, 2010
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U-M and Chinese university launch joint research venture

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The University of Michigan and Shanghai Jiao Tong University officially launched a new joint research program June 29, with a ceremony in Shanghai announcing the first six research teams to win funding for renewable energy and biomedical technology projects.

U-M president Mary Sue Coleman and SJTU Chairwoman Dexiu Ma signed a collaborative research resolution as part of the ceremony, one of the events during Coleman’s week-long trip to China. Each school committed $3 million to the program; the first six teams will each receive $200,000.

caricatures“The research strengths of our two universities are quite complementary, so we are well-matched to work together on some of the grand challenges facing humanity,” said U-M Vice President for Research Stephen Forrest, part of a U-M contingent that also attended the June 29 signing ceremony in Shanghai.

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“Today we are facing human-scale problems that will require global collaborations that bring together the world’s best scientists and engineers,” he said. “The globalization of research is beginning to transform the way big problems are tackled, and the University of Michigan will be at the forefront of this emerging trend.”

The goal of the U-M/SJTU Collaborative Research Program in Renewable Energy Science and Technology is to develop new technologies that reduce global carbon emissions and their impact on climate change. The Collaborative Research Program in Biomedical Technologies will spur technological advances that improve human health.

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“Renewable energy and biomedical technologies that improve human health—I cannot think of two other areas of research that can have a greater impact on the environment and the quality of life of people worldwide,” Forrest said.

The winning projects, chosen from 39 proposals, seek to:

  • Combine experiments and computational modeling to identify optimal cathode catalysts for Li-air batteries that could power low-cost electric vehicles with a driving range comparable to today’s gasoline-powered vehicles.
  • Integrate single-walled carbon nanotubes into existing silicon and polymer photovoltaic devices to create high-efficiency hybrid solar cells.
  • Build and test a prototype of a new, high-efficiency “smart façade” for buildings that captures solar energy, transmits light, provides enhanced insulation and is capable of changing its characteristics through sensor-based interaction with internal building climate controls.
  • Prototype a low-cost, palm-size diagnostic instrument that can be used in hospitals or clinics to rapidly and sensitively detect multiple cancer biomarkers using only a finger-pricked blood sample.
  • Develop an advanced endoscopic stitching device based on a super-elastic suture to enable endoscopic gastric bypass for obesity treatment and other procedures.
  • Use the Acoustic Droplet Vaporization (ADV) method to enhance the controlled heating of tissues during high-intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU) treatments. ADV-enhanced HIFU promises breakthrough advances—including reduced treatment time, increased cost-effectiveness and improved protection of sensitive tissues—in the field of thermal ablation of tumors.

The goal of the initial five-year seed phase of the joint U-M/SJTU research programs is to identify projects that have commercialization potential and that are likely to attract follow-on research funding from the U.S. and Chinese governments, as well as from industry. The renewable energy collaborations will take advantage of funding opportunities expected to be offered by both the U.S. Department of Energy and the Chinese government.

“As we look at renewable energy, we have to keep in mind that China and the United States are the two largest carbon-emitting nations on the face of the Earth,” Forrest said. “By taking a leadership role and investing significant resources to come up with some solutions, the U-M and SJTU are showing the world that we are seriously committed to helping solve this urgent problem.”

In addition to the technologies research programs, the two universities will offer grants of up to $80,000 to organize and host collaborative symposia focusing on major topics in the areas of renewable energy and biomedical engineering.

Mary Sue with studentsThe new research partnerships between U-M and SJTU build on years of collaboration between the two schools. In 2001, U-M became the first non-Chinese academic institution approved to offer graduate engineering degrees to students in China, at SJTU. In 2005, U-M and SJTU strengthened the partnership by forming a joint institute to manage and direct degree-granting programs offered by both universities to students from both nations.

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In May 2010, U-M, in partnership with SJTU and several other U.S. and Chinese universities and national laboratories, submitted a proposal to the Energy Department for a U.S.-China Clean Energy Research Center for Clean Vehicles.

The proposal, which is under review, calls for a dramatic reduction in petroleum-based fuel consumption and vehicle greenhouse-gas emissions for both nations. The reductions would be accomplished through the synergy of optimized low-carbon energy carriers, including biofuels and electricity.

“Because of our existing research partnerships with SJTU, the University of Michigan is perfectly positioned to lead this binational consortium, which would conduct breakthrough research and development impacting three of society’s grand challenges: climate change, energy security and environmental sustainability,” Forrest said.

By Jim Erickson, University News Service. This story originally appeared on the News Service website. Photos complements of the U-M/SJTU Joint Institute.

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