U gives out royalty funds for research

The one-time grant is the largest sum invested by the school at once.

Evelina Smirnitskaya

From lasers and sensors to film batteries, the University of MinnesotaâÄôs Nanofabrication Center  is all about making tiny things. But its costs are enormous compared to its creations.

Equipment is costly and cannot be purchased on lab user fees alone. ThatâÄôs why Stephen Campbell, the centerâÄôs director  and an electrical engineering professor, spent months collaborating with colleagues and writing a proposal to get his team on a list of the lucky few to receive a major University investment.

He succeeded and made his project one of 11 to get money from the Office of the Vice President of for Research earlier this month when it invested more than $12 million from school-developed technology revenue back into  University research.

This one-time grant is the largest sum the school has ever invested to support research, and such a gift may not be given again anytime soon.

The money comes out of royalties from inventions developed at the University. The schoolâÄôs largest source of royalties comes from Ziagen, an HIV/AIDS medication.

Generating approximately $75 million of the $84 million generated in royalties last year, Ziagen was a big boost to many University programs, said OVPR spokesman John Merritt.

But with the patent expiring in 2013, the school is unlikely to find such a large royalties source for a while, Merritt said, which could make such grants less common in the future.

âÄúWeâÄôre not going to give away $12 million again,âÄù said Frances Lawrenz, the associate vice president for research.

Though she said the efforts to improve infrastructure are ongoing, not everything can be funded.

The money for the 11 projects was awarded as part of the Infrastructure Investment Initiative, a program meant to address the UniversityâÄôs most critical research needs.

In a competitive application process involving internal and external peer review, OVPR received 51 applicants.

âÄúAll of the proposals were really very good, and it was a difficult decision,âÄù Lawrenz said, âÄúbut [those] that we picked were really the ones we thought were best.âÄù

The projects came from many fields of study.

Stephen Engel, a psychology professor at the College of Liberal Arts,  teamed up with people from the College of Education and Human Development, the College of Science and Engineering and the Medical School  to get $1.49 million for purchasing and operating a new MRI scanner.

Engel hopes to use the machine in his research of the brainâÄôs visual system, but he said that the upcoming purchase is meant to become a campus-wide resource.

Engel said the work put into the proposal project was worth it, considering the resource the University will gain.

For Campbell, the award means providing 250 researchers with the technology they need to continue their work.

âÄú[Not getting the award], was a big concern for us,âÄù he said.

Lawrenz said OVPR is trying to figure out ways to help the 40 projects that didnâÄôt make the cut, but Merritt said itâÄôs impossible to help them all.

âÄúWe wish we had enough money to fund everyone, but even outside sources for this sort of infrastructure are very few and far between,âÄù he said. The reality, Merritt said in an e-mail, is that there will simply be less money from royalties going forward.