Committee approves research funding

Funding for three hi-tech research facilities won’t come from the University’s central budget.

The Board of Regents Facilities Committee gave the go-ahead Thursday to fund three new research-oriented capital projects. Luckily for the University of MinnesotaâÄôs tight budget, none of the funding will come from the UniversityâÄôs central account. Instead, the money will come from University departments and the U.S. Department of Energy.

Neutrinos

The committee made triple sure Thursday the DOE would be picking up the entire $15.4 million tab for phase one of the NoVA project before giving it their approval. The facility will house a neutrino detector outside Ash River, Minn. Neutrinos are tiny particles âÄî much smaller than atoms âÄî that travel close to the speed of light and make up matter. NoVA is the newest part of a long-standing relationship between the University, the DOE and Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, the projectâÄôs primary researcher, Marvin Marshak, said. The University already has a DOE-funded lab in Soudan, Minn., and this new project is a follow-up to that work, Marshak said. The Soudan lab has been studying a beam of neutrinos from Fermilab in Batavia, Ill., since 2005, and has measured some properties of those neutrinos more precisely than previous experiments. But the existing lab in Soudan doesnâÄôt have the right equipment to satisfy their research needs, Marshak said. Phase one of the project will improve the logging road leading from the highway to the site of the detector so it can be used in all weather. At the same time, the eventual site of the underground lab will be excavated. The money for the project has been approved at the federal level, but isnâÄôt in the UniversityâÄôs hands yet. Marshak said Rep. Jim OberstarâÄôs, D-Minn., confirmed attendance at the groundbreaking makes him confident that it will be forthcoming. The total cost for completing the facility will be about $270 million.

Schulze Diabetes Institute

A $40 million gift to the University from the Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation with the goal of hastening a cure for Type 1 diabetes precipitated the Academic Health CenterâÄôs request for a new research facility. Frank Cerra, the senior vice president for the AHC, said the UniversityâÄôs program is leading the race to cure Type 1 diabetes, and SchulzeâÄôs gift is a commitment to that research. If the Board of Regents confirms the committeeâÄôs decision, the AHC will spend $720,000 to renovate part of the Animal Science and Veterinary Medicine Building for use in pre-clinical diabetes research. That space is scheduled to be completed by July. The gift itself wonâÄôt be used to pay for the facility because it cannot be spent on buildings, said Terry Bock, the associate vice president for health sciences administration at the AHC. Instead, the AHC will have to take out a loan from the budget office to pay for the renovations. The site was chosen because it could be converted quickly and relatively inexpensively. Without SchulzeâÄôs donation, the AHC would not have been able to create the new diabetes lab, Bock said. The lab has already received two grants from the National Institutes of Health that will also fund research, Cerra said.

Supercomputing

The committee also approved the Minnesota Supercomputing InstituteâÄôs expenditure of $600,000 to prepare their facility in the basement of Walter Library for a new supercomputer. The new computer will need 500 kilovolt amps of additional power, and 100 tons of air conditioning, said Michael Perkins, the UniversityâÄôs associate vice president for Capital Planning and Project Management . A third upgrade will be the installation of an uninterruptable power source, which will be able to power the computer for the eight to 10 minutes needed for a soft shutdown. Tim Mulcahy, the UniversityâÄôs vice president for research, said the MSI is the main computational resource for thousands of researchers on campus, and it supports $100 million in external research funding. All these projects will need final approval from the Board of Regents at their Friday meeting before they can move forward.