img 51371 URC Shows Off In High Tech Bus Tour

The sensors on Michigan State University's National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory

Michigan’s three biggest research universities showed off their economic development muscle in a tour for a couple of dozen science, technology and business journalists Wednesday.

The University Research Corridor’s economic development bus tour started at Wayne State University, continued at the University of Michigan’s huge new North Campus Research Complex, a 2 million square foot former Pfizer Corp. research center, and concluded at Michigan State University.

Wayne State kicked off the tour at its Danto Center, a year-old, $28 million, 82,000-square-foot research and teaching center on Warren Avenue.

Most of the wonders there involved the research of Greg Auner, whose microsystems and advanced materials research could lead to artificial eyesight for the blind, brain implants to treat everything from Alzheimer’s to ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) to Parkinson’s, to advanced laboratory-on-a-chip system to much more quickly and accurately identify the type and aggressiveness of cancer cells, which could lead to much more accurate diagnosis and treatment of cancer.

Auner’s labs also contain machinery that can build materials literally one row of atoms at a time, from diamonds to organics. They also have rapid prototyping and micro-machining capabilities.

Wayne State is also working on miniaturized, specialized surgical robots for applications such as eye, brain and cancer surgery.

Sponsored research funding for Wayne State’s engineering program has doubled in the past year to $20 million, part of the university’s overall $250 million-plus research budget.

Also presenting was Judy Johncox, director of business services at Wayne State’s TechTown business incubator. She said 149 companies are now dealing with TechTown, making it the top tech incubator in the country.

The original five-story, 125,000-square-foot TechOne building is full, with work starting now on a nearby three-story, 135,000-square foot building, the former Dalgleish Cadillac building. Johncox said TechTwo will begin occupancy this fall.

Then the tour moved to the University of Michigan’s massive new research complex, which it bought from Pfizer for $108 million last year.

Declared UM president Mary Sue Coleman: “The future of manufacturing can be found here — the lab scpace where science turns into discovery and discovery turns into commercial activity.”

The three URC presidents used the UM meeting to release the results of a survey on advanced manufacturing in Michigan conducted for the URC by the Anderson Economic Group of Michigan. (More about the survey in the story below.)

Said Coleman: “When we think of manufacturing, we might imagine the manufacture of automobiles, assembly lines and widgets. But today’s advanced manufacturing, though it does include the important manufacture of automobiles and always will, also means pharmaceuticals, chemicals, sensors, circuits and robots. It means not only physical manufacturing but also the sophisticated process design needed to create these products in a very efficient way.”

URC director Jeff Mason mentioned several companies in this next wave of Michigan manufacturing, from Energy Conversion Devices to Hemlock Semiconductor to Compact Power Inc. to Johnson Controls-Saft to Cascade Engineering.

MSU president Lou Anna K. Simon said the manufacturing study represents the next step for the URC: “We’re now asking a bigger quesiton, what should the new Michigan look like. Manufacturing is still vitally important. It hasn’t disappeared, it has changed, it has become more productive and more dependent on advanced technologies, and it still represents 10 percent of the state’s work force.”

And Wayne State president Jay Noren pointed to the study’s data, noting that advanced, research-relevant manufaturing enjoys far higher wages and wage growth than the background economy.

After a tour of the spectacular Ann Arbor labs, the tour moved to Michigan State University for a tour of the National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory.

Zach Constan, the laboratory’s outreach director, offered a fascinating tour of the atom smasher, which uses three megawatts of power and protects its neighbors from radiation with six-foot-thick concrete walls.

Also presenting was Niowave, a Lansing company that’s a spinout of the laboratory that builds superconducting niobium atom smasher components and related hardware.

Just starting is construction on the new federal Facility for Rare Isotope Beams, a $550 million atom-smashing research center scheduled to go into operation at MSU in 2018.

More at

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