Research Infrastructure Investment Program: 2020 Awards

The following are brief descriptions of the projects selected for Research Infrastructure Investment Program awards in 2020. These awards are designed to facilitate interdisciplinary partnerships and strengthen the University’s research infrastructure. One-to-one matching funds from the collaborating colleges, institutes and/or centers were required for funding eligibility.

Surface Characterization Instrumentation to Advance Interdisciplinary Research at the University of Minnesota-Duluth

Brian Barry, Natural Resource Research Institute
Matching funds: D NRRI Central Admin, D SCSE Administration, D Chemical Engineering, D Chemical Engineering

The objective of this project is to acquire surface characterization instrumentation to advance interdisciplinary research on physicochemical and biogeochemical processes that occur at the surfaces of natural and engineered materials. This is a broad collaborative initiative among researchers the Natural Resources Research Institute and the Swenson College of Science and Engineering at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD); involving ten key users across seven different departments, initiatives, and interdisciplinary research centers (including the Advanced Materials Center and Large Lakes Observatory). Specifically, we seek to establish a materials characterization center at UMD with the following shared instrumentation: (1) a surface area analyzer, (2) a mercury porosimeter, and (3) mediated electrochemical characterization instrumentation. This would enable simultaneous characterization of the abundance, accessibility, and redox functionality of surface active sites for materials of interdisciplinary interest, promoting new synergistic research activities. Moreover, Duluth’s unique location on Lake Superior and active community of environmental researchers put UMD in a strong position to become nationally recognized for research on environmental biogeochemical processes. Researchers at UMD will be able to leverage these opportunities and capabilities to collaborate with researchers across the University of Minnesota system, extending impacts beyond UMD.

e-Infrastructure to Transform the Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station

Brian Buhr, College of Food, Agricultural, and Natural Resource Sciences
Matching funds: College of Food, Agricultural, and Natural Resource Science

The University of Minnesota’s Research and Outreach Centers (ROCs) represent a critical system of physical infrastructure. The ROCs are the basis for some of our most impactful research related to agriculture, environment, climate change, and invasive species. More recently, they have become a testbed for advanced digital technologies leveraging artificial intelligence, machine learning, and robotics. In response to this new wave of digital agriculture, the Deputy Director of the Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station initiated the “Electronic Research and Outreach Center Initiative” -- a digital-first strategy for 21st-century CFANS research and development. The first step in the initiative is to modernize the instrumentation and field observation infrastructure across the ROCs. Underpinning most scientific findings in CFANS are two sources of data: weather and field observations. Over the past 30 years, the infrastructure for weather instrumentation has degraded across many of the ROCs. The main outcomes of this project will be to procure, install, and maintain a harmonized weather collection system and establish a common data management platform applicable to field plot data across the ROCs. This funding will result in the baseline electronic infrastructure needed to advance the broader Electronic ROC Initiative and lay the foundation for 21st-century CFANS research and development.

Acquisition of a System to Enable Research in Quantum Information

Stephen Campbell, Electrical & Computer Engineering, College of Science and Engineering
Matching funds: College of Science and Engineering, MN Nano Center

As traditional information systems approach theoretical limits, there is tremendous interest in new materials and devices for computing, information storage and sensing. One high-profile example is quantum computing, which is seeing a great deal of emphasis at federal and private funding agencies. Devices for quantum computing are made from a sequence of thin films that are lithographically patterned. Here we propose a system that can form the extremely pure thin films required for quantum applications. This capability is enabled by the system’s ability to achieve extremely high vacuum, preventing background gases from contaminating the films. The system also allows the researcher to clean the surface of a material in-situ prior to depositing the next layer, enabling uncontaminated interfaces between layers. Although most of the leading groups working in quantum computing devices have such a system, there is no such system in Minnesota. Uses beyond quantum devices that would benefit from ultra-pure films and clean interfaces are envisioned as well. We propose to bring this system to the Minnesota Nano Center where it will be made available to all of the faculty. More than a dozen research groups have expressed a strong interest in using such a system.

Heirloom Holsteins for Functional Genomics Studies

Brian Crooker, Animal Sciences, College of Food, Agricultural, and Natural Resource Sciences
Matching funds: Faculty funds, College of Food, Agricultural & Natural Resource Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine

We seek to relocate a unique, novel and one-of-a-kind genetic resource population of Holstein cows to increase use of the cows, better serve and facilitate our collaborative research objectives, and reduce future operating costs. The University has maintained these unique unselected, genetically static Holsteins since 1964. Their scientific value is recognized as demonstrated by the competitive federal, state and industry funding we have received. We have documented tremendous single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) differences between the DNA from unselected and contemporary Holsteins. Many of these differences are within regions that contain genes involved with reproductive function and fertility and with immune function and health. Our functional genomics studies have identified expression differences for immune-associated genes. Identifying responsible polymorphisms will help breeding programs increase prevalence of beneficial genes, decrease prevalence of detrimental genes, and decrease incidence of diseases in future Holsteins. We seek support to relocate these cows from West Central Research and Outreach Center as we continue to seek additional external support to prevent the loss of this valuable, one-of-a-kind resource population. Our intent is to have the cows calve at the St Paul campus dairy, but they would be primarily housed at our collaborating, off-campus heifer grower and dairy facilities.

Ultraperformance Liquid Chromatograph-Quadrupole Time-of-Flight Mass Spectrometer for Accurate Mass LC/MS Measurements

Joe Dalluge, Chemistry, College of Science and Engineering
Matching funds: Medical School, College of Pharmacy, College of Science & Engineering

The proposed SCIEX UPLC/QTOF mass spectrometer will replace a 21-year-old, failing electrospray/time-of-flight mass spectrometer employed by 315 users from UM, other colleges and universities, and corporations nationwide. Further, this platform will expand the capabilities of the Department of Chemistry Mass Spectrometry Laboratory and the entire University for the detailed structural characterization of a wide range of chemical species from small molecules and therapeutic agents, to proteins and synthetic polymers. The combination of high-resolution, high-speed, high-sensitivity, and high mass accuracy UPLC/MS analysis with MS/MS capability will provide structure confirmation, compound identification, compound screening, and protein mass confirmation on an open-access platform to externally funded principal investigators representing more than 5 departments, 4 colleges, The Medical School, and 3 interdisciplinary centers at the University of Minnesota. Additional researchers will be recruited assuring long-term maximum usage and impact of the proposed instrument in advancing research at the University of Minnesota and beyond. The requested platform will foster interdisciplinary and intercollegiate collaboration that promises to advance our understanding of the chemical mechanisms of disease, accelerate development of next-generation therapeutic, diagnostic, and environmental agents, and lead the way to accelerate the design, synthesis, and characterization of new materials.

A replacement Qtrap LC-MS system for targeted metabolomics and proteomics for UofM researchers

Timothy Griffin, Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, and Biophysics, Medical School
Matching funds: College of Biological Sciences, College of Food, Agricultural, and Natural Resource Sciences, Medical School, College of Pharmacy, Non UMN Sources

The Center for Mass Spectrometry and Proteomics (CMSP) requests a critically needed, replacement liquid chromatography (LC) triple quadrupole-linear ion trap (Qtrap) mass spectrometer (MS) for characterizing metabolites, proteins and other biomolecules. Dozens of UofM researchers depend on Qtrap LC-MS to characterize small molecule metabolites, indicators of activity within biological pathways, and also proteins, the molecules which carry out biochemical reactions and other functions in cells. A core requirement to these studies is the detection and accurate quantification of these molecules within complex biological samples, providing a means to investigate molecular mechanisms underlying basic biological processes and/or dysfunction and disease. Hybrid triple quadrupole-linear ion trap (Qtrap) instruments, coupled with LC separations, provide a powerful means to meet these requirements by offering unsurpassed sensitivity and versatility necessary for analyzing diverse biomolecules. Unfortunately, the current Qtrap, an older generation instrument (Qtrap 5500) installed in 2011, suffered a mechanical malfunction in the fall of 2019, severely damaging internal parts and leaving it only partially operational. Consequently, we are requesting a replacement system (Qtrap 6500+), which will fill this critical instrumentation gap in the CMSP and serve the needs of numerous ongoing projects by UofM researchers, as well as open new possibilities for future projects.

State-of-the-Art 3T MRI System to Advance Translational and Comparative Research

Casey Johnson, Veterinary Clinical Sciences, Veterinary Medicine
Matching funds: College of Veterinary Medicine

The purpose of this project is to advance translational and comparative research at the University of Minnesota by replacing the existing and aged 3.0 Tesla (3T) magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner located at the Veterinary Medical Center, College of Veterinary Medicine, with a state-of-the-art, fully-equipped Siemens Prisma 3T MRI system to enable advanced imaging capabilities at all body regions. The new system will greatly advance research capabilities using large animals (e.g., dogs, cats, pigs, sheep, rabbits, goats, and horses) while also supporting the clinical needs of the Veterinary Medical Center (~20% business hour usage). The system will be compatible with the Siemens Prisma scanners at the Center for Magnetic Resonance Research (CMRR) to best enable inter-collegiate collaboration and research capabilities. This project is supported by Dr. Kamil Ugurbil, Director of CMRR, who is in favor of expanding the capacity for animal studies using 3T MRI at the University of Minnesota and enabling new inter-collegiate collaborative opportunities by utilizing the strengths of the College of Veterinary Medicine. The new system will be the go-to 3T MRI resource for animal studies and has broad interest from investigators across diverse fields including Neuroscience, Neurosurgery, Oncology, Orthopaedic Surgery, Rehabilitation Medicine, Radiology, and Engineering.

Enhancing the Outdoor StreamLab: A full-scale eco-geomorphology laboratory for stream and floodplain science

Jessica Kozarek, St. Anthony Falls Lab, College of Science and Engineering
Matching funds: College of Science & Engineering

The Outdoor StreamLab (OSL) is a unique experimental facility located adjacent to St. Anthony Falls Laboratory (SAFL). The OSL was designed for collaborative interdisciplinary experiments in stream and floodplain science incorporating physical, chemical and biological stream processes. Instrumentation in the OSL allows for high-resolution measurements of channel topography, water flow, and water quality. Since construction in 2008, UMN researchers from seven departments spread amongst three colleges, visiting researchers, and undergraduate and graduate researchers have utilized the OSL. In addition, the OSL’s highly visible location encourages public engagement through signage in Water Power Park. Because of the large scale, conducting experiments in the OSL is labor intensive and much of the instrumentation has not been significantly upgraded since 2009. This project will update and redesign the sediment feed and recirculation and water control and monitoring systems to simplify work flow. In addition, the major instrumentation systems in the OSL for topography, water quality, and velocity will be upgraded. Since 2008, engineers and technicians at SAFL have designed and built both sediment feed systems and instrumentation systems for external clients around the world. This project will re-invest this expertise into OSL’s research infrastructure creating enhanced opportunities for interdisciplinary stream research.

Expanding the Environmental Research Capabilities of the Minnesota Center for Prion Research and Outreach

Peter Larsen, Veterinary Biomedical Science, College of Veterinary Medicine
Matching funds: College of Veterinary Medicine

The newly formed Minnesota Center for Prion Research and Outreach (MNPRO) serves as a trans-disciplinary research hub for University of Minnesota faculty and staff working on the biology and epidemiology of human and animal prion diseases and related protein-misfolding disorders. This proposal seeks to expand the MNPRO research infrastructure required for studies focused on the environmental impact and infectivity of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD)-causing prions throughout Minnesota. CWD is a prion disease that is spreading throughout Minnesota’s white-tailed deer population as well as the state’s cervid farms. CWD is an immediate threat to multiple economic sectors throughout the state and there is growing concern that CWD-prion strain variation poses a risk to human health. Recent data show these prions can be incorporated into plants and contaminate waterways downstream of endemic CWD areas. The requested funds will be used to purchase two Omega Series microplate readers, equipment that will greatly increase MNPRO’s testing throughput capacity. The funds will also help establish a transgenic rodent colony that is suitable for prion infectivity studies and will support the salary of a Researcher 6 position, a scientist who will oversee MNPRO’s environmental research and rodent-challenge experiments.

The Light of Knowledge: Enhancing Informal Learning Engagement

Lin Nelson-Mayson, Goldstein Museum, College of Design
Matching funds: College of Design

GMD seeks funding to replace outdated track lighting in its secure gallery, Gallery 241, which will improve personal safety within one of the major locations of the College of Design’s community-engaged faculty research. For over 40 years, Gallery 241 in McNeal Hall has been the site of over 400 exhibitions, 300 of which were based on faculty research. GMD’s exhibitions are essential vehicles for public communication of design research, developed by faculty through the guest-curator method and by GMD’s professional curators. This experience provides faculty members with the unique opportunity to translate their research into an informal learning environment, connecting community interest with topical design issues related to social change and cultural understanding. GMD exhibitions create the highest level of community engagement with faculty research and are accompanied by lectures, panel discussions, and master classes on the topic. Recent faculty guest curators have come from apparel studies, housing studies, graphic design, interior design, and product design. Gallery 241 needs upgrades to create a safer environment for this research. Gallery lighting is an essential component of exhibition design. Currently, the lighting system is outdated, unreliable and potentially hazardous to staff and student employees. GMD has secured matching funds for this OVPR grant and is working with the College of Design for the additional funds necessary to complete this project.

10,000 Families Study and Extension: Partnering with Minnesota communities for better health

Logan Spector, Pediatrics, Medical School
Matching funds: Office of Academic Clinical Affairs

We seek funding to expand the University’s capacity for conducting public engaged research via an exciting partnership between the Masonic Cancer Center –10,000 Families Study (10KFS) and University’s Extension Center for Family Development (ECFD). The 10KFS is a prospective cohort that aims to elucidate the genetic, environmental and lifestyle factors that lead to or protect against cancer and other health conditions affecting ethnically, geographically, and economically diverse Minnesota families. When enrollment is complete, it will serve as a critical infrastructure resource to support the University’s research enterprise now, and well into the future. The ECFD program leaders are experts in engaging with communities to share University knowledge and research. They have trained staff and community partners as facilitation leaders across the state to build communities’ capacity to promote health and well-being. Through this ECFD program, many communities are now well prepared to connect University research with their specific community needs and assets. Our proposed partnership combines the existing infrastructures of 10KFS for research and ECFD’s cadre of skilled community-based facilitators to build a more inclusive, representative 10KFS cohort, thus ensuring that the 10KFS research is relevant to communities. Broader benefits are anticipated for communities, ECFD, and the University.

Purchase of a Precision Cabinet X-ray Irradiator for the Support of Translational Interdisciplinary Cancer Research

Douglas Yee, Masonic Cancer Center, Medical School
Matching funds: Office of Academic Clinical Affairs

The Masonic Cancer Center’s Irradiator Core Facility serves a research community of over 30 cancer research laboratories representing over 16 different departments and 5 colleges. It is part of a larger portfolio of shared resources that are available to cancer researchers at the University of Minnesota and beyond. The Masonic Cancer Center has over 600 members who represent over 60 departments across all colleges and schools at the institution. The irradiation of normal and malignant cells for in vitro and in vivo assays is critically important to the strategic growth of cell, gene, and immunotherapy cancer research at the University of Minnesota. The current equipment is at the end of its useful life and requires replacement. The advanced technology and capabilities that a new irradiator brings to the center represents an essential need for current and future users of this core facility. This new unit will allow researchers to further their research on the engraftment of human cells, NK cell infusion studies, and conditioning.