Research Infrastructure Investment Program: 2019 Awards

The following are brief descriptions of the projects selected for Research Infrastructure Investment Program awards in 2019. 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.

Bridging the UMN gap in Metabolomics: Acquisition of a State of the Art SIFT-MS for A Center for Volatolomics

Abdennour ABBAS, Bioprod & Biosys Eng, CFANS
Matching funds: College of Food, Agricultural, and Natural Resource Sciences, College of Science & Engineering, Medical School

This proposal seeks to provide the UMN with research capabilities for the study and applications of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), by acquiring the state of the art SIFT-MS and establishing the Center for Volatolomics. The volatolome is part of the metabolome and it includes all VOCs (odors, gas, vapors) released by biological systems. As a result, SIFT-MS applications span multiple fields from disease diagnostics (breath analysis), to agriculture (odor-based pesticides), food quality, aroma and fragrance analysis, air quality monitoring, explosives and narcotics odor detection, microbial interactions research (quorum sensing), and behavioral sciences (pheromone studies). The UMN has only the capabilities to study part of the metabolome, namely the proteome and other biomolecules at the Center for Mass Spectrometry and Proteomics (CMSP), which is not equipped for volatolome studies. SIFT-MS is the fastest and most sensitive VOCs analysis instrument available. The wide interest for this proposal helped us secure the support from 12 PIs, 10 departments, 2 centers, and 4 colleges, generating $202,867 in matching funds, including a 5 % negotiated discount from the equipment manufacturer (Syft Inc.), and a 5-year graduate fellowship from the Schwan’s Company. We request $198,916 to complete this fundraising, making the UMN the 3rd US research institution after Harvard University and Cleveland Clinic to acquire SIFT-MS and the first to establish a Center for Volatolomics.

Revitalizing Nano at the Minnesota Nano Center

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

The Minnesota Nano Center hosts more than 400 researchers each year who make micro and nano scale structures. To make nanoscale structures researchers use three critical machines: an electron beam lithography system, an atomic layer deposition system, and a field emission electron microscope. Collectively these represent an investment of about $3M. This proposal is designed to modernize these systems and to make them more useful. The e-beam system will be improved by replacing the original stage motors which have proven to be highly unreliable and by acquiring new software to improve the lithography results by calculating the exposure parameters needed for a given substrate. Our capability for atomic layer deposition will be improved by acquiring a second system. This will double the number of materials we can deposition, allowing us to meet the demand from our faculty users. Finally, the electron microscope will be improved by replacing the control software, currently running on Windows 2000, and hardware with modern counterparts. The new operating system will allow the SEM to also run new software that can automatically and repeatably measure feature sizes and carry out statistical analysis of the sizes. Since the primary use of the SEM is to inspect structures made in the e-beam system, this is a critically needed capability. By making this investment our nanoscale ability will be ensured for at least another decade and major investments in new systems can be avoided.

Core Facility for Stem Cell Reprogramming and Translation at the UMN Stem Cell Institute

James Dutton, Stem Cell Institute, Medical School
Matching funds: College of Biological Sciences, College of Science & Engineering, Medical School, College of Veterinary Medicine

The practice of medicine is being changed by the clinical application of cells derived from pluripotent stem cells, the use of adult stem cells, gene-editing and the potential for cell reprogramming. To maintain a leading position in the field of regenerative medicine the UMN Stem Cell Institute has developed a Stem Cell Core facility to support basic science research and the clinical translation of stem cell technology. This proposal will help expand the UMN Core Facility for Stem Cell Reprogramming and Translation. This facility provides access to expertise, practical assistance and reagent resources to support UMN faculty in the use and translation of stem cell related technologies. Stem cell based basic research, positioning proof of concept stem cell research for preclinical validation, utilizing stem cell related products for drug screening and toxicity and applications for human clinical trials all require access to very specialized skills and technology. This includes defined systems for stem cell derivation, culture and differentiation, methods for cell reprogramming, gene editing, and clinical grade cell manufacture. This proposal will consolidate and expand the range of stem cell expertise and resources provided by the Stem Cell Core and will improve access to these technologies for UMN researchers.

Improving Sound Attenuation for Developmental and Clinical Neuroimaging at 3T and 7T

Jed Elison, Institute of Child Development, CEHD
Matching funds: College of Education & Human Development, College of Liberal Arts, Medical School

Sound attenuation during magnetic resonance imaging remains an enduring challenge for specific populations and specific types of questions. A sufficient degree of sound attenuation during MRI is required for safety reasons. However, increased sound attenuation is essential for studies of naturally sleeping infants and toddlers, for studies of clinical samples with sensory sensitivities (e.g., autism and schizophrenia), and for basic studies of the cortical architecture of auditory perception. All studies of which are conducted at the CMRR. New technology has been developed to address this challenge. OptoActive headphones combine passive and active noise cancelation to reduce sound by 60 dB and were specifically designed for adult head sizes in the 32 channel head coils used with 3T and 7T scanners. This technology is currently used by collaborators at UNC and WashU for studies with naturally sleeping infants, studies of young preschool and school-aged children, and patients with neurodevelopmental/psychiatric disorders with improved success rates. We are requesting funds to purchase 3 sets of these headphones ($40K each) for two 3T scanners and one 7T scanner at the CMRR. A large number of investigators will benefit from this investment as evidenced by the large number of units contributing matching funds.

Electrophysiology Equipment to Support Neurodevelopmental Research

Michael Georgieff, Pediatrics, Medical School
Matching funds: College of Education & Human Development, Medical School

The Center for Neurobehavioral Development houses over thirty studies on children's cognitive and neurobehavioral functioning. The mission of the Center is to understand how brain development affects the way children think, learn, and express emotions. The Center’s researchers study how environmental factors interact with personal characteristics to individualize brain development. An essential feature of the Center is the collaborative infrastructure that it provides researchers across the University. CNBD provides the space, equipment, and intellectual support for interdisciplinary work that supports our mission. It is imperative that we maintain current tools to advance cutting-edge science. Electrophysiologic methods are crucial; in the last decade, researchers utilizing the Center’s EEG and autonomic systems have conducted studies on prematurity, early deprivation and neglect, Manganese toxicity, neonatal ischemia/hypoxia, adolescent alcohol abuse, antibiotic exposure, emotion regulation, adrenoleukodystrophy, CMV infection, and Rett syndrome. The current proposal seeks to fund a 128-channel dense array EEG system and suite of Biopac autonomic equipment. These systems would represent a crucial upgrade of the Center’s current EEG and autonomic systems, both of which are more than 10 years old. With these tools, researchers can measure non-invasively in children electrical activity in the brain, and cardiovascular measures of sympathetic and parasympathetic response.

Precision Technologies to Monitor Health Status of Dairy Cattle

Bradley Heins, West Central ROC-Morris, CFANS
Matching funds: Faculty funds, Non UMN Sources

The funds will be used to upgrade the dairy cattle milking equipment at the University of Minnesota West Central Research and Outreach Center (WCROC) dairy in Morris. We will purchase the AfiMilk and AfiLab milk analyzer from AfiMilk to install in our milking parlor. This equipment will provide accurate measures of fat, protein, lactose, and milk conductivity, as well as milk yield. This technology is unique because the AfiMilk sensor can help us to monitor health, mastitis, and other disease of dairy cattle, simply during the time of milking. Additionally, with a sensor attached to each of the 300 cows at the dairy, we will be able to monitor resting activity, lameness, and eating and rumination behavior. Information will be provided in real time to computer software and will provide big data for research studies. With the installation of these precision technologies, the WCROC dairy program will be able to increase research capabilities and increase collaborations with researchers within and outside of the University of Minnesota.

The Purchase of a Benchtop Micro Positron Emission Tomography/Computed Tomography Scanner

Aaron LeBeau, Pharmacology, Medical School
Matching funds: College of Science & Engineering, Medical School

Positron emission tomography (PET) is a powerful imaging technology that is routinely used in the clinic to non-invasively detect cancer, infectious disease and monitor neurological function. Small animal microPET/CT scanners are critical to the preclinical development of novel imaging probes and the understanding of disease. With the decommissioning of the Siemens Inveon microPET/CT at the University Imaging Center (UIC), the University of Minnesota will be without a microPET/CT scanner for preclinical nuclear imaging. The UIC is decommissioning the Inveon due to high operating/maintenance costs and also Siemens is discontinuing support for all Inveon models in 2020. Succinctly stated, the Inveon is obsolete. The purpose of this proposal is to solicit funds for the purchase of a Sofie G8 microPET/CT. The G8 has greater resolution and sensitivity than the Inveon and is the size of a college dorm refrigerator. In addition to being simple to use, the operating and maintenance costs for the G8 will be less than $20,000 per year – a fraction of that for the Inveon. The G8 will be available to researchers at the UIC in the CCRB. Dr. LeBeau, who has an extensive background in microPET/CT and radiopharmaceuticals, will assist users with their imaging needs.

Analytical TEM for the UMN Characterization Facility

Andre Mkhoyan, Chemical Engineering & Materials Science, CSENG
Matching funds: College of Science & Engineering

We propose the acquisition of a new generation, analytical, high-resolution scanning and transmission electron microscope (HR-(S)TEM) to fill a critical need for a first-class characterization facility at the University of Minnesota (UMN). This (HR-(S)TEM) is an essential instrument that will allow many principal investigators, research scientists, graduate students, postdoctoral associates, and some undergraduate to characterize their samples at sub-nanometer-scale. This TEM will help researchers to improve their understanding of nanomaterials’ functionality and their use in applications. This single analytical HR-(S)TEM will replace two aging TEMs in the Characterization Facility of UMN. Both TEMs are 15 years old and are very close to the end of their functional life. These two TEMs did provide critical, everyday service to a very large number of UMN principal investigators, researchers and graduate students, but it is time to phase them out. The cutting-edge research that relied on these TEMs will continue without disruption, with more efficiency and with better quality.

Acquisition of a Vibrating-Sample Magnetometer for Magnetic Studies of Natural and Synthetic Materials

Bruce Moskowitz, Earth Sciences, CSENG
Matching funds: College of Science & Engineering

Funds are requested to acquire a new Vibrating-Sample Magnetometer (VSM) to replace and upgrade one of our oldest (>20 years) and most used magnetometers in the Institute for Rock Magnetism (Department of Earth Sciences). The electromagnet-based VSM system measures the magnetization of natural and synthetic materials as a function of magnetic fields and temperature for a variety of sample types with speed, sensitivity, and minimal sample preparation. Vibrating-sample magnetometry is an essential tool for nondestructive characterization of magnetic materials that occur in many research areas across the physical and biological sciences. Applications include the study of natural magnetic minerals in rocks, sediments, soils, meteorites, and archeological materials; the development of novel magnetic materials for sensors, magnetic recording, and biomaterials; characterization of nanoparticles and nanostructures; and fundamental physics research. The new VSM system will provide several major improvements over our existing magnetometers by allowing users to perform measurements in higher magnetic fields and to higher temperatures with greater sensitivity and measurement speed. Acquisition of a new VSM will extend the lifetime of this critical resource for University and outside researchers, allowing them to obtain unique information about magnetic materials in natural and synthetic systems.

Measuring Cellular Senescence

Laura Niedernhofer, Biochemistry, Molecular Biology & Biophysics, Medical School
Matching funds: Medical School

The goal of this project is to add the capacity to measure senescence in samples from humans and pre-clinical models to existing shared resources (Comparative Pathology and Translational Therapy) within the Masonic Cancer Center. Senescent cells accumulate in virtually all tissues of mammals with age. Senescent cells play a causal role in aging. Furthermore, in mice, it is well-established that pharmacologic ablation of senescent cells is sufficient to slow aging, delay numerous age-related diseases, including cancer and Alzheimer’s, and prevent frailty. Many of the drugs being developed as senolytics (drugs that specifically rid the body of senescent cells) are natural products or repurposed drugs. Thus, translation to humans is imminently possible. Indeed, clinical trials have begun. Clinical applications for senolytics include: i) cancer survivors who age prematurely as a consequence of cytotoxic therapy, ii) elderly patients requiring cancer treatment or surgery, iii) elderly patients with multiple co-morbidities of old age, iv) frail patients, v) organ donors and recipients, vi) HIV patients, and vii) Alzheimer’s patients. The greatest barrier to clinical trials aimed at improving outcomes in these disease areas is the expertise and infrastructure to measure senescent cells in pre-clinical models and human samples. This project aims to correct that barrier at UMN.

Pediatric Research Biobank Improvement Project

Justin Ryder, Pediatrics, Medical School
Matching funds: Faculty funds

The overall goal of this project is to improve the current biobank infrastructure in the 717 Delaware Building to serve as a resource for the many pediatric focused investigators collecting biospecimens there. The central location was selected due to the Center for Neurobehavioral Development being located there and the Center for Pediatric Obesity Medicine moving into a new space in the building in April of 2019. At present, investigators are struggling to meet the storage demands of their studies and have had to result in storing samples in various locations on campus, which is less than ideal compared to the centralized location proposed. We are requesting funds to outfit an already designated freezer space with more new freezers (5 new freezers to fit the remaining space), upgrade several out-of-date units (3 new freezers to replace older units), and a new barcode system to catalogue and keep track of various biospecimens for multiple investigators. The Center for Pediatric Obesity Medicine will manage the infrastructure. The key users already house 4 freezers in the current location (room 102A), bringing our total to 9 freezers in a single location for long-term storage in the same location where samples are collected

Consolidating Transmission Electron Microscopy Services on the St. Paul Campus

Mark Sanders, University Imaging Center, Medical School
Matching funds: Medical School, College of Veterinary Medicine

A successful award would allow the Veterinary Diagnostics Laboratory (VDL) and University Imaging Centers (UIC) to work together to consolidate the recently acquired JEOL 1400Plus transmission electron microscope (TEM) efforts to the UIC allowing the TEM to remain on campus and the UIC to continue to provide services to dozens of UMN investigators centered in St. Paul. The VDL acquired TEM technology into their practice by acquiring a JEOL 1400Plus TEM and remodeling space to house it. Due to a number of factors, the VDL’s disease monitoring work by TEM will be reduced and serendipitously the UIC needs to update its failing 25-year-old Phillip CM-12. The UIC will provide the management, expertise and ancillary support tools the St. Paul TEM community needs to operate long-term. The current VDL instrument is the JEOL 1400Plus and is ideal for the UIC’s user needs. This would consolidate the TEM resources on the St. Paul campus while complimenting the exceptional CharFac EM resources located on the Minneapolis campus.

Precision Oxygen-Delivery Platforms to Support Interdisciplinary Biomedical Research at the AHC Duluth

Matthew Slattery, Biomedical Sciences, UMD Medical School
Matching funds: Duluth Medical School, College of Pharmacy

This proposal seeks to expand the research capabilities of the Duluth campus by purchasing a suite of platforms that will allow for a range of experiments to be performed in precisely controlled oxygen environments. Oxygen homeostasis plays a central role in biology and medicine, yet most cell-based assays are performed only under atmospheric oxygen levels (21% O2), which is significantly higher than physiological normoxia for most tissues, and too high for appropriate modeling of homeostatic disruptions like hypoxia or ischemia-reperfusion injury. Several research projects on the Duluth campus would benefit from precise oxygen-delivery platforms, but no such tools exist in Duluth. This request aims to solve that problem through the purchase of: (1) a HypOxygen H35 Workstation, which allows for cell growth and handling/processing in an environment with accurately controlled oxygen (2) a HypOxygen/Whitley i2 Instrument Workstation, which will allow for Seahorse XF-based bioenergetics monitoring within the same controlled oxygen environment, and (3) an Invitrogen EVOS FL-Auto-2 Imaging System with Onstage Incubator for live cell imaging under variable oxygen levels. Funds are also requested for additional cell culture equipment (hood, incubator) that will allow for parallel processing of cells under standard conditions (21% O2) within the same facility.

Transdisciplinary Research for Augmented and Virtual Reality, Motion Capture & Brain Computer Interfaces

Peter Willemsen, Computer Science, UMD Swenson College of Science & Engineering
Matching funds: UMD Academic Affairs, UMD Education & Human Service Professions, UMD School of Fine Arts, UMD Swenson College of Science & Engineering

The Motion + Media Across Disciplines (MMAD) Lab and Viz Lab ( is a cross-collegiate collaboration sponsored by three colleges at UMD and available to researchers U-wide in which artists, scientists and engineers work together on interdisciplinary research in science, engineering, theater, visual arts, education, social work and biomechanics. Since its inception in 2015, MMAD/Viz Lab researchers have produced over 15 research projects (some funded by NSF), a Shakespearean exhibit, a workshop on VR/dance, two operas, an interactive Ojibwe installation, and three international art exhibits. Building on this success, the MMAD/Viz Lab requests infrastructure funding to grow and support research in the science, technology, engineering, art, and math (STEAM) fields. This includes equipment such as a wireless EEG headset integrated into a virtual reality headset; a mixed reality Hololens 2 VR headset; sound amelioration; an interactive Magicbox floor and more. By continuing the MMAD/Viz Lab’s role as an incubator for research and creative works, the proposed equipment and facility upgrades will significantly expand the facility’s user base and facilitate new lines of research exploring cognitive aspects of motion and media, while enhancing existing work in its physical and creative aspects.

Acquisition of Refurbished Balzers Freeze-Etching System Model BAF 400 T

Joseph Zasadzinski, Chemical Engineering & Materials Science, CSENG
Matching funds: College of Pharmacy, College of Science & Engineering

Characterization of biomaterials, gels, polymers and other soft matter from the micron to nanometer scale is essential for the design and optimization of novel drug delivery systems, new diagnostic and therapeutic polymer nanostructures, biomimetic vesicles and liposomes, and other self-assembling and soft biomaterial systems that are the focus of our group’s nanotechnology efforts. Imaging biomaterials with transmission electron microscopy (TEM) is a necessary complement to X-ray, light and neutron scattering studies. However, high-resolution imaging has its own experimental limitations. The Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2017 has validated that the best method of making complex fluids and biomaterials compatible with TEM is by rapid freezing. This is followed by either direct imaging at low temperatures, or replication of a fracture surface through the frozen sample with thin films of platinum and carbon, known as freeze-fracture replication. This proposal is to update the University of Minnesota cryo-microscopy equipment with a refurbished Balzers BAF 400 T freeze-etching system at a cost of $108,000. Similar new equipment costs more than $350,000, but provides no benefit in throughput or ease of use. There is no such equipment available at the University of Minnesota or even within the Midwest region.