2019 Minnesota Futures Awards Announced

The Minnesota Futures Grant Program is offered annually by the Office of the Vice President for Research to promote research that incorporates new, cross-disciplinary ideas. The most recent cycle saw 41 submissions, with two proposals awarded a total of nearly $500,000. These two projects, detailed below, will research a new treatment option for liver disease in children and will explore the capabilities and feasibility of implementing new semiconductor technology into Minnesota's electrical power systems.

Promising New Treatment for Fatty Liver Disease

Principal Investigator: Dan Gallaher, Department of Food, Science, and Nutrition, College of Food, Agricultural, and Natural Resource Sciences

Project Title: Reduction in Fatty Liver in Young Adolescents by Polylactose, a Novel Prebiotic Dietary Fiber

Liver disease is most commonly associated with alcoholism in adults. However, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), which is characterized by an excessive amount of fat in the liver, is the most common liver disease among youth. Left untreated, NAFLD can lead to cirrhosis and other life threatening conditions and could require liver transplantation.

Despite the high prevalence and seriousness of NAFLD, there are very few effective treatments available. Yet recent research points to a strong link between disruption of the gut microbiome and NAFLD and obesity in children. A new dietary fiber, polylactose, has been effective in changing the gut bacteria profile, reducing fatty liver and body fat, in animal models. In this study, polylactose will be given to children in various forms (including gummy candies, bars, and shakes) to determine its effectiveness as a treatment for NAFLD.

Exploring New Semiconductor Technology for Minnesota's Electrical System

Principal Investigator: Xiaojia Wang, Department of Mechanical Engineering, College of Science and Engineering

Project Title: Ultra-Efficient Wide-Bandgap Power Converters: Material, Device, Circuit, and System-level Challenges and Opportunities

Electrical power systems are changing rapidly as they adapt to new forms of energy and usage, including renewable resources, electric cars, and energy storage devices. Wide-bandgap semiconductor devices, which can operate at much higher voltages, frequencies, and temperatures than conventional semiconductor materials, have also been recognized to provide size, efficiency, and cost advantages.

At the same time, there are still many technical challenges, as well as broader economic and policy considerations, involved with integrating this new technology into existing energy infrastructure and systems. This project will explore the capabilities of a specific type of wide-bandgap semiconductor for device and circuit fabrication, and then evaluate the technological and economic barriers and opportunities for these devices and circuits within the context of Minnesota-based industries. The project engages a broad-based, multidisciplinary research team from across the University.

About Minnesota Futures

Modeled after the National Academies Keck Futures Initiative, the Minnesota Futures program supports extraordinary research by nurturing interdisciplinary ideas. The program helps develop projects to a point where they become competitive for external funding.

Since 2008, Minnesota Futures has supported research by faculty who go on to win substantial grants and whose innovations reach the market to potentially improve the lives of millions. The grants, supported by technology commercialization revenue, cover expenses of up to $250,000 over two years.

Learn more about the Minnesota Futures Grant Program and see past award recipients.