2021 Minnesota Futures Awards Announced

The Minnesota Futures Grant Program offers funding each year to promote research that incorporates new, cross-disciplinary ideas.

For the 2021 grant cycle, the Office of the Vice President for Research awarded a total of $500,000 in Minnesota Futures funding to two projects. One project explores how participating in creative problem solving activities could lead to mental and emotional benefits for adolescents with depression. The second aims to make extracting and processing titanium ores more environmentally friendly and economically feasible.

Measuring and Enhancing Creativity and Brain Flexibility in Adolescents with Depression

Principal investigator: Kathryn Cullen, MD, Department of Psychiatry, Medical School


  • Abimbola Asojo, PhD, Interior Design, College of Design
  • Mark Fiecas, PhD, Division of Biostatistics, School of Public Health
  • Bonnie Klimes-Dougan, PhD, Department of Psychology, College of Liberal Arts
  • Wilma Koutstaal, PhD, Department of Psychology, College of Liberal Arts
  • Bryon Mueller, PhD, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Medical School
  • Angie Mejia Medina, PhD, Sociology, University of Minnesota Rochester
  • Boris Oicherman, PhD, Weisman Art Museum
  • Yuko Taniguchi, University of Minnesota Rochester

This project investigates whether deep engagement in creative activities may benefit adolescents with depression by introducing a more flexible way of thinking, helping them to recognize and foster their own creative talents and ultimately develop more positive views of themselves and their futures.

This research area requires an unprecedented, multidisciplinary approach that includes experts in psychiatry, psychology, biostatistics, arts, design, sociology, qualitative methods, and community engagement. Based on preliminary data from their respective fields, these experts have designed a multi-pronged Creativity Camp intervention designed to help depressed adolescents shift out of rigid negative thinking through engagement in creative activities.

To simultaneously assess positive impact and potential mechanisms, the researchers will measure change over time in creativity, flexibility, mood, and perspectives using a combination of quantitative methods (such as neuroimaging, cognitive assessments, and self-reports) and qualitative methods (including interviews, observations, and analysis of creative products).

The project will provide the basis for a transformative research program to address a serious societal problem using novel intervention and measurement methodologies. Meanwhile, the project will advance our understanding of the mechanisms underlying depression, recovery, and creativity development in adolescents.

Nonthermal Plasma Processes for Sustainable Extraction and Processing of Minnesota’s Titanium Resources

Principal investigator: David Poerschke, PhD, Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science, College of Science and Engineering


  • Matthew Aro, Natural Resources Research Institute (NRRI), University of Minnesota Duluth
  • Uwe Kortshagen, PhD, Department of Mechanical Engineering, College of Science and Engineering

Titanium is a crucial component to aerospace and automotive alloys, medical implants, and catalysts. Minnesota has valuable titanium mineral resources but lacks an environmentally sustainable and economically viable approach to extracting and processing these resources.

This project aims to develop technology that uses nonthermal plasmas to transform the intermediate chemical precursors generated from titanium ores directly into titanium and titanium alloy powders. These powders could be used directly (e.g. as catalysts), as feedstocks for advanced manufacturing techniques like 3D printing, or consolidated into a bulk form as an input for traditional manufacturing approaches.

The collaborative research between David Poerschke and Uwe Kortshagen will answer fundamental scientific questions about the physical and chemical transformations within the plasmas and how they impact the crystal structure and chemical purity of the product. Matthew Aro will lead an integrated effort at NRRI to employ a prospective life cycle assessment methodology, to evaluate the new technology’s potential environmental risks at key decision points to guide its development.

This technology stands to reduce or minimize environmentally and economically disadvantageous process steps in the conventional titanium refining processes and open up opportunities to utilize abundant, untapped mineral and renewable energy resources within Minnesota to invigorate the regional manufacturing enterprise.


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.