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Pillars of Excellence

Based in 19 schools and colleges in Ann Arbor, and campuses in Flint and Dearborn, the University of Michigan faculty represent a wealth of expertise across an exceptional range of academic disciplines. Over the years, U-M has developed particular strengths in a number of research areas that cut across—and draw their strength from— many disciplines. Four of those pillars of excellence, which are also areas of continuing growth and change, are mobility, biosciences, data science and sustainability. 


From basic science to lifesaving treatments

In 1850, U-M’s Medical School opened as the university’s second academic college. And in 1869, U-M became the first university in the nation to own and operate its own hospital, setting the stage for improved health care, as well as basic and clinical research.

Today, about half of the university’s research expenditures are in the biosciences, with activity under way in medicine, pharmacy, dentistry, public health, nursing, engineering, kinesiology, biology, psychology, computer science, chemistry and physics. Many of the important advances in the biosciences over the last several decades—ranging from genetic engineering to advanced medical devices—have come from creative collaborations across these disciplines.

Emerging developments in such areas as personalized health care and neurosciences show this trend is stronger than ever. U-M President Mark S. Schlissel recently launched a new Biosciences Initiative to build on U-M’s broad strengths and its culture of interdisciplinary cooperation to take its capabilities and achievements to a new level.

With an investment of $150 million over five years, the initiative aims to improve administrative efficiencies, encourage further collaborations, support new research initiatives, strengthen core resources for the biosciences community and hire 30 new faculty in strategic areas of high potential.

Data Science

A new approach to scientific discovery

Data science has been recognized as a fourth fundamental approach to scientific discovery, in addition to experimentation, modeling and computation. One of the central challenges facing researchers today in fields ranging from engineering and medicine to the humanities and social sciences is to gather, store, search and analyze collections of data so vast they challenge current approaches.

Building on U-M’s strengths in this area, and recognizing the potential for application across the entire campus, U-M’s Data Science Initiative is investing $100 million to spur advances in the techniques of data science, as well as to encourage their creative use in research. Key goals include expanding research computing capacity and strengthening data management, storage, analytics and training resources, as well as adding faculty in promising areas of research and education.

At present, the initiative is supporting interdisciplinary data-related research in connected and automated vehicles, personalized health care, online survey research and learning analytics—with more areas to come.


Toward a driverless future

U-M offered its first class on automotive technology in 1910. Over the next century, automotive research and education flourished alongside the dramatic growth of the automotive industry itself.

Not only have a wealth of ideas emerged from U-M’s research, but literally thousands of alumni now work in the industry worldwide in every area from research and development to management. Expertise and ongoing research at U-M spans such diverse areas as powertrain design, vehicle control, alternative fuels, engine design, electric vehicles, advanced materials, driver behavior, traffic safety and ergonomics.

Along with more than 300 independent automotive research facilities in the region, U-M has established Michigan as the global epicenter of automotive innovation. U-M positioned itself for continuing leadership with the launch of Mcity in 2014.

This collaboration with federal, state and local government, as well as industry partners from around the world, is working to lay the foundations of an economically viable system of connected and automated vehicles. To address the full complexity of the mobility challenges of the future, Mcity brings together U-M experts in such fields as policy, social sciences, economics, urban planning, management, law and cybersecurity to complement its expertise in science and engineering.


Addressing a global challenge

More than 800 faculty from schools and colleges across U-M conduct a rich variety of research projects related to sustainability—from engineering to social sciences. In December 2016, for example, NASA successfully launched a network of satellites designed and built by a team of U-M students and faculty.

The network will improve the ability to monitor developing hurricanes, and help forecast the potential damage they may cause. On another front, U-M’s Water Center engages multidisciplinary teams of researchers, practitioners, policymakers and nonprofit groups to better understand and manage the challenges facing our scarce water resources, from the Great Lakes region to other areas around the globe.

Planet Blue is a university-wide effort to promote sustainability education, research and community engagement, as well as sustainable practices in U-M’s operations. And on July 1, 2017, U-M laid the groundwork for further progress by forming the School for Environment and Sustainability (SEAS), which broadens the mission of the former School of Natural Resources and Environment.

The new school is structured to engage faculty and students from across the university to address the complexities of global challenges at the intersection of environment and society.