adjacent to the Fogelman College of Business and Economics,
the FedEx Technology Institute will allow campus scientists
more research opportunities.
Minds are racing, heads are spinning and a man oft described
as a visionary and prophet hasn't even gotten to the good
"This building, this Institute, will allow The University
of Memphis to become the technology breeding ground of the
region," says Jim Phillips (BA '73, MBA '76). "Not Atlanta,
nor Dallas but a school right here in Memphis."
Phillips has just finished detailing a sometimes astounding
vision of what the FedEx Technology Institute (FTI) will be
when he delivers this final knockout blow.
The Institute, scheduled to open in Fall of 2003, is a $23-million
collaboration between The U of M and FedEx Corp. The four-story,
93,000-square-foot facility will create a regional interdisciplinary
research think tank and technology education center unrivaled
in the Mid-South. FedEx has invested $5 million in the project;
$15 million is coming from the state and another $3 million
from the city and county.
Phillips, chair and executive director of the Institute,
says the FTI will be an internationally renowned information
technology epicenter when completed. Its mission, he says,
is to produce a digitally savvy work force and student pool,
conduct interdisciplinary research and be a resource for local
businesses to come together to find solutions to real-world
Scientists from across campus will be able to access the
latest high-tech tools and multimedia techniques to conduct
research individually and collaboratively. The entire fourth
floor of the facility will house the Center for Intelligent
Systems, where researchers are creating software programs
that allow computers to think.
Professors at The U of M can access, for instance, the largest
atomic microscope in the world at Oak Ridge National
Laboratory because of global collaborations and partnerships
with research facilities.
Technology transfer will be emphasized at the Institute,
where a non-profit research corporation will eventually establish
patents and collect royalties resulting from University-related
The facility will be on the Internet2 backbone, the next-generation
Internet linking 205 universities and research
Of utmost importance, Phillips says, the FTI will give the
University a facility that will expose research that many
often a "well-kept" secret.
"It takes a project like this and a vision such as the one
we are seeking to produce a signature program that will attract
national and international attention," Phillips says. "I saw
this happen at MIT."
Dr. Stan Franklin, co-director of the Center for Intelligent
Systems, says the FTI will give campus scientists more space
for research and better opportunities for interactions with
"The institute should provide a major boon to our already
quite vigorous computer science research program, as well
as to that of our multi-disciplinary Center for Intelligent
Systems," Franklin notes.
The magnitude of the project is not going unnoticed.
In a four-part series, the Memphis Business Journal detailed
the Institute's impact and importance to the Mid-South. Local and state government officials
say the project's worth is immeasurable.
"This is the most exciting private-public partnership we
have going in this state," says Tony Grande, commissioner
of the Tennessee Office of Economic and Community Development. "It's
a prime example of what Memphis and cities around the state
need to do to ensure they become top-tier players in a new
economy characterized by high tech and high skill."
It is no secret that great research universities need signature
buildings, unique programs and intense collaborations with high-tech businesses to put its mark on the map. The U of
M has had all the ingredients, but no one place to combine
them with outside sources. This deficiency has affected the University's
reputation, partnerships and research possibilities.
"The U of M suffers from not having many direct connections
to the regional Memphis business community or anybody in the country, for that matter," Phillips says.
FedEx Corporation CIO Rob Carter says, "When you look at
the greatest examples Stanford as it relates to Silicon
Valley, MIT as it relates to Boston you see this incredible
support and symbiotic relationship as it exists between business, business start-ups and a university environment. This was
an element that was missing from the Memphis scene."
Carter says the shipping giant usually does research internally,
but the Institute will change that.
"The FedEx Institute will be a place where business people
can go and build out their ideas and take them forward
we want it to be a collaborative place where we can gather with other
businesses and find solutions to real-life problems we're facing a place for practical, tactical problem-solving,"
One of the first partnerships announced by the Institute
is with Accurate Automation of Knoxville, Tenn., which eventually may increase fuel efficiency for FedEx planes.
John Ellis, associate director of the Institute, says the
facility will help push the University to the forefront of research in many ways.
"One of the functions of the Institute is to shine a light
on the best and brightest at this University and this region,
the tech savvy," says Ellis. "The Institute will bring those
research projects that tap into Internet2 greater visibility
in the community and the region."
the digital divide
Phillips, a co-founder of Skytel and former vice president
of Motorola, stresses the effect digital technology has on
the social and economic climate of the world. He says one of the
main focuses of the FTI will be to "deal with the digital re-architecture of business, education, health care, government
and entertainment and the arts."
"It's not how big things have gotten, but how small," Phillips
says. "Today we work in nanometers that is one-billionth
of a meter. We can build a working guitar in nanospace the
size of a single human cell. We can write the entire encyclopedia
on the head of a pin and have the capability to read it.
"We are going to exploit this technology to make sure that
Memphis ends up on the right side of the digital divide."
The Institute will include several centers for many new and
ongoing research projects across campus. The Center for Spatial
Analysis will include the University's Ground Water Institute,
which is working on ways to solve drinking-water problems
that kill thousands of people each day around the world. This
center will also work with the already-established Center
for Earthquake Research and Information with advanced national
seismic system research.
The Center for Multimedia Arts will offer the entertainment
business boundless opportunities.
"We are the birthplace of rock 'n' roll everything
in the music industry is becoming digitalized," Phillips says.
"We have had discussions with major players in the recording industry
about putting in a digital post-production lab where we will have the ability to digitalize
content. We could have Elvis singing a digital duet with
The Center for Life Sciences, which includes the Feinstone
Center for Genomic Research, will offer a virtual wet lab
and nanotechnology. Partnerships with the Hartwell Center at St.
Jude Children's Research Hospital and with the Memphis BioTech
Foundation have been established within this center.
Development of aviation engineering technology will be possible
in the Center for Next Generation Transportation. Other
areas include the Center for Digital Economic and Regional
Development, the Center for Supply Chain Management and the
Center for Managing Emerging Technology, which is the outreach
arm of the Institute.
"We will have world-class technology leaders the caliber of
Bill Gates presenting a series of seminars," Phillips says.
One of the more interactive tools at the Institute will be
a "presentation theatre" in which students and professors
can become immersed in their studies.
A student hoping to master the skills of an orchestra conductor
will put on a plastic suit loaded with motion sensors.
After a practice session in the theatre, professors will be
able to sit down with students and analyze the conductor's
movements compared to the musical score frame by frame. Student
conductors will be able to spot flaws in their movements.
21st century renaissance
FedEx Technology Institute
is already on its way to becoming firmly established
as a major research center.
alumnus Jim Phillips, the mission of the FTI began to
crystallize last spring. Original plans called for the
Institute to just be an IT training center, but the
executive director wanted an internationally renowned
research epicenter for the region. Phillips has been
involved with various high-tech companies and was most
recently chair and CEO of Interactive Pictures Corp.
Institute also named tech-guru John Ellis, a U of M
philosopher, and Sandy Schaeffer (MS 82) as associate
FedEx brand is opening many doors. Knoxvilles
IdleAire Technologies Corp. and Accurate Automation
have joined as the first two corporate research partners.
Oak Ridge National Laboratory will partner with the
Institute, allowing access to an incredible array of
noted research directors have joined the Executive Advisory
Board, which will be made up of scientists and professionals
from around the world. Bill Madia of the Oak Ridge lab
and Mike Hawley of MIT are the boards first two
Phillips says the FTI will maintain a strong connection to
students by offering innovative degree programs.
"A 21st-century student deserves a 21st-century education,"
he says. "We want our students to feel total ownership of
A master of science degree in e-commerce already offered
will be strengthened through the facility and is only one
of three programs nationally to combine business and computer
science. A master of science in bioinfomatics will offer a
cross-disciplinary mix of biological and computer sciences
to prepare graduates for the biotechnology industry. An undergraduate
Honors program in globalization will explore the impact of
technological advances worldwide.
"We believe the money that FedEx invested in this project
was just that," Carter says. "It wasn't a gift. We
believe this investment will pay off in the form of great
projects that we can tackle there, as well as an enhanced
curricula and student body from which we can recruit.
"To me, it is so important that any great city have a great
university, and great universities aren't just academic in
their presence in their community they have a lot of
presence in the area's businesses," Carter notes.
future is now
"We have traction now," Phillips says of the Institute. "We
have a partnership with a highly respected corporation that
is known worldwide. We have people joining our advisory boards
who are leaders in national and international digital and
Phillips says that as the digital headquarters of the Mid-South,
the FTI will forever change the face of business, education,
health care and many other industries.
"What we still have to do is get more people in Memphis excited
about the project," Phillips says. "The more people we have come on board, the stronger the FTI will be. And in the end,
we can do what MIT does."