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From the July 29, 2005 print edition of the Memphis Business Journal

University of Memphis aims to increase external funding to $100 million

Shirley Raines, Guest columnist

As this issue of the Memphis Business Journal focuses on higher education, I want to focus on the research that is an integral part of the University of Memphis.

In addition to the fine teaching and service efforts of our faculty, many of those same professors are engaged in research and creative activities that touch our lives in countless ways. More than 50 research centers and five Centers of Excellence offer active research programs in business and economics, the environment, education, health care, logistics and transportation, biomedical engineering, genomics, cognitive sciences, societal cultures and many other topics.

Over the past 20 years external funding for research at the U of M has increased from just over $4 million a year to more than $41 million this past year. This is an unusually large figure for a university that does not include colleges of medicine or agriculture. Research funding is awarded competitively from federal, state and local governments; foundations; other non-profit organizations; and commercial partners. The university's goal is to increase funding to $100 million for our 100th anniversary in 2012.

Probably the best known research entity at the U of M is the FedEx Institute of Technology. In a partnership with FedEx Corp., the university created the institute to act as a catalyst for building research at the university and to apply technology and research funding to grow our economy.

Among programs under the institute's umbrella are the FedEx Center for Supply Chain Management, which deals with logistics and distribution; the Center for Experiential Design, which studies the effects that interior environment and design have on people; and the Institute for Intelligent Systems, which is developing computerized tutors, robots that can think and learn, and software to detect computer viruses and combat them instantly.

The Sparks Bureau of Business and Economic Research is another major research presence at the U of M. Over the past 12 years it has conducted more than $20 million in contract applied research for businesses and governmental entities in Tennessee. Representative clients include TVA, the Tennessee departments of Labor and Transportation, Shelby County, the City of Memphis, the Memphis/Shelby County Port Commission, the Memphis Zoo, the Memphis Area Association of Realtors, and the Assisi Foundation.

The Center for Earthquake Research and Information has been much in the news over the past year, analyzing data from several earthquakes in the New Madrid Zone that have been felt in Memphis and the surrounding area. CERI's research is aimed at informing the public how to react to an earthquake and assisting government agencies in planning their response to a serious earthquake emergency. CERI and the other Centers of Excellence at the University of Memphis have a return on investment nine times their base budgets.

The College of Education conducts research aimed at improving education from the pre-school level through the college level. The Center for Research in Educational Policy is working with 900 K-12 schools across the nation examining "what works" in education. Altogether, the College of Education has doubled its funding for research to more than $16 million.

Health care is also a major area of focus by university researchers. The Center for Community Health has long played a key role in research designed to reduce the incidence of cancer and heart disease. Programs to help people quit smoking, to help prevent young people from beginning to smoke, and to help prevent obesity in teens have all received national attention.

The Methodist/LeBonheur Center for Healthcare Economics plays an important role in analyzing the healthcare needs of thousands of Tennesseans. In that way, it provides vital information to the state government relative to health care provided by TennCare and by private medical practitioners.

These are some of the research activities at the University of Memphis that have a more "public" face, but they are far from the only ones. Whether scientific or social in nature, university research is involved in many significant areas. The Harry Feinstone Center for Genomic Research is a key player in the study of human genes in an effort to develop cures for catastrophic diseases. The Integrated Microscopy Center utilizes a powerful electron microscope for pure research and to assist industries around the world with their applied research. The Groundwater Institute in the Herff College of Engineering is a vital part of the effort to protect the Memphis Aquifer.

The Biomedical Engineering / Biosurfaces Center works with well known local biodevice industries in developing new and better orthopedic appliances. The Nanotechnology Center is exploring uses of extremely small particles and substances in health care, security and other areas that are of vital interest to society.

Each of these research initiatives generates dollars for the local economy and jobs for individual employees, students and technicians. Many will lead to business applications, while others will benefit our society in education, the sciences, the arts and the humanities.

Research also attracts the brightest, most motivated work force and helps shape a region's future. Every great city needs a great university, and the University of Memphis is becoming one of America's great metropolitan universities, thanks in large part to its commitment to research.

Copyright, 2005, Memphis Business Journal, Memphis, TN. Used here with permission. No additional reproduction or distribution of this article in any form is permitted without the written approval of the Memphis Business Journal (

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