The University of Michigan, an encyclopedic survey ... Wilfred B. Shaw, editor.
University of Michigan.


In a brief article, the substance of University research can only be touched upon. The following sections sketch some of the prominent achievements and trends within broad areas of basic research. The table below shows how the distribution of research expenditures has changed during the past few years, with both the life sciences and the social sciences showing significant gains relative to engineering and the physical sciences.

Research Expenditures by Fields
1963 1967 1970
Life Sciences 25.6% 27.4% 34.9%
Engineering 35.5 31.6 24.2
Physical Sciences 25.6 21.4 18.2
Social Sciences 10.9 14.8 15.6
Humanities 0.6 2.1
Other 2.4 4.2 5.0

Life Sciences. — Research in the life sciences is conducted in the University of Michigan Medical Center, the Medical School, the School of Public Health, the School of Page  47Dentistry, the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts, and in several research units independent of these.

Perhaps the University's most widely publicized medical research in recent years has been work related to organ transplants. This research includes refinements in surgical techniques, work on immunosuppressant drugs, and basic studies of the organs involved. The University has also been among the nation's leaders in developing artificial organs, having successfully developed an artificial kidney and an artificial lung.

Internationally recognized units for medical research include the Simpson Memorial Institute (research on diseases of the blood), the Rackham Arthritis Research Institute, the Mental Health Research Institute, the Kresge Hearing Research Institute, the Nuclear Medicine Unit, and the Buhl Genetics Research Center.

Research on such multifaceted problems as cancer, influenza, and viral infections is distributed throughout the Medical Center and other parts of the University as well. Research on cancer, for instance, involves hundreds of faculty and staff researchers in the departments of four schools, with a total of over $1.5 million spent annually on research directly related to this disease.

The School of Public Health, the first school to award a graduate degree in public health and now the largest of its kind in the nation, is well known for several major research programs. Prominent among these have been the nationwide field trials that proved the effectiveness and safety of the Salk polio vaccine, and the monumental Tecumseh Community Health Study, now in its second decade, in which the health and sickness of an entire community of 10,000 people has been closely monitored and studied from many different perspectives. Both the Salk and Tecumseh studies represent the kind of large-scale, long-term "ecological" research programs needed for understanding and solving complex health problems. Two areas of increasing attention in public health research are environmental pollution and the delivery of medical care.

The School of Dentistry, now partly housed in a new $17.3-million Dental School Building, has a growing research program, part of which is conducted by the Dental Research Institute, one of only five such dental research units in the United States. Several dental projects have received wide public attention. One is the interdisciplinary research and teaching program in dental materials, the oldest Page  48such program in the United States. Another is a study of the teeth of ancient and modern Nubian populations in Egypt where the researchers are able to examine some 4,000 years of Nubian skeletal history as well as the current Nubian population. This project offers an unequaled opportunity to study the cranio-facial growth and development of a single population over hundreds of generations.

Engineering. — Research in engineering at the University has a long history. Aeronautical research, for example, has flourished since 1914, when an academic course in aeronautics was inaugurated. The University's aerospace studies have contributed substantially to the nation's space program, and its projects in aeronomy (the study of the physics and chemistry of the upper atmosphere) have launched hundreds of small instrument-carrying rockets to gather data on the ionosphere. The research and graduate programs in both nuclear and marine engineering are without peer in the United States, and the College has also produced notable research achievements in fluid mechanics, thermodynamics, and heat transfer; in soil mechanics and highway and transportation engineering; in metallurgy and materials science; in automotive engineering and studies of combustion and air pollution; and especially in the development and application of all phases of computer technology.

Since 1946, part of the University's engineering research has been conducted at the Willow Run Laboratories, a group of research facilities a few miles outside Ann Arbor. Beginning with aeronautics and the problems of defense against ballistic missiles, the main research focus of the Laboratories later shifted to problems of military reconnaissance and surveillance, which placed the Laboratories in the forefront of technology in the various kinds of sensors. The Laboratories' recent achievements include developing a practical technique for recording and reconstructing optical wavefronts, making possible holography, popularly known as "three-dimensional" or "lensless" photography; and applying the technologies underlying airborne surveillance to detecting, surveying, and monitoring various phenomena related to earth resources (diseased vegetation, wildlife herds, concentrations of water pollution, ocean currents, forest fires, volcanoes, snow crevasses, and many others).

The most clearly discernible trend in the University's engineering research is toward the solution of environmental problems. In addition to conducting basic studies on such subjects as water purification, combustion, rain scavenging, Page  49and electrical stimulation of microbial waste treatment, engineering researchers are participating increasingly in interdepartmental programs and units like the Sea Grant program, the Institute for Environmental Quality, and the Highway Safety Research Institute. There is a new concern for long-range "ecological" planning in which technological developments are studied in political and social contexts and the guidance of public policy is seen as part of the engineer's responsibility.

Physical Sciences and Mathematics. — Although the hope of knowing the unknown and seeing the unseeable has intrigued physical scientists for centuries, current research has grown farther than ever from the naturally visible world. Physical scientists are examining the universe, the globe, and the constituents of all matter with increasingly complex equipment, novel techniques, and cooperative efforts.

In astronomy, the University is pursuing studies in solar physics, double-star observations, spectroscopic analysis of stars, the development of satellite-borne astronomical instruments, and radio telescope observations of emissions from planets and galactic and extragalactic nebulae.

In physics research, the University has pioneered in probing elementary particles to explain the subatomic structure of the universe. One of the most accurate measurements in science history, measuring the g-factor of the electron (gyromagnetic rotation of a free positron) was recently accomplished here. In the early 1960s, University physicists designed and built one of the largest heavy-liquid bubble chambers, now being used in conjunction with the accelerator at the Argonne National Laboratory near Chicago, where some University nuclear research is conducted. Current research in physics includes work in superfluidity, infrared spectroscopy, and resonance absorption.

Closely related to physics, and at one time considered to be purely physics, is chemical research in molecular structure. Another kind of chemical research shades into biochemistry and biological research, bringing together chemists, physicists, engineers, and biophysicists to study the synthesis and properties of giant molecules. Other chemists study natural macromolecules and the structure of proteins. Research in chemistry thus ranges from studies in the physics of molecules to studies closely related to biological and medical research.

Page  50Fundamental to much research in the physical sciences, as well as engineering and increasingly the social sciences, is mathematics, and research in this field is proceeding over a broad front, including algebra, analysis, applied mathematics, mathematical logic, combinatorics and graph theory, probability theory, actuarial mathematics, and topology. The development of high-speed computers in the past two decades has opened a new world of computation and numerical analysis, and the University is heavily engaged in this work.

Social Sciences. — University research in the social sciences has increased steadily during the last decade. This growth has been stimulated partly by the mounting pressures of social problems on all levels of government, partly by the continuing refinements in survey techniques that permit more accurate and usable interpretations of interview data, and partly by computers and data-processing techniques that can handle the enormous quantities of data involved in social science research.

The major impetus for the prominence of social science research at the University has been the Institute for Social Research. Founded twenty-five years ago and now the preeminent research center of its kind, the Institute has pioneered in the development of interview surveys conducted according to scientific sampling techniques and in the collection of accurate data on the circumstances, habits, and opinions of representative populations. Researchers at the Institute have studied consumer attitudes and behavior, poverty and income dynamics, political behavior, race relations, urban problems, time use, attitudes toward violence, and other subjects. In addition to serving the immediate purposes for which they were collected, these computer-stored data have become an archive for the thousands of social scientists who participated in such cooperative enterprises as the Inter-University Consortium for Political Research, which link social science institutions throughout the world.

Another large-scale research grouping in the social sciences is the University of Michigan Population Program, which is helping to provide the information, techniques, and trained experts to deal with the problem that underlies all other social problems: overpopulation. Among its best-known field studies are several projects related to family planning and birth control in Taiwan. Other prominent social science research units at the University include the Institute of Labor and Industrial Relations, the Institute of Public Policy Studies, the Center for Research on Page  51Economic Development, the Center for Research on Social Organization, the Institute of Gerontology, and the Research Seminar in Quantitative Economics.

Humanities. — Surveys of research inevitably focus on giant well-funded programs and complex scientific facilities rather than on scholarly liberal arts projects that cannot be so readily summarized. Yet much of the reputation of The University of Michigan rests on the scholarly publications of its liberal arts faculty. Only a few large or unusual projects can be mentioned here.

The University's monumental and definitive Middle English Dictionary has been taking shape under four editors during the past forty years. The Dictionary, published in sections as they are completed, is the indispensable authority for scholars interested in medieval texts or the history of the English language. Another indication of the prominence of the University in linguistic studies is the internationally known English Language Institute, which focuses on the problems of teaching English as a foreign language. Over the years, the University has been the home of a number of preeminent linguistic scholars, including some of the pioneers in structural linguistic theories and methods.

In recent years, "area study centers," organized to bring together scholars from different disciplines, have assisted liberal arts research focused on particular geographical regions. A specialist in Chinese literature, for example, by entering into working associations with persons interested in Chinese music, economics, political history, art, etc., inevitably broadens his interests and understanding and places his own specialty in a clearer context. Area study centers have also been instrumental in obtaining financial support for studies of geographic areas hitherto neglected by American scholars. The University has seven such centers.

While the University continues to provide the scholarly environment necessary to produce outstanding work on such diverse subjects as papyri, the music of Bach, and the medieval history of England, a new emphasis is being placed on the study of the contemporary world and its problems. In the liberal arts, this new emphasis is being expressed in the greater research attention given to current literature, music, and art and in an increased use of comparative studies. Generally one observes the traditional departmental and disciplinary barriers giving way, both in research and teaching, to new specialties and new syntheses.