The University of Michigan, an encyclopedic survey ... Wilfred B. Shaw, editor.
University of Michigan.
Page  42


In the United States, much of its basic research and a growing amount of its applied research is performed in its universities rather than in government laboratories or free-standing institutes as in most European countries. There is a distinguished group of major universities that maintain very large research programs. The University of Michigan is one of these, with research laboratories in nearly every building and research projects in nearly every department. It expects that its faculty members will engage in research as a part of their scholarly duties, and a great majority do so. Its administrative policies and procedures are designed to facilitate research by its faculty while ensuring that what is done is consonant with the primary educational goals of the institution.

In recent years, the University's budgeted and identifiable expenditures for research have been over $62 million per year (about DM.250 million). This enormous research program affects the University in two major ways. First, it contributes to one of the nation's best graduate-training programs. In most disciplines, and particularly in science and engineering, the training of graduate students goes hand in hand with a research program that makes available large-scale facilities and instrumentation, topics for thesis investigations, and research fellowships or other partial support for students working toward advanced degrees. Some 3,550 students, about one-third of them undergraduates, are currently employed on sponsored research projects, and it is estimated that every year about 350 doctoral dissertations (about half of all dissertations accepted by the University) grow directly out of work on a sponsored research project. Second, it contributes greatly to the quality of its faculty. The most eminent professors — those working at the frontiers of knowledge in their fields — naturally gravitate to and stay at institutions with vigorous research environments. Since these professors are often sought as advisers or consultants by government and industry, they tend to bring their universities into frequent relationships with the nonacademic world, thus helping to integrate, assimilate, and apply new knowledge for the benefit of society.

Page  43About 72 percent of the support for the University's research program comes from the various agencies of the federal government, with the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare furnishing the largest share (29.3 percent). In addition to the many federal agencies, a number of private foundations, industrial and business firms, national societies, and individuals support the University's research, providing the broad-based support needed for its extremely diverse program.

Because of the size and complexity of its research enterprise, the University has evolved some special administrative arrangements to foster the program. The principal research officer is a Vice-President for Research. His administrative staff, the Office of Research Administration, has broad responsibilities for aiding faculty members in securing funds for their research projects and assisting them in the administration of those funds in accordance with University policies.

Research projects vary greatly in size and subject-matter diversity. Small projects that fall within the traditional disciplines can be administered within those departments. Joint or interdisciplinary activities, however, may thrive better if structured differently. The University has, therefore, been willing to recognize research "centers" devoted to particular research areas or problems. The existence of these centers often gives their research a coherence and visibility that stimulate growth. In addition to numerous centers, the University has several units of such programmatic breadth and size that they are centrally administered. These are described as "institutes"; the two largest are the Institute of Science and Technology and the Institute for Social Research. The former provides for the management of large research programs that do not fit in the existing academic structure and the means by which new developments in science or technology are fostered until they can be absorbed by existing departments. It encompasses research activities in such fields as biophysics, highway safety, the Great Lakes, engineering psychology, and the technology of remote sensing and optical data processing. The Institute for Social Research includes substantial programs in survey research, management strategies, group dynamics, political behavior, and utilization of scientific knowledge. A newly-formed Institute for Environmental Quality differs from the other two mentioned in that its role is more of a catalyst, with modest operating responsibilities. It attempts to stimulate within the University new disciplinary alliances and combinations directed towards the solution of environmental Page  44problems and to foster the development of graduate and research programs to this end.


Scientific research often requires expensive research facilities, and the University of Michigan is fortunate in having been able over the years to acquire a great number of these. A few of the most important will be mentioned.

The Computing Center, with about 200 remote terminals located throughout campus, is, next to the Library, the University's most significant and widely used research facility. This year the Computing Center serves over 8,000 students, faculty, and other academic staff members with 3,000 to 4,000 job runs each day on a duplex IBM System/360 Model 67 computer. The system can accept "batch-process" jobs or can operate interactively with users at various remote terminals. The heavy use of the Center reflects not only the phenomenal growth of computer technology but also the integration of computer-based instruction and research in many disciplines.

The Phoenix Memorial Laboratory, housing the University's two-million-watt Ford Nuclear Reactor, is the home of the Michigan Memorial — Phoenix Project, which was organized in 1948 to honor Michigan's war dead through a continuing search for peaceful uses of nuclear energy. The nuclear reactor operates twenty-four hours a day and serves many research groups within the University requiring gamma or neutron irradiation.

The Cyclotron Laboratory has two cyclotrons for the use of researchers studying nuclear structures. The smaller one is used for studies of light-and medium-atomic-weight nuclei; the larger, with a capability of very high resolution, is used for studies of heavier nuclei in such substances as lead, gold, radium, and uranium. The Laboratory consists of two underground, remotely-controlled cyclotron rooms connected to a two-story research and office facility by separate tunnels.

The Ship Hydrodynamics Laboratory is essential to the University's programs in naval architecture and marine engineering. One of this Laboratory's model-testing tanks is 360-feet long and 21-feet wide, and has an adjustable Page  45bottom capable of providing a maximum water depth of 10-feet. During experiments, an overhead carriage moves at a speed of up to 20-feet per second to facilitate visual and electronic observation of towed or self-propelled models. A second model-testing tank is a wave and maneuvering basin 100-feet long and 60-feet wide, with a maximum depth of six feet. It has pneumatic wave-making equipment for simulating open-sea environments for radio-controlled models, with measurements telemetered back to "shore." This Laboratory has contributed substantially to the improvement of ship and barge design.

The facilities for research at the Botanical Gardens are used by scientists from botany, civil engineering, forestry, geology, genetics, pharmacy, zoology, and other fields. These facilities include a skilled horticultural staff, 40,000 square feet under glass (nearly three-fourths of which is devoted to research), controlled environmental chambers, and specialized indoor and outdoor environments. The permanent conservatory collections, one of the great public botanical attractions of midwestern United States, include several hundred tropical, temperate, succulent, and cactus plants, selected to illustrate economically or botanically significant types. The outdoor site consists of nearly 350 acres of open field, natural flood plains, forest, upland forest, marshes, streams, and ponds.

The University has six research museums on campus: The Museum of Anthropology, the Kelsey Museum of Ancient and Medieval Archaeology, the Museum of Art, the University Herbarium, the Museum of Paleontology, and the Museum of Zoology. These museums, for the most part, are working collections and include well-equipped laboratories for research in the disciplines represented.

The foundation for a sound research program is, of course, an excellent library. The University's library system, with over 4,257,000 volumes, several hundred thousand publications in microtext, some 500 incunabula among its many thousands of rarities, and dozens of special collections, is one of the great scholarly libraries of the world. The University Library comprises the Harlan Hatcher Graduate Library, for which a new eight-story, air-conditioned building was recently constructed; the General Library; the Undergraduate Library, by far the largest and most important library in the United States devoted specifically to an undergraduate student body; and 25 divisional libraries situated throughout the campus for the convenience of the schools, colleges, and other units. Four special-purpose libraries are separately administered: Page  46the Clements Library, exclusively a research library with one of the nation's best collections of source materials relating to early Americana; the Michigan Historical Collections; the Business Administration Library; and the Law Library.

Space does not permit describing all of the University's important research facilities. In addition to the ones already mentioned, there are several aircraft including a C-46 "flying laboratory"; two research vessels on the Great Lakes; a number of telescopes including a 52-inch reflecting telescope and an 85-foot radio telescope; and a great many important instruments such as multispectral scanner for remote sensing, a synthetic-aperture high-resolution radar, electron microscopes, lasers, special-purpose computers, etc.


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.