The University of Minnesota’s craziest, most interesting innovations

Thursday, December 06, 2018

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The University of Minnesota is a research giant. Sure, most colleges and universities have an active team of researchers, but few institutions churn out inventions at the same rate as the U.

Last year, the U was named by the National Science Foundation as one of the nation’s top 10 research institutions. A report released by the university in late 2017 estimates that it has had an $8.6 billion impact on Minnesota, and that its inventions generated more than $320 million for the state between 2009 and 2015.

Simply put, the University of Minnesota is, and always has been, at the heart of the state’s innovation economy. Its faculty have created everything from new apples to life-saving drugs.

Below are several of the U’s most interesting innovations, listed in no particular order:

3D printed bionic eye

The University of Minnesota owns powerful 3D printers that can create things like artificial skin and functional organs. Now, researchers at the U are setting their sites on a new challenge: creating a bionic eye. Using a new process involving liquid metal, they found a way to 3D print electronics onto a curved surface. Each electrode on the artificial eye contains a light receptor that could be used to help bypass a damaged retina, effectively converting light into electricity. It’s a work in progress, but the team estimates that it could be ready for human trials within two or three years.

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