Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)


Q: What is MCubed?
A: MCubed is a seed-funding program developed at the University of Michigan in 2012 to stimulate and support innovative research.  The program grew out of the IdeaWorks project in the College of Engineering and is part of the University’s Third Century Initiative. MCubed is now administratively located in the University of Michigan Office of Research (UMOR).

Q: What is a cube?
A: A cube is a funded project with three investigators.  Investigators create projects and invite collaborators to join them.  A project that has three tokens associated with it is ready to cube.  The owner can then decide to cube the project.  Once a cube is formed, the investigators cannot be changed.

Q: What can I do on the MCubed website?
A: Investigators can create project descriptions, search for collaborators and projects, and obtain research funding for their cubes on the MCubed website.

Q: I am on the MCubed website but I do not see the "Create a Project" icon.
A: Investigators need to login to see the "create a project" icon. The login button is located in the upper right corner of the page. 

Q: I am listed as a delegate for a faculty member in the MCubed system. What can delegates do in the MCubed website?
A: Delegates have access to edit a faculty member's profile information (biographical and research information, user/overdraft shortcodes, etc.). Once your faculty members cube has formed, you will also have access to enter accomplishments (grants, publications, other scholarly works, etc.) to the cube's profile. 

Q: I am listed as a SAPOC for a faculty member in the MCubed system. What can SAPOCs do in the MCubed website?
A: A SAPOC, or single administrative point of contact (i.e. the person who handle's a faculty member's reserach accounts), is able to edit a faculty member's profile information (biographical and research information, user/overdraft shortcodes, etc.). Once your faculty member's cube has formed, you will also have access to enter accomplishments (grants, publications, other scholarly works, etc.) to the cube's profile. Also, the project creator's SAPOC will need to complete the financial verification process for their faculty member's cube. No financial verification action will be required of SAPOCs until late October, after the first batch of cubes has been randomly selected.  Read extended description of SAPOC's role in supporting the cube.


Q: What is an “independent researcher”?
A: The definition of an independent researcher varies from unit to unit.  Please check with your unit contact for the definition that applies to your unit. Visit the MCubed 2.0 page for additional details on unit specifications. 

Q: How does the MCubed program define a “unit”?
A: For MCubed, a unit is a school, college, or LSA division (Natural Sciences, Social Sciences, and Humanities). There are also several other U-M units (e.g. LSI, Libraries, etc.) in the MCubed system. You can find a complete list on the MCubed 2.0 page, on the "Faculty Financial Contribution Breakdown." 

Q: I’ve published several papers with two other investigators.  We now want to form a cube.  Will that be allowed?
A: As long as the project is new, innovative research, and you have not worked on the same external grant OR on a cube in an previous cycle of MCubed, that is fine.

Q: I have a grant with one investigator and a different grant with a second investigator.  I want to form a cube with these two people on a totally new research project.  Can I do that?
A: Yes.  The restriction is that the three investigators cannot be working on a project together that already has external funding.


Q: How many tokens will I receive?
A: Each independent UM researcher – as defined by the units – will receive only one token, regardless of how many programs or units they are associated with.

Q: Can I get additional tokens?
A: No, for the two-year period, you will receive only one token.

Q: If I have a token, do I have two years to use it?
A: In many units, more tokens are distributed than can be funded.  Also, the total number of tokens distributed exceeds the total that is currently committed for this round; i.e., 675. Thus, the program may reach capacity before the end of the two-year funding cycle.

Q: Why is my token gray? Others are maize and blue.
A: There are several reasons (listed below) why your token might appear as gray. Please contact MCubed if you believe your token is gray in error.

-My token is gray and says "no tokens left in unit."---If your token is in this state, it means that there are no funded tokens available in your unit. Typically, this is because the tokens that were previously available have been used by other researchers to form cubes.

-My token is gray and says "token inactive."---Most likely, MCubed is in the process of updating your status in the system and will activate your token soon. Please contact MCubed if the situation persists.

Q: I found an interesting project that I want to add my token to but I don’t have expertise in that area.  Can I still join that project?
A: Yes, as long as the owner of the project invites you to join, you can join the project.

Q: Can I contribute my token to a project but not work on it?
A: Yes.  You decide what to do with your token.  If you like a project and want to make sure it goes forward, you can commit your token to the project so it can cube.  Make sure you communicate with the owner so that he or she knows your intention; i.e., so the other members of the cube are not counting on your active participation.

Q: Can I put my token on more than one project?
A: No, you can only place your token on one project.


Q: How many projects can I create?
A: Investigators can create as many projects as they want.  However, each investigator can only participate in one cube.

Q: Can I put my token on a project that I didn’t create?
A: To join a project that you didn’t create, you must be invited to place your token on that project.

Q: I recently began working with two other investigators and a graduate student on a project.  We have received a small amount of internal money but the project is still not sufficiently advanced to publish results or submit an external proposal.  Can I cube this project?
A: Yes, as long as the work is new for the three researchers and you are not currently on an external grant together.

Q: I have a really large project that may grow into a center.  Can I use MCubed to start that center?
A: Yes. If you need, say, 5 graduate students and 5 postdocs to work on your project, you need to assemble a team of 30 investigators (or 10 cubes).  Note that for each cube, you still need to have investigators from at least two different units. In the MCubed system, the grouping of more than one cube around the same topic is called a "block of cubes".

Q: I have an interdisciplinary team but it is between researchers in different departments in the same unit.  Is that okay?
A: No, you need to have at least one participant in each cube that is from a different unit.  Although you can have two investigators from the same unit or department, MCubed does not fund interdisciplinary projects that contain investigators all in the same department or unit.

The Cubing Process

Q: How do I cube my project?
A: Once you have created a project description on the web and have two additional investigators that have joined your project, you are ready to cube.  There will be instructions on the website that will guide you through the process. Note that you can only cube when the website is in the "cubing (green) phase." 

Q: I already have an interdisciplinary group between two units.  Do I need to use the website?
A: Yes, the MCubed website is the only way you can receive funding for your cube.

Q: When I form the cube, how much money will I receive?
A: A classic cube is worth $60,000 and a mini cube is worth $15,000. The investigators can choose which level of funding they would like to recieve. 

Q: Will my project need to be scientifically reviewed before it will be funded?
A: No, this is one of the unique aspects of the program.  Essentially, by the three investigators reviewing the project and agreeing to use their one token on the project, they have performed the peer review through their actions.  There will be administrative checks to make sure that the requirements of the program are being met, but there will not be a review of the projects themselves prior to funding.

Q: What is semi-random selection?
A: Click here for a full description.


MCubed 2.0 Finance

Q: How does a faculty member receive a token in the MCubed system?
A:  Each campus unit (school, college) determines which groups of faculty from are eligible for a virtual MCubed token.

Q: What is a token worth?
A:  Tokens are worth $20K when used in a classic cube or $5K in a mini-cube.

Q: Where does the money for a token come from?
A:  Each campus unit sets a unique funding model for faculty tokens. The Provost’s contribution covers 1/3 of all tokens, and the unit and PI contributions, combined, cover the remaining 2/3 of each token.

Q: The MCubed website requires me to enter two shortcodes.  What shortcodes should I supply?
A:  Before committing your token, you will be prompted to enter your user shortcode and an overage shortcode.  The “user shortcode” is an account from which your financial contribution to the token comes.  The “overage shortcode” is an account from which, at the close of the funding period, any deficit will be charged (with each of the three faculty collaborators on the cube bearing 1/3 of the charge).  You cannot supply shortcodes from external, sponsored funding, auxiliary accounts, or restricted gift.

Q: What shortcodes should I enter if my unit doesn't require its faculty to invest any of their own funds?
A:  In cases where units cover the entire 2/3 of the token and do not require a faculty contribution, you should enter “111111” for your user shortcode.  You should enter their own discretionary shortcode for their “overage shortcode” unless their unit indicates a willingness to cover the potential overdraft as well.

Q: What is a SAPOC?
A:  The MCubed website also requires you to enter the uniqname of a SAPOC (single administrative point of contact), or the person who manages your research or discretionary accounts.  The SAPOC will receive email notification of this role and should use the embedded link right away to become a registered user in the private MCubed website.

Q: Where is the cube funding housed?
A:  The faculty member who posts a project concept on the MCubed website and invites two other collaborators to join will function as the “project owner,” and the funds will be housed in his/her home unit.


Restrictions on spending

Q: What are the overall spending rules for cube funding?
A: At least 50% of the cube funding must go toward personnel, or emerging scholars and researchers.  This category includes U-M undergrads, U-M graduate students, and/or postdocs with current appointments at U-M.  The other 50% is research-related discretionary, which can include subject incentives, travel essential for research, equipment, supplies, and staff or non-U-M personnel.

Q: I have an idea for an interesting project.  Instead of using graduate students or postdocs, the three faculty members want to pay part of our salaries instead.  Is this okay?
A: No.  While it is true that some of these projects could be completed without the use of students and postdocs, this program does not support that type of arrangement. Faculty/investigator salaries of any kind are not allowable expenses.

Q: I need to buy a small piece of equipment ($9,000) for the project.  Is that an allowable expense?
A: Yes, up to 50% of the funding (i.e. $30K for a classic ($60K) cube or $7.5K for a mini ($15K) cube) can be spent on things other than student/postdoc salaries. 


Patents and Intellectual Property 

Q: Am I able to share and disclose materials, research tools or intellectual property with others to further their research as part of a research collaboration?
A: Yes. However it is important to document items that are to be shared with others and the conditions of use. It may be necessary to have a Confidentiality Agreement completed to protect your research results or intellectual property. In order to obtain help for a Confidentiality Agreement, if you are sharing information for (a) a sponsored project, generally ORSP will help you or (b) purposes related to tech transfer, generally the Office of Tech Transfer will help you.

Q: Am I able to publish or disclose to others outside of the University the results of my research and still protect the commercial value of my intellectual property?
A: Yes, but since patent rights are affected by these activities, it is best to submit an Invention Report to Tech Transfer well before communicating or disclosing your invention to people outside the U-M community. There are significant differences between the U.S. and other countries as to how early publication affects a potential patent. Once publicly disclosed (published or presented in some form), an invention may have a restricted or minimal potential for patent protection outside of the United States. Be sure to inform the Tech Transfer licensing specialist assigned to you of any imminent or prior presentation, lecture, poster, abstract, website description, research proposal submission, dissertation/masters thesis, publication, or other public presentation describing the invention. If you have not worked with Tech Transfer before, you can email Director of Licensing, Robin Rasor, at

Q: Will my disclosures under this MCubed program prevent me from obtaining a patent on my invention?
A: The patent law on this issue will be replaced with new laws beginning in 2013, so it is not possible to provide a certain answer as to whether such disclosures will prevent you from obtaining a patent on your invention. However, in general, disclosures to those outside of the University may be considered public disclosures as set forth below. The more detailed your disclosure the higher the risk that such disclosure will be considered a full disclosure of your invention; by “dumbing down” your disclosure (i.e. disclosing the resolution of a problem without disclosing how it is accomplished), your risks are greatly reduced. If you are unsure or have any questions, contact U-M Tech Transfer and file an Invention Report.

Q: If I make a suggestion on the MCubed website for a project which I am not a collaborator, am I an inventor?
A: It depends on your contribution to the invention. Under U.S. law, an inventor is a person who takes part in the conception of the ideas in the patent claims of a patent application. Inventorship of a patent application may change as the patent claims are changed during the patenting process. Further, merely suggesting alternative considerations or improvements to an invention without the means for accomplishing such suggestions or improvements may not rise to level of contribution as an inventor. Inventorship may require an intricate legal determination by the patent attorney working the application.

Q: What is an Invention Report?
A: An Invention Report (IR) is a written description of your invention or development that is provided to U-M Tech Transfer

This document will be treated as “University Confidential.” Based on the Invention Report, U-M Tech Transfer may generate a non-confidential description of your invention in order to assist in marketing the technology. Once potential partners have been identified, and confidentiality agreements have been signed, more detailed exchanges of information can be made.

Q: Why should I submit an Invention Report?
A: When you disclose your invention to U-M Tech Transfer, it starts a process that could lead to the protection and commercialization of your technology. This may involve beginning the legal protection process and working to identify outside development partners. If government funds were used for your research, you are required to file a prompt disclosure, which UM-Tech Transfer will report to the sponsoring agency. Similar requirements may exist for other sponsored projects.

Q: How do I know if my discovery is an invention that can or should be protected?
A: You are encouraged to submit an Invention Report for all inventions and developments that you feel may solve a significant problem and/or have significant value. If you are in doubt, contact U-M Tech Transfer to discuss the invention and strategies for commercialization.

Q: When should I compete an Invention Report?
A: You should complete an Invention Report whenever you feel you have discovered something unique with possible commercial value. This should be done well before presenting the discovery through publications, poster sessions, conferences, press releases, or other communications. Once publicly disclosed (i.e., published or presented in some form), an invention may have restricted or minimal potential for patent protection outside of the United States. Differences exist between the U.S. and other countries on the impact of early publication on a potential patent. Be sure to inform U-M Tech Transfer of any imminent or prior presentation, lecture, poster, abstract, website description, research proposal, dissertation/masters thesis, publication, or other public presentation including the invention.

Q: How do I submit an Invention Report?
A: You can download a report form and simple instructions from Invention Reports are assigned weekly to a U-M Tech Transfer licensing specialist. If you have any questions, call U-M Tech Transfer at 734.763.0614 or email at