Gymnastics, Inventive and Otherwise, on UM Campus

Inventors celebrate stuck landings
Members of the UM men's gymnastics team perform on the Diag. Head Coach Kurt Golder was there too, wearing a white polo shirt.

Members of the UM men's gymnastics team on the Diag Thursday. Head Coach Kurt Golder (wearing a white polo shirt) watched the action.

Juxtaposition can be an oddly wonderful thing. That was the case Wednesday as The Chronicle swung between two disparate events on the University of Michigan campus: a demo on the Diag by the men’s gymnastics team, and a reception at the Michigan League to celebrate UM inventors.

First, the physical tumbling. Each fall about this time, the men’s gymnastics team hauls out some of its equipment and sets up on the Diag, where team members jump, flip, work the pummel horse and otherwise wow passersby with feats of strength and flexibility. It’s a way to promote their season – their first meet isn’t until Dec. 13, but their daily practices at the UM sports coliseum from 2:45-5:45 p.m. are open to the public.

Scott Vetere, assistant head coach for UM gymnastics

Scott Vetere, assistant head coach for UM men's gymnastics.

They were cold Thursday afternoon – who wasn’t? – but putting on quite a show nonetheless. Scott Vetere, one of two assistant head coaches for the 24-member team, says they have a good shot to do really well in the Big 10 Championships as well as in NCAA competition. Last year, the team was ranked 6th out of the 19 NCAA gymnastics programs.

Meets are held at Keen Arena, and attendance can range from 500 to 1,000 people, Vetere says. Tickets are free for M-Card holders, $5 for everyone else. UM also is host this season for the Big 10 Championships, held April 3-4.

Gymnastics of an entirely different sort were on display just a quick stroll north, at the Michigan League. Celebrate Invention – an annual event to highlight UM researchers (or cerebral gymnasts, if you will) – was in full swing Thursday afternoon. Hundreds of people crammed into the League’s ballroom, browsing exhibits, swigging beer (a limited cash bar was available), networking and giving a collective tip o’ the hat to the more than 700 inventors who filed disclosures, patents or licensing deals during fiscal 2008.

Steve Forrest, UM vice president for research, talks to exhibitors at the RZRNIL booth.

Steve Forrest, UM vice president for research, talks to exhibitors who developed nanoimprint lithography.

Ken Nisbet – executive director of UM Tech Transfer, which hosted the event – made some brief remarks about midway through the gathering. He noted that fiscal 2008 was a strong one for UM researchers, with 13 startup companies launched, roughly $25 million in revenues from licensing fees and more than 300 ideas from inventors “that are all being put to work.” (He also said things really improved back in 2003 when “we decided to implement the spread tech transfer office.” Now we know where Rich Rodriguez got the idea.)

Steve Forrest, vice president for research, also spoke, calling UM “truly the center for geek life.” He praised the work of researchers for helping drive the economy, and said one of the lessons learned from the nation’s recent financial crisis is “if you really make things, you’re on solid ground.”

The final speaker was Terrence McDonald, dean of the College of Literature, Science & the Arts. Invention disclosures from LS&A faculty have doubled since 2000, he said. McDonald sees additional potential in licensing LS&A’s large collection of “binding spells” – small tablets used for curses. Cursing your competitors, for example. Or venture capitalists who aren’t giving you good terms. (The Chronicle thinks he was kidding, but will be especially nice to him in the future.)

Tom Bray of Animation Station gives a demo of the firm's software during Celebrate Invention at the Michigan League.

Tom Bray of Animation Station gives a demo of the firm's product at Thursday's Celebrate Invention reception.

A member of the UM men's gymnastics team

A UM gymnast launches himself above the Diag.

Chalk box for UM men's gymnastics team

Chalk, tape, towel – Go Blue!