Tennessee Tech Joins MTSU, Nashville Company for Research Project

In the first such collaboration in the history of the Tennessee Board of Regents, Tennessee Technological University will join Middle Tennessee State University for a proposed joint research project with Aqua Bath manufacturing company of Nashville. This marks the first joint venture of two TBR institutions and a private enterprise supported by a federal grant.

Aqua Bath, a small company that has manufactured bathroom products since 1979, submitted a proposal to the National Institutes of Health's Aging Division to conduct research on redesigning bathtubs for the disabled and the aging population. The TBR assisted with the proposal as part of its public service mandate.

On behalf of Aqua Bath's President George McAllister, the TBR issued a statewide request for research proposals, and Tennessee Tech's Center for Manufacturing Research and MTSU's Russell Chair in Manufacturing Excellence responded.

"This is the first time in the history of the TBR that such a partnership involving two TBR universities and a for-profit company in a federally funded research project has occurred," said Mike Magill, TBR director of Business/Industry and Federal Government Relations. "This partnership focuses on real-world issues. The research these universities provide will be applied in small business, and the products this small business produces will have direct and significant impact on the people of this country."

"Every 24 hours, 6,000 people in the United States turn 65 years old," McAllister said. "People are living longer. That's what this research project is all about -- trying to find out these people's needs so they can stay in their own homes longer."

The project consists of three phases. In the first phase, MTSU will conduct fundamental research and data gathering. Up to $100,000 in grant money may be allotted for the first phase. Tennessee Tech will dominate the second phase, which includes designing and manufacturing the product. Up to $500,000 in grant support is available for this phase. Aqua Bath takes over in the third phase, marketing the finished product.

Dick Redditt, an MTSU professor of Industrial Studies who represents the Russell Chair, says approval of the project has been granted at part one of the review process for scientific evaluation. The full scientific review process occurs in July, and the funding review will take place in October. Redditt notes that in each phase of the project, both institutions must contract to do 30 percent of the work.

Ted Lundy, director of Tennessee Tech's Manufacturing Center, said, "I am pleased we will have this opportunity to work with MTSU. We are looking forward to the second phase of the project, which will be our main contribution, but we also hope to supply some of the ergonomics expertise for the first phase. This project will be a great opportunity for our researchers to collaborate, and Aqua Bath will reap the benefits."

At a meeting at TBR headquarters of all those involved in the project, group members spoke to Rep. Bart Gordon (D-Murfreesboro) via conference call to urge him to support funding for the project.

"I'm proud of both schools," Gordon said. "In this time of reduced levels of funds, these kinds of partnerships help us work together. Maybe this can be a model of how we can put together some joint programs."

Gordon added, "This is an opportunity for smaller research universities to show what they can do. ... This [project] maximizes the strengths of both institutions."

The meeting also included representatives from the offices of Sen. Fred Thompson and Sen. Bill Frist.