One of the nation’s top public universities, the University of Michigan has been a leader in research, learning, and teaching for more than 200 years. Enrollment of undergraduate, graduate, and professional students on the Ann Arbor campus is more than 46,000 with 7,000-plus faculty members. U-M’s alumni body is one of the largest in the world and includes a U.S. president, scientists, actors, astronauts, and inventors. The university, which also boasts a top-ranked intercollegiate athletics program, has been the site of many important events in U.S. history. These include President Kennedy’s announcement of the Peace Corps, President Johnson’s “Great Society” speech, and the clinical trials of the Salk polio vaccine. The main campus in Ann Arbor comprises 19 schools and colleges; there are regional campuses in Dearborn and Flint and a nationally ranked health system, Michigan Medicine. In 2017, U-M celebrated its bicentennial, marking its founding in the city of Detroit in 1817. The University is governed by the Board of Regents, which consists of eight members elected at large in biennial state-wide elections.
25 Cool Things About U-M
1. Around the world
U-M has the most living alumni on the planet of any university—more than 611,000—in all 50 states and more than 125 countries.
2. A Mars engine and a vacuum chamber
The aerospace engineering department is home to the world’s largest university-owned vacuum chamber. It dates back to the Apollo era, but it’s still an important facility—where researchers today are developing an ion thruster that could one day propel humans to Mars.
3. We are Big
Michigan Stadium, the “Big House®,” is the largest stadium in the country and the second-largest in the world with 107,601 seats. And its football team has won more games than any other collegiate team.
4. Tow tank
Under the Engin Arch in West Hall is a body of water that’s longer than a football field. The Aaron Friedman Marine Hydrodynamics Laboratory is one of only two facilities of its size in the United States. It’s 22 feet wide, 360 feet long, 12 feet deep, and can hold 900,000 gallons of water. It lets researchers, students, and industry test models of ships, propellers, and submarines.
5. Historic presidential visits
Presidential candidate John F. Kennedy announced his idea of the Peace Corps in a speech on the Michigan Union steps at 2 a.m. Oct. 14, 1960, and Lyndon Johnson gave his speech outlining his Great Society program as the lead speaker during the University of Michigan’s 1964 spring commencement ceremony.
6. One hardy robot
During the polar vortex of January 2019, the walking robot Cassie Blue set a world record for the lowest temperature endured by a bipedal robot. Cassie withstood -8F and a -30F windchill to operate outside continuously for one hour and two minutes. It’s featured in the 2020 Guinness World Records.
7. Fight song
“The Victors,” the U-M fight song, was written in 1898 by student Louis Elbel after a rousing football win. “The Victors” was crowned “the best college march ever written” by legendary composer and director John Philip Sousa.
8. Drone testing
M-Air, U-M’s netted fly lab for testing autonomous aerial vehicles in real-world conditions, is the largest outdoor motion capture facility in the country. It’s four stories high, 10,000 square feet, and contains 30 motion capture cameras.
9. An alma mater of the stars
The University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance graduates dominate on Broadway and on the big screen. Notable alumni include Selma Blair, James Earl Jones, Darren Criss, Lucy Liu, Gilda Radner, David Allen Grier, Gavin Creel, and many others. SMTD’s musical theatre program, hailed as one of the best, is the most-represented school on Broadway this season.
10. Wave Field
The “Wave Field” on North Campus was created by Maya Lin, who is best known as the artist who designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., and the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama. The appearance changes depending on the time of day.
U-M was the first public university to leverage the Internet by partnering with Google to digitize the University Library’s collection of nearly 7 million volumes, revolutionizing the sharing of knowledge and democratizing access to information. Google itself is the brainchild of alumnus Larry Page, who co-created the search engine with Sergey Brin.
12. Mcity: The fake city that tests driverless vehicles
U-M operates the world’s first purpose-built proving ground for testing the performance and safety of connected and automated vehicles and technologies under controlled and realistic conditions. Mcity, a fake city, has more than 16 acres of roads and traffic infrastructure.
13. U-M spaceflights
Michigan alumni have made their mark in space. Alumnus Edward H. White became the first American to walk in space in 1965; commanding the Gemini 4 flight was fellow aerospace alum James McDivitt. An all-Michigan crew flew Apollo 15 in 1971, where astronauts left a marker establishing the first and only college alumni chapter on the moon.
14. U-M Museum of Art
The University of Michigan is home to one of the largest and oldest university art museums in the country. With a collection spanning the historical to the contemporary, you can find works by Pablo Picasso, Claude Monet, Andy Warhol, Kara Walker, Helen Frankenthaler, Max Beckmann, Ansel Adams, and many others.
15. Home of the original crash test dummy family
The U-M Transportation Research Institute developed the first family of vehicle crash testing; it included women (including one who was pregnant), a toddler, and a uniformed soldier with weapons. These models are now the standard for testing.
16. First in physics
With her U-M doctorate, Willie Hobbs Moore became the nation's first African American woman to receive a Ph.D. in physics in 1972. Three years later, Dr. Alexa Canady, the first African American woman to become a neurosurgeon, received her medical degree, four years after earning a U-M bachelor's degree.
17. Home of the world's smallest computer
It's dwarfed by a grain of rice. The world's smallest computer, built by engineers at the University of Michigan, measures just 0.3 millimeters to a side. It includes RAM, a solar cell, processors and wireless transmitters, and receivers. Designed as a precision temperature sensor, the new device converts temperatures into time intervals, defined with electronic pulses.
18. Polio vaccine safe
On April 12, 1955, U-M professor Thomas R. Francis Jr. announced that the Salk polio vaccine was "safe, effective, and potent." Francis supervised the clinical trials—the largest ever conducted up to that point.
19. Cultural collections
The university is home to world-renowned collections, including papers and artifacts from many important historical figures such as Abraham Lincoln, Christopher Columbus, and George Washington. Collections and artifacts from more contemporary creators like George and Ira Gershwin, Orson Welles, Robert Frost, and even the Beatles, can also be found at U-M.
20. No mascot?
It’s not quite true that the University of Michigan never had a mascot. Head football coach Fielding Yost introduced Biff and Bennie in 1927 and the plan was to walk them around on leashes. But the creatures were so feral—Biff snapped a bar in two with his teeth—they lasted only a year before they were shipped off to zoos.
21. Birthplace: Detroit
The university was actually established in Detroit In 1817. The city of Ann Arbor, about 36 miles to the west, offered land to the university and it moved there in 1837. The first classes were held in 1841. Four years later 11 men graduated from the school. Today, the university maintains strong ties to the city of Detroit, collaborating and engaging with residents, educators, neighborhoods, government agencies, businesses, nonprofit organizations, and community leaders.
22. 3D printing to save lives
The University of Michigan is the nation’s leading pioneer in the use of 3D printing in medicine. In 2012, U-M's C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital became the first hospital in the world to use 3D-printed devices to save a life. In 2016, a 3D-printed tracheal splint developed at Michigan Engineering saved the life of a 20-month-old baby boy with a life-threatening airway disorder. Michigan Medicine continues to use 3D printing today in many ways, from fetal care and airway disorders to heart care and cancer treatment.
23. Sustainability by the numbers
More than 800 faculty across campus conduct sustainability-related research in 19 schools and colleges. Students can choose from more than 700 courses related to sustainability and the environment. The university has invested more than $100 million toward more sustainable campus operations. U-M recycles over 5,500 tons per year. U-M composted 1,780 tons in 2018-19, up 19% from the year before.
24. Lavender among the maize and blue
The Lavender Graduation is an annual commencement event specifically for LGBT students and their allies that the University of Michigan started in 1994. The ceremony is now conducted on many other campuses to honor lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and allies to acknowledge their achievements and contributions to their universities.
25. Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto
In the near future, visitors to the U-M Museum of Art will be able to interact with a robotic docent who will act as the liaison between art and guests, providing additional information and context about artwork. The robot will communicate with museum visitors, incorporating language and communication tactics that a docent might use to lead tours.