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Byline: Leslie Brooks Suzukamo
May 15--His head encased in a Star Wars-like helmet, D'Nardo Colucci waves a pistol-shaped computer mouse in the air like a magic wand. Invisible to all but himself and a nearby computer monitor, the 40-year-old computer scientist gracefully sketches out a three-dimensional building he could step inside.
Elsewhere inside one of the University of Minnesota's oldest buildings, a robot resembling a lawn-mower-sized tank eyeballs a flight of marble stairs with its stereoscopic cameras before it attempts to climb the stairs without human guidance.
And in yet another room, a wall of computer monitors 8 feet tall displays in vivid reds and yellows superheated gases boiling inside a faraway star -- movements impossible to see in life, made visible only by harnessing massive amounts of computing power.
It's all university research, but for the technology industry, it could be a glimpse of the future.
That's because U.S. technology companies, which for years boasted of their innovation and brainpower, are increasingly letting research universities do some of their deepest thinking.
As the tech sector consolidates and budgets tighten, companies are looking outside their laboratories for new inventions. Meanwhile, schools like the University of Minnesota are tuning their own research institutions to harmonize with industry.
The university's Digital Technology Center is a prime example. The center brings together faculty and students from computer science and engineering with those from noncomputer fields like biochemistry and architecture under the roof of the 81-year-old Walter Library on …