Renae Moran, a tree fruit specialist with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, was a recent guest on the Maine Public Broadcasting Network’s “Maine Calling” radio show. The show, titled “Apples, apples and more apples,” included discussion about favorite apple types and recipes.
Jason Bolton, a food safety specialist with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, spoke with WVII (Channel 7) about safe canning practices. Bolton said the best part of canning is that it gives your food shelf life. He stressed the importance of using accurate and reliable resources, such as UMaine Extension classes, that are tested and approved to make sure you hit the appropriate times and temperatures and are using the right equipment. Bolton said when instructions are followed and the basics are learned, canning is a fairly easy process.
Amy Fried, a political science professor at the University of Maine, was quoted in a Maine Public Broadcasting Network report about one of Gov. Paul LePage’s recent appointments to the University of Maine System Board of Trustees. LePage nominated Susan Dench, who leads the Falmouth-based Informed Women’s Network that encourages women to advocate for conservative views and is a former blogger for the Bangor Daily News where she wrote a controversial column on the influence of feminism in schools, the report states. “Most appointees to the board of trustees are not particularly well known. In this case, Gov. LePage has picked someone who has a very strong public profile,” Fried said, adding that by choosing Dench, the governor is sticking with his well-established, political approach of appealing to his voting base.
WVII (Channel 7) reported on a panel discussion about how science is represented on film at the Penobscot Theatre in Bangor. Neil Comins, a University of Maine professor of physics and astronomy, and Marcella Sorg, a medical and forensic anthropologist at UMaine, were part of the panel that touched on the silver-screen portrayals of topics from physics to zombies. The talk, titled “Good, Bad and Ugly: Science in Film,” was a preview event for the first Maine Science Festival to be held in March 2015.
The University of Maine was mentioned in a Maine Public Broadcasting Network report about the Portland-based Biodiversity Research Institute (BRI) receiving $1.1 million dollars from the U.S. Department of Energy to help study how winged creatures such as bats and birds avoid wind turbines. The project is a partnership between BRI, UMaine, the UK-based HiDef Aerial Surveying and First Wind, the report states.
University of Maine Cooperative Extension has published a new bulletin about strengthening a community’s capacity for cross-cultural conversation.
Jane Haskell, UMaine Extension professor, and Ashley Storrow, assistant program manager with Language Partners and Refugee and Immigration Services of Catholic Charities Maine, co-authored Using Refugee Voices to Improve Cross Cultural Conversations: Research with New Mainers.
Researchers in 2013–2014 investigated communication methods to better understand newly arrived refugees’ perceptions and experiences. Agencies can implement the findings to help ensure new Mainers’ voices are heard and to build effective programs that meet communities’ needs. The four-page bulletin discusses immigration and resettlement, and includes an explanation of the scope of the research project, along with recommendations.
Untreated and sustained hypertension has an adverse effect on brain structure and function, and is a risk factor for cognitive decline and dementia. Blood pressure (BP) variability from measurement-to-measurement has been associated with lower cognitive functioning and is considered a stronger predictor of mental performance than averaged BP.
However, recent studies suggest that BP measurements on a single health care office visit are insufficient to detect relations between variability in BP and cognitive performance, as compared to significantly more expensive ambulatory blood pressure assessments in the home.
In a new study published in Hypertension, a journal of the American Heart Association, a team of University of Maine investigators report that BP assessments during an office visit using an optimal measurement procedure are sufficient to find relations between blood pressure variability and cognitive performance and function. The UMaine researchers also report that the relation between higher BP variability and cognitive performance is seen only for hypertensive individuals whose blood pressure cannot be reduced to normal levels (140/90 mmHg), despite aggressive treatment and sustained treatment.
Using the Maine-Syracuse Longitudinal Data (MSLS) set, the UMaine study employed 972 community-dwelling women and men who are free from stroke, dementia and kidney disease requiring dialysis (mean age 62 years, range 23-98 years). In cross-sectional analyses, the researchers found variability in BP and averaged BP from 15 BP measurements at a single study visit were related to cognitive function, including measures of overall performance, fluid ability and abstract reasoning ability.
They also found variability in BP was a stronger predictor of cognitive ability than averaged BP, with statistical control for demographic variables, including age, cardiovascular risk factors, and cardiovascular disease.
There were four important new findings in the UMaine study:
- There were no significant relations between variability in BP and cognition with only two assessments at a single occasion.
- Measuring BP values five times in each of three positions — sitting, reclining and standing — resulted in the strongest relations between variability in BP and cognition.
- Variability in diastolic BP was a stronger predictor of cognitive performance than variability in systolic BP.
- These relations were only seen in persons for whom BP could not be reduced to normal levels despite aggressive treatment.
The findings are clinically important because scheduling demands in health care settings and research studies often result in only one or two BP measurements being taken in the sitting position. Including measurements of recumbent and standing BP can increase the information gained about variability in BP, according to the UMaine researchers.
Office visit BP readings can be used as an important preliminary diagnostic tool in terms of future brain injury and cognitive decline at very low cost, compared to more expensive ambulatory BP methods, say the researchers. Further, these findings indicate that the target of concern for relations between variability and cognition are important in treatment-resistant hypertension, where BP is not reduced to acceptable levels.
Research literature suggests that averaged BP values do not capture the beat-to-beat high and low values in BP, which may be more destructive to the brain than high steady-state average pressure on the arterial wall.
The Maine-Syracuse Study, initiated in 1975, was the first longitudinal study specifically devoted to the study of hypertension and cognitive performance and has been supported by the National Institute on Aging and the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute of NIH for many years. UMaine’s MSLS investigators include Georgina Crichton, who also is affiliated with the National Physiology Research Centre, University of South Australia. Crichton, the lead author of the journal article, had research support from the National Health and Medical Research Council, Australia.
Other members of the UMaine research team: Merrill Elias and Michael Robbins, faculty members in the Department of Psychology and the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences and Engineering at the University of Maine; Gregory Dore, a former UMaine student now at the National Institute of Aging in Baltimore; and Rachel Torres, an undergraduate research assistant in psychology.
Contact: Margaret Nagle, 581.3745
University of Maine President Sue Hunter met with the Bangor Daily News to discuss her goals, the challenges UMaine faces and the role the university should play in the state’s economic future. Hunter spoke about the UMaine’s 150-year-old tradition of being the state’s land grant university, and what that means in terms of teaching, research, economic development and public service. Hunter also spoke about the Signature and Emerging Areas and the importance of enrollment management.
The Associated Press previewed the Oct. 23 Climate Change Adaptation and Sustainability Conference that will be hosted by the University of Maine’s Climate Change Institute (CCI). The conference, which is aimed at preparing for extreme weather events, is for business people, farmers, community planners and other interested residents and will cover subjects such as the spread of ticks and rising sea levels, the AP reported. During the conference, Sean Birkel, a research assistant professor at CCI, will demonstrate online tools such as the Climate Reanalyzer, 10Green and CLAS Layers that he and other CCI researchers developed to assist community planners prepare for climate changes. The Portland Press Herald, WABI (Channel 5), SFGate and The Washington Times carried the AP report.
The Maine Public Broadcasting Network quoted Mark Brewer, a political science professor at the University of Maine, for a report titled, “Record spending forecast for Maine races as ad barrage intensifies.” Brewer said legislative candidates may find radio ads are a better option than television for reaching their districts. Brewer also said he agreed with what an analyst said on an NPR broadcast. “They said that the big winner in the 2014 election cycle nationwide isn’t going to be the Democrats or the Republicans, it will be people that own local television stations. And I think that is absolutely true,” he said.
The Associated Press reported Hamish Greig, a University of Maine assistant professor of stream ecology, and Jacquelyn Gill, an assistant professor of terrestrial paleoecology at the Climate Change Institute (CCI) and the School of Biology and Ecology, are studying the impact of hemlock tree die-offs on the state’s freshwater forests. The researchers set up 36 water tanks that will have hemlock needles added to them to see what happens to an ecosystem when a hemlock dies, according to the article. They also will use radiocarbon-dated records to better understand how hemlock die-off affected aquatic systems in the past, the AP reported. The Republic, Sun Journal, SFGate and WABI (Channel 5) carried the AP article.
The Sun Journal published the opinion piece, “‘Get with the system!’ The larger implications of calendar controversies” by Howard Segal, a history professor at the University of Maine.
Environmentalist Bill McKibben will speak about “Making a Life on a Tough New Planet” at the University of Maine’s Collins Center for the Arts on Tuesday, Oct. 7.
The lecture, which runs from 3:30–5 p.m., is hosted by the UMaine Honors College as part of its Honors Read program in which entering students read and discuss an important recent book as part of the curriculum. The Honors Read for 2014–2015 is McKibben’s book, “Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet.”
Described by The Boston Globe as “probably America’s most important environmentalist,” McKibben is the author of 15 books and a frequent contributor to The New York Times, The Atlantic Monthly, Outside and The New York Review of Books. His 1989 “The End of Nature” is often regarded as the first book on climate change written for a general audience. McKibben is founder of 350.org — a worldwide, grassroots climate change movement — and he currently serves as the Schumann Distinguished Scholar in Environmental Studies at Middlebury College and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 2013, McKibben received the Gandhi Peace Award and the Thomas Merton Award for his ardent environmental activism.
Honors students who chose “Eaarth” as this year’s Honors Read were persuaded by McKibben’s argument that the “reality of global climate change is not up for discussion.”
The event is free and open to the public. Co-sponsors include the UMaine Cultural Affairs/Distinguished Lecture Series; School of Policy and International Affairs; School of Marine Sciences; Maine Business School; College of Education and Human Development; College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; College of Engineering; UMaine Humanities Initiative; Department of Chemistry; School of Earth and Climate Sciences; Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program; and Department of History.
It’s an oft-repeated phrase that the early bird gets the worm.
And, according to a collaborative study between the University of Maine and University of Nevada, Reno, it’s also true that a greater sage-grouse that lays her eggs earliest, lays the most eggs.
During a 10-year study of greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) in Eureka County, Nevada, UMaine wildlife biologist Erik Blomberg found the single most-important determining factor of clutch size (number of eggs a hen lays in one nest) was the date the clutch was started.
Clutches laid earlier in the season had, on average, more eggs than those laid later in the season. The earliest clutches contained, on average, twice as many eggs as those laid later in the season.
The span of time during which greater sage-grouse laid eggs varied as much as 67 days in one nesting season, which typically occurs during April and May. The average clutch contained seven or eight eggs.
Similar seasonal patterns have been demonstrated in a number of other avian species.
The results are important, Blomberg says, as the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is considering greater sage-grouse — a large ground-nesting species that resides in western North America where sagebrush dominates the landscape — as a candidate for protection under the Endangered Species Act.
The “sagebrush sea” where they breed is an imperiled ecosystem due to residential development, oil and gas drilling, wind farms, invasive plant species and other human uses of land, according to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
“An important finding from this work is that clutch size in greater sage-grouse is influenced by the same evolutionary factors that we see throughout the avian world,” says Blomberg.
“This means that general principles of conservation known to benefit populations of other species (improvements to habitat quality that increase the availability of food resources to pre-breeding females) are likely to also be a good fit to the life histories of sage-grouse.”
Blomberg and his colleagues found that females laid more eggs during wetter years and at high-elevation sites, which also suggest that a degree of large-scale resource availability affects the numbers of a clutch.
Females that entered breeding season in better than average condition also laid more eggs. This was particularly true for second clutches laid after the females’ first nesting attempts had failed, which Blomberg says also indicates that food availability affects how many eggs a female sage-grouse will lay in a single clutch.
Studies conducted in northern latitudes consistently reported larger clutches for sage-grouse than those done at southern latitudes, according to the researchers. This pattern has been demonstrated repeatedly with bird species around the world, he says.
The research team located 400 sage-grouse nests using radio-telemetry, and flushed the females to record the number of eggs in each nest and to measure the size of the eggs.
The study, titled “Individual and environmental effects on egg allocations of female Greater Sage-Grouse,” was published in The Auk; Ornithological Advances. The study team included Daniel Gibson, Michael T. Atamian and James S. Sedinger, all affiliated with the University of Nevada, Reno.
Contact: Beth Staples, 581.3777
Erik Blomberg, an assistant professor of wildlife ecology at the University of Maine, spoke with the Bangor Daily News and the Maine Public Broadcasting Network about a research project he is leading with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife to gather information on the life, death and breeding habits of ruffed grouse. The three-year study includes trapping, tagging and fitting radio collars on grouse that will be released and followed for a year, according to the article. “This is the first very large-scale investigation of ruffed grouse populations in natural history in the state of Maine,” Blomberg said, adding that scientists tend to only study animals when they have problems, and consequently, ruffed grouse haven’t had much attention.
Sandra Caron, a University of Maine professor of family relations and human sexuality, was quoted in a Shape magazine article titled, “The conversation 40 percent of couples don’t have — but should.” The article also mentioned Caron’s book, “The Sex Lives of College Students: Two Decades of Attitudes and Behaviors.” The book is based on the results of a sexuality survey she administered to thousands of students over the past 20 years.
The Free Press reported registration is still open for University of Maine Cooperative Extension Master Gardener Volunteer training classes in Knox, Lincoln and Waldo counties. Classes will cover the relationship between healthy soil and food plants and sustainable methods to fend off pests and diseases, according to the article. Classes will be held at the Knox-Lincoln Extension office in Waldoboro, and some may be held at the Waldo Extension office in Waldo, the article states. Applications are due by Sept. 18, and classes begin Oct. 2.
Neil Comins, a University of Maine professor of physics and astronomy, and Marcella Sorg, a medical and forensic anthropologist at UMaine, will be part of a panel discussion about how science is represented on film Sept. 15 at the Penobscot Theatre in Bangor. “Good, Bad and Ugly: Science in Film,” begins at 7 p.m. and will touch on the silver-screen portrayals of topics from physics to zombies. The discussion is free and open to the public, and is a preview event for the first Maine Science Festival to be held in March 2015. Donations to support the festival are welcome. More information is on Facebook.
University of Maine Cooperative Extension and FoodCorps announce a free cooking class for families 5–6 p.m. Thursdays, Oct. 2–30, at the UMaine Extension Somerset County office, 7 County Drive, Skowhegan.
The five-session class is designed for income-eligible families with children living at home. Parents will learn to prepare quick and easy main meals while youth make healthy snacks. For more information, including about eligibility, as well as to register or request disability accommodations, contact 207.474.9622 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nicholas Giudice knows what it’s like to be vision-impaired, and he’s using his personal experiences and research background to develop an affordable tool to help others in the blind and low-vision community in school, on the job and with independent travel.
Improving access to and the comprehension of visual material such as charts and maps is the focus of a National Science Foundation-sponsored project led by Giudice, an associate professor in the University of Maine’s School of Computing and Information Science. The research aims to develop and evaluate an intuitive, low-cost tool to aid the interpretation of graphic data for those who can’t rely on vision to do so.
The ability to effectively use and accurately understand graphs, figures and other visual representations of numeric data is critical for success in the classroom and at work, Giudice says. Spatial learning and navigating in and outside the home also frequently depend on the use of maps and other graphical aids, which can be challenging for blind people to use, he says.
The World Health Organization estimates vision impairment affects as many as 285 million people worldwide, with numbers expected to rise due to the aging population. About 11 percent of blind or low-vision people have a bachelor’s degree and 75 percent are unemployed, according to Giudice. He says providing blind people with a way to process graphics will boost their employability, as well as confidence, independence and overall quality of life.
The tool has the potential to reduce the information gap between blind people and their sighted peers, Giudice says, giving an example of a teacher displaying a diagram to a class. Instead of relying on descriptions from the teacher, a student who can’t see could pull up the same image on a handheld device and use touch and audio to comprehend what the other students see.
“Many jobs deal with graphics and interpreting them,” Giudice says. “If this tool is developed, deployed and broadly implemented, it would make blind people more confident. Employers would see it’s no big deal if someone can’t see a graphic as long as they can understand and interpret it, and can act upon it.”
Gaining access to these forms of information is often difficult and expensive, Giudice says, citing as an example a printer worth thousands of dollars that creates tactile graphics but can only be used for one purpose.
By developing software that works on commercial, multifunctional and portable hardware such as smartphones and tablets, the tool Giudice and his team create would be readily available and comparably inexpensive.
Screen-reading software that uses text-to-speech is helpful for written material but lacks the ability to convey graphic elements, Giudice says. His proposed tool would present graphics on the touchscreen of a device equipped with a vibration motor.
The tool would allow users to experience touch combined with vibration, or vibrotactile feedback, when they touch a graphic element perceived as points, lines or regions, similar to feeling traditional hard-copy graphics. Sound would be used to enhance the vibrotactile information, creating a vibro-audio approach to materials traditionally processed strictly by vision.
Giudice would like to eventually pair the tool with a real-time map that automatically updates using GPS when the user moves, helping the 70 percent of people with little to no vision who don’t navigate independently outside their home.
Giudice’s research in spatial informatics and cognitive neuroscience is guided by his own experiences of living with vision impairment. The core of his research is multimodal spatial cognition — how we learn about, think about and act in space using different senses. Through personal experiences and research, Giudice has found many spatial tasks done with vision can be completed equally well using other senses.
“If you touch a desk as opposed to seeing it, your brain processes the desk edges and recognizes it as a desk. It doesn’t care how it got the information,” says Giudice, who also directs the Virtual Environment and Multimodal Interaction (VEMI) Laboratory, which houses the university’s first, and Maine’s only, virtual reality research facility.
Giudice has a preference for working with the sense of touch because it’s more closely related to vision than the other senses and shares a lot of the same properties, he says.
The new project, “Non-visual access to graphical information using a vibro-audio display,” recently received $177,568 from the National Science Foundation — the first installment of a three-year $500,000 grant.
The research team is at the early stage of the project, developing a tool that best works with how people process tactile information; discovering an intuitive approach is the team’s first task.
“We know this can work, but to make sure it can be used commercially, we need to understand about cognitive factors, how well it can work compared to hard-copy or traditional tactile approaches,” Giudice says.
Initial data has shown learning similar to that achieved using printed lines is possible using a vibro-audio approach for graphs and shapes, Giudice says, but the process needs to be optimized.
“Early research has worked amazingly well, there’s a lot of potential here. But there’s still a lot we don’t know,” Giudice says, such as determining the best alignment, vibration and resolution.
Preliminary work on map panning and zooming has also been done, he says, adding his team plans to develop software to manipulate on-screen movement; a common practice, especially for reading maps, that’s difficult without sight.
In the future, Giudice would like the tool to be available as an app, or multiple apps, that could be used to supplement existing apps, such as Google Maps.
Contact: Elyse Kahl, 207.581.3747