The Geddes W. Simpson Lecture Series Fund was established in the University of Maine Foundation in 2001 by the family of Geddes Wilson Simpson, a well-respected faculty member who began his 55-year career with the College of Life Sciences and the Maine Agricultural Experiment Station in 1931. Simpson was named chair of the Entomology Department in 1954 and remained in that position until his retirement in 1974. Upon his retirement, he was awarded emeritus status and thereafter worked part time with the Experiment Station as editor.
The Geddes W. Simpson Distinguished Lecture was established to support a lecture series through which speakers of prominence “who have provided significant insight into the area where science and history intersect” are invited to speak on campus. Any field that bridges these two areas of inquiry is welcome, and in the past the series has hosted a broad range of speakers from various academic disciplines. The 2014 lecture will be the 13th in the series.
The Simpson Lecture Series Selection Committee is calling for nominations for the 13th annual Geddes W. Simpson Lecture, which will be held in October 2014. A statement of nomination along with the nominee’s resume should be submitted to: Robert Glover, Department of Political Science, 5754 North Stevens Hall, University of Maine, Orono, ME 04469-5754 no later than Monday, Feb. 28 or by email to email@example.com.
Some past award winners and the titles of their talks:
David C. Smith, Ph.D., Professor of Agricultural History, University of Maine
North American Farmers and United Kingdom Agriculture, 1790–1880 (2002)
Susan H. Brawley, Ph.D., Professor of Plant Biology, University of Maine
The Pursuit of Science and Science Literacy: Claude Bernard to Prozac (2005)
Mary D. Bird, Ed.D., Instructor, Science and Environmental Education, University of Maine
Living Lessons from a Dead Entomologist: The Educational Legacy of Edith Marion Patch (2006)
Robert R. Steneck, Ph.D., Professor of Oceanography, University of Maine
Considering the Future of our Seas Through the Lens of History (2008)
Michelle Murphy, Ph.D., Associate Professor of History and Women and Gender Studies, University of Toronto
Avertable Life, Investable Futures: A Cold War Story of Sex and Economy (2010)
James R. Fleming, Ph.D., Professor of Science, Technology and Society, Colby College,
Fixing the Sky: The Checkered History of Weather and Climate Control (2012)
Grace S. Brush, Ph.D., Professor of Geography and Environmental Engineering, Johns Hopkins University
A Pharmacological Record of Long-Term Connections Between Land and Water (2013)
Robert Harper Babcock, professor emeritus of history at the University of Maine, passed away Feb. 12, 2014. His obituary is available online.
UMaine researchers seek to improve the teaching of thermodynamics and electronics in physics and engineering.
Researchers at the University of Maine hope to improve the teaching and learning of two central topics in physics and engineering that are critical to undergraduate programs through a three-year project.
John Thompson, an associate professor of physics and cooperating associate professor of STEM education, and MacKenzie Stetzer, assistant professor of physics and cooperating assistant professor of STEM education, have received $599,999 from the National Science Foundation to investigate student learning of thermodynamics and electronics — including electric circuits — in both disciplines.
“Only in the last 10 years or so have researchers really targeted student learning beyond the introductory level, including in laboratory settings. Interdisciplinary research that focuses on specific physics and engineering content is also relatively novel,” says Thompson of the project.
Both of the targeted areas are aligned with a recent National Research Council report on the status and future directions of discipline-based education research, Stetzer adds.
Undergraduate programs in physics and engineering often include parallel courses that teach the same topics, so the researchers want to determine the important differences between what students do and don’t learn in courses that cover the same material.
Thompson and Stetzer have previously conducted research on learning in STEM fields. Their research — along with studies conducted by many other researchers — confirm that if a student can correctly solve textbook problems, it doesn’t always mean they understand the underlying concepts.
The researchers plan to look at content in parallel courses across disciplines for similarities and differences; study student conceptual understanding across disciplines before and after instruction through written questions, interviews and classroom observations; and use research results to guide the modification and testing of existing instructional materials as well as the development of new materials for use across disciplines to help students learn difficult material in physics and engineering courses.
“Figuring out what works across disciplines and leveraging the strengths of effective instructional strategies employed in both disciplines are ways to increase the efficiency of these typically rather time-consuming research-based curriculum development efforts,” Stetzer says.
Physics Ph.D. students Jessica Clark and Kevin Van De Bogart are leading the work in thermodynamics and electronics, respectively; the research will be the focus of their dissertations. Donald Mountcastle, associate professor of physics and cooperating associate professor of biochemistry, and Wilhelm Alexander Friess, associate professor of mechanical engineering and director of UMaine’s Brunswick Engineering Program are the project’s senior personnel. The research is taking place in courses in mechanical, chemical, and electrical engineering, as well as in physics.
The majority of the project’s research staff are members of UMaine’s Physics Education Research Laboratory (PERL) and the Maine Center for Research in STEM Education (RiSE Center). The PERL consists of about 15 faculty, postdoctoral and graduate students in physics and science education. The RiSE Center includes faculty from several STEM departments and houses programs for a master of science in teaching and a Ph.D. in STEM education.
The researchers say due to the project’s interdisciplinary nature, it has the potential to improve the teaching and learning of physics and engineering at not only UMaine, but beyond, including internationally.
“The development of effective instructional materials based on research is particularly challenging. While many individual faculty develop their own materials and strategies, they usually don’t have time to thoroughly research how well that all works and iteratively refine the materials,” says Thompson, who is also co-director of the PERL.
The modified materials created from the project will be designed to be easily integrated into existing courses and won’t require instructors to implement an entirely new curriculum.
“Coming from a physics perspective, we’ve already begun to see reasoning approaches in engineering classes that we hadn’t observed when working with physics students,” Stetzer says. “We expect to see a similar phenomenon as we collaborate more fully with our engineering colleagues in the project and begin to ask engineering-based questions in physics courses.”
The findings are expected to positively affect all disciplines engaged in teaching thermodynamics and electronics, and could lead to the development of a more coherent educational experience, especially for undergraduates in physics and engineering, the project proposal states. The documentation of differences in instructional approaches and learning outcomes could become a valuable resource for instructors, textbook authors, curriculum developers, education researchers and governing bodies in both disciplines.
“Our findings on student difficulties and the effectiveness of different instructional approaches should inform more nuanced studies within each discipline. This will in turn produce new results that can improve the learning and teaching of these topics more broadly,” Thompson says.
Contact: Elyse Kahl, 207.581.3747
University of Maine researchers have designed a handheld device that can quickly detect disease-causing and toxin-producing pathogens, including algal species that can cause paralytic shellfish poisoning.
The device — a colorimeter — could be instrumental in monitoring coastal water in real-time, thereby preventing human deaths and beach closures, says lead researcher Janice Duy, a recent graduate of UMaine’s Graduate School of Biomedical Science and Engineering. Duy is now conducting postdoctoral research at Fort Detrick in Maryland.
The research team, which includes UMaine professors Rosemary Smith, Scott Collins and Laurie Connell, built a prototype two-wavelength colorimeter using primarily off-the-shelf commercial parts. The water-resistant apparatus produces results comparable to those obtained with an expensive bench-top spectrophotometer that requires technical expertise to operate, says the research team.
The instrument’s ease of use, low cost and portability are significant, say the researchers. The prototype cost researchers about $200 to build; a top-shelf spectrophotometer can cost about $10,000.
A touch screen prompts users at each step of the protocol. Researchers say an Android app is being developed to enable future smartphone integration of the measurement system.
Duy says the device almost instantaneously identifies pathogenic organisms by capturing target RNA with synthetic probe molecules called peptide nucleic acids (PNAs). A cyanine dye is added to visualize the presence of probe-target complexes, which show up as a purple solution; solutions without the target RNA are blue.
The versatile instrument can also be adapted to detect other organisms. The researchers say, in theory, any organism that contains nucleic acids could be detected with the simple colorimetric test. They have verified the system works with RNA from a soil-borne fungus that infects potatoes.
The research team’s teaching and expertise spans several UMaine schools and departments, including Electrical and Computer Engineering Department, the Laboratory for Surface Science and Technology, the Graduate School of Biomedical Science and Engineering, the Department of Chemistry, the School of Marine Sciences and the Department of Molecular and Biomedical Sciences.
The instrument is being incorporated into fresh and marine water testing in the Republic of Korea and the researchers say they’ll give several devices to state officials to test and use in the field in Maine.
The researchers published their findings in the journal Biosensors and Bioelectronics.
Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777
Understanding more about the relationship between weather and maple sap flow, and how Maine syrup producers will adapt to climate change is the focus of research being conducted by a University of Maine graduate student.
Jenny Shrum, a Ph.D. candidate in the ecology and environmental sciences graduate program in the UMaine School of Biology and Ecology, is attempting to unravel the biophysical relationships between weather and sap flow. The goal is to better understand what drives flow and how expected trends in climate may affect the processes and harvesters in the future.
Shrum plans to collect on-site weather station data and sap flow rates at three test sites and to interview small- and large-scale producers to determine if those who have been managing sugar maple stands for years will be more or less resilient to climate change, and if large-scale producers will be better equipped to adapt. Her research is supported by the National Science Foundation and EPSCoR through UMaine’s Sustainability Solutions Initiative and its Effects of Climate Change on Organisms research project.
The physiological process for sap flow is not completely understood, Shrum says. It involves a complex interaction between freezing and thawing of the xylem tissue within the tree, and the molecule sucrose which maple trees use to store carbohydrates between seasons.
“When the tree defrosts, the frozen liquid in the tree becomes fluid and that provides a medium for the sugars that are stored in the trunk to get to the branches,” Shrum says, adding that in order to continue flowing, the ground also has to be defrosted so the tree can pull in water during the next freeze cycle and recharge the positive pressure in the trunk to restart sap flow.
Sugar maple trees grow as far north as New Brunswick and as far south as Georgia, yet maple syrup is only produced commercially in the 13 most northern states because of the colder weather, Shrum says.
In Maine and other northern areas, more than one freeze-thaw event happens during the winter. This lets the process repeat and allows the season to last between six and eight weeks as opposed to a few days, which is likely in southern states such as Georgia and Missouri, where maple trees grow but aren’t commercially tapped. Warm weather or microbial build-up in taps usually ends the season, according to Shrum.
In Maine, the season usually starts sometime between the middle of February and the middle of March, and continues for about six weeks, Shrum says.
“This winter has been really weird; we’ve had really warm weather and really cold weather and as far as sap flow, that might be a good thing,” Shrum says. “But not enough is known.”
One change that has been proven is the start time of the sap season.
“Studies are starting to show that the preferred block of time for tapping is starting earlier if you base it on ideal temperatures,” Shrum says, citing a 2010 Cornell University study by Chris Skinner that found that by 2100, the sap season could start a month earlier than it does now.
For big-time operations, Shrum says an earlier season probably won’t be a problem because they can just tap their lines earlier, but she’s not sure how smaller Maine operations will adapt.
“They might not be able to change their season,” she says. “A lot of the smaller operators have multiple jobs; they make money off maple syrup, but also in other fields such as woodcutting or construction. It just so happens maple syrup is a block of time when they’re not doing anything else, so it makes sense. But if that season changes, it might not fit into their schedule as well.”
Shrum will interview a variety of producers — small- and large-scale operators, people who have been tapping trees for 30 or more years and people who started within the past five years — to learn the reasons for tapping and better understand resilience within these groups.
To record weather and sap flow data, Shrum, who holds a bachelor’s degree in biology from Humboldt State University, will deploy weather stations at maple tree stands in Albion, Dixmont and Orono. She’s also using iButtons to record soil temperatures and time-lapse photography of the buckets to record hourly sap flow rates. She can then relate flow rates to variables the weather stations record, such as temperature, precipitation and sunlight.
Although climate change is likely to affect sap flow, Shrum is confident there will always be maple syrup made in Maine.
“None of the climate change scenarios that have come up result in maple trees not growing in Maine. We’re definitely still going to have freezing events in Maine; it’s not going to get so warm that that’s not going to happen,” she says.
Shrum says maple syrup could become a big commodity in Maine if more of a market was created through government incentive plans, and if the state decided to make it a priority — similar to Vermont.
“Everything is good about maple syrup. There’s very little that’s controversial about it, and the biology is fascinating,” Shrum says.
Contact: Elyse Kahl, 207.581.3747
Given the current forecast, the University of Maine’s Hutchinson Center in Belfast will close at 1 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 13 and is scheduled to reopen at 4 p.m. Friday, Feb. 14 if conditions permit. For the latest information, check the Hutchinson Center’s website or call 338.8099.
Join Crystal from the Graduate School on Monday, February 26th from 4-6pm in the Graduate Commons of Stodder Hall for an informative session about how to format your thesis or dissertation! She will be covering common mistakes along with samples of what to do. Please email the "Thesis Workshop" folder in FirstClass or firstname.lastname@example.org with your current degree program to register. Call 207-581-3291 with any questions.
The Penobscot Bay Pilot reported on ice core research led by Paul Mayewski, director and distinguished professor of the University of Maine’s Climate Change Institute. Mayewski and his team, who are studying nearly 11,700-year-old ice cores from Greenland, found today’s climate situation in the Arctic is equivalent to, but more localized, than the warming during the Younger Dryas/Holocene shift about 11,700 years ago. Mayewski and Nicole Spaulding, a postdoctoral candidate at the Climate Change Institute, also spoke with WABI (Channel 5) about how the institute is using laser technology to study ice cores. Mayewski said ice cylinders are extremely valuable for researchers to understand how climate has changed.
WLBZ (Channel 2) and WABI (Channel 5) spoke with Karlton Creech, the University of Maine’s new director of athletics, during his first week on the job. Creech, who was previously the senior associate director of athletics at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (UNC), said he has already seen a strong passion and pride for the university and the state of Maine which makes his job easier. He also said he plans to take it upon himself to make sure student-athletes are successful and to create a positive atmosphere for UMaine athletics.
Marie Hayes, a psychology professor at the University of Maine, spoke with the Bangor Daily News for the article “For Maine babies exposed to drugs, disadvantageous mount after leaving the hospital.” Hayes spoke about her ongoing research on the health of drug-affected babies conducted with Mark Brown, chief of pediatrics and director of nurseries at Eastern Maine Medical Center. She said many babies face challenges after leaving the hospital, such as poverty, poor nutrition and parents with limited parenting skills, which makes it difficult to isolate the effects of prenatal exposure to opiates. She added many of the infants also are exposed to tobacco and alcohol while in the womb. Hayes’ research has also determined babies prenatally exposed to drugs have displayed subtle problems developing their stress response, which could lead to a low tolerance for frustration and new challenges as they grow up.
WVII (Channel 7) reported on the third Big Gig pitch-off and networking event held at Husson University’s Richard E. Dyke Center for Family Business in Bangor. The Big Gig is a network for innovators and entrepreneurs in the Orono, Old Town and Bangor areas that was started by a partnership between the University of Maine, Old Town, Orono and Husson University and is supported by Blackstone Accelerates Growth. Three participants were preselected to deliver a three-minute elevator pitch about their business idea to a panel of judges and attendees. The winner moves on to complete for the $1,000 grand prize in the Big Gig finale in April.
The Portland Press Herald reported the University of Maine Cooperative Extension will offer its annual spring workshop on food safety for those who cook for crowds. The Falmouth workshop costs $15 per person and begins March 25.
The 2014 Employee Recognition and Awards Ceremony will be held from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesday, March 26, 2014 in Wells Conference Center on the University of Maine campus. UMaine President Paul Ferguson, senior administrators and members of the campus community will celebrate employees who have reached 25, 35 and 45 years of service, Outstanding Classified and Professional Employee award recipients and the Steve Gould Award winner. More information about the event and a list of the 2014 service award recipients are available online.
A Story Collider podcast of a talk given by Skylar Bayer, a marine biology graduate student at the University of Maine’s Darling Marine Center, is now online. Bayer was one of four science enthusiasts to share a story as part of The Story Collider event “Charting New Territory” in Cambridge, Mass. Bayer’s talk, “Phoning home from Alvin,” focused on facing her fears to go on a deep-ocean dive aboard the Alvin submersible, and getting more than she expected. The Story Collider is a group that believes everyone has a story about science and is dedicated to letting people share their stories to depict how science is important in all our lives.
WABI (Channel 5) reported on the dedication of the University of Maine Emera Maine Power Systems Laboratory to benefit undergraduate electrical engineering and electrical engineering technology education. The lab, made possible by a $100,000 donation to the University of Maine Foundation from Emera Maine, is equipped to demonstrate concepts in electromechanical energy conversion and power systems, including smart-grid technology. Dana Humphrey, dean of the College of Engineering, said understanding how to manage power systems is what students will learn in the new lab. After the dedication ceremony, a demonstration was held to show how the lab can tap into the power grid system.
Pamela Simpkins, a licensed social worker who is currently enrolled at the University of Maine in the master of social work program, wrote an analysis for the Sun Journal titled “We can make a difference in a child’s life.”
The Weekly and The Maine Edge advanced the University of Maine School of Performing Arts’ spring production of “Grease.” Seven February performances of the musical are slated in Hauck Auditorium on campus. Admission is $15; tickets may be purchased online at umaine.edu/spa or at the door.
A team of researchers from the University of Maine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center won the Best Paper Award from the Society of Naval Architects & Marine Engineers at the 19th Offshore Symposium, Feb. 6 in Houston. The paper, “VolturnUS 1:8 — Design and Testing of the First Grid-Connected Offshore Wind Turbine in the U.S.A.,” was written by Anthony Viselli, Habib Dagher and Andrew Goupee, and outlines UMaine’s design, fabrication, deployment and testing of the prototype, deployed in June 2013 off Castine, Maine. The prototype serves to de-risk the technology as it transitions to a commercial project planned for 2017.
Since 1998, University of Maine has been organizing trips for students to provide volunteer service to others. This year, Alternative Breaks, a student-run organization, will send out eight volunteer groups. The 101 undergraduate members and nine graduate students, and faculty trip advisers will volunteer one week of their spring break to work and travel.
Volunteer activities will take place at a children’s hospital in Denver, Colo.; a national park located in Miami, Fla.; animal sanctuaries and farms located in Woodstock, N.Y., Pittsboro, N.C., Falls Church, Va. and Savannah, Tenn.; and camps and after-school programs for children in West Milford, N.J. and Washington, D.C.
During winter 2013, Alternative Breaks organized a trip working with a nonprofit in Washington, D.C., to prepare and deliver food to people with terminal illnesses.
The organization’s undergraduate site leaders selects Alternative Break locations. Two site leaders will travel to each volunteer site.
Each volunteer pays $200 in dues to Alternative Breaks. Fundraising also helps cover travel expenses.
Volunteer locations this March:
Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary (Woodstock, N.Y.)
Carolina Tiger Rescue (Pittsboro, N.C.)
Camp Vacamas (West Milford, N.J.)
Liberty Hall Livestock Rescue (Falls Church, Va.)
Horse Creek Wildlife Sanctuary and Animal Refuge (Savannah, Tenn.)
Children’s Hospital Colorado/Denver Children’s Home (Denver, Colo.)
Biscayne National Park/Monkey Jungle (Homestead/Miami, Fla.)
The Alternative House (Washington, D.C.)
More information is available online.
University of Maine music professor Stuart Marrs has begun a five-country tour to teach master classes in percussion.
The European leg began earlier this month at the Paris Conservatory of Music, where he offered master classes on the solo timpani works of Elliott Carter — pieces Marrs recorded on an interactive pedagogical DVD in 2006.
Carter’s works were also featured in Marrs’ master classes in Germany with students from Tübingen and Stuttgart.
This month, Marrs also is conducting musicological research at the Paul Sacher Foundation Archive in Basel, Switzerland, where the last manuscript of “Ionisation,” by Edgard Varèse is housed. Marrs is working on a critical performance of the piece, considered a monument of 20th-century music, and the results of the research will comprise a definitive recording with the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music Percussion Ensemble and an article in the international trade journal, “Percussive Notes.”
In March, Marrs will travel to Singapore. In conjunction with master classes, he will be directing and recording with the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music Percussion Ensemble. Marrs will also be performing in the percussion section of the Singapore National Symphony Orchestra in one of its Young Persons Concerts.
His tour will end in Costa Rica at a school where he was one of the founding faculty members. In the 1970s, Marrs was part of the “Musical Revolution” in Costa Rica, founding the school of percussion playing there and which is still active today. He and two former students were invited back to Costa Rica by Bismarck Fernández, also one of Marrs’ former students and now head of the percussion department at the National Institute of Music, for a celebratory festival.
Marrs says it’s rewarding to be asked to return to the school where he spent 11 years teaching and working with students who might not otherwise have been exposed to music.
“The bond created through those years with this talented group of young people is incredibly strong,” says Marrs.
“As a teacher I feel most fulfilled when I can contribute something relatively unique to my field, so that I know I have helped the art form continue to develop,” Marrs says.