University of Maine civil engineering doctoral student Andrew Young has been named a 2015 NASA Space Technology Research Fellow for his work on the Hypersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator (HIAD) project at the Advanced Structures and Composites Center.
A HIAD is a nose-mounted device on a spacecraft that slows the craft as it enters a planet’s atmosphere.
The NASA technology is intended to make it possible for a spaceship large enough to carry astronauts and heavy loads of scientific equipment to explore Mars — 34,092,627 miles from Earth — and beyond.
UMaine is assisting NASA by testing its structures in the lab and analyzing stresses and deformations in the HIAD.
Bill Davids, the John C. Bridge Professor and chair of the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, and Andrew Goupee, Libra Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering, are Young’s advisers.
NASA annually selects a group of graduate and doctoral students to become NASA Space Technology Research Fellows. The goal is to sponsor U.S. citizen and permanent resident graduate students who show significant potential to contribute to NASA’s goal of creating innovative new space technologies for the nation’s science, exploration and economic future.
The yearlong fellowship includes a 10-week visiting technologist experience, providing Young with the opportunity to work and collaborate with engineering experts in his field.
To learn more about the HIAD project at UMaine, visit umainetoday.umaine.edu/archives/fall-2014/safe-space and umainetoday.umaine.edu/archives/fall-2014/safe-space/testing-technology-that-could-land-people-on-mars.
Contact: Josh Plourde, 207.581.2117
Black Bear pride is in full force at a middle school in Los Angeles, California, where a classroom of 23 students is focusing on the University of Maine to learn about college, what it takes to get there and how to succeed.
The students in UMaine alumna Caitlin Rafferty’s sixth-grade advisory group chose the university as the college they are most interested in and want to research.
“The students love UMaine and get excited any time we learn more about it or watch sports highlights,” Rafferty says.
Alliance Kory Hunter Middle School is a free, public charter school. It is under the management of the Alliance College-Ready Public Schools, a nonprofit organization that aims to open and operate a network of small, high-performance charter middle and high schools in historically underachieving, low-income, overcrowded communities in Los Angeles.
Rafferty, who graduated from UMaine in 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and holds a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction from California State University Long Beach, is a founding teacher of the school. She teaches English and history to sixth-graders.
As a college-ready academy, the school’s curriculum includes having weekly discussions about college, using technology to “visit” college campuses, exploring areas of study, introducing other parts of the country and identifying academic strengths needed to be successful in higher education.
“I find it amazing that these young people — who have never traveled outside the state of California — have become so invested in a state and university so far across the country,” Rafferty says.
Sixth-graders in the school select a college they would like to learn about and represent throughout their three years of middle school. They work with the same teacher and advisory group in order to foster strong, long-term relationships and establish consistency. When students reach eighth grade, the goal is to hold a college fair for the students and community to explore college and career readiness.
“As a college-ready school, our focus is to start children thinking about higher education early, as we prepare them academically and socially,” Rafferty says. “The connection to the University of Maine extends my students’ thinking beyond their community, and enables them to consider the range of possibilities for each of their futures.”
Rafferty’s students have developed UMaine cheers, created posters with UMaine logos, designed UMaine T-shirts, and decorated the classroom door to show UMaine pride.
A primary concern for Rafferty’s students is paying for college, she says. Having shared her own family’s experiences with financial aid, work study and scholarships, she hopes the students can hear more on the topic from current UMaine students and financial aid officers.
Rafferty’s students already have Skyped with a graduate assistant and some UMaine tour guides.
As part of the coming school year’s curriculum, Rafferty plans to focus on exploring careers and concentrations of study, and hopes her group will be able to communicate with more UMaine students.
Kate Warner, a Ph.D. student in ecology and environmental sciences at the University of Maine, and Mario Teisl, director of the UMaine School of Economics and professor of resource economics and policy, wrote the Bangor Daily News article, “Why there’s cause for concern with Maine’s water supply.” The article is a summary of “Water Quality in Maine,” the sixth quarterly report analyzing critical economic indicators in Maine released by UMaine’s School of Economics and the Maine Development Foundation. The publication is part of a series that explores the economic indicators in “Measures of Growth,” the Maine Economic Growth Council’s annual report on the critical issues affecting Maine’s economy.
The August 2105 issue of Down East magazine describes the recently published “Historical Atlas of Maine,” as a sophisticated, accessible book that “visualizes everything you never realized you wanted to know about Maine history.” The atlas is the brainchild of the late Burton Hatlen, a former University of Maine professor of English. The 208-page book, packed with 367 original maps, 112 original charts and 248 other images, was edited by UMaine historian Richard Judd and UMaine geographer Stephen Hornsby, with cartography by Michael Hermann. “It’s a cartographic time machine chock full of eye candy … chronicling the cultural, geographic, environmental, and economic factors that shaped the Pine Tree State,” reads the introduction of the two-page spread.
Boothbay Register published a University of Maine news release announcing the new director of the Darling Marine Center in Walpole. Heather Leslie, a leading conservation scientist, was named director of the center effective Aug. 1, 2015. Leslie is a marine scientist with expertise in coastal marine ecology; human-environment interactions, particularly those related to coastal marine fisheries; the design and evaluation of marine management strategies; and the translation of knowledge to inform policy and practice.
Artist Anna Hepler spoke with Bangor Metro about her current exhibit at the University of Maine Museum of Art in downtown Bangor. “Anna Hepler: Blind Spot” is on display through Sept. 19. The exhibit features small ceramics and metal sculptures, according to the article. Most of the art featured in the show was created this year, Hepler said. “It’s all quite abstract, but using forms and patterns in different ways,” she said.
Work by University of Maine mechanical engineering students was mentioned in a WABI (Channel 5) report about the Maine Forest and Logging Museum’s event celebrating logging machinery of the past. A Lombard steam log hauler, famous for being the first successful vehicle to run on tracks, was on display at the Bradley museum, according to the report. The log hauler was invented and built in Waterville between 1910 and 1917 and was the subject of a 2014 UMaine capstone project in which students restored the machine to working condition.
The University of Maine Cooperative Extension’s Tick ID Lab was mentioned in a Bangor Metro article on learning from Lyme disease. In the last few years, more than 1,000 Lyme disease cases were reported annually in Maine, according to the article. The disease comes from infected deer ticks that transmit the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria to humans when they bite. The Tick ID Lab at UMaine offers a free identification service to determine what kind of tick has bitten a person, the article states. However, no labs in Maine can test a tick for Lyme disease.
The Lyle E. Littlefield Ornamentals Trial Garden at the University of Maine was mentioned in the latest Portland Press Herald “Maine Gardener” column. The article, titled “Need a break from your summer guests? Send them out to the garden,” mentioned many gardens around the state — including UMaine’s Littlefield garden — that are ideal for visitors. The recently renovated garden has 2,500 species of plants, according to the article.
A course offered at the Harpswell Heritage Land Trust in February was mentioned in a Bangor Daily News article about finding new ways for lifelong clammers to continue to make a living on the flats as the industry changes. The course, which was funded through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and organized by the Maine Sea Grant Program, the University of Maine, Maine Aquaculture Association, Maine Aquaculture Innovation Center, Coastal Enterprises Inc. and the Island Institute, brought together a large group of biologists, professors, fishermen and other experts. The group met weekly to learn about shellfish biology, shellfish management, site selection, gear and biosecurity, or biological threats to shellfish, according to the article.
A multi-institutional research team is working to understand the vital connections between landowner concerns, municipal planning, conservation activities, and the ecology of vernal pools. The team, led by Mitchell Center Fellow Aram Calhoun, has created a new website designed to provide information on vernal pools. The site contains a variety of resources on vernal pool ecology, the animals that breed in and use vernal pools, an explanation of state and federal regulations pertaining to vernal pools, and materials developed to assist stakeholders with field assessments and local mapping projects.
The research is funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation’s Coupled Natural and Human Systems Program.
Citing his innovative work on sustainable fisheries management at the Senator George J. Mitchell Center for Sustainability Solutions, Joshua Stoll, a graduate student in the School of Marine Sciences, has been awarded a prestigious yearlong fellowship from the Robert and Patricia Switzer Foundation. Read full release.
Joseph Kelley, a professor of marine geology in the University of Maine School of Earth and Climate Sciences and Climate Change Institute, was quoted in a Free Press article on a proposed U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) dredging project in Searsport. The decision on whether to approve the project to dredge 929,000 cubic yards of bottom sediments from Searsport Harbor is likely to be made by the end of the year after a public hearing this fall, according to the article. The project aims to enlarge the shipping channel and deposit the dredge spoils in the bay six miles away off the tip of Islesboro, the report states. One concern among residents is the dump site, which was chosen by the USACE because it has natural depressions that can be filled with dredge spoils. According to Kelley, the methane that created the pockmarks is still there. He conducted studies of the area two decades ago and advised against dumping dredge spoils at the site when he served as state geologist. Kelley recommended conducting dump tests in the area and tracking resulting sediment plumes to see if they spread, the article states.
Research conducted at the University of Maine was mentioned in the Saga article, “10 ways to feed your brain.” Since 60 percent of the human brain is made of fat, it needs a steady supply of healthy fats, plus other key nutrients, to function at its best, according to the article. The report lists 10 foods and drinks that can boost brain power, including milk. Adults who consume milk or other dairy products daily perform better in brain function tests than those who rarely or never touch dairy, scientists from the University of Maine and University of South Australia have found. The researchers suggest the effect may stem from the specific mix of nutrients found in dairy, which includes calcium, whey protein, vitamin D and magnesium.
The University of Maine will host a hike and memorial service to honor fallen service members from UMaine and surrounding communities.
The Summit Project (TSP) event will take place Saturday, Sept. 26 with a walk from the Maine Veterans Home in Bangor to Alfond Stadium on the UMaine campus for the military appreciation football game.
TSP is a nationally recognized, Maine-based service organization, that provides a living memorial to pay tribute to the fallen service members from Maine who have died in the line of duty since Sept. 11, 2001.
As part of the event, hikers will carry engraved TSP memorial stones that have been donated by family members to represent their fallen loved ones. Volunteers will learn about the service members whose stone they will carry, write a letter for the service member’s family, and read it during a memorial service on campus following the trek.
Among the service members to be honored are four fallen UMaine Black Bears: Staff Sgt. David Veverka, Sgt. Nicholas Robertson, 1st Lt. James Zimmerman and Capt. Jay Brainard.
The 8-mile walk is expected to take about four hours.
About 25 hiking spots are available with preference being given to the military family community at UMaine. Backup hikers may be assigned. A registration form is available online. Spots are limited.
Members of the public are welcome to observe the event along the route, on campus or at the football game.
The stones will be on display at the stadium prior to and during the game before becoming part of a temporary TSP display in the Memorial Room of the Memorial Union.
More about The Summit Project is online.
The hydrology of peatlands will be the focus of an August talk through the Orono Bog Boardwalk led by University of Maine professor Andy Reeves.
Reeves, a professor in the Department of Earth Sciences who specializes in groundwater flow and solute transport in peatlands systems, will deliver the talk, “Hydrology in Bogs and Fens — Where Does the Water Go?” from 10–11:30 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 8.
The discussion will focus on the continuous stream of water that percolates beneath the boardwalk, and how the movement influences the development of peatlands and affects the living ecosystem. Reeves will discuss how groundwater movement is evaluated, the reasons for peat accumulation and recent hydrology research done at the Orono Bog Boardwalk.
The walk will start at the beginning of the boardwalk — located in the Rolland F. Perry (Bangor) City Forest. Space is limited to 12 participants and registration is required. To register, email firstname.lastname@example.org with your name and telephone number. Use “Boardwalk Nature Walk” as the email subject line.
In the lower Chao Valley on the north coast of Peru, University of Maine graduate student Ana Cecilia Mauricio is uncovering history.
Mauricio defended her thesis this past May and is expected to graduate from the University of Maine with her Ph.D. in geoarcheology in August 2015. Her research focused on an archaeological preceramic period site called Los Morteros, located in Pampa de las Salinas — an area nestled between iconic Andean foothills to the east and south, the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Chao River to the north.
Geoarchaeology is a multidisciplinary approach that combines techniques and subject matter from a variety of Earth science fields to interpret archeological findings.
The site was originally thought to be a natural feature, resembling a dune common to the Peruvian terrain. At the start of her research project, Mauricio aimed to uncover what was once under the sand cover of the mound, and to understand how humans utilized the area.
Her research showed that the site holds one of the oldest manifestations of monumental buildings in the central Andes.
The site — 200 by 200 meters, with its highest point being 15 meters high — contains structures built with mud bricks, scientifically referred to as adobes. The use of adobes is an ancient architectural tradition found in the Andes.
The adobes Mauricio discovered in Los Morteros are the oldest reported mud bricks in the central Andes, making the site and region a potential origin for the use of such materials.
Growing up in Chimbote, Peru, Mauricio was inspired to be an archaeologist by the rich and ancient history of her homeland. She received her undergraduate degree in archaeology at Peru’s National University of Trujillo before arriving at UMaine in 2009.
“I have always worked in Peru, mostly on the central and north coast. It is a region where you can find all periods of prehistory and makes it possible to investigate all sorts of topics. The weather is perfect and the food is wonderful,” Mauricio said.
When she was looking into graduate programs, Mauricio was drawn to UMaine for the interdisciplinary opportunities. While in Orono, she enjoyed going to the gym, biking around campus and the beauty that came with the changing of the leaves.
“I chose this university because I wanted to develop environmental approaches in Peruvian archaeology,” she said. “I decided on the interdisciplinary master’s program in the Climate Change Institute because you learn about the climate and environment from different perspectives.”
She came to UMaine on a Fulbright and subsequently received the Waitt Grant of the National Geographic Society, and the Beca Andina de Investigacion from the French Institute for Andean Studies.
Among other accomplishments, she published her first book in June, which described a previous archaeological research project carried out in the Lima region. She hopes to have a second book published in September.
Mauricio and her team found the first phase of human occupation in Los Morteros was in the center and lowest part of the mound, where they discovered stone hearths containing small fish bones, charcoal and scallop shells. The calibrated dates for this occupation are from 5700 to 5400 BP.
The second phase of occupation was found at the northwest sector of the mound, where researchers uncovered a large room made of adobes with plastered walls, clay floors and internal architectural features.
The third phase of the occupation — and most recorded — was located near the top of the mound. The researchers discovered the remains of stone architecture, including a large room, a stone platform, stone hearths and clay floors.
A particular feature of this architecture is the presence of standing stone, which is a characteristic element of late preceramic sites. The feature is locally called huanca a quechua, a word from the ancient language of the the Andes.
Mauricio estimated the age of the mound to be at least 7,000 years BP. She used the rate of sand accumulation, which was 10 meters to 12 meters, between the level of stone hearth and the base of the mound to calculate the amount of time passed.
She is currently back in Peru and will soon be working as the research director for the archaeological site of Chan Chan — a UNESCO world heritage site — sponsored by the Peruvian government. She plans on continuing her research at Los Morteros.
Mauricio’s adviser while at UMaine was Daniel Sandweiss, a leader in Andean archaeology and environmental archaeology. Sandweiss is a professor in the Climate Change Institute and the Department of Anthropology, as well as cooperating professor in the School of Earth and Climate Sciences and the School of Policy and International Affairs.
Mauricio was a master’s student when she first became involved with the site at Morteros in 2010. That year, she helped a team of UMaine researchers, led by Sandweiss, complete a georadar survey of the site — a continuation of preliminary georadar work done in 2006. She then decided to focus her dissertation on what was found.
Among the survey team members was Alice Kelley, an assistant professor in the Climate Change Institute, who became one of Mauricio’s primary mentors throughout her research project and served on her dissertation committee.
“It’s very exciting to contribute to building the history of my country with my research,” Mauricio said. “I also like very much the fact that archaeology is a discipline where you have to learn about other scientific fields and work in interdisciplinary environments.”
Contact: Amanda Clark, 207.581.3721
As this past spring semester came to a close, researchers and students at Rogers Farm — the sustainable agriculture research facility of the College of Natural Sciences, Forestry, and Agriculture — were gearing up for another busy summer.
July 16, the Sustainable Agriculture Field Day was held at Rogers Farm, which featured demonstrations by graduate students, researchers and faculty. Topics included cultivation efficacy, small grain customization, producing and certifying small grain seed, weed management and malt barley varieties for new craft brewing markets.
Rogers Farm, located 3.5 miles from the University of Maine, is one of two locations that make up the college’s J.F. Witter Teaching and Research Center.
As a mixed-usage research site, crops grown on the farm include silage corn, sweet corn, potatoes, dried beans, small grains and mixed vegetables. The farm provides land for the Penobscot County Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners Demonstration Garden and the Black Bear Food Guild, the university’s student-run community-supported agriculture program.
The farm, purchased in 1947, is used for a wide range of sustainable agriculture research, UMaine Extension and teaching projects year-round.
Barley to Beer
In recent years, Ellen Mallory, sustainable agriculture extension specialist and associate professor in plant, soils, and environmental science, has led a large research and outreach program focused on grains for local food, beverage and feed markets.
Her current projects include evaluation of barley varieties for craft brewing markets and Danish wheat and rye varieties for bread flour, optimizing nitrogen management for fall-planted grains and forage or feed production with field peas. Her research group also is working with Maine entrepreneur Alex Bennett to grow cereals for a natural drinking straw, a project called “Straw Straws.”
Optimizing Potato Research
John Jemison, UMaine Extension specialist, recently completed a multiyear project evaluating double crop forage systems and winter canola. Jemison’s project is in collaboration with Greg Porter, professor of agronomy and director of UMaine’s potato breeding program, to provide a central Maine location for evaluating potato varieties.
Harnessing the Power of the Sun
Eric Gallandt, professor of weed ecology and management, leads various research projects at the farm. His research focuses on dynamics and management of annual weeds in organic farming systems.
In a new series of field experiments, motivated by questions from Maine farmers, Gallandt and Ph.D. student Sonja Birthisel are studying soil solarization as a weed management practice. Solarization is the practice of controlling agricultural pests by heating the soil using clear plastic mulch that harnesses solar energy.
This strategy is an established practice in arid climates, where ambient temperatures and solar radiation are often lethal to weed seeds and soil-borne pathogens. In temperate environments such as Maine, soil solarization is not widely used, but early results indicate it can dramatically reduce weed pressure, creating a “stale seedbed” that is relatively free of weeds before seeding vegetable crops. Birthisel and Gallandt were surprised by the early field results.
“When we removed the plastic and found no weeds, we really wondered what was going on,” says Gallandt. “We expected the warmer soil to encourage a large flush of weeds that could be killed by tillage before planting.”
Later, after retrieving temperature data loggers from the soil, they found soil temperatures at a 4-inch depth were as high as 115 F, conditions lethal to many weed seeds.
Organic Weed Management
Ph.D. student Bryan Brown is working on a project aimed at quantifying multiple dimensions of the performance of four common and fundamentally different weed management strategies to help growers choose a strategy that best fits their production goals. Brown was awarded $13,147 from the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Association to support this project.
The researchers believe successful weed management may be achieved by: intensive, repeated cultivation during the “critical weed-free period” of the crop; comprehensive seed-focused management with a goal of zero seed rain; weed prevention through plastic mulch; or weed prevention through organic mulch.
In field experiments comparing these weed management systems, researchers are characterizing both short- and long-term effects, looking at how each system affects soil quality, the weed seedbank and profitability over time.
“We were quite surprised last year to find that our longer-term zero seed rain and mulch-based strategies were also the most profitable,” says Brown.
The researchers seek to understand factors that motivate farmers to adopt these contrasting weed management strategies and to help growers determine the optimum weed control strategy based on resources and management goals.
Rare Weeds in Northern New England
In a changing climate, rare species are coming into the spotlight. Climate change could lead to local extinctions, or allow for increased abundance and potential new invasions by rare species.
In a study led by Gallandt, researchers are determining the abundance and distribution of agronomic weeds. Researchers collected soil samples from 77 farms in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. The collected seeds were germinated in a greenhouse and the seedlings were identified to species.
They found in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont that the ratios of rare weed species to total weed species identified were 67:94, 20:64, and 24:67, respectively.
This study is a first attempt to identify rare agronomic weeds in Maine’s environment. Further work integrating naturalistic approaches with climate projections could further help to predict potential invasions and identify conservation targets in a changing climate.
In July and August, Birthisel and Brown are revisiting Maine farms to survey fields and talk with farmers to identify rare or unusual weeds that could present a problem in the future.
Pam Wells of Old Town owns more than 1,000 acres of land and wants to know the best way to manage her forest. To do so, she enrolled as a student in the School of Forest Resources at the University of Maine.
Already a UMaine alumna, Wells holds a bachelor’s degree in anthropology/English that she earned in 1981 and a masters of social work in 1991. She is now considering going for a master’s in forestry.
Wells also has been a field instructor for the School of Social Work and has taught software engineering in the School of Computing and Information Science with her husband.
In 2013, she worked with Jessica Leahy, an associate professor of human dimensions of natural resources in the UMaine School of Forest Resources, to help small woodlot owners create a peer-to-peer network in Baldwin. The project aimed to find more efficient ways to serve Maine landowners by incorporating social work strategies — including effective communication and resource-linking skills — into forest management. Wells supervised two social work interns who were involved with the study.
Beyond academics and work on her forest, Wells also does website design, wildlife photography and helps her sister on her alpaca farm business. She also enjoys gardening and taking care of her pets and saltwater fish tank.
Describe the land you own:
Our 1,058 acres woodlot is about 10 miles from Old Town in Milford/Greenfield. It abuts the Stud Mill Road and is adjacent to Sunkhaze Meadows National Wildlife Refuge.
We allow hunting, fishing, hiking, etc., but our goal is to create a demonstration forest for other woodlot owners and a place for students to conduct wildlife and forestry research. A long-term goal is to have our woodlot provide habitat for wildlife, increase forest productivity, and at some point obtain income from a sustainable harvest.
Our property has been harvested extensively for decades. It resembles much of Maine’s forests. We purchased it after its last harvest 10 years ago. It has grown a lot since then. Precommercial thinning was performed last year with assistance from NRCS [the Natural Resources Conservation Service]. Several years ago, a crop tree release was performed in a six-acre stand. This year, we have created a “stream team” which consists of both state and federal fish biologists. Our goal will be to restore our portion of the Sunkhaze Stream in order to provide better habitat for trout and salmon.
I am also exploring the remains of an 1800s shingle mill. While the most noticeable feature is a large rock wall, there is also a lot of logs and shingles buried in the banks of the stream itself. It provides a wonderful demonstration of how the logging industry altered the Maine landscape.
Why did you decide to pursue this degree? Why now?
I grew up a poor kid in Bangor, Maine. My dad left our family when I was very young and my home life was somewhat challenging. I brought up both my mom and my sister. For me, the forest was safety. I found it both exciting and peaceful. It still is. I also believe it is one path to a better climate for Earth.
I very much wanted to be a forester in the ’70s. Women were not encouraged to be foresters in the ’70s.
After graduating in the ’80s, I worked in retail management for 10-plus years, then became a licensed clinical social worker in children’s mental health. I managed group homes, foster care programs, family therapy programs, case management programs and corrections programs for about 20 years.
Finally, I decided to return to my passion — the forest. It has been a long journey.
It is close, and I know it well. It is also known as a good school for forestry.
Have you worked closely with a professor or mentor who is making your UMaine experience better?
I would say Shawn Fraver is an amazing professor. He is a great teacher; passionate about his field and willing to have discussions with students. He has managed to put up with my incessant questions even after I finished his class.
What difference has UMaine made in your life and in helping you reach your goals?
UMaine has helped me be who I am in many ways. I would never have done my journey without it. Currently, I am learning so much about my forest because of the classes I attend. I would not be able to have the important conversations with my forester and loggers without that education.
What are the benefits and challenges of being a nontraditional undergraduate? Would you recommend going back to school for those who are considering it later in life?
I do encourage older people to go back for a variety of reasons.
First, for knowledge; the world is changing quickly and there is no better place to learn about new possibilities than in a classroom. Second, to enjoy the energy of younger people who are on the cusp of their own journeys. Third, to contribute to the futures of young people. When you are older, you are more willing to ask questions and to share your point of view. That can be invaluable in a classroom discussion. The benefits are outstanding.
There are some challenges. In my instance, my last math course was in the early ’80s. I say, “What happened to the math in my head?” I think aliens took it. I also have some challenges with field trips. Young people appear to be able to run through the woods a lot faster than I can. Now when did that happen?
University of Maine alumnus Jim Rittenburg is captivated by technology, specifically when it’s used to make improvements.
As an inventor on 11 patents, the technologist and business development executive has experience developing and commercializing products based on advanced technologies.
His latest venture is a business he co-founded with his wife, and fellow UMaine alumna, Lorna. The Perkasie, Pennsylvania-based couple formed IC Optix® to develop and commercialize convenient vision aids to assist millions of people in reading product label information.
Before IC Optix, Rittenburg worked for 20 years as a vice president for Authentix, a global leader in authentication that provides brand protection and supply chain security solutions.
Rittenburg, who was born and raised in Massachusetts, earned three degrees from UMaine — a bachelor’s in microbiology in 1976, a master’s in animal and veterinary sciences in 1978, and a Ph.D. in microbiology and animal sciences in 1981.
Describe IC Optix and how it started:
IC Optix has recently obtained two patents on a new type of lens technology that can provide consumers with easy and convenient ways to read the small print on health care products, food and agricultural products, and many other items.
In the United States and Europe, there are well over 300 million people that have difficulty reading important product information such as ingredient lists, use instructions, recommended dosage, nutritional information and warnings.
To accomplish this mission we have developed novel thin film magnifier technology that is integrated into product labels and also into everyday items like pens. We help manufacturers engineer convenient vision aids into their product packaging for easy use by the consumer.
We started IC Optix after about three or four years of tinkering with ideas for simple and convenient vision aids. I thought it would be handy to have a decent magnifier that was easy to carry in your pocket and had come up with an idea for creating magnifier lenses on a thin film that could be scrolled in and out of a pen like a roller blind. Lorna saw this and had the idea for making the thin film lens part of a product label or product packaging.
After doing some research we realized our ideas were novel, and we filed patent applications to protect the intellectual property. About the same time we filed the patents we decided to form a company to pursue product development and commercialization, and IC Optix was born.
What are your goals for IC Optix?
Our goal for IC Optix is to create products that are useful and genuinely help people. There is a large segment of the population — about 50 percent of the U.S. population — that has trouble reading small print without some form of vision aid.
Our goal is to create vision aids that are convenient, unobtrusive and close at hand when needed. To achieve this goal we are working with brand owners to integrate the lens technology with products such as pharmaceuticals, over-the-counter medicines, garden chemicals and many other products that have labels or packaging with very small print.
What interests you about developing and commercializing products?
I have always been fascinated by technology and with using technology to make things better. The process of identifying a problem, coming up with ideas on how to address the problem, and then developing and commercializing solutions to the problem can be challenging, stimulating and ultimately very satisfying.
It also can be frustrating at times, but as long as you are convinced that success is one of the possible outcomes, then it pays to be persistent and to keep learning from every result you get along the way.
Why did you decide to study microbiology and animal and veterinary sciences?
Since I can remember, I have been interested in nature and I had originally thought I would major in biology or zoology. However, once I took an introductory microbiology course I was fascinated by the diversity of the world of “little creatures” that exist in a dimension beyond what we can see with our direct vision.
I also felt at the time that the field of microbiology was developing quickly and there would probably be some good opportunities for people with a background in this area. Pursuing a graduate degree in animal and veterinary sciences was a natural progression from my undergrad work in microbiology.
Toward the end of my undergraduate degree I was fortunate to meet Bob Bayer who was a professor in the Animal and Veterinary Sciences Department. Bob was conducting very interesting and applied research in both marine and avian science, and he was looking to take on a graduate student that had experience in microbiology — it was a perfect fit.
Did you work closely with a professor or mentor who made your UMaine experience better?
Some of the fondest memories I have of UMaine are the years that I worked on my master’s and Ph.D. degrees under Bob Bayer. Bob was an extraordinary mentor who I will always be grateful to for his inspiration and innovative thinking. Bob has an excellent way of working with students. He encourages his students to embrace new approaches and out-of-the-box thinking, and not to be afraid to challenge convention.
Maine had been an annual vacation destination for my family since I was a child, and it led to a love for the outdoors. I knew I did not want to attend college in a city, and I also did not want to go a large university. So when it came time to consider university, UMaine was already high on the list.
After checking out the curriculum and following a visit to Orono to look at the campus, I thought this would be a great place to pursue both my academic interests and my outdoor interests. It was the perfect choice.
How did UMaine prepare you for your career?
UMaine had a very good microbiology program that provided a strong foundation for the master’s and Ph.D. graduate programs that I subsequently embarked on at UMaine. In addition to the solid academic training I received, I also found the environment and culture to be very down to Earth.
My career has mostly been focused on developing technology in practical ways and applying it to solving problems. UMaine and Maine in general has a strong culture of living life in a practical way and applying practical approaches to solving problems. UMaine provided solid academic training and a balanced outlook on life that has served as a great foundation from which to develop a career.
What was your favorite place on campus?
During undergraduate years my favorite place was the handball courts. During graduate school it would be the Bear’s Den.
Most memorable UMaine moment?
Proposing to Lorna in Hitchner Hall. She was a foreign student from England and had enrolled in a master’s degree program in the Animal and Veterinary Sciences Department and I was just starting my Ph.D. program when I met her.
How does UMaine continue to influence your life?
Bob Bayer and I have continued to stay in regular contact and we compare notes on our respective ventures. I have also participated in lectures at UMaine and the University of Maine at Farmington over the years and Skyped into Bob’s class periodically to speak with his students. There also are some long-lasting friendships that remain today from my years at UMaine, not to mention my 33-year marriage with Lorna.
How often do you visit Maine?
I usually go back to Maine at least two times every year. Every fall I meet up with friends — including Bob Bayer — for a camping trip on the Maine/New Hampshire border. Also every February, I meet up with two UMaine classmates for an annual winter camping trip to hike up a Maine mountain. We have done this nearly every year since we finished undergrad in 1976.
Any advice for students today?
The job scene is more competitive than ever, so it is really important to develop an interesting resume that includes more than just good grades. Internships or summer jobs in a related field are extremely helpful for gaining experience, developing a network, getting references and differentiating yourself from others who do not do this. Being active in clubs or volunteer activities also provides a good break from academics and makes for a more interesting job candidate.
How do you like to spend your time outside of the office?
I have a passion for astronomy and regularly give lectures at our local astronomy club. I also enjoy fly-fishing in various parts of the world for both freshwater and saltwater species. With our kids scattered across North America — from Vermont to Idaho to British Columbia — Lorna and I usually find time to plan trips that include some combination of hiking, camping, fishing and boating. And then there are those trips back to Maine for hiking and camping with old friends.