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Updated: 5 hours 50 min ago

UMaine Snow Plowing Planned Feb. 19

Wed, 02/19/2014 - 13:17

Snow plowing at the University of Maine is planned for Wednesday night, Feb. 19. Parking Services reminds the UMaine community to be aware of the weather for the next few days. As noted on the back of all parking permits, the winter overnight parking ban is in effect through May 1. All staff, commuter and visitor parking areas are closed to overnight parking. No vehicle should be parked in these lots between midnight and 6 a.m. Any vehicle left during snow removal will be towed and stored at the owner’s expense. The College Avenue South and the Bridge Tennis Court lots are available for faculty, staff, commuter and visitors who have a short-term need to park vehicles overnight.

Categories: Combined News, News

United States Army Field Band, Soldiers’ Chorus to Perform at Collins Center

Wed, 02/19/2014 - 13:16

The United States Army Field Band and Soldiers’ Chorus will perform at 7 p.m. Monday, March 31 at the Collins Center for the Arts. The University of Maine School of Performing Arts and the Bangor Daily News are sponsoring the show, which will include 16 UMaine students as guest performers and Christopher White, UMaine Symphonic Band director, as a guest conductor for one piece.

The United States Army Field Band has been performing for more than 60 years and travels nationally and internationally to perform. Since its formation in 1946, the Field Band has appeared in all 50 states and in more than 30 countries on four continents. The Field Band’s 65 members are selected by competitive audition and are called “The Musical Ambassadors of the Army.” The United States Army Soldiers’ Chorus was founded in 1957 and is the vocal complement of the United States Army Field Band.

Tickets for the event are free, but are limited to four tickets per request. Tickets can be obtained by mailing a request in a self-addressed stamped envelope to:

ATTN: U.S. Army Field Band Tickets
University of Maine School of Performing Arts
5788 Class of 1944 Hall
Orono, ME 04469-5788

For more information on the performance or to request a disability accommodation, call the School of Performing Arts at 207.581.4703. More information on the musical performers of the band and chorus is available online.

Categories: Combined News, News

Registration Open for 7th Annual Healthy High 5k/10k and 1-Mile Fun Run

Wed, 02/19/2014 - 13:15

The University Credit Union’s seventh annual Healthy High 5k/10k and 1-Mile Fun Run at the University of Maine, sponsored by Cadillac Mountain Sports, will be April 13.

The race, which begins at 4:20 p.m. at UMaine’s New Balance Student Recreation Center, promotes health and wellness for both the university and the community.

Early registration fees for the 5k/10k are $15; $5 for students. The 1-mile walk/run is free. Early registration deadline is 4 p.m April 9. Day-of registration fees are $20; $10 for students. Registration is available online.

Race proceeds benefit the Black Bear Exchange Food Pantry and Thrift Store. In addition, donations of used footwear will benefit Soles4Souls.

For registration information, to request a disability accommodation or for more information, call Shelby Saucier, 207.581.1423.

Categories: Combined News, News

Media Report on UMaine Grad Student’s Maple Syrup Research

Tue, 02/18/2014 - 13:09

The Associated Press, Penobscot Times and Phys.org reported on research being conducted by Jenny Shrum, a Ph.D. candidate in the ecology and environmental sciences graduate program in the University of Maine School of Biology and Ecology. Shrum is researching the biophysical relationships between weather and sap flow. Her goal is to better understand what drives flow and how expected trends in climate may affect the processes and harvesters in the future. Boston Herald, WLBZ (Channel 2), Boston.com, Portland Press Herald, Daily Journal, SFGate, Journal Tribune, seattlepi.com and The Telegraph carried the AP report.

Categories: Combined News, News

WABI Airs Two-Part Report on Native American Tuition Waiver and Educational Program

Tue, 02/18/2014 - 13:07

WABI (Channel 5) spoke with University of Maine students and faculty for a two-part report on the University of Maine System’s Native American Tuition Waiver and Educational Program. UMaine students Katrina Coston, Tori Hildreth and Catherine Chavaree spoke about their experiences growing up and the importance of the program. UMaine faculty Sharon Oliver, senior director of admissions; John Bear Mitchell, a Wabanaki studies lecturer and associate director of UMaine’s Wabanaki Center; and Darren Ranco, chair of Native American programs also spoke about the program’s benefits and ongoing efforts to spread the word. Ranco said both recruitment and retention of Native American students are works in progress.

Categories: Combined News, News

Lilieholm, Meyer Interviewed for Press Herald Article on Forest Carbon Offset Projects

Tue, 02/18/2014 - 13:06

Spencer Meyer, associate scientist for forest stewardship at the Center for Research on Sustainable Forests at the University of Maine, and Rob Lilieholm, an associate professor of forest policy in the School of Forest Resources at UMaine were interviewed for a Portland Press Herald article about how two Maine groups are being paid to manage their forests for carbon dioxide reduction that will offset pollution by industry. Meyer said the arrangements are “offsetting a global process” and are “laying the groundwork for others down the road.” Lilieholm said although the forest carbon offset projects are just beginning in Maine, the state could eventually find them financially attractive. He estimates widespread use of trees-for-carbon-dioxide compensation is probably five to 10 years off.

Categories: Combined News, News

WVII Talks with UMaine Students About Log Hauler Restoration Project

Tue, 02/18/2014 - 13:05

WVII (Channel 7) interviewed University of Maine mechanical engineering technology students who are working on a log hauler restoration as part of their capstone experience. The steam log hauler, located at Leonard’s Mills in Bradley, has been put together entirely by students. The Lombard Log Hauler Restoration Project is in its 30th year, and the current students hope to have the log hauler running on steam this spring.

Categories: Combined News, News

BDN Reviews School of Performing Arts’ Production of ‘Grease’

Tue, 02/18/2014 - 13:04

The Bangor Daily News published a review of the University of Maine School of Performing Arts’ spring production of “Grease.” The review states the “actors dig deep for nuanced and near flawless performances.” Remaining performances of the show are scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Feb. 20, 21, 22, and 2 p.m. Feb. 23 in Hauck Auditorium.

Categories: Combined News, News

UMaine Study Cited in Press Herald Report on Road Salt, Brine

Tue, 02/18/2014 - 13:02

A 2010 University of Maine study was cited in a Portland Press Herald article about how a growing concern about the water quality of Maine’s lakes has led the state to recommend towns wet roads before a storm with a brine solution to lessen the environmental damage caused by spreading salt and sand. Even though experts say the solution is safer and more effective, many towns and plowing contractors have been resistant to the change, the article states. The UMaine study found Maine spreads about a billion pounds of salt on its roads every year, and much of the salt ends up in water supplies which can harm wildlife.

Categories: Combined News, News

Ward Mentioned in Free Press Article on Analysis of Economic Development Investments

Tue, 02/18/2014 - 13:01

Jake Ward, University of Maine’s vice president for innovation and economic development, was mentioned in a Free Press article on the recent findings of an independent analysis on economic development investments in the state. The reports were compiled by Investment Consulting Associates (ICA) and include recommendations to improve the evaluation process and information on which programs provide a good return on investment. Ward was part of a steering committee of people from private and public sectors in Maine that worked with ICA on the project.

Categories: Combined News, News

Dunning Nominated to Serve on Efficiency Maine Trust Board

Tue, 02/18/2014 - 12:57

Scott Dunning has been nominated to serve on the Efficiency Maine Trust Board. Efficiency Maine offers business and residential programs to help Mainers make energy improvements and save money.

Scott Dunning of Hampden is a professor of electrical engineering technology and director of the University of Maine School of Engineering Technology. Throughout his 21-year career at UMaine, he has taught a variety of courses in the areas of electrical engineering and power systems. His primary research interests are in the areas of energy efficiency.

Dunning became involved with the Association of Energy Engineers in the late 1990s, when he became an instructor for the Certified Energy Manager program. He is a registered professional engineer in the state of Maine. He is a senior member and past chair of the Maine Section of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

All nominations are contingent upon Maine Senate confirmation after review by the Joint Standing Committee on Energy, Utilities and Technology.

Categories: Combined News, News

Emily and Jared Duggan: Encouraging Education

Mon, 02/17/2014 - 16:30

Click here to view more student profiles

Every Monday afternoon Jared Duggan, an accounting major at the University of Maine, heads to Leonard Middle School in Old Town to meet one of his close friends — a sixth-grader named Matt.

When Jared arrives, the two head outside to play basketball, even though it’s winter. It’s the pair’s normal routine, regardless of the weather.

Meanwhile at the Old Town Recreation Department, Jared’s sister Emily Duggan, an elementary education major at UMaine, sits with Keely, a fifth-grader. They’re making friendship bracelets while they talk about friends and school.

This is the second year the Duggans of Buxton, Maine, have participated in UMaine’s Black Bear Mentor Program. The program is offered through the Bodwell Center for Service and Volunteerism and is run by an AmeriCorps VISTA. More than 80 UMaine students are currently participating, making the program’s 11th year the largest.

The Black Bear Mentors meet with third- to eighth-grade students once a week after school at Dr. Lewis S. Libby School in Milford, Old Town Elementary School, Leonard Middle School in Old Town and the Old Town Recreation Department. The mentors work with students on activities such as sports, arts and crafts, homework, board games and community service projects.

“I think the end goal is to try to get the students interested in pursuing education,” Jared, who is in his junior year at UMaine, says of the program. “We know what we’ve done to get to college so we can pass that on to kids to try to get them to have the same habits so they can hopefully go to college, too.”

The siblings, who live together, joined the program at the same time last year.

“Jared and I have always gotten along really well because we are the only two children in our family and because we’re so close in age. We don’t argue very often but when we do, we usually get over it pretty quickly,” Emily says, adding she and her brother also like attending UMaine hockey and basketball games together.

Emily, a UMaine sophomore, says she decided to become a mentor because she has always enjoyed working with children and wants to be a teacher. The Duggans also both worked as recreation counselors during the summer in their hometown. Jared, who was working as an RA at the time he joined the program, also decided being able to work with kids during the school year would be rewarding.

“It’s the first thing I look forward to in the week because you just go and hang out with a kid and spread your wisdom,” Jared says.

Black Bear Mentors, who come from a variety of majors, are interviewed and undergo background checks before training begins. They are paired with a student based on similar interests and mentor them in weekly 90-minute sessions for the entire academic year.

Returning mentors, such as the Duggans, have the option to mentor the same child for multiple years — if the child also wants the same mentor. Both Emily and Jared are now on the second year of mentoring the students they were originally paired with.

“When I first met Keely she was pretty shy — I’m shy, too — so we were pretty similar. But now she talks all the time and asks me for advice, which is cool,” Emily says.

She says offering advice to Keely has helped both of them open up and has helped her learn how to solve problems and give the best advice without being involved. The pair also likes to spend time doing homework, playing board games or making arts and crafts. Jared and Matt, on the other hand, spend most of their time outdoors throwing a football or playing basketball.

“Matt really likes to play sports, so everyday we go outside — even in the winter,” Jared says. “While we’re outside, we’ll play with the other kids to work on teamwork. I also push him to do homework so he can play sports for school teams.”

Jared says Matt was outgoing from the moment they met and the two bonded quickly, becoming fast friends. Since Jared has known Matt, he has become more comfortable sharing personal stories.

The Duggans, who would recommend the program to UMaine students, agree the best part of being involved in the program has been reuniting with their student for the first time after summer break and seeing the excitement on their face.

“It was like we didn’t even have the summer break. He was really excited to see me, and we picked up right where we left off. We went right back outside again. It was pretty cool to see that nothing had really changed,” Jared says.

He adds the experience was the same for all the returning mentors.

“The kids just run right to their mentors. You can tell how much they mean to the kids,” he says.

Emily says she knows Keely enjoys taking part in the program by the reactions she gets from other students when she visits.

“I imagine she tells her friends about it because when I go to Old Town Rec, they always say, ‘Oh, you’re Keely’s mentor.’ They all want a mentor,” she says.

In November, the Black Bear Mentors hosted the elementary- and middle-school students for the group’s annual scavenger hunt on the UMaine campus.

“It wasn’t a typical scavenger hunt,” Emily says. “The goal was to show them places on campus and see what they’re interested in.”

The group plans to have the students visit again to do activities such as rock climbing or touring the football field.

“I’m excited for them to come back,” Jared says. “It’s always fun when they’re on the campus.”

Categories: Combined News, News

Ethan Tremblay: An Opportunistic Explorer

Mon, 02/17/2014 - 16:27

Click here to view more student profiles

Third-year economics and journalism double major Ethan Tremblay of Mariaville, Maine, enjoys investigative writing, a genre of journalism that he calls precarious in the current news climate.

Tremblay, 21, says that his time at UMaine has opened his eyes to many new fields interest. Since taking UMaine’s Media Law and Ethics course in the spring 2013 semester, he has found that he enjoys exploring legal problems and figuring out why courts make the decisions they do.

Since beginning his education at UMaine, the honors student has studied abroad in Bulgaria, which he says provided the opportunity to “be able to step outside your door and get caught up in appreciating even the most mundane things because you’re so far from home.”

As a double major in economics and journalism, which field do you find influences your interests more?

I’ve been fascinated by journalism since I was very young, but at this point, I find myself drawn more toward the economics side of my education. I think this is because I’ve always enthusiastically followed current events, which initially drew me to want to report on them — and I still do. However, as I explored other coursework here at UMaine, I began to gain an appreciation for the ways I might be able to actually take part in what’s going on in the news.

What genre of journalistic writing would you call your specialty?
I’m not sure I’m at the point yet where I could declare myself specialized, but I can say I especially enjoy the sort of in-depth, time- and research-intensive investigative stuff that’s so precarious these days.

Who would you consider to be your favorite author?
I’m going to go with Mark Twain. There’s a timelessness to much of his commentary, which is why I find him appealing a century after he was first publishing. He also had a really exciting life, and he wasn’t afraid to speak frankly about things — often in such a disarmingly funny or satirical way that you don’t get bogged down in endless criticism or whining. One of his best quotes that I find particularly applicable is something like, “Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please.”

Are you involved in any extracurricular activities?
I wrote for the Maine Campus for a time, but otherwise my major activities at the university are academic. I like using campus rec facilities, especially the Maine Bound climbing gym, and attending guest lectures and seminars. When I was studying abroad in Bulgaria, I had more time because I wasn’t also working part time and volunteering, as I do while I’m here at home, so I had the opportunity to take part in more extracurriculars.

Why did you choose to attend UMaine?
I guess I was excited about the fact that I could stay near all the great places I enjoyed growing up while also having access to a gorgeous campus and excellent academics. I love Maine, so I chose UMaine not so much because I didn’t want to go anywhere else, but because I felt privileged to be able to stay here.

How has being in the Honors College made your experience at UMaine worthwhile?
Honors has taken everything else I’ve worked on at UMaine and made sense of it. It’s hard to describe the experience, except to say that the things you are taught in honors are the ideas that you find yourself thinking about when you’re nowhere near a classroom or workplace. It’s tempting to dismiss it as a bunch of dusty old books and some response papers, but when you realize you’re still relating the ideas to your experience of the world long after the semester has ended, then you suddenly have to accept that it changed your life.

Have you worked closely with a mentor, professor or role model who has made your UMaine experience better, if so how?
Nico Jenkins in honors and Julie Hopwood in journalism are both fantastic professors. I’m partial to any educator who doesn’t get so wrapped up in their material that they can’t engage with students and have a dialogue, even during a lecture. Julie pretty much single-handedly cultivated my interest in law. Nico is the master of the Socratic dialogue, and it was almost uncanny the way he seemed to draw out exactly what aspect of an honors text was most intriguing and use it to start a conversation that could go on for months.

What is the most interesting, engaging or helpful class you’ve taken at UMaine?
I took Media Law and Ethics a couple of semesters ago, and it really opened my eyes to different aspects of the media world. I found I really enjoyed exploring legal problems and puzzling out why courts make the decisions that they do. Especially in the realm of First Amendment rights, which is a major focus of media law, there is some very careful language and important nuance when judges hand down opinions, and I found myself fascinated by how visionary some cases can be. There’s a certain appeal to how legal tradition and precedents are set, and the fact that they continue to be instrumental decades and even centuries down the road.

Is there a specific type of law in which you’re interested?
I’m drawn toward law from more of a policy perspective than actual litigation. One of my most important goals is to be able to stay in Maine, so I’d like to tailor my career in such a way that I can be here and be useful. There are a lot of important decisions being made with regard to Maine’s future, and I think there’s going to be a renewed emphasis on fresh thinking and innovation when it comes to policymaking and community development. I’d like to have a part in that. When it comes to finding a potential graduate program that’s useful to me, I think I’ll look particularly for strong environmental or land use-related programs.

Are there any specific court cases that really intrigue you?
I was fascinated by the Sullivan case (Sullivan v. New York Times Co.) because it was really the first time I’d actually had to sit down and puzzle through a full Supreme Court ruling. I found the legal process fascinating, and then when we explored more of the background for the case and the ideas Justice Brennan was using to develop the court’s opinion, I was intrigued. I started reading more about Brennan and his other important opinions, and I started reading some of his other writings as well. I’m not sure that I ever would’ve come across his ideas, at least not in such an exciting way, if it weren’t for that class.

Have you had an experience at UMaine that has shaped the way you see the world?
I came here without a solid idea of what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. Now that I’m about to leave, I have the opposite problem — I’ve encountered so many fascinating and important ideas and fields at UMaine that I’m afraid I won’t be able to focus myself on one thing. I think that’s a sign of having found a great place to be educated, since the best thing an institution can do for a student is inspire them to think big and be passionate about things.

Another fantastic opportunity I had here at UMaine was the chance to study abroad for a semester. The Office of International Programs does a splendid job of matching students with excellent institutions abroad, and they help with every aspect of making it happen. Once you’re outside your native community, you can’t help but realize how much there is happening in the world and begin to be drawn toward it. Studying abroad — for me, it was at the American University in Bulgaria — offers a whole new world both within your educational institution and within the region or country where you’re living. It’s a powerful thing to be able to step outside your door and get caught up in appreciating even the most mundane things because you’re so far from home.

What difference has UMaine made in your life, helping you reach your goals?
Being at UMaine really helps you find your own voice, whether it’s because you get engaged in a class discussion and have to defend your opinions, or because you see an opportunity for yourself and have to find the right people to help you make it happen. If you don’t get out and advocate for yourself, you’re not taking advantage of all the great things this university has to offer.

What advice do you have for incoming students?
Definitely get involved. College is really what you make of it, meaning that you have the opportunity to take your few short years here and leverage them into an excellent career. Not only can you prepare yourself for just about any profession, but you really have a chance to shape yourself as a human being. Take the time to explore what it is you believe and figure out why that’s so. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or dig deeper into things. Sometimes the coolest things you learn are inspired by an offhand comment from a professor that you decide to follow up on on your own time.

What is your favorite place on campus?
There are two trees on the corner of the Mall where you can always find a group of people jumping around on a slackline whenever there isn’t too much snow. It’s a great place to congregate, because everybody is willing to talk about just about anything — even with folks they’ve never met before. I don’t think you could spend more than five minutes there without meeting friendly, new people. Also, slacklining is great fun, even if you only have two minutes to stop between classes.

What is UMaine doing to help with your future?
I think UMaine has provided me with the knowledge and experience that I’ll need to pursue a graduate degree, and that’s where I think I’m headed once I finish here. It’ll probably be law school, so the fact that I’ve had professors who manage to combine practical knowledge of how to perform within the legal system with a broader appreciation for why and how we govern ourselves — and, from honors, a sense of who we even are as a society — is really crucial for me.

How do you think your current education would be applicable to your hopes to expand your education as you look into graduate school?
One of the best things about UMaine for me has been being able to maintain connections to communities I had already developed. Because I didn’t have to put down new roots during my undergraduate career, I’ve been able to stay connected with many organizations and folks who can open doors for me down the road. Right now, I’m all about getting experience and trying new things, both in the classroom and outside the university. Orono’s a great little community to be a part of, and Bangor is really taking off in many exciting ways. I think I’ve benefitted from being around for that, especially because I feel strongly that I want to continue being around and contributing to the region. I’ve been able to serve on a nonprofit board for the past three years, work in downtown Bangor, and just be involved in life here while still in school. I consider myself very fortunate.

I like to take a lot of classes at once, so I’ve learned to budget my time and energy pretty carefully. There are so many things to learn in every class, especially if you try to dig deeper than the required reading or lecture notes. Honestly I don’t think my particular choice of majors will have a specific impact on where I end up in the future — it’s more about the ideas and people I’ve been exposed to and the information I’ve been able to absorb. I wouldn’t say UMaine has prepared me to do specifically one thing with my major — it’s more about becoming a well-educated, curious, informed person and trying to keep yourself going that way.

Categories: Combined News, News

WABI, WVII Attend VEMI Lab’s Open House

Thu, 02/13/2014 - 13:09

WABI (Channel 5) and WVII (Channel 7) attended the open house of the Virtual Environment and Multimodal Interaction (VEMI) Laboratory at the University of Maine. The lab is part of the Spatial Informatics Program in the School of Computing and Information Science and houses Maine’s only research facility that combines a fully immersive virtual reality installation with augmented reality technologies in an integrated research and development environment. The lab’s director Nicholas Giudice, a professor of spatial information science and engineering, and Richard Corey, the lab’s director of operations, spoke about the work being done in the lab. Giudice said the lab offers virtual reality that merges different senses such as sound, sight and touch to make the viewer feel like they’re in the virtual reality.

Categories: Combined News, News

WLBZ Talks with Members of UMaine’s Cyber Defense Team

Thu, 02/13/2014 - 13:08

WLBZ (Channel 2) spoke with University of Maine students Kyle Ossinger and John Woodill, who are members of UMaine’s Cyber Defense Team. The team is preparing to compete at the annual Northeast Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition at the University of New Hampshire in March. Ossinger and Woodill spoke about the importance of cybersecurity and offered tips on how retailers and consumers can defend themselves against attacks.

Categories: Combined News, News

Nominations Sought for 2014 Geddes W. Simpson Distinguished Lecturer

Thu, 02/13/2014 - 13:08

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 robert.glover@maine.edu.

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)

Categories: Combined News, News

Professor Emeritus Robert H. Babcock Passes Away

Thu, 02/13/2014 - 13:01

Robert Harper Babcock, professor emeritus of history at the University of Maine, passed away Feb. 12, 2014. His obituary is available online.

Categories: Combined News, News

Learning Across STEM Disciplines

Thu, 02/13/2014 - 12:27

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

Categories: Combined News, News

Pooling Expertise

Thu, 02/13/2014 - 12:25

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

Categories: Combined News, News

Making Sense of Maple Syrup

Thu, 02/13/2014 - 12:18

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

Categories: Combined News, News