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Maine Students to Perform Research in NASA Zero Gravity Flight

Contact: Michael D. Mason (207) 581-2344; Tom Weber (207) 581-3777; Bob Caswell (207) 780-4200

ORONO — Now that NASA has cleared them for takeoff, student scientists from the University of Maine and the University of Southern Maine are eagerly preparing for the flight of their lives.

And while the four students won’t actually be going into space, they’ll have the chance to experience the next best thing — floating in near-zero gravity in a modified jetliner while performing experiments that could benefit astronauts of the future.

UMaine’s Michael Browne, a sophomore chemical engineering major, and Benjamin Freedman, majoring in both chemical and biological engineering, are teaming up with USM first-year biology major John Wise Jr., the team leader, and Adam Courtemanche, a senior information technology major, to participate in NASA’s Reduced Gravity Student Flight Opportunities Program in Houston July 10-19.

The team, the first ever from Maine, is one of 40 from around the country selected this year by NASA, which awards the coveted slots based on the merit of the students’ research proposals. After their training and physical tests, the Maine team will carry out in-flight experiments to measure the response of human lung cells to certain toxicants that are known to damage DNA. The tests will determine whether microgravity and hypergravity affect the cellular uptake of the chemicals, and create differences in the amount of chemical-induced DNA damage and repair.

The students believe the information could aid NASA in engineering safer manned space flights in the future.

“Aside from the science opportunities, this program helps increase public awareness of NASA and also gets promising young scientists interested in the kind of work it does,” says Michael Mason, a UMaine assistant professor of chemical and biological engineering and one of two mentors for the project. Mason and co-mentor and research collaborator John Wise Sr., director of USM’s Wise Laboratory for Environmental and Genetic Toxicology, will travel to Houston as part of the project’s ground crew.

Also on the ground crew are James Wise, first-year USM chemistry major and alternate flyer, and Nick Link, a senior at South Portland High School.

With all of their laboratory equipment prepped and secured, the students will fly aboard an airplane dubbed the “Weightless Wonder.” The plane will perform parabolic maneuvers over the Gulf of Mexico, soaring from 24,000 feet to 34,000 feet and screaming back down again.

The students will experience 30 seconds of hypergravity (up to 2g, higher than on Earth) as the plane climbs to the top of the parabola. Once the plane starts to “nose over” the top of the parabola and dive toward Earth, the students will experience 25 seconds of near-zero microgravity. The plane will do this 30 times in one flight, which is why it is also affectionally known as the “Vomit Comet.”

While NASA absorbs all flight and training costs, the Maine team is responsible for about $10,000 in travel and personal expenses. The Maine Space Grant Consortium has already agreed to fund half the amount, says Mason, who is confident the team can raise the rest.

“This is such a great and rare opportunity for the students,” Mason says. “I just wish I could go up with them. I even thought about re-registering as a student, but no such luck.”

UMaine 2008 Camden Conference Class Focuses on Religion in World Affairs

Contact: Marlene Charron, (207) 581-4095, George Manlove, 581-3756

ORONO — The University of Maine is accepting registrations for a unique, interdisciplinary course designed around the annual Camden Conference in February, “Religion as a Force in World Affairs.”

Students do not have to be admitted at the University of Maine to enroll in the course.

The UMaine Division of Lifelong Learning has drawn together five faculty members whose collective expertise will offer students critical insights into the increasingly dramatic impact that clashing religions from east, west and other parts of the world are having on the human plight, world affairs and politics.

Students will attend three Saturday morning sessions: Feb. 16 on the Orono campus, March 22 in Belfast and April 19 in Orono, plus all sessions of the 21st Camden Conference, Feb. 22-24 in Camden.

Tuition costs associated with this three credit course cover students’ conference registration fees.

The partnership between the University of Maine and the Camden Conference began in 1996 and has offered a course around the conference for more than a decade, according to Robert White, dean of Lifelong Learning. The university has also designed and offered specialized courses around the Camden International Film Festival in September and the Pop Tech conference in October. Each of the courses offers deep exploration and discussion opportunities about conference and festival subject matter in unique weekend schedules.

“I’ve done five or six Camden Conference courses and have attended the conferences, and they never fail to amaze me,” says Timothy Cole, department chair and associate professor of political science. “It really is a unique experience, a cross between a town meeting and an academic conference.”

This year’s course at UMaine will explore the role of religion as a potent influence on the formation and the implementation of foreign policy, especially the shaping of foreign policy in the United States as a factor in conflict and crisis settings, as a central component in the deepening clash between self-identities in various movements and communities, and as potential stimulus for mediation, peacemaking and constructive social action.

In addition to Cole, faculty members teaching the course include: James Warhola, professor of political science; Mark Brewer, assistant professor of political science; Kyriacos Markides, professor of sociology; and Tina Passman, associate professor of classical languages and literature. Students may opt for credit under political science, peace studies, university studies, history, honors or international affairs disciplines.

The faculty bring a depth of experience and specialization in diverse perspectives on the world’s religions, and have constructed a course that students, traditional and non-traditional, are unlikely to find elsewhere, says Cole, who with Brewer will lead a section on the politics of Puritanism and how it affects American politics today.

Religion “is one of those issues that continues to both divide and unite the American public,” Cole says. The class and the Camden Conference are expected to bring some clarity to the conflicts among religions, including but not limited to Christianity and Islam.

Class registration is ongoing through Feb. 15. Additional information is available at the Division website ( or by calling (207) 581-3143.

The Camden Conference is scheduled to begin with a keynote speech on Feb. 22 by Rev. J. Bryan Hehir, a distinguished theologian and professor of the Practice of Religion and Public Life at the Kennedy School at Harvard University. Hehir is known as a prolific author and speaker, and has served as advisor on international affairs for the U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference.

The conference continues throughout Feb. 23 and ends Feb. 24 with a half day of talks and a question and answer session with all the speakers. The full program for the 2008 Camden Conference, which still under development, will be available soon at the conference website (

The following conference speakers and their topics include: Professor Scott Appleby of Notre Dame, “Fundamentalists and U.S. Foreign Policy”; Ambassador Philip Wilcox, Jr., retired, “Religious Identities in the Israeli/Palestinian/Arab Conflict”; Rend al-Rahim Francke of the U.S. Institute of Peace, “The Sunni/Shia Clash”; and Katherine Marshall of Georgetown University and formerly The World Bank, “Ethical Challenges in Global Economic Development.”


Klimis-Zacas Elected Officer of International Trace Elements Society

Contact: Dorothy Klimis-Zacas, 581-3124

ORONO — Dorothy Klimis-Zacas, professor of clinical nutrition at UMaine, recently was elected treasurer of the International Society of Trace Element Research in the Human (ISTERH) at the society’s recent joint international conference in Crete, Greece.

She will serve until 2010. Klimis-Zacas, a faculty member in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at UMaine since 1988, also was a co-organizer and chair of the ISTERH’s Local Organizing Committee. The annual conference was sponsored also by the Nordic Trace Element Society and the Hellenic Trace Element Society.

Trace elements are essential nutrients needed in very small amounts by the body (micrograms) to maintain good health and prevent disease. They have very important functions in body structure, metabolism and DNA expression, among others.

The October conference, “Trace Elements in Diet, Nutrition and Health: Essentiality and Toxicity” attracted 300 delegates from academia, medical schools, hospitals, research centers and government agencies from the United States and around the world, including the U.S.D.A., the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and UNESCO.

Participants discussed cutting-edge science in the area of trace elements, including how trace elements affect diseases such as cardiovascular disease, neurodegenerative diseases, carcinogenenesis, osteoporosis, infectious diseases and molecular mechanisms of metal-induced diseases. Additionally, conference sessions addressed new research on health effects of low dose exposure to toxic metals, metal toxicity, metal speciation, and advances in the detection of trace elements in biological tissues.

Klimis-Zacas also was plenary session organizer, fundraiser and chair of “Trace Elements: Modulators of Arterial Function and Metabolism.” She also made a presentation: “Manganese, Regulator of Vasomotor Tone and Arterial Glycosaminoglycan Metabolism.”

The keynote speaker at the conference was Dr. Antonia Trichopoulou of the University of Athens Medical School, a researcher and creator of the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid.

UMaine Professor Borns Receives Prestigious Award

Contact: Joe Carr at (207) 581-3571

ORONO — The Maine State Society of Washington, D.C. has given retired University of Maine professor Harold Borns its 2007 “Big ‘M’ Award,” recognizing Borns’ “accomplishments and achievements in (his) profession, (and) for service to Maine and its citizens.”

Borns, who retired from the UMaine faculty in 2005 after 50 years as a UMaine professor, traveled to Washington, D.C. to receive the award on Dec. 8.

The Maine State Society is 113 years old and has some 1,000 members. It serves to connect Maine people who live and work in the Washington, D.C. area. The organization has presented the “Big ‘M’ Award” 43 times since the award was created in the 1960s.

Borns, who is a professor emeritus of glacial and quaternary geology, founded the Institute for Quaternary Studies, now known as the Climate Change Institute, as UMaine’s first interdisciplinary research institute. He has taught some 1,500 UMaine students and advised dozens of graduate students at UMaine, where he earned the university’s Presidential Research and Creative Achievement Award in 1984. In 1960, Borns became the first UMaine researcher to receive a National Science Foundation competitive grant. Thirty-one other grants have funded research projects, including the 2006 production of “Maine’s Ice Age Trail: Downeast Map and Guide,” a self-guided geological tour of Hancock and Washington counties.

Borns’ research has taken him to six continents, and he has spent 28 field seasons in Antarctica, where a glacier is named for him. Borns is a fellow in the Explorer’s Club and the Geological Society of America. He is also a recipient of the Congressional Antarctic Service medal.

“Hal is a remarkable scholar whose teaching, research and public service have earned him a place as one of the pre-eminent professors in UMaine’s history and a well-known scholar nationally,” UMaine President Robert Kennedy wrote in a letter that was part of the Dec. 8 award ceremony. “His vision, creativity and remarkable commitment to the university and the state continue to inspire us all.”

Association Extension Professor Receives National Award

Contact: Joyce Kleffner, 207-667-8212

DOVER-FOXCROFT, Me. — Jane Conroy, a faculty member in the University of Maine Cooperative Extension’s Piscataquis County office, has received a national award. The National Extension Association for Family and Consumer Sciences (NEAFCS) gave Conroy its Continued Excellence Award at a fall conference in St. Paul, Minn.

The organization recognized Conroy for her leadership in teaching Maine people financial literacy. She authors a bimonthly newsletter, “Money $ense,” for individuals and families. Conroy is also researching influences on consumer buying habits in rural Maine.

The Continued Excellence Award recognizes the leadership of NEAFCS members who have been actively involved in professional improvement programs and have supported the professional development of others. Conroy has served as president and as vice president for awards and professional development of the NEAFCS Maine affiliate.


Coral Reef Crisis Could Signal Threat to Maine Marine Life and Fisheries

Contact: Robert Steneck (207) 549-3062, cell (207) 557-4505
Tom Weber (207) 581-3777

ORONO — A rise in the temperature and acidity of the oceans that threatens the existence of the world’s coral reef ecosystems could also have troubling implications for marine life and fishing industries as far away as Maine, a University of Maine researcher says.

Robert Steneck, a professor at the School of Marine Sciences, is one of several authors of a new study predicting that increasing concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, if not abated, will continue to deteriorate coral reefs to the point where they are likely to disappear altogether in the next few decades.

The potential collapse of these most biologically diverse and economically important ecosystems suggests a global atmospheric crisis that, Steneck says, could seriously harm fisheries around the world.  

“The Carbon Crisis: Coral Reefs Under Rapid Climate Change and Ocean Acidification,” which represents the work of scientists from around the world, was published Dec. 14 in the journal Science.

“While we are far from where coral reefs live, I think it’s important to consider what this might mean in Maine,” says Steneck, who is based at the Darling Marine Center in Walpole. “It’s not as if coral reefs are on a different planet with a different atmosphere. They may be the canary in the mineshaft Earth, and the canary ain’t doing so swell these days.”

Scientists estimate that 25 percent of the world’s coral reefs are already gone or severely damaged and that another third are degraded and threatened. Rapid increases in carbon dioxide emissions, which in the 20th century have raised the average temperature of the world’s oceans by more than one degree Fahrenheit, “may be the final insult to these ecosystems,” the study states.

The acidity caused when carbon dioxide and water combine to make carbonic acid reduces the availability of calcium carbonate, or limestone, in the sea. Coral reefs are made of limestone, and lobsters, sea urchins, clams and scallops need it to calcify the hard parts of their bodies. Pteropods, a small, swimming organism with shells inside their bodies, are a major food source for Atlantic salmon. Yet, Steneck says, there is evidence that their shells, which the organisms can’t live without, are already eroding.

Reduced carbonates in the ocean are forcing creatures to spend more energy making their shells, which places them under greater stress. Steneck says about 30 new stress-induced coral pathogens have been identified in the last decade or so.

“And in Maine, anything that stresses shell-producers makes them more susceptible to disease,” he says. “In Rhode Island in 1998 there was a large-scale die-off of lobsters. If the same thing happened in Maine, where lobsters represent 85 percent of all marine resource value, it would threaten the socio-economic fabric along the entire coast.”

While some marine organisms have shown they can adapt to warmer temperatures, Steneck says, the projected increases in carbon dioxide buildup and temperature will overwhelm that ability in the decades to come.

Steneck, who does field work in Central America and Mexico, is part of an international science program called “Coral Reef Targeted Research.” Funded by the Global Environmental Facility and the World Bank, the partnership of 40 research institutes seeks to reduce global poverty in developing countries that depend on coral reefs for fishing, tourism and coastal protection.

“We do have a global atmospheric crisis and we have to work on a global level to change it,” Steneck says. “The point is not to be alarmist, but rather to say that we have to redouble our efforts to curb emissions. We need to generate more political will to do it.”

Because eliminating emissions won’t happen overnight, however, Steneck urges the fishing industries in Maine and elsewhere to manage themselves with greater sensitivity to the health of the ecosystems that sustain them.

“The trajectory of a planet that is getting rapidly warmer and more acidic will likely affect organisms globally,” he cautions. “The problem is in our backyard.

UMaine Professor Set for NAACP Martin Luther King Birthday Keynote

Contact: Perry (NAACP) at 548-2081; Joe Carr (UMaine) at 581-3571

ORONO — A keynote address by University of Maine philosophy professor Douglas Allen will highlight a joint Greater Bangor Area NAACP/University of

Maine Martin Luther King, Jr. breakfast celebration on Monday, January 21, 2008. The 8:30-10:30 a.m. event is scheduled for UMaine’s Buchanan Alumni House, 160 College Avenue.

Allen is a long-time civil rights activist who describes King as having been “a major influence in (his) life.” Allen was involved in the civil rights movement in the South, and he has taught and conducted extensive research related to King’s life.

“I plan to speak about the lasting legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s philosophy and activism for our contemporary world,” Allen says. “I’ll focus on what King can teach us when it comes to violence and nonviolence, peace and war, racism and injustice, and the need to become involved and to work for real, shared, interpersonal integration that is necessary for meaningful living and for human survival.”

Local NAACP officials say that the January event will present an important opportunity to promote King’s message of peace and civil discourse,

particularly in light of recent threats of violence against the branch and its members. The Bangor NAACP recently canceled its Kwanzaa celebration because of those threats.

“I’m very happy and excited to work in conjunction with the University of Maine to hold our annual breakfast,” says Joe Perry, president of the

Greater Bangor NAACP. “The UMaine breakfast celebrations have long been the primary local event honoring Dr. King on his birthday, and we are already hard at work jointly planning the Buchanan Alumni House breakfast program.”

“Martin Luther King stood for all the things that provide the foundation for university community life,” says Angel Loredo, UMaine’s associate dean

of students. “We are looking forward to the Jan. 21 event, which will provide a worthy celebration of his remarkable life.”

Those who wish to purchase tickets should call Joe Perry at 548-2081 or Josephine Bright at 947-4625.

UMaine Page Farm and Home Museum Closing for Holidays

Contact: Patricia Henner, 581-4100

ORONO — The Page Farm and Home Museum will close over the holidays, Dec. 23-Jan. 2. The museum’s regular hours are Tuesday through Friday, 9 a.m. -4 p.m., and weekends, 11 a.m.-4 p.m., except for Mondays and holidays.

Engineering Students Tackle Heating Project to Save Energy, Cut Costs

Contact: Justin Poland (207) 581-2130; Tom Weber (207) 581-3777

ORONO–A group of University of Maine mechanical engineering students are working on a senior-class project that promises practical benefits not only to their own education but to the university and the environment as well.

For their capstone project, the four students are designing a heat-recovery system for the university’s Engineering and Science Research Building, a facility built in 2004 that houses offices and the Laboratory for Surface Science and Technology.

Justin Poland, an associate professor of mechanical engineering and the project consultant, said the system being designed would have the potential to recover an amount of energy equivalent to 27,000 gallons of oil a year from the massive volume of ventilation air that is needed in the building. That captured energy would then be used to help pre-heat the cold outside air to room temperature as it is vented into the building.

Poland said the cost savings to the university would be substantial, although he preferred not to suggest a specific amount before the heat-pump system design is complete.

“The building processes 45,000 to 65,000 cubic feet of air every minute of every day,” he says, “so yes, the savings would be significant.”

The recovered energy would reduce the amount of oil now used to heat the building as well as carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide emissions from the No. 6 fuel, which, according to the students’ project proposal, the university burns at a rate of some 600 gallons an hour on cold winter days.

Although a heat-recovery system had been included in the building plans, Poland said, its installation had to be postponed until some time in the future. The idea was resurrected when James LaBrecque, a local energy expert and longtime university supporter, suggested it to Poland as a student capstone project. The building’s original water-glycol design was replaced by the heat-pump system, which Poland said is more versatile and effective.

The student project began in September and will wrap up in May. The design will have to be evaluated by the university’s facilities management department, which could then choose to put the work out to bid. Poland believes the project would be a good candidate for the University of Maine Foundation’s Green Loan Fund, which lends money to the university for projects designed to reduce energy consumption and improve campus sustainability.

“What is most important to emphasize about a project like this,” Poland says, “is that we’re training our students in the ways they need to be trained, and at the same time benefiting the university. So it helps the state in a couple of ways.”

Gift Leads to UMaine Athletics Field Upgrades

Contact: Joe Carr at (207) 581-3571; Laura Reed at (207) 581-3646

ORONO — A $1 million gift from University of Maine benefactors Phillip H. and Susan K. Morse, through the Boston Red Sox Foundation, will provide the catalyst for a significant upgrade of University of Maine outdoor athletic facility playing surfaces. Phillip Morse, an owner and vice chair of the Boston Red Sox, and his wife, Susan Keene Morse, both graduated from UMaine in 1964. Their daughter, Katherine S. Morse, is a 1992 UMaine graduate.

Plans, subject to University of Maine System Board of Trustees approval at the board’s January, 2008 meeting, call for three significant projects.

UMaine will fund the latter two projects with internal loans to be paid back from athletics revenues and/or future gifts, along with some university recreation funds. The total price tag is projected at $2.2 million.

“In addition to providing a boost for Black Bear varsity sports, these enhancements will also provide important facility upgrades for UMaine’s popular and growing recreational sports programs,” says UMaine President Robert Kennedy. “Phil and Susan have once again humbled us with their generosity, and this wonderful, meaningful gift will have a positive impact on a tremendous number of current and future UMaine students.”

UMaine Athletic Director Blake James hopes that work will begin in the spring of 2008, with an eye toward having the upgraded fall sports venues ready for next season.

“Facility upgrades represent a significant priority for the UMaine athletics department, and this plan will allow us to take care of three important needs at once,” James says. “These enhancements will have an instant, positive impact on several sports and will provide some important momentum as we move forward on plans to upgrade Memorial Gym and other sports facilities.”

“This is a most meaningful gift on several fronts,” says UMaine Vice President and Dean of Students Robert Dana. “The non-varsity athletes who participate in recreational sports will benefit, in addition to those who wear the Black Bear uniform. The increased opportunities for exercise and healthy competition will enhance student community life in important ways.”

If the plan is approved and moves forward on the anticipated timetable, work on the baseball facility will begin after the 2008 season, with a target completion date of later next year.


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